P5+1 and Iran Meet Amid Uncertainty Over the Nuclear Deal’s Future
Members of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran met last week in Vienna for a quarterly meeting of the Joint Commission, the body set up by the nuclear deal to assess its implementation. This was the first full meeting of the Joint Commission since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened in January to pull out of the deal in May unless Congress and the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) worked with his administration to address what he terms as “flaws” in the nuclear agreement.
The chair’s statement released after the March 16 Joint Commission meeting said that the participants “extensively reviewed” the sanctions-commitments and noted the need for continued implementation of all measures to ensure “effective realization of benefits” under the nuclear deal, particularly licenses for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran.
The statement called for “effective implementation” of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by all parties. The statement also noted the Feb. 22 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program and said the parties welcomed the IAEA’s confirmation of Iran's “continued adherence” to the JCPOA’s commitments. (see below for details)
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran communicated to the U.S. delegation several issues that Iran views as “breaches of obligations or delay in fulfilling their obligations, especially in the area of airline purchasing licenses" during the meetings.
The Joint Commission meeting came amid reports that the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) are working on additional sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and activities in Syria. An E3 document seen by Reuters said additional persons and entities should be sanctioned in view of “publicly demonstrated roles” in Iran’s ballistic missile program and in Syria.
However, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said there is “no proposal of additional sanctions against Iran” and she did not expect to start discussions on sanctions during a March 19 meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council. Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Mogherini, who also heads the P5+1, said EU discussions on the JCPOA would focus on the implementation of the nuclear deal. After the meeting, Mogherini told reporters that the EU will address ballistic missiles and regional activities outside of the JCPOA through dialogue with Iran.
Action on ballistic missiles was one of the areas that Trump referenced in January when he demanded the E3 and Congress address “flaws” in the deal by the May 12 deadline for renewing U.S. sanctions waivers. Ballistic missiles are not covered in the JCPOA, but there are UN Security Council restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities.
While some EU states may be willing to impose sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities and support for regional militias that would not violate the JCPOA, European counties are more hesitant to address Trump’s demand to immediately seek to extend the time period of certain time-limited nuclear restrictions under the JCPOA out of concerns that such action would violate the deal.
Trump also called on Congress to pass legislation on the JCPOA that addresses his “flaws,” but members appear to be looking to Europe to take the first step. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said March 13 that Trump will have to make a decision to waive sanctions May 12 “based on where the Europeans evolve to.” Corker said it is “ solely the responsibility of the administration to work out something with our European allies. It’s not Congress’ responsibility.”
Mogherini’s March 16 remarks also noted that the EU is “starting to prepare to protect our interests if needed.”
While she did not provide details explaining that statement, Mogherini was likely referring to the possibility that the United States will withdraw from the nuclear deal in May and reimpose sanctions that would impact EU companies doing business with Iran, a possibility which may be more likely if CIA Director Mike Pompeo is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of State.
The current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was fired by Trump and will leave office at the end of March, in part because his views on the Iran deal clash with Trump’s. While Tillerson is not an enthusiastic supporter of the JCPOA, he acknowledged last year that Iran was in technical compliance with the accord and, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, has urged Trump to remain in the deal.
Tillerson’s point person at the March 16 Joint Commission meeting also seemed to think that the United States can address Iran’s malign activities and concerns about the future of Iran’s nuclear program while staying in the JCPOA. Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the State Department, told reporters after the Joint Commission meeting in Vienna that the United States “can work within the nuclear deal” to address Iran’s destabilizing actions and cited positive discussions with the E3 on these areas.
Pompeo, however, has been an opponent of the JCPOA from its inception. While in Congress in 2016, he argued that the JCPOA “has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment” and called for the United States to walk away from the deal.
