Briefing on Options for Negotiators; New Report Released
June 26, 2014
10:00am -12:00 noon
Location: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Choate Room
1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Negotiators from the United States, other world powers, and Iran have a month before their July 20 target date to conclude a historic, multi-year agreement to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.
The two sides must find ways to address several complex issues. In recent weeks, they have made progress, but significant gaps remain on a few key issues.
The Arms Control Association will present the key findings of a new staff report that explains the key issues and outlines options available to the negotiators that could help secure a "win-win" outcome.
The briefing will address options for extending "breakout" time and improving the ability to detect and disrupt any such effort. Options for resolving the difficult challenge of defining Iran's uranium enrichment capacity and reducing the plutonium output of Iran's Arak reactor will also be explained.
- Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst, Arms Control Association;
- Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association;
- Greg Thielmann; Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association, former Director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office in the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and
- Frank von Hippel, Senior Research physicist and Professor of Public and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security.
Federal News Service
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Good morning, everyone. I’m Daryl Kimball. I’m executive director of the Arms Control Association. We’re going to get started in just a minute. And I would just, before we do, ask you to turn off your mobile devices so that we’re not interrupted.
Welcome to this morning’s Arms Control Association briefing on a comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P-5 plus one and Iran. We are meeting today less than a month before the P-5 plus one countries – the United States, the U.K., Germany, France, China and Russia, as well as Germany – try to conclude an agreement with Iran on or around July 20th to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful.
So time is short. Progress has been made on some issues. There are gaps on others. And today we’re going to discuss what those issues are, what some of the gaps are between the two sides on some of the key issues, and we’re going to outline how the gaps can be bridged, what kinds of options the negotiators have available to them.
And as part of this presentation we’re going to be rolling out and describing a new report that the Arms Control Association has released today, “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.” You should all have copies of this. This is the third edition of this briefing book and this is the substantially revised version that the research staff of ACA has put together.
A couple things about our report and then about our speakers and what they’re going to talk about. As you can see from the briefing book, as you can read from the news coverage about the P-5 plus one talks with Iran, this is one of the most complicated and difficult nuclear negotiations in many decades. Even though it’s complex, we think the goals of the P-5 plus one and the international community are pretty clear.
Those goals are to establish verifiable limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production capacity that substantially increase the amount of time it would take for Iran to break out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and build nuclear weapons, if they were to choose to do so; and just as importantly, to increase the international community’s ability to detect any efforts by Iran to go in that direction by building in much more effective inspections. And at the same time, the agreement needs to, and can – one of the goals is to increase Iran’s incentives to comply with the agreement and decrease its incentives at some point in the future, perhaps to pursue nuclear weapons.
And our report I think illustrates that while there are difficulties between the two sides reaching an agreement, they’ve got options – technical options, political options – that can help bridge these gaps. And we believe it’s important for them to do so because the alternative to a comprehensive, effective deal of the kind we’re going to be describing today is far worse for both sides.
So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today with three very knowledgeable folks. My colleague at the Arms Control Association, Kelsey Davenport, is our nonproliferation analyst and who has been the lead writer in this report. She’s going to talk about what the main issues are, what some of the options are. Then she’ll turn it over to Greg Thielmann, our senior fellow, who’s got a background in WMD intelligence analysis, who is going to talk a little bit about one of the big issues in this debate, which is understanding what breakout is and what breakout isn’t – a widely misunderstood term that is very likely going to become a central part of the debate about this agreement if and when it emerges.
And we’re also very pleased to have with us Dr. Frank von Hippel from Princeton University, who works at the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs, has an extensive background in the field, has been at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and many other things. And Frank and his colleagues at Princeton, including Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian official, now fellow at Princeton, recently put together an article that we published in ACA’s journal Arms Control Today on a two-stage strategy for dealing with the uranium enrichment issue.
And in addition to talking about that proposal, Frank is going to get into a little bit more detail about some of the views on both sides about how the uranium enrichment issue can be dealt with and what some of the options are to resolve this issue, which I think is probably the central issue at this stage in the negotiations.
So with that I’ll turn it over to Kelsey, who is going to come up. And we have a few slides to help make the complex a little simpler. Thanks.
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Well, thank you all so much for coming. So as Daryl said, I’m going to talk today a little bit about some of the central problems that we see emerging in the negotiations between Iran and the P-5 plus one and then outline some possible solutions for how the parties can move forward on these issues.
Now, the briefing book that we are releasing today is not designed to provide an assessment of what exactly the deal should look like but to give sort of some metrics that will allow you to assess how the final deal meets the goals of both sides. So it’s meant to be sort of a guide for thinking about the deal and evaluating whether or not it will meet sort of the Iranian demands but also the demands of the P-5 plus one.
So there are a number of key issues that are part of the negotiations: Iran’s uranium enrichment program, what the size and the scope should be; the future of the Arak reactor and what that means for Iran’s plutonium path to the bomb; what the IAEA inspections regime should look like and how that needs to be structured; how the IAEA should complete its investigations into Iran’s past activities related to the development of nuclear weapons. And then there are the questions that are very important to the Iranians: How is sanctions relief phased in? How are the U.N. Security Council resolutions dealt with? So I’m really going to focus today on sort of the first four key issues listed here, but all of these are dealt with in our briefing book and I’m happy to take questions on them at the end.
One of the central problems that is emerging within the Iran P-5 plus one talks is coming up with a way to bridge the gap on defining Iran’s uranium enrichment program. And this is essentially because the negotiation goals of both sides are fundamentally at odds. In the initial agreement reached in November of 2013, it was decided that the final deal would allow Iran a uranium enrichment capacity that’s based on its practical needs, but the definition of practical needs is still very much a political determination and Iran and the P-5 plus one have very different ideas about how “practical needs” should be interpreted.
For the P-5 plus one, the goal here really is to increase the time necessary for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons. And right now, with the operating centrifuges that Iran has, which is about 10,200 of their first-generation machines, and the stockpile of uranium-enriched reactor grade, Iran could probably produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium in about two to three months. And based on statements by Secretary Kerry and other members of the P-5 plus one, we think that the U.S. position would like to extend that to at least six months and possibly longer.
Now, Iran’s definition of practical needs differs very significantly. They see practical needs as inclusive of what they view as their future needs for enriched uranium, which includes perhaps domestically providing fuel for the Bushehr reactor, which is currently fueled by the Russians until about 2021, and then possibly more civilian nuclear power reactors that Iran may plan to build somewhat in the future.
So I guess that this will be sort of one of the most difficult areas to resolve because Iran wants to increase from 10,000 operating centrifuges to possibly to 100,000 IR-1 centrifuges and the U.S. really wants to go in the other direction, to decrease that, but we still think that there are – that there is a combination of possible outcomes that will allow both sides to sort of address their needs.
First, we suggest a limit on enrichment levels to 5 percent. This is very likely to be acceptable to the Iranians. The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, has publicly said, you know, on multiple occasions that Iran is willing to accept this limit.
We also think that limits on the stockpile of enriched uranium that Iran is allowed to keep in the country would be advisable. If Iran has less enriched uranium, it will increase the time that it takes it to further enrich that reactor-grade uranium to weapons-grade uranium. So limits on the stockpile could help. And one of the ways to enforce those limits is to have Iran convert its stockpile of enriched uranium gas to a solid form, uranium oxide, that could be used to produce fuel for power reactors. Now, Iran could convert that back but it would take time and the IAEA would likely notice very quickly.
