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U.S. Officials go to Congress, European Officials to Tehran

As administration officials continue to make the case to members of Congress of the benefits of a nuclear deal with Iran, European officials were in Tehran this week to discuss implementation of the comprehensive agreement and other elements of cooperation.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visited Tehran on Tuesday, July 28. Mogherini told press after a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the purpose of her visit was to “to start the concrete work on the implementation of the deal.” Mogherini said implementing the deal can lead to strengthened ties between Europe and Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the deal can improve relations and help the fight against terrorism.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Tehran on Wednesday, July 29. He met with Zarif and Rouhani. Fabius defended France’s hardline position during the talks because he wanted “a deal that no one could object to.” The deal will allow for “renewed cooperation” between Iran and France, Fabius said.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was in Iran last week with a trade delegation.

Back in Congress, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. Dempsey said the deal reduces the risk of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, with DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

Quick Reference Links

The Nuclear Deal At a Glance Experts Support Emerging Deal
Experts Available for Interview Editorials Supporting a Deal
Archived Iran Nuclear Alerts Additional Resources

Can Iran Cover Up Illicit Activities in 24 Days? Think Again.

Under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is required to provide inspectors access to undeclared facilities (military or civilian) if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requests it under the terms of Iran’s additional protocol. Under an additional protocol, the IAEA can request explanations for suspect activity and access to a potential covert site to investigate evidence of undeclared nuclear-related activities.

Under the JCPOA, the request by the IAEA triggers a 24-day clock under which Iran and the IAEA have 14 days to come to an agreement on access. If not, the Joint Commission, created by the JCPOA, has seven days to make a determination on access, and if at least five of the eight members vote to allow the IAEA to investigate, Iran has three days to comply. If one of the P5+1 countries is not satisfied with the decision of the Join Commission on access, it could take action to could snap-back earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

Critics of the JCPOA site access provisions charge that 24 days may provide Iran with enough time to cover up certain types of nuclear activities. For instance, Olli Heinonen, the former head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards, has cited Iran’s renovation of the Kalaye Electric Company in 2003 as proof that Iran can cover up evidence of noncompliant activity. He argues that two weeks after the IAEA requested access Iran had already renovated the facility.

However, as former U.S. negotiator Richard Nephew writes in the forthcoming September issue of Arms Control Today, Iran actually had far more than 24 days to try to cover its tracks at the Kalaye facility and the IAEA still found evidence of illicit nuclear activity.

In August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran alleged that Iran was pursuing secret uranium enrichment program. The location of the Kalaye facility was revealed in February 2003. The IAEA was permitted only limited access to the site in March 2003. In May 2003, the IAEA was granted access, but not permitted to take environmental samples from the site. Iran finally granted permission for sampling in early August 2003. Despite the fact that more than six months elapsed from date that access to the Kalaye site was first requested, the IAEA still found traces of enriched uranium at the facility.

As another IAEA safeguards veteran, Thomas Shea, has noted, when an IAEA request for timely site access involves a building, and especially when it involves uranium (or plutonium), 24 days will not be long enough to prevent detection.

And, as Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told Politico July 22, “It is essentially impossible, certainly with confidence, to believe that you’re going to do this kind of work with nuclear materials and be confident at having it cleaned it up.”

Would the IAEA Depend on Iran for Nuclear Residue Testing? No.

Congressional critics of the JCPOA are misinterpreting information received in briefings about the process for IAEA inspections at sensitive sites. Under managed access procedures that may be employed the IAEA, the inspected party may take environmental swipe samples at a particular site in the presence of the IAEA inspectors using swabs and containment bags provided by the IAEA to prevent cross contamination. According to former IAEA officials, this is an established procedure.

Such swipe samples collected at suspect sites under managed access would likely be divided into six packages: three are taken by the IAEA for analysis at its Seibersdorf Analytical Lab and two to be sent to the IAEA's Network of Analytical Labs (NWAL), which comprises some 16 labs in different countries, and another package to be kept under joint IAEA and Iran seal at the IAEA office in Iran a backup and control sample if re-analysis might be required at a later stage. The process ensures the integrity of the inspection operation and the samples for all parties.