It is still not clear what decision Trump will make May 12. He told reporters March 20, during a visit from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, that they would have to “see what happens” on the Iran deal. Bin Salman declined to answer a question from reporters on whether he would urge Trump to stay in the JCPOA but said he and Trump would be discussing the Iran deal.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy
IAEA Report Points to Implementation of the JCPOA
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued its first quarterly report of 2018 on Iran’s implementation of its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA. In presenting the report to the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General Yukiya Amano said March 5 that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments and noted that the agency has had “access to all the locations that we needed to visit.” He said that failure of the JCPOA would be “a great loss for nuclear verification and multilateralism.”
Amano highlighted the additional monitoring and verification made possible by the JCPOA. He said the agency “installed some 2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.” He also noted that the IAEA collects and analyses “hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by our sophisticated surveillance cameras in Iran—about half of the total number of such images that we collect throughout the world.”
The Feb. 22 report noted:
The report also stated that the IAEA has the necessary extra-budgetary funds to cover the cost of implementing the JCPOA for 2018. Of the €9.2 million ($11.3 million) cost of implementing the JCPOA for 2018, €5.1 million ($6.3 million) in extra-budgetary contributions were necessary. The IAEA had €5.8 million ($7.1 million) available in contributions as of February.
Naval Nuclear Propulsion
In a new development, the Feb. 22 IAEA report referenced a Jan. 6 letter from Iran noting the country’s decision to “construct naval nuclear propulsion in the future.” Iran notified the agency in accordance with Code 3.1 of its safeguards agreement, which requires much earlier notification to the IAEA for construction of new nuclear facilities. Under Code 3.1, which the JCPOA requires Iran to implement, a state must notify the IAEA when the decision is made to construct, or authorize construction, of a nuclear facility, as opposed to 180 days before introducing nuclear material. The IAEA requested additional information from Iran regarding its plans but had yet to hear back from Iran when the report was finalized.
Iran has raised the prospect of pursuing naval nuclear propulsion in the past, including the possibility of higher-level uranium enrichment for naval reactors. While it is too soon to say if Iran will seriously pursue a naval nuclear reactor project, Tehran’s notification to the IAEA may be a tactical move—a reminder of the options Iran can pursue to legally expand its nuclear activities if restrictions put in place by the deal are lost.
In addition to the technical challenges of engineering a reactor for a ship, the fuel would likely require uranium enriched to grades higher than the 3.67 percent Iran is restricted to for the first 15 years of the JCPOA. While some countries, such as France, use low-enriched uranium for naval reactors, the enrichment grade is still above the 3.67 percent uranium-235. Most states with naval nuclear propulsion, such as the United States, use fuel enriched to weapons grade, above 90 percent uranium-235. While Iran cannot expand its enrichment while restricted by the JCPOA, naval nuclear reactors are permitted under the NPT, although any plan to withdraw any nuclear material from its safeguards for such a program must be approved by the IAEA Board of Governors.
Nicole Shampaine, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Vienna, told the agency’s Board of Governors during its March 5-8 meeting that the United States welcomed the IAEA’s request for additional information on the naval nuclear propulsion program and reiterated that “Iran must fully cooperate with all IAEA requests for information and access regarding such plans, and all nuclear-related activities must be fully consistent with Iran’s safeguards obligations and JCPOA commitments.”
Netanyahu’s Mischaracterization of the JCPOA
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to muddy the waters around the JCPOA by mischaracterizing the terms of the agreement. Like Trump, Netanyahu is fixated on the provisions of the nuclear deal that expire, often referred to as ‘sunsets,’ and ignores elements of the deal that provide barriers to nuclear weapons in perpetuity.
In speeches in Munich in February and Washington in March, Netanyahu repeated the often heard claim that the nuclear deal “gives Iran a clear path towards developing a nuclear arsenal in little more than a decade.”
Some limits and restrictions in the nuclear deal do expire over time and Iran can choose at those points to build up its civil nuclear activities, such as uranium enrichment. However, Netanyahu, like Trump, glosses over the critical monitoring and verification measures that are permanent, like the additional protocol, and the prohibition on certain activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device (Annex I, Section T). Together, these elements serve as a bulwark against an Iranian nuclear weapons program in perpetuity. These critical restrictions will be lost, however, if the United States causes the nuclear deal to collapse.