Another way to sort of consider enrichment capacity would be to allow Iran to grow its enrichment capacity over time. And Frank is going to talk more about sort of the specifics of how this could be done, but as Iran demonstrates a practical need, if it does go through and build, you know, these reactors and it shows that it’s willing to adhere to a nuclear agreement, it could perhaps in the future be allowed to increase the number of centrifuges. And that could be a combination of more sort of efficient centrifuges. We think that Iran could be allowed to continue sort of research and development on more efficient centrifuges as part of the deal if it’s appropriately safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Also related to the question of enrichment is the future of the Fordow facility. The P-5 plus one in the past has wanted to shut down this facility because of its location. It is less vulnerable to a military strike because it’s located sort of deep inside a mountain. Iran, however, is very attached to the idea of not shutting down this facility. And Iranian officials have said on multiple occasions that no Iranian facilities will be closed throughout the course of a deal.
So we suggest that perhaps it would be a good idea to repurpose Fordow for a research and development facility. Iran could use this facility to test its advanced centrifuges. So the facility is still operational but it would not be allowed to stockpile any enriched uranium and there would be limits on the number of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to have at that facility.
Another way to meet Iran’s “practical needs” would be to extend Iran firm fuel supply assurances that would reduce its needs to indigenously produce uranium. Now, Iran has claimed that it does not want to depend on foreign suppliers to fuel its future power plants, and this concern is partly legitimized by the fact that Iran has had difficulties in the past working with other countries in terms of both trying to complete its nuclear facilities and also receive nuclear fuel. Its experience with Eurodif in the 1970s, for instance, and given sort of the current political environment, it may be somewhat reasonable to have concerns about relying on Russia for fuel supplies. And then there’s also the question of sort of a multilateral enrichment center, which could be an option in the future for providing fuel for the region. But Frank is going to talk about that a little bit more.
So one of the other big questions is the future of the Arak reactor. The Arak reactor is well suited to produce plutonium that could be separated and used for nuclear weapons. As planned, it would produce enough plutonium for about two bombs per year when this reactor is finished. Construction is currently halted and it’s unclear how much longer it would take Iran to make the reactor operational because it has been beset by delays in the past. Iran claims that it wants this reactor to become operational to produce medical isotopes.
And the Arak reactor being the only indigenously built nuclear sort of reactor in Iran, there’s definitely a sort of a sense of sort of national pride and attachment towards completing the reactor. So it’s likely that a deal will have to involve sort of completion of the Arak reactor in some form. But there are ways that would allow Iran to complete the reactor and use it for medical isotopes while reducing the plutonium output of the reactor. You could reduce it from a 40-megawatt reactor to a 10-megawatt output and use 3.5 percent enriched uranium to fuel it instead of natural uranium. And if you have any sort of specific questions about sort of the feasibility of that and how exactly that produces less uranium, I would definitely urge you to direct them at Frank, because he can speak about that with far more authority than I can.
There is also a question of Arak shipping out the spent fuel. And this would also guard against Iran separating the plutonium out of the spent fuel even if it’s – if we reduce the output to as little as one kilogram a year. And Russia would probably be the most likely sort of destination to ship the spent fuel to since they’re taking the spent fuel from the Bushehr reactor as well.
Finally, on the question of monitoring inspections and sort of the possible military dimensions, any deal that the P-5 plus one reaches with Iran really needs to contain extensive monitoring and verification provisions. And for us, this is kind of the crux of how to really evaluate a good deal, because all of these other questions – looking at extending the timeline for uranium enrichment, the options for modifying the Arak reactor – we’ll have assurance that these are in place if a good inspections regime allows the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s facilities so that it can quickly note if there are any sort of deviations or violations.
So we think that the existing Safeguards Agreement is not comprehensive enough. It does not allow the IAEA to visit all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and it does not allow them to do it on as short of notice as we would like. So any agreement, you know, should include the so-called Code 3.1 of the Safeguards Agreement, which will require Iran to notify the IAEA as soon as it decides to build a nuclear facility, and the Additional Protocol. And this Additional Protocol should be ratified, not just implemented.
Ratification of the Additional Protocol is key to this agreement because it will allow the IAEA to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities with very little notice – really, no notice – and expand the range of facilities that are included. So the IAEA will have a much clearer picture of Iran’s nuclear activities, and it will be able to – much more likely to detect any sort of covert attempt by Iran to break out of an agreement. And the U.S. national intelligence community has consistently assessed that if Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons, it would be more likely to do it through a covert program.
Finally, on the question of the possible military dimensions, there has been some discussion amongst policymakers in the United States that it is difficult – that it will be difficult to move forward on a comprehensive deal until Iran has resolved all of the questions about sort of its past activities related to sort of developing a nuclear weapon.
We support the resolution of these issues, but think that it needs to sort of remain separate from Iran’s negotiations with the P-5 plus one. And the outcome of the P-5 plus one negotiation should not be dependent on what the IAEA uncovers in its investigation. This investigation will likely go beyond the P-5 plus one talks with Iran, and we think that if the goal is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the negotiations between Iran and the P-5 plus one could include language that perhaps, you know, requires and obligates Iran to continue cooperating on these issues, but judges that the information should only be used for the IAEA’s determination that the program is entirely peaceful.
And we think that this will work as a formulation because Iran is actively cooperating with the IAEA. They reached an agreement last November where they said they would provide answers on all of these outstanding issues. And while a great deal of work still remains to be done, Iran thus far has been following through on its commitment and begun providing information on these questions related to past military activities.
So with that, I’m going to let Greg talk now about sort of the breakout timelines.
GREG THIELMANN: Thank you, Kelsey.
Thank you all for coming. My job, I guess, is to break down breakout. The concept of breakout capacity is critical to understanding U.S. negotiating objectives at the Iran nuclear talks, and it’s a very useful metric to help evaluate the various formulas for a final deal. But this terminology is also commonly used in a misleading way, which could send us off course in seeking a successful outcome. As you know, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – unlike all of those countries, Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the word “breakout” refers to a situation where Iran decides to break out of its NPT obligations and build a nuclear arsenal.
Legally, states parties to the NPT have the conditional right to withdraw from the treaty after giving three months’ notice. But the most likely, and worrisome, scenario for Iran’s breaking out of the NPT is through a clandestine effort to develop a parallel program of uranium enrichment alongside that which it has declared to the IAEA. This would also include a secret warhead and system integration effort that will allow Iran to present the international community with a fait accompli – a nuclear test, a sudden announcement that we have the bomb, or less direct signaling through an Israeli-type opacity approach. The intelligence community reminds us every year that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to ultimately produce nuclear weapons if it chooses to do so. It could do it blatantly, by booting out inspectors from declared facilities, or secretly, in what is sometimes called “sneak out.”
So if Iran has the option to go nuclear, it follows that the realistic goal for a final deal in the ongoing talks is not to make breakout impossible, but to make it an even more difficult and unattractive policy option for Tehran than it is today.
Since the most challenging task for any nuclear weapons aspirant is getting the highly enriched uranium or plutonium for the core of a bomb, the chief nuclear nonproliferation focus is on preventing this from happening. We are concerned about Iran getting either of these fissile materials, but enriched uranium is the more proximate danger.
Thus, the usual definition of breakout is the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb, around 25 kilograms. Policymakers and NGO researchers have been seeking to identify how the breakout timelines would change under different scenarios. We know that the dash to build a nuclear weapon would be significantly shorter the more enriched uranium gas Iran retains in its stockpile, the higher the enrichment level of that gas, the more installed centrifuges Iran has, and the more of those installed centrifuges Iran already has operational. The challenge is to determine which combinations of measures to lengthen the timeline would be most effective in dissuading Tehran from building the bomb and, at the same time, least unpalatable to the Iranian regime.