Most Polls Suggest Americans Support the Nuclear Deal

By Eva Galanes-Rosenbaum, originally published July 28, 2015 on LobeLog.
Two polls released this morning have rather different takes on the Iran deal. One, from J Street, confirms last week’s LA Jewish Journal poll that American Jews broadly support the nuclear agreement, 60–40%. The other, from CNN/ORC, is an outlier from the bulk of post-deal polls in finding that Americans want Congress to reject the deal. This conclusion, however, is likely because of the poor construction of the poll.
Contrary to Scott Clement’s take in The Fix in The Washington Post today, the majority of post-deal polls on the P5+1 agreement with Iran show that Americans support the deal. Clement appears to have missed three or four polls from his analysis—all of which show majority or plurality support.
J Street’s poll asked 1,000 American Jews a few questions about the deal. It found that 79% had heard some or a lot about the deal—higher than the general population. Jews broadly support the agreement by 60–40%, which is also higher than the general population. And Jews want their members of Congress to approve the deal at the same rates, 60–40%.
J Street’s poll aligns with the majority of post-deal polls, both of Jewish American opinion and of the general population (see below). This isn’t surprising, given the tendency of Jews to align with the Democratic Party, as I wrote previously.
CNN’s poll, on the other hand, appears to be an outlier in both its construction and its results. First, the single poll question about Iran presents respondents with a factually incorrect statement: “As you may know, the U.S. Congress must approve the agreement…before it can take effect.” Actually, Congress must have a super-majority to override President Obama’s promised veto if it hopes to actually stop the agreement.
Second, as seen with several other post-deal polls, many Americans do not feel they know enough about the deal to have an opinion. Any methodologically sound poll aimed at finding out what Americans really think about the deal should provide a brief description of the deal. Otherwise, it’s just finding a proxy for partisanship. CNN/ORC described the deal as “the agreement the United States and five other countries reached with Iran that is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” a description so general that it could have been written it 18 months ago.
The preponderance of post-deal polling data continues to show that Americans—including American Jews—support the deal, and want Congress to let the international community get on with it, despite reservations they have about Iran itself:

  • ABC/WaPo: 56–37% support a deal
  • YouGov: 43–30% support the deal
  • CATO/YouGov: 58–40% support the deal; 53–40% say Congress should allow the deal to go forward
  • LA Jewish Journal: 49–31% of American Jews support; plus both Jews and the general population want Congress to support the deal
  • Reuters: 42–29% of likely voters support, 36–26% overall support
  • Americans United for Change/PPP: 54–38% support the deal

George W. Bush Was the First to Propose Iran Could Enrich if Key Conditions Were Met

Some Congressional critics of the JCPOA claim that the Obama administration has moved the United States from an earlier “no enrichment” policy to a “managing Iran’s enrichment program” approach.

Think again.

As an editorial in The New York Times (“Lessons from the Past on Negotiating with Iran”) noted earlier this week:

One thing the critics never mention is that the basic bargain – Iran will receive benefits in exchange for limits on its nuclear program – was actually endorsed by a Republican president, George W. Bush, in 2006, when super-hawks Dick Cheney and John Bolton were also part of the American power structure. It never triggered the rhetorical venom that this deal has.

During his first term, Mr. Bush insisted he would not allow Iran to produce a nuclear weapon or gain the knowledge necessary to build a weapon. But once the 2006 proposal was on the table, administration officials acknowledged that the package of incentives on offer could, at some point, allow Iran to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

DNI Clapper on the Iran Deal

In an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Security Forum on July 25, the Director of National Intelligence said James Clapper said the JCPOA "…puts us in a far better place in terms of insight and access than we have today."

Clapper also said that the nuclear deal likely won't change Iranian behavior in the region, which he said includes the support of Hezbollah, which has been labeled a terrorist organization.

"For me it kind of boils down to, if you have a choice between having a state sponsor of terrorism who has a nuclear capability or a state sponsor of terrorism without a nuclear capability, I think I'd take the latter choice," Clapper told NBC.

The full report is online here.

Briefing Room

Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to the HCFA July 28: "Iran Nuclear Agreement: The Administration's Case."

Assuring Effective IAEA Verification of the Iran-P5+1 Agreement,” July 28. This new study by 24-year IAEA safeguards veteran Thomas Shea, Ph.D. examines the various pathways that Iran would take if it decided to pursue nuclear weapons, and the methods that the IAEA will use to monitor these options. It also discusses the systems that the IAEA will use to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreed limitations on the program, including levels of enrichment of uranium, and numbers of operational centrifuges.

An Effective, Verifiable Nuclear Deal With Iran,”  an updated June 23 Arms Control Association Iran Nuclear Policy Brief summarizes the key points from the 159-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in two-pages.

6 Biggest Myths About the Iran Nuclear Deal,” by Schlomo Brom and Hardin Lang, in The National Interest, July 29.

Looking Ahead ...

Aug. 4: Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "JCPOA: Nonproliferation, Inspections, and Nuclear Constraints."

Location: Capitol Hill, 10:00AM

Aug. 15: Target date for Iran to provide information to the IAEA on its investigation into Iran’s previous military dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program.

Sept. 15: Target date for the IAEA to ask Iran follow-up questions on the PMD information.

Sept. 17: End of the 60-day congressional review period.

Sept. 29: End of the 12-day veto period.

Oct. 9: End of the 10-day veto override period.

Oct. 15: Iran provides the IAEA with any follow up information on PMD investigation.

Oct. 19: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is adopted and both sides begin taking steps laid out in the text of the deal.

Dec. 15: Target date for the IAEA issuing its assessment on PMDs.