And while Netanyahu has said Israel will back the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran if Trump pulls out of the deal, it is highly unlikely that the international community will support Washington after the U.S. rejection of a multilateral agreement that was effectively blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons.
If Trump and Netanyahu are legitimately concerned about what happens in 10-15 years when some of the core nuclear limits mandated by the JCPOA are due to expire, it would be wise to sustain the current deal and look for opportunities, in conjunction with the P5+1 partners, to build on it in a way that strengthens nonproliferation in Iran and regionally, rather than risk the agreement immediately.
Russia Vetoes Resolution Condemning Iran for Missile Transfers
Russia vetoed a resolution drafted by the United Kingdom condemning Iran for failing to implement an arms embargo on Yemen. The UK resolution followed a conclusion by the UN Panel of Experts report assessing implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen that Iran was in noncompliance with its obligations under Resolution 2216, which established an arms embargo on Yemen. The report noted that the panel experts had examined military equipment of Iranian origin, including missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, that was transferred into Yemen after the imposition of an arms embargo in 2015.
The Feb. 26 report found Iran in noncompliance with its obligations for failing to take “necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer” of the short-range ballistic missiles and other equipment. In a Jan. 22 letter responding to the panel’s findings, Iran stated that the report relied on “fabricated evidence provided by Saudi Arabia” and argued that Yemen had stockpiles of ballistic missiles before the 2015 embargo.
In vetoing the resolution, Russia also argued that the evidence that Iran provided military equipment to Houthis in Yemen was inconclusive and fabricated by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that Russia’s veto prevents accountability and “endangered the entire region.” She also argued that there is “mountain of credible independent evidence” that Iran violated the Yemen arms embargo.
Iran is also prohibited from transferring missiles and related technology without Security Council approval under Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA. While Resolution 2231 did not mandate a panel of experts to assess implementation, the UN secretary-general does issue a biannual report on the resolution.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his December 2017 report on implementation of Resolution 2231, noted that the UN Secretariat examined the debris from the missiles launched at Saudi Arabia from Yemen and concluded that the diameter was “consistent” with that of the Scud models and that components bore a logo similar to an Iranian entity designated by Resolution 2231. The report said that the Secretariat is still analyzing the information and material and will report back to the Council.
Defining Missiles “Designed” to be Nuclear Capable
The International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report Feb. 28 that offers an in-depth assessment of Iran’s ballistic missiles. The report’s authors, Michael Elleman and Mark Fitzpatrick, write that not all of Iran’s missiles pose the same threat and that priority attention should be placed on systems that could realistically be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
The JCPOA does not cover missiles but Iran is “called upon” in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 to refrain from testing ballistic missiles “designed” to be nuclear capable.
While the authors note that “designed” to be nuclear capable is not a defined term, they argue that assessing the technical specifications of each type of Iranian ballistic missile can provide insight into the intentions for each system. Elleman and Fitzpatrick write that there is strong evidence that the Ghadr medium-range ballistic missiles were designed with a nuclear payload in mind, whereas other systems, such as the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2, have a conventional military role.
The authors argue that focusing on curtailing the medium-range systems that were likely designed for nuclear weapons should be a priority and that the United States and its partners should consider accepting short-range systems and space launch vehicles that are not designed for nuclear warheads.
The full report is available here.
April 13, 2018: Deadline for the 90-day certification to Congress under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA)
April 23-May 4, 2018: Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Geneva
~May 12, 2018: Sanctions waivers due for Section 1245(d) of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act
Mid-June 2018: UN Secretary General’s biannual report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231
July 12, 2018: Deadline for the 90-day certification to Congress under INARA
~July 11-12, 2018: Waivers for relevant sections of the Iran Freedom and Counter Proliferation Act, Iran Sanctions Act, Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act
In Case You Missed It …