There is broad agreement among experts about the supply side of this equation. For example, based on Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpiles and operating centrifuges today, as Kelsey mentioned, Iran would be able to produce 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium hexafluoride within two to three months, or if Iran eliminated its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium by converting all of its uranium hexafluoride gas to powder, it would need some six months, using all of its operational centrifuges, to produce 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium gas.
One of the elements agreed to last November for a comprehensive deal was, quote, a “mutually defined enrichment program,” unquote. This program would include mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs. But as Iran argues for an expansive definition of its future practical needs for enrichment, the six powers worry about the implications of this enrichment infrastructure for breakout. If Iran were allowed some 100,000 operating centrifuges, which it claims it would need just to fuel the Bushehr power reactor and the Arak research reactor, its breakout capacity would appear to increase exponentially, shrinking the amount of time Iran would need to make the dash for a bomb.
But before we get swallowed up in this yawning gap in the positions of the two sides on uranium enrichment capabilities, we have to return to the meaning of breakout capacity. Let’s start by making clear that 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium gas does not a nuclear weapon make. In other words, when you reach the end of the breakout timeline as commonly defined, there’s still nothing to go boom. Once Iran has – had enriched sufficient uranium gas to weapons-grade level, it would next need to convert the gas to powder form, then fabricate the metallic core of a weapon from the powder. Several additional and separate technological hurdles must be overcome, not all of which can be done concurrently with the uranium enrichment. The explosive device must be designed, constructed and integrated into a delivery system, most likely a ballistic missile.
It’s also likely that Iran would want to conduct an explosive test of the weapons package. States developing nuclear weapons typically conduct multiple large-scale nuclear test explosions to perfect their warhead designs, particularly the smaller, lighter and more efficient designs needed for missile warheads.
Now, it is true that the international community’s ability to surgically disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons development might decrease once a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium gas had been produced. But even making a worst-case assumption that Iran could enrich sufficient amounts of weapons-grade uranium gas for a weapon only a few weeks after detection, Iran would still be months away from fielding even a limited nuclear arsenal.
Moreover, the technical criteria I’ve been discussing constitute an important but incomplete lens through which to view breakout. Real-world timelines also take into account a broad range of political and economic factors inside and outside Iran. The success or failure of a breakout attempt would depend critically on the quality and scope of the international inspection regime, the ability of the international community to respond effectively to disrupt the breakout and the number of weapons Iran would judge it needed to pose a credible deterrent.
With existing U.S. national technical means of intelligence and the international monitoring system established to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, any explosive nuclear test by Iran would very likely be detected. If Iran would try to sneak out, to build nuclear weapons without testing, Tehran would have to accept a lower confidence level concerning the reliability of the warhead design.
And Iran is very unlikely to plan a breakout of the NPT by building only one nuclear weapon. Even if Iran were willing to tolerate the large uncertainties deriving from an untested nuclear weapon’s design, a single weapon would add additional uncertainties regarding missile performance and the ability of the warhead to penetrate the sophisticated missile defenses deployed in the region. Tehran would be staking everything on the perfect performance of one untested system.
If Iran chose to increase the odds of success by planning to build multiple weapons, however, it would increase the need for fissile material, thus lengthening the breakout timelines and increasing the chances of international detection and blocking actions.
So not even factoring in the consequences for this theological regime of reversing the supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons, the technical and political obstacles to breaking out of the NPT are formidable. So a negotiated formula that may initially appear to provide an unacceptably short breakout timeline as usually defined may still constitute a daunting deterrent when Tehran considers its real-world nuclear weapons options.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Greg. That’s very helpful to put all this in perspective.
And let me welcome Frank von Hippel up to the podium to talk more about uranium enrichment and other options.
FRANK VON HIPPEL: Right, right. So this is the key figure in my presentation. I should have put a little line on there, which would show Iran’s current enrichment capacity if all the centrifuges were operating. That would be near the line of 20,000. The red line shows what we judge Iran’s needs are, which are much lower.
But then out beyond that, you see all of a sudden the rise to a hundred thousand in 2021 if Iran does not renew the contract it has with Russia to provide fuel for Bushehr. And that’s currently Iran’s intention is not to renew that contract, and that is where the impasse is, about that rise.
But you do see the – with the low number of needs until maybe 2019, we say it would have to start installing centrifuges to produce that large amount of uranium that Bushehr would require. And I should have said that – I guess it says up above that 5,000 SWUs would be – from natural uranium would be sufficient for one bomb, and from low-enriched uranium for about three bombs. So we’re talking about a very large enrichment capacity if this is the way things develop.
Now, things don’t have to develop that way, and that’s what I’m going to discuss. For one thing, of course, Iran could renew, for some years, the contract with Russia, if we show another line – if in fact that is renewed for five years. But we do have these five years to work with, and our proposal is to divide the negotiations in two. We think it’s too far a reach to actually reach an agreement about what to do in this – the longer timeframe. Both sides have to have their shoes nailed to the floor.
And so – and there’s another aspect on our side with regard to the short term, those 20,000 SWUs or so that Iran could put online at the moment, 20,000 SWUs a year, and that is that these are basically obsolete centrifuges. I think Iran accepts that there’s no way – that it would be crazy to try to – try to produce more than 100,000 of these centrifuges to produce fuel for one reactor. And they are developing more advanced centrifuges, you know, which would be required in much fewer numbers. So our proposal for the short term is that Iran scrap these 18,000 IR-1 centrifuges.
It has, in addition, a thousand IR-2m centrifuges on – which are installed but not operating – will be more than adequate for its needs over the next five years. And so that would, during these five years, extend the breakout time. So it would give – so we would have five years, or some fraction of that, to cool down this impasse. You know, right now Iran’s conservatives, you know, are pounding the table about Iran’s right to enrich. And they say, you know: We’ve absorbed $100 billion worth of sanctions. We’ve had our scientists assassinated. There’s no way that we’re going to – we’re going to settle for less – becoming less than self-sufficient in terms of enrichment.
On the other side, some see Iran’s after – as being after nuclear weapons, not just the nuclear weapons option such as Japan or Brazil have, for example, but really nuclear weapons. I don’t think this is true. They do definitely want an option, but it would – if we were able to, over the next few years, broaden the discussion with Iran – they’re interested in having a relationship again with the U.S. If we could broaden the discussion with Iran, if the liberals that we’re negotiating with could strengthen their political base in Iran, then – you know, then maybe some of these – some of our – the nails that are holding our shoes to the floor could be loosened.
But what could we do in the – in the long run? If we see – by the way, this is an article, as Daryl said, in the forthcoming issue of Arms Control Today and is co-authored with Zia Mian, who is there in the back –
MR. KIMBALL: It’s online already.
MR. VON HIPPEL: It’s online already but not – not in the pretty form, yeah. And in fact, I’d love to be able to put this figure into it – (chuckles) – but I may be too late.
So this is a – this is a problem, a problem not just about Iran. It’s a problem about national enrichment plants. It’s a – it’s a weakness in the nonproliferation regime. It was recognized in 1946 in the Acheson-Lilienthal plan that if countries have national reprocessing and enrichment plants, they do have a breakout capacity for acquiring nuclear weapons. And we saw that dramatized in 1974 when India, which we were helping develop reprocessing technology for a civilian breeder reactor program, used some of the first plutonium that separated for a nuclear test.
That resulted in a debate – in fact, do we really need to reprocess – and in 1977 basically the U.S. decided that it didn’t need to reprocess and adopted the stance that we don’t reprocess; you don’t need to either. And that’s been very successful. There’s only one non-weapons state that reprocesses today, which is Japan, and we’re working on Japan – still working on Japan.
Well, we’ve got to do enrichment. Countries do need enrichment in some form or another, but the industry is going in a very interesting way. There is multinational – a large fraction of the market now is multinational enrichment, specifically URENCO. URENCO is a consortium – Germany, Netherlands and the U.K. – which supplies Europe basically and also has a plant in the United States, which is our only operating enrichment plant. The U.S. does not have a national enrichment plant today operating.
And so we could – we could, if – adopt a position – we don’t have a national enrichment plant; you don’t need to either – and then discuss what kind of multinational options might be possible. My own favorite – I don’t know if it will fly – is that Iran could provide the centrifuges for an enrichment plant someplace else in the Middle East, maybe Oman or something like that, and, you know, they would have the pride of their achievement but they wouldn’t have the enrichment plant in the country.
But there are many different variants of that and – which need to be discussed and worked out and see which ones really could be politically credible. But this is something that – this is – this crisis is over Iran’s enrichment program but tomorrow it could be over Saudi Arabia’s enrichment program. You know, as I said, it was – in the past it was about Brazil’s and South Africa’s.
And so we really do need to look at a larger – you know, make the problem – you know, look at the larger problem. And I think it would be easier for Iran if we said we’re not – you know, we’re not setting up special rules for Iran; we’re trying to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, where you can help us by any of that.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you.
All right. Well, thank you, the three of you, for those great presentations which outline the many issues that the negotiators are dealing with – going to be dealing with over the next month. It’s now your turn to ask questions, offer thoughts, ideas. And I would just ask that you identify yourself and wait for the microphone to come your way so that our friends at the Federal News Service, who will be providing a transcript to this event, can hear you and the questions.
And while you consider yours, why don’t we go to Michael Klare, and then – up front here? But while the microphone is coming over to you, let me just highlight, or underscore, one of the things that is part of the Princeton proposal that Frank is outlining, in the first stage.
As Kelsey described, right now Iran has 10,000 operating IR-1, first generation centrifuges, but there is the second generation of more efficient centrifuges some three to five times more efficient. And the first part of that proposal that the Princeton team put together suggests that over this initial period of five or so years the IR-1s are swapped out and the IR-2Ms are swapped in smaller numbers, but still at same overall capacity and ideally a lower capacity, much lower than the 9,000 SWU that Iran currently has. And I just wanted to highlight what that could mean for both sides.
What that could mean for both sides is that the P-5 plus one achieve in this initial phase a significantly lower enrichment capacity in Iran, but the Iranians would be able to say that they are continuing to develop their scientific expertise, their scientific knowledge for more advanced centrifuges. They have said in private meetings, and I think in public meetings too, that they do not see the IR-1 centrifuges being efficient enough to build in large numbers. It’s not commercially viable. It’s about 10 times less efficient, at least, than the URENCO centrifuges, for instance, maybe even more.
MR.VON HIPPEL: A hundred times less.
MR. KIMBALL: A hundred times less, OK. So those IR-1 centrifuges are just not commercially viable. So Iran doesn’t want to go in that direction. They’d rather use those more efficient centrifuges. So that part of this proposal I think provides some interesting advantages for both sides in helping to solve this puzzle.
Now let me get back to the question that I think Michael Klare had. Thank you.
Q: Hi, I’m Michael Klare. I’m on the board of the Arms Control Association and an academic. And it’s a question mainly for Greg Thielmann.
Greg, how much do we actually know about Iran’s efforts to make something that will go bang? That is, the device – the explosive package itself. I know the IAEA has been trying very hard to collect information on this. What’s the status of their inquiry? How will the negotiations maybe lead to greater clarity on that aspect of this, that you discussed?
MR. THIELMANN: Well, that’s a very good question. That’s a very good question, and I’m not sure I can answer very authoritatively since I don’t really know what’s being seen inside the U.S. government, the intelligence area. I can make a few observations, though.
For one thing, it is still the main thrust of the national intelligence community – at least what they’ve shared with the public – that the information that it had collected that gave it a high confidence of knowing what was going on in Iran was time-limited. That is, when it came out in 2007, the intelligence community said it had high confidence that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had discontinued in the fall of 2003, but it was a little less sure about the future. It talked about moderate confidence at that time that it was not still continuing.
We’ve gotten a few more hints from the IAEA, which is – has presumably seen much of the intelligence now on which the U.S. based its conclusion, and they have various intricate formulas for saying that there may be certain elements of nuclear weapons work ongoing, but there is no reconstitution of a coherent, large-scale program. I mean, I’m paraphrasing here but that’s kind of the thrust of it.
So where does that leave us? I think one can assume that if one believes the intelligence community’s original assessment – and I have to say that I found it pretty convincing that Iran had been doing for a number of years things that it should not do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – one has to assume that they have made some progress in mastering some of the technologies and information that they would need to actually build a nuclear weapon if they had all of the materials assembled.
So I think – I think that’s really where we are in our state of knowledge. What I tried to emphasize in my comment, though, that you can only do so much, and the consequences of having an integrated program broken up or put on hold or whatever over a number of years means that you don’t just have a switch, you can turn it on and say, now, we’re going to restart exactly where we were when we ended. I mean – you know, there are people – their expertise – this is not just a science, but an art doing something as sophisticated as designing nuclear weapons. And it is something that would take time even if they got to that end of breakout as commonly defined of having enough uranium – enriched uranium gas for one weapon, so I hope that speaks to some of those questions.
MR. KIMBALL: Yeah, as Greg is saying, I think we have to assume that Iran has some of that knowledge, even if Iran, as some people say, comes clean about its past program, they’re still going to have that knowledge. And what’s key – and Kelsey was talking about this a bit earlier – is that the IAEA is able to get enough information through this work plan they’ve worked out with Iran on these past experiments, most of which appear to date back before 2004, into 2003 and the earlier period – some of which may have continued – to determine that those activities are no longer continuing and that they have enough information to look in the right places, pay attention to the right people going forward in the future.
And if they can get that information and they can report back to the IAEA board of governors in several months that they believe – they’ve got confidence that those activities don’t continue, even if there are questions about what was done in the past – that is where the agency needs to get. That is, I think, the best that can be achieved, and this comprehensive agreement can help create the leverage that the agency needs to finally close out that investigation.
So we’ve got a few more questions coming up here – why don’t we – Alex Liebowitz (sp) here in the front –
Q: Thanks I have two questions, but I’ll be brief with both of them. One for Greg. A lot of this is very technical, but it seems to me, to some extent, to figure out how long it would take, you’ve got to know how – why Iran would like a nuclear weapon, and I think, you know, just sort of thinking off the type of my head – I mean, the two examples that come to me on the two extremes are Israel, that doesn’t even admit they’ve got one and leaves this sort of ambiguity, or North Korea, the whole point of which is to, you know, show that we’ve got something, and therefore, we’re going to test it and so on. And I’m wondering where you think Iran fits on this.
And then, for Frank von Hippel – I tend to be quite skeptical of this multilateral idea. I mean, either it’s not very multilateral – that is, it’s essentially sort of one or a couple of countries that have it under control, or you have to create some very elaborate thing. I remember once hearing a briefing from the Germans where they – I mean, they went so far – they even had a flag. But, you know, it sort of struck me as being very unrealistic to think that you’d ever come up with something like that.
MR. KIMBALL: So Alex is a skeptic, so how does it really work?
Q: How would – how would you come up with – you know, deal with something like that? Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. And why don’t we – before you take those, why don’t we just take one more question.
Q: Hi. Scott Sharon (sp). Let’s say July 20th comes around; we have a deal – everything that was just discussed in the slideshow, how – and which leaves Iran with a limited capability. How do Secretary Kerry and President Obama sell that to the U.S. Congress? A few weeks ago, I was at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on the regional implications of an Iranian deal, and there was plenty of opposition – both Democrats and Republicans, that would settle for nothing less than full dismantlement, and just given everything else in the region and this being an election year, I mean, how does that go forward?
MR. KIMBALL: OK. All right. So why don’t we take the first questions first? Greg and then Frank –
MR. THIELMANN: OK. Why would Iran want nuclear weapons? What a question. There are multiple reasons that countries are attracted to nuclear weapons, and my understanding right now is that Iran doesn’t necessarily want nuclear weapons, it wants a rapid dash breakout capability. Iran wants to have the best of all possible worlds, and wants to say, we’re a loyal member of the NPT; we deplore the possession and threats of nuclear weapons by the existing nuclear powers, and they want people to understand that they could have nuclear weapons fairly quickly if they chose to.
So there’s a little bit of the – of the multiple game that Saddam Hussein was playing. Saddam wanted to convince most of the world that he had no programs, but he wanted to convince his own people and potential neighbors and potential threats that he did have a program. I think Iran is in somewhat a similar position. But I am convinced that if Iran actually chose to build a nuclear weapon, it would be to protect itself from those countries that continually threaten to attack it no matter whether Iran has done anything in the way of attacking its neighbors or not. And in that respect, it is somewhat similar to North Korea’s motivations, I think. But – there would be multiple motivations, but ultimately, to take such a dire step – and it would be dire for Iran in all kinds of ways – I think it would be an act to assure the survival of the regime.
MR. VON HIPPEL: On the multinational enrichment option, I understand your skepticism. I’m skeptical that we can keep going with the national model, where every country has a right to its own enrichment program, and that looks pretty scary. So I think we do have to work on the multinational, and I take hope from the fact that it actually has – it exists – there is a – of course, Europe isn’t the Middle East, but it actually originally – it’s interesting – in the ‘70s, when Germany, Netherlands and the UK were all working on their own enrichment programs, people were very worried about Germany’s enrichment program. And one of the motivations for doing – becoming – doing it multinationally was to deal with that concern.
And, in fact, today there are enrichment plants in all three countries, but the one in Germany came 10 years after the ones in the Netherlands and in the UK. And it’s right on the border with the Netherlands, so it did have – it did have that dimension to it as well. So, you know, I – I mean, that’s why I say, give us five years to work on it, or it may be possible that Iran relents, you know, in that interval, and we don’t – and stops insisting, if things go well.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Kelsey you might cover the second question?
MS. DAVENPORT: Yeah, sure, Scott. So your question about, how do you sell this deal to the U.S. Congress? I would first remind them that a deal that’s in place that limits Iran’s nuclear capacity, that provides stringent monitoring and verification is far better than the alternative, which is no deal, which could result in an unconstrained Iranian enrichment program where we have less access, less monitoring and less verification.
Also, the United States has already agreed that Iran will have a limited uranium enrichment capacity. This was part of the November 24th Joint Plan of Action. The U.S. said it will be based on practical needs. The U.S. said that there would be a future for the Arak reactor; we would just determine, sort of, what that is. Also, I think it’s important to remember that this is a negotiation, and Iran also has to be able to sell this deal domestically. Iran has lost billions of dollars from the sanctions. It’s sunk a great deal of money into developing this program, and it has become a point of national pride.
So they need to be able to preserve enough of a nuclear infrastructure to be able to sell the deal domestically. So I think, sort of looking at those arguments and really stressing that this deal is far better than the alternative would be the way that I would approach explaining this to Congress.
MR. KIMBALL: I would agree with that, and I think another part of this is going to be the tactics of discussing this and who is discussing this. It’s my personal view that the Obama administration needs to do a better job than they have so far in talking about the alternatives, the choices and the realities behind this breakout issue. It’s going to take a full-court press on the part of the president to talk to members of Congress – all of them, not just the key members of key committees.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns can be a great asset in the effort, and I think – you know, as Kelsey said, I think once members of Congress actually see the agreement, study it and look at the alternatives, I think they will sober up a bit, all right? I think they will understand that if they take actions that undermine the implementation, they’re going to have to own the consequences, and there isn’t going to be another second run at this negotiation. Congress can’t say, this isn’t good enough for us and urge Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman to go back.
This is – this is the agreement that is going to be there, and I think it’s going to be a good agreement, otherwise the U.S. team and the other P-5 negotiators wouldn’t be concluding it.
All right, we got a lot of questions coming up. Why don’t we start over here with Steve Colecchi – and keep your hands up for a second so I can see where you are. OK. I’ll try to get to everybody; we’ve got plenty of time. Thanks.
MR. VON HIPPEL: Could I just add one thing –
MR. KIMBALL: Frank, yes, I’m sorry.
MR. VON HIPPEL: We have to be very conscious of the fact that this is not only – I mean, the primary negotiations are within Washington and within Tehran, and we have to be conscious of the – of the fact that Rouhani is just as besieged in Tehran, or maybe more than Obama is in Washington, and we have to take that whole thing – both sides into account.
MR. KIMBALL: Good point.
Q: I’m Stephen Colecchi with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I’d like to address the Congressional question a little bit, and then just offer some information. I was part of a delegation of U.S. bishops that went to Qom in March to meet with one Grand Ayatollah – several other ayatollahs – very high-ranking, including members of the council of experts that oversee the Supreme Leader.
And I don’t think we can underestimate the moral commitment of at least a large segment of the establishment in Iran. I’m not naïve enough to think that there’s no one within their establishment who wants a breakout capacity, but the – we probed in several different meetings with several different ayatollahs and with Shia scholars in a very deep way, and the fatwa is real and it has a basis within their theology, and reversing it by way of contradiction is just unthinkable for the religious establishment.
I’ll just – let me just share one more minute. Imam Ali, who is a key figure within Shia Islam, had the option – his generals were trying to convince him to poison a well before his troops went off to take their positions in battle, and he said, no, we can’t poison the well, because that’s indiscriminate, it will kill anyone who comes to the well, and it’s not honorable. The enemy came to the same well, took their water, and they actually lost the battle.
And they then pointed out that in the Iran-Iraq war, when chemical weapons were used against Iran, they did not respond in kind, even though they had them. And it was based on this teaching that indiscriminate weapons – it’s very deep within Shia theology – I just would not underestimate it, and I think that the religious community and civil society, in addition to the technical arguments that need to be made, could motivate people within Congress and people within the pews to contact their members of Congress to say, give this a serious look; this is a highly religious culture that has very serious questions about the acquisition – stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destructions.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you for those insights, Steve. We’re going to come over here to Mr. Hoenig (sp) and his colleague to the left in a moment. Yep.
Q: Hi, Milton Hoenig. Daryl touched on my question, but I’d actually like to raise it in another way. How would the IAEA, without losing credibility, suddenly erase the statement which it puts in all of its quarterly reports that the agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran? This is in every quarterly report, and it’s going to take a lot of planning and thought by the IAEA to take – (inaudible) – so how will that be done?
MR. KIMBALL: All right. We’ll answer that in a second, and then this gentleman, too. Why don’t we take this question? Yeah.
Q: Hello. My name is Wright Smith with the National Iranian-American Council. My question is, there’s talk – on the give-and-take of negotiations, there’s the issue of centrifuges, and how many can Iran keep, and there’s the issue of verification and monitoring of those centrifuges. Is one more important than the other? Should the P-5 plus one compromise on one to get the other, or is there some balance that can be achieved there?
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Let me take a stab at the first, Kelsey, and maybe you take a stab at the second and you can add on.
So you’re exactly right. It’s going to be very difficult for the agency to come to a different conclusion than it has been putting in each of its quarterly reports. And it is going to take more information, it’s going to take more time. There are some people in this town who are arguing that the IAEA investigation of PMDs, possible military dimensions, experiments by Iran needs to be closed off and concluded before the P5+1 conclude a deal. That ain’t going to happen, folks, in part because the IAEA needs time, they need information, they need to go back to Iran and ask additional questions.
When is the director-general of the IAEA going to be able to change that sentence in those quarterly reports on Iran? I don’t know exactly, but one of the things that’s absolutely essential is going to be to get Iran to agree to those additional transparency and verification measures that Kelsey was outlining that focus on the undeclared sites, the short notice inspections, including things like the centrifuge workshops. That is essential, that access is essential in order for the agency to change that declaration to something like, “we have moderate confidence that no undeclared material or activities are taking place inside Iran.”
But that’s going to take time, and that’s why this agreement is likely going to be a multi-year agreement. And that’s why there are going to have to be milestones built into the agreement that the Iranians – steps the Iranians take and then there are steps that the IAEA and the international community take with respect to sanctions relief and other measures over time. It’s tough, and this legacy issue is one of the hard issues.
Anything else on that, Kelsey, that I’ve forgotten? You want to take the other question?
MS. DAVENPORT: Yeah. So it does need to be a combination when considering how you look at the uranium enrichment program. Yes, if we define Iran’s current enriched uranium needs sort of based on exactly how much it would need to produce now to run its existing nuclear facilities, Iran wouldn’t need to dramatically cut down the number of operating centrifuges that it has. It could easily meet its practical needs with less than 2,000 IR-1 centrifuges.
Iran is not going to – really likely not going to accept that sort of within a negotiation, so it needs – we need to balance asking Iran to reduce its centrifuges with the monitoring and verification that we put into place. And then it’s important to think about those – both of those aspects in relative to timing as well. The monitoring and verification with the additional protocol that would allow inspectors to visit Iran’s centrifuge workshops, that would allow it to visit the uranium enrichment plants, would be permanent in its duration.
Iran would be able to visit the – or the IAEa, excuse me – would be able to visit these facilities without any notice, really, whenever they wish to. So once Iran then begins to sort of establish credibility under the deal, they could perhaps phase up their centrifuges, as Frank outlined, based on sort of an increase in their practical needs. But the inspections would need to remain permanent, and that’s what – that’s what would happen under the additional protocol.
So, yes, it does need to be a balance, but I think ensuring the permanence of the additional protocol and the inspections and the monitoring sort of really is key. And while there probably will need to – well, you know, there will be a push for Iran to reduce its centrifuges. If we can determine the numbers of centrifuges that Iran has, how many it’s producing, then the IAEA can also guard sort of against a secret breakout, as Greg described. So I would put a lot of emphasis on the monitoring measures.
MR. KIMBALL: Frank, you had some additional thoughts?
MR. VON HIPPEL: Yeah. Just two things. I mean, the language that was mentioned is always coupled with Iran has not agreed to the additional protocol, and it would have to be for some years. I mean, they have actually – they are complying with it on a voluntary basis right now. And in fact, they’re going beyond the additional protocol with regard to the centrifuge transparency, and there’s a – I think they’re interpreting that as part of their voluntary compliance with the additional protocol.
But I think, in fact, as Kelsey said, that you probably need to formalize that, and in fact, it would be a lot easier to do so if other – if Urenco and other centrifuge manufacturers would accept the same kind of transparency. I think there will be a big collective gulp if they’re asked to do that, but I think we really – we should start talking about that.
MR. KIMBALL: If we could go to the gentleman in the back with the red tie and then we’ll come up back to the front.
Q: Hi, I’m Derek Davison with Lobe Blog. I wanted to ask – you talked about firm assurances of foreign supply is a way to reduce practical – Iran’s practical needs for enriched uranium. Given that the Iranians have some past experience with the unreliability of foreign suppliers of enriched uranium, I wonder if you could maybe expand on that a little more. What kind of assurances could we put into a deal that would satisfy Iran’s concerns in that regard?
MR. KIMBALL: All right, why don’t we have Frank take that. And then this gentleman in front and then we’ll go to Laura Rozen in the pink.
Q: Alan Keiswitter with Dentonson (ph). Mt question is really about the Stage I of the proposal because, as I understand it, the U.S. would like 3,000 to 5,000 and the Iranians would like 100,000. And is the proposal roughly to freeze what there is for five years? And this would be roughly 10,000 that are operable and 9,000 that are not being operated or –
Anyway, could – Phase I is going to be crucial to this, selling it on the Hill and elsewhere, and clarity would be very helpful.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Why don’t we stop there, and Frank, why don’t you – because those two questions are for you. So why don’t you tackle those and then we’ll go on.
MR.VON HIPPEL: There is – whether it’s politically possible in Tehran right now, there is – I mean, you could, in fact, assure supply for Iran. And it’s something we’ve been talking with Iran about for more than 10 years, that they – if they’re worried about supply, you know, why don’t you build up the stockpile of fuel in advance – I mean, 10 years of fuel in advance. And then you’ve got 10 years to figure out – you know, you could build the centrifuge plant in that length of time if, in fact, countries refuse to supply it. But it’s become a matter of national pride and it makes it difficult.
With regard to the Stage I, the – what Iran needs now is much less than what it has in this Stage I. It’s a couple of the IR-1 centrifuges or less than – the thousand centrifuges that it – the second-generation centrifuges that it has installed would do the trick. So we’re not talking about freezing, although, you know, we – we’re a little bit – it’s a little bit unclear in our article. But it doesn’t require freezing at the level we have now if Iran buys this argument that the IR-1s are obsolete. You’re going to get rid of them sooner or later, why not make life easier for all of us by getting rid of them now? And so just sticking with the 1,000 IR-2m’s that they have installed but not operating.
MR. KIMBALL: So before we get to the – to the next question, let me just clarify one thing that I think is important. I mean, you mentioned, sir, that the Iranians think they need x number – the P5+1 think they need this number. I don’t think any of us in this room know exactly what the Iranians – bottom line is what the P5+1 bottom line is.
We’ve heard things in the press, we’re 30 or so days out from the July 20 target date. In a complicated negotiation like this, neither side’s going to put down its bottom line in public, and it’s quite likely that even in the negotiating room, they’re laying down positions that are pretty far apart hoping that the other side’s going to move closer in their direction.
So I think it’s pretty likely, if not almost certain, that each side knows they can and must move closer to the other side and they know that these options that we’ve been describing today are there and there will be some creative combinations of all of these different things that they will have to use if there’s going to be an agreement on or around the 20th of July.
All right. Let’s go to Laura Rozen who is in the center in the coral, I suppose.
Q: (Laughs.) Laura Rozen from Al-Monitor. Thank you for doing this. I apologize if you already addressed it, but what do you make of the reports the past couple of days from Iranian official accounts that Russia and Iran are signing two more power reactor deals?
MR. KIMBALL: Frank, you want to take a stab? I have a couple of thoughts.
MR.VON HIPPEL: Well, the – I think they are, and it would take some time to build those reactors – you know, on the order of 10 years, so we have some grace before the – before the requirements of those reactors are upon us. And I think also that it is quite likely that they would come with 10-year contracts, fuel supply contracts like Bushir-1. And so that is often the – you know, and this is – it’s also often that this is Iran’s domestic lightwater reactor that they’re talking about building, which will probably take a long time to materialize.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Let’s take this question in the middle and then – and then we’ll go to the back.
Q: I’m Peter Smallwood from the University of Richmond. I’d really like to return to a question that you posed because I feel like there’s a gap here that is – there’s not – I see very little written and very little discussed about why Iran would want to have perhaps a breakout ability that Japan has. And I was very happy to see that slide that mentioned that.
In Japan, it’s pretty easy to understand, and all the more so with China developing. But is there – is there opportunity in trying to better understand some elements in the Iranian security apparatus want that ability to find other ways to address that ability instead of having everything being – increasing the cost of having it?
MR. KIMBALL: OK. And then why don’t we take a question in the back, if you could raise your hand again.
Q: Thank you. My name is Farzin Nadimi (sp). How much do you think a possible deal should be tied to Iran’s conventional missile program?
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Who wants to take the first question? Go for it, Frank. And then Greg is – take the second.
MR.VON HIPPEL: Well, you know, why does Iran want a nuclear option? I mean, if you look around, Libya gave up their nuclear option and you see what happened to them. Iraq gave up its nuclear option and you see what happened to them. So the – so there’s a rationale. I mean, just – the U.S. has made very clear that if, you know, there are circumstances in a – you know, that no U.S. options are off the table, and Iran, of course, would like to have the U.S. take some options off the table.
And so – but I think there is this – as Mr. Colecchi said, the – there’s a spectrum of views from the – you know, the fundamentalist view that this is an illegitimate weapon to probably –
Some people say well, maybe an illegitimate weapon but we should keep them – the other side uncertain.
MR. KIMBALL: And I would just add quickly, I mean, we’ve got to remember – I mean, the political scientist in me here, political science is not really a science, and the question you’re asking is a political science question. And, you know, when we talk about Iran, there are many Irans, there are many views.
Steve Colecchi from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops just talked about some of the strong religious views, but then there are other very hardline military views in Iran that might be very different. So, you know, just like the United States or any other country, the view that is coming out of the existing government is a balancing act of these different constituencies. And so it’s very hard to answer these questions in a – in a simple fashion and it’s another briefing altogether.
So the second question on missiles, Greg, you’ve thought a little bit about this subject. Go ahead.
MR. THIELMANN: You know, the missile issue is, again, one of those confusing issues because of course the missiles would be the delivery vehicle for nuclear weapons. So it’s a relevant thing to worry about.
And even if we weren’t worried about Iranian nuclear capabilities, we would worry about all these Iranian missiles. With the nature of the Iranian regime, we worry about what this means for the neighborhood. Particularly, the kind of medium-range ballistic missiles that Iran has are not very accurate, and so they’re basically weapons of terror. They can slam into cities. They can’t necessarily hit Israel’s Dimona reactor, but they can – they can hit Tel Aviv. So they’re obviously something to be concerned about and to think about ways to constrain.
The problem is – losing sight of the forest for the trees here, if you’re interested in getting limits on Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, the way we should do it is obviously the way we’re trying to do it, which is to limit their ability to make nuclear weapons. And if you are successful in that endeavor, then Iran will have ballistic missiles with no nuclear weapons.
And the confusion is here that the 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution required Iran to stop its ballistic missile activities. The U.S. Congress has inserted all kinds of legislation that says that this comprehensive accord must also limit Iran’s ballistic missiles. Well, that is just showing a failure to prioritize here and also an ignorance about Iran’s perilous – the perilous state of Iran’s military power.
Iran is not in a powerful position militarily in the region. Iran has been under various kinds of embargos for many years. Its air force is extraordinarily weak given its size and power as a country, partly because it relied heavily on sophisticated U.S. technology to equip the air force before the Islamic Revolution. In all kinds of ways, in terms of the expenditures – military expenditures as a percentage of GDP and other things, Iran is not the big military spender in the region. Iran does not have enormous tank armies. Iran has missiles. And to say that Iran has to significantly weaken or eliminate the one conspicuous source of power it has is an extremely naïve way to approach negotiations and a perfect way to divert a reasonable chance of success at getting a grip on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Why don’t we take this question from this handsome gentleman in the front row, and then we’ll take a couple from the peanut gallery in the back? (Laughter.)
Q: (Laughs.) Thanks for the nice compliment, Daryl. I’m Paul Walker with Green Cross International. I want to thank you all for very good presentations. And I also think it’s been important for us to talk about the biggest challenge, I think, is really selling any agreement, which I hope comes about in Washington and Tehran. But one of the challenges in Tehran – and this is to you, Frank, I think primarily, is the fact that the NPT and the IAEA safeguards system has been for years described as a discriminatory regime from a variety of ways. And I’m wondering if the safeguards, the inspections, the verification that the gentlemen here raised to being requested of Iran can be described in Tehran to the general public as a nondiscriminatory regime. In other words, do we need to include other inspection regimes elsewhere, like on Urenco? Is it any more stringent than the IAEA inspection regimes in Brazil and Japan? Is there anything the P-5 could begin to move on to overcome these ongoing perceptions of discrimination in the regime?
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Kelsey, Frank, you want to quickly answer that?
MS. DAVENPORT: Sure. I mean, you are right. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said very clearly that Iran does not want to be asked to go beyond what is required of other counties and that this idea of sort of the “AP-plus” is not acceptable to Iran.
However, you know, Iran agreed in the November sort of 24th agreement to move forward on the Additional Protocol and that that is understood to be sort of part of this additional inspections regime. And in this interim six months, they have agreed to measures that go beyond what the Additional Protocol requests of states that adhere to it.
So I think the phrasing and the language will be – will be very important in terms of how these monitoring and verification measures are presented and also their duration. Iran has been very insistent upon moving towards a position eventually where it’s treated like any other member of the – of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
But it’s important, I think, for Iran to acknowledge also that as we have said here – you know, as it has been brought up already, that the IAEA has not been able to confirm that Iran’s nuclear activities are sort of entirely peaceful right now. So it should not be treated like any other member of the NPT at this time. But we need to resolve these issues so we can move to that.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. In the back, those two gentlemen please.
Q: Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service. I wanted to go back to the question of a multilateral institution to provide the fuel for Iran. The question I have about that is how do you ensure the governance of this is not in the hands of powers which have in the past already had relations with Iran with regard to fuel supply, i.e., Germany, France and Russia, who have in fact, for political reasons, either stopped or manipulated that relationship for political reasons?
And the second question I have is with regard to the possible military dimensions issue. And that is does it matter – well, how credible are the documents on which the IAEA is basing its investigation, i.e., the laptop documents and the series of documents that the IAEA acquired in 2008 and 2009?
I mean, I’ve written about this extensively, of course, but just to make another point that I think a lot of people may be unfamiliar with, the IAEA has not been unanimous about the credibility of these documents. That was Olli Heinonen’s view for sure, but then-Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei and other senior officials of the IAEA were very skeptical about the authenticity of these documents. And as late as 2009, ElBaradei was saying that we still don’t have the authenticity of the documents established, and therefore, you know, that’s a serious problem that needs to be taken into account in the policies.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Well, why don’t we have Frank deal with the first one and Greg the second.
Zia Mian has another question. Why don’t you raise your hand so everyone knows who you are? All right. Go ahead.
Q: One of the problems with the framing of the debate about the deal and going forward is that it treats it as if this is the only process that should be taking place regarding Iran and its security concerns and the role of the United States and the P-5 plus one. The fact is that the P5 and Iran also committed to the discussions on a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone as part of the NPT process at the 2010 NPT conference. That process has broken down almost completely as far as anyone can tell. And I think that one of things that we need to do is to put that process back on track as a way to help address the larger regional concerns, including those in Iran, about their security future and their relationship to their neighbors and what a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone could do. And we mentioned this in other work that Frank and I and folks at Princeton have done is to create a regional structure that could have countries agree to restraints that go beyond those that counties accept as part of the NPT as a way to ensure their collective regional security.
So I think having the two processes take place in parallel and command similar degrees of attention, especially in Washington and – which has enormous influence on countries in the region, is actually very important and it’s part of the missing pieces in this puzzle that might have to actually be brought into play.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. All right, so Frank, do you want to answer the question about who was working with Iran on multilateral, and then Greg, on the credibility of – the information the agency has regarding possible military dimensions?
MR. VON HIPPEL: On the credibility of the multinational regime, we don’t have a – we haven’t got a specific proposal, so it’s hard to defend its credibility. But I think maybe in a belt-and-suspenders approach – I mean you’re – I think what you’re referring to is maybe this multinational entity, if it were outside Iran, would all the sudden cut Iran off again. And I think the ultimate assurance there would be, in fact, to allow – if the facility were outside of Iran, to allow Iran to have a – you know, up to a 10-year stockpile of fuel in-country.
MR. KIMBALL: Greg, next question.
MR. THIELMANN: Maybe just a footnote to that question too. I think there are other agreements and institutions like the ABACC arrangement between Brazil, Argentina and the IAEA that can provide some encouragement to the notion of multilateral agreements that actually go beyond, in some respects, the obligations under IAEA safeguards. So I think there are actual historical reasons to be intrigued by Frank’s proposals.
On PMD, this is a – this is a tough issue, because how does one have a fulsome discussion of these issues when we’re not privy to all of the details, which gets into some very sensitive information? I would just say, as someone who had access to some of these details over the last decade, that I am not satisfied with the discussion in the press about capturing all elements of the picture here. And I can’t remedy it without getting in big trouble.
One other observation I would have, having been involved heavily in Iraq WMD matters, forgeries are not very difficult for governments accused of malfeasance to disprove. And so when Iran declares that everything is a forgery, I think one has to be a little skeptical. I mean, bring the people who wrote the documents in, show the pieces of the forgery that couldn’t have been true. I mean, the IAEA did a great job on the uranium from Africa issue. And it showed how easy it was. Even if it was a bit of a challenge at the time for the U.S. intelligence community, it was not a challenge for the IAEA to show it was a forgery.
So I’m a little skeptical of Iran’s dismissal of these things. And I think one has to give a little bit of credit to the reformed U.S. intelligence community to be not totally incompetent and naïve in the way that it’s presented the case for various kinds of activities that occurred prior to the fall of 2003.
MR. KIMBALL: I would just say really quickly, one other issue about the concerns about possible military interventions. It’s the political reality today. It’s a political reality in these negotiations. There are perceptions that governments have about what these – what this information that was supplied to the agency and some of the information the agency has acquired on its own really means. And we can debate all we want the authenticity, or not. And most of us haven’t even seen the documents. But what matters is, you know, how it’s dealt with today given what the governments have, what the agency has, and what the Iranians want to ultimately try to achieve through the comprehensive agreement and the IAEA investigation.
On the Middle East, Kelsey, do you want to take a stab at that?
MS. DAVENPORT: Sure. Actually, for the first time there may be some progress towards the Middle East WMD-Free Zone. The parties met just this past week in Geneva. And from what we hear in those meetings, they’re – the Israelis are attending, along with the members of the Arab League.
And there is progress being made sort of on an agenda. But I think that Zia (sp) is exactly right, in that we have not, and particularly in the United States, placed enough political emphasis on sort of moving forward with establishing a zone, with encouraging the parties to reach an agreement on the agenda so a conference can be held, because this zone actually could address the concern in the United States about missiles.
As sort of understood from the 1995 resolution on the Middle East WMD-Free Zone, the zone would need to include limits and verification in relation to delivery vehicles. So putting more emphasis on this could provide sort of another alternative to check Iran’s ballistic missiles, but in a way that applies to all of the countries in the region and does not single out Iran, which it’s not going to accept.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Let me get to some folks who haven’t had their hands up. We’ll go to this gentlelady here on the left, Elena (sp), in the lime-green blouse, right here. Thank you. And then we’ll go back over here.
Q: My name is Veronica Cartier (sp). I’m focusing on international conflict management initiative. My question is focused for supporting breakout capacity. In the bilateral communication, instead of multilateral which is a focus also in comprehensive communication within the United States and Iran, has it been established or will it be possible to establish specific working group, beside IAEA, focused on bilateral coordination mechanism in the revision process.
Just as you asked Japan earlier development cooperation agreement, bilateral coordination mechanism, effective operational commission, information reporting procedures and overall accountability issues to induce bilateral cooperation and for United States understanding of Iran motivation? Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Well, maybe I can try to quickly answer that and we’ll get to a couple of the other questions. I think it’s very likely that the comprehensive agreement is going to have a consultative mechanism, just as the interim agreement from November 2013 does, to resolve questions between the two sides. The agency, the IAEA, is going to be very involved in monitoring Iranian compliance with certain aspects of the agreement. So there are going to be these kinds of mechanisms over time that are there to ensure that the agreement is being effectively implemented and both sides are in compliance with the terms.
So we’ve got a couple questions over here. This gentleman in the middle, on the – right there, and then we’ll go to Mark Harrison and then we’ll come up here. I’m trying to get to everybody. This may be the first briefing we do where everybody gets to ask a question. So just be patient. Everybody’s got their hands up. Go ahead.
Q: (Inaudible.) We know that U.S. or United States and P-5 plus one is asking for, perhaps, 15 to 20 years for timeframe after agreement is reached for Iran to be treated as a normal PMD member. And on the other hand, Iran is – perhaps is asking for five years max. So I would like to ask each of the panelists, respond to this and see where do you stand and if you could explain your reasoning? Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. And then the gentleman right behind? Thank you.
Q: Mark Harrison with United Methodist Board of Church and Society. I just want to ask the question about the party of five plus one, is there a common agreement among those members of the party of five on what they want to see come out of this? I know that – I know Russia and China – do we – do we have an understanding of that? Because most of the discussions have been, well, what is going on inside of Iran. So what’s going on in the party of five?
And in this section here in the study, where you talk about the sanctions that Europe put on Iran, do those governments also have to go back and take off those sanctions if they reach the agreement, like some of the sanctions here in this country? And lastly, if the United States, given the situation we find ourselves in with Congress and the – it’s just a bad – a lot of infighting – countries – if an agreement is reached, countries can go forward and open – and now start trading with Iran, even if the U.S. doesn’t agree with those.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. We’ll try to answer all those good questions. But first, on the timeline and the time frame of the agreement question, Kelsey, why don’t you try to address that?
MS. DAVENPORT: Sure. I think it’s difficult to discuss the time frame of an agreement sort of in abstract of the conditions – the other conditions in an agreement. You know, I would certainly thing that certain limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity, certain increased transparency measures, need to be – remain in place, particularly while the IAEA is still investigating the possible military dimensions issue. And we don’t know exactly how long that’s going to take. You know, estimates say, you know, one to two years, but depending on the information it could take far longer.
And then also, you know, it depends on an assessment of how Iran’s practical needs might change. You know, if an agreement sort of lasts 20 years but 10 years down the road, you know, they may need to provide more fuel for the Bushehr reactor, you know, could they scale up the centrifuge capacity, you know, perhaps if Iran shows that it has been complying with the other elements of the deal?
So I think when you talk about time frame in abstract of sort of those individual conditions, it becomes a little bit sort of more difficult. And, you know, some of these conditions also will be permanent. A ratification of the additional protocol will mean that it’s in place for – you know, as long as Iran is a member of the NPT. Some of the other measures – like I said, the additional transparency measures will have to be dropped. But, you know, that could depend on where Iran is in its enrichment program. So that isn’t a very specific answer and I apologize, but I think it is hard to consider any of these metrics sort of individually.
And then a quick answer, Mark, to your questions on sanctions. The majority of the sanctions against Iran emanate from the United States. There also is the U.S. – the U.N. Security Council sanctions and the European Union sanctions. For the European Union to lift its sanctions it would require a unanimous decision by the council – the Europe – the Council of Foreign