"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 29
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Arms Control NOW

Foreign Ministers Descend on Lausanne

Negotiators are down to the final three days before the target date for reaching a framework that lays out the broad parameters of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrived in Lausanne, Switzerland on March 25, the other P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) ministers have been trickling in over the weekend. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrived in Lausanne on Saturday, and Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov may arrive at the Beau Rivage on Sunday. British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said he is ready to fly to Switzerland over the weekend if the sides are close to a deal.

Officials have described the two remaining issues--defining Iran's research and development program for advanced centrifuges and determining the sequence for lifting UN Security Council sanctions--as significant, but resolvable. Fabius said on March 28 that the sides have "moved forward" on the remaining issues.

After a framework agreement is reached, Iran and the P5+1 will work to complete the technical annexes by June 30.   

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy in Washington, D.C.

A Decade of On-And-Off Nuclear Talks At-A-Glance

For well over a decade, the sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been at the center of international concern over the further spread of nuclear weapons. The record shows that both Western powers and Iran have fumbled opportunities to resolve the issue, and with the passage of time, the puzzle has become more complex and difficult to solve.

The current effort represents the most intensive and best opportunity to reach a lasting solution that prevents the emergence of another nuclear-armed state in the region.

For a review, see these resources from the Arms Control Association's Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle briefing book:

"Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy With Iran" (1970-2014)

"History of Official Proposals on the Iranian Nuclear Issue" (2003-2013)

Proliferation Cascade?

A comprehensive nuclear deal will leave Iran with a limited and heavily monitored civil nuclear program. Skeptics, though, argue that if Iran continues to possess even a limited uranium-enrichment program, other states in the region, specifically Saudi Arabia, may pursue uranium enrichment or other sensitive nuclear technologies, thereby placing them closer to being able to build nuclear weapons in the future.

In reality, a comprehensive deal is unlikely to prompt Iran's regional adversaries to dash toward nuclear weapons. But going forward, the international community will need to remain vigilant and utilize all the tools in the nonproliferation toolkit to guard against the possibility.

Samuel Berger, former national security advisor to President Bill Clinton, said in a March 26 event sponsored by the Arms Control Association that the U.S. needs to work closely with other countries in the region, "to assure them that we have a commitment to their long-term security."

"What they're really concerned about is that we are going to realign with Iran in a fundamental way.... We have to make clear we're not embracing Iran. We're not accepting Iran's conduct elsewhere. We're very clear-eyed about this. And we're going to work with our traditional allies to deal with their concerns," Berger said.

Speaking at the same event, Robert Einhorn, former Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the State Department said, "if the U.S. is perceived as maintaining a strong regional presence, a strong regional military presence, if it's perceived as being a reliable security partner, committed to assisting its partners in the region and ensuring their own defense, then I think there will be much fewer incentives for indigenous nuclear capabilities."

Einhorn noted that nuclear proliferation is also a "question of feasibility."

"Even if countries develop a heightened interest in having nuclear weapons, they have to have the ability, somehow, to acquire them. And the indigenous technological infrastructures in the region are not very great. It would take most of the countries of the region, you know, a long time. And they would require lots of foreign assistance if they were to develop the indigenous capability," Einhorn said.

A comprehensive deal that limits and monitors Iran's nuclear program is in the best interests of the region. If other countries seek enrichment or reprocessing technology after a deal, the United States should continue working to prevent the spread of these technologies after a deal. Washington can look to provide security assurances and guarantees, bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, fuel-supply guarantees, proposals for multinational fuel-supply arrangements and, if necessary, sanctions, to achieve these goals.

Failing to reach an effective, verifiable P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, however, will result in an unlimited Iranian nuclear program with less monitoring. That is far more of a risk to the nonproliferation regime.

For further analysis, see: "How to Actually Prevent a Nuclear Arms Race In the Middle East,"  by Kingston Reif in The National Interest, March 2, 2015.

Closing Off the Covert Path

A good nuclear deal with Iran must ensure that Tehran cannot pursue a covert path to nuclear weapons without detection. A good deal will put in place intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms to deter and quickly detect possible noncompliance. That will include the Additional Protocol to its nuclear safeguards agreement.

The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection authority beyond what is permitted by state's safeguards agreement with the agency. A principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance that there are no undeclared activities and all declared nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes.

Under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites. States must provide information about, and IAEA inspector access to, all parts of a state's nuclear fuel cycle--including uranium mines, fuel fabrication and enrichment plants, and nuclear waste sites--as well as to any other location with nuclear material or where suspected nuclear activities may have taken place. This includes managed access to military sites if the IAEA has concerns that nuclear activities may have taken place on those premises.

The Additional Protocol contains provisions for multiple entry visas to inspectors, allowing the IAEA greater access to research and development activities, access to information on the manufacture and export of sensitive nuclear related technologies, including access to centrifuge production workshops, and would allow for environmental sampling.

When in place, the Additional Protocol would also expand the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine, undeclared nuclear facilities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, on short notice to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in a state's nuclear declarations.

Together these enhanced monitoring and verification measures would give the agency a more complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities and allow for early detection of deviations from peaceful activities. Early notification would give the international community time to respond to any dash Iran might make toward nuclear weapons.

Between 2003 and 2006 Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol, but never ratified the document. In 2006, when the UN Security Council took up the matter of Iran's nuclear program, Iran announced that it would no longer implement the provisions of the agreement.

Iran will not resume implementation of all aspects of the Additional Protocol, let alone ratify it, unless there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Under a comprehensive agreement, it is very likely that Iran would also be required to comply with the terms of the modified Code 3.1 version of IAEA safeguards, which requires that countries submit design information for new nuclear facilities to the IAEA as soon as the decision is made to construct or authorize construction of a facility.

If Iran implements Code 3.1, the IAEA would receive information about any plans Tehran has to expand its nuclear program earlier than it would under the existing safeguards agreement. Iran would also be obligated to share any design changes to existing nuclear facilities.

The P5+1 are also seeking additional inspection measures for an extended period of time to provide still more confidence to the international community that Iran's nuclear program is being used for entirely peaceful purposes.  

Such stronger measures could include measuring the mass balance of uranium going into and coming out of Iran's uranium-conversion plant and using the destructive analysis technique at Iran's enrichment plant to reduce errors in measuring the amount of nuclear material present. Under these procedures, Iran would find it more difficult to siphon some of its nuclear material for any parallel, secret program.

An intensified safeguards regime would need to provide the earliest-possible indication of any diversion or any other attempted misuse of nuclear material and facilities.

Looking Ahead ...

End of March 2015 - Target date set by Iran and the P5+1 to reach a political framework agreement.

April 3 - Event: "Framework for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement with Iran" with Clifford Kupchan, Chairman, Eurasia Group; Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association; John Limbert, Professor, Middle Eastern Studies, US Naval Academy and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, and moderated by Barbara Slavin Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council. RSVP here .

April 14 - Date set for a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to markup and vote on a controversial bill (S. 615) that would, if adopted, block implementation of any nuclear deal until Congress has had a chance to review it and hold an up-or-down vote. President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

June 30, 2015 - Deadline for Iran and the P5+1 to complete the technical annexes for a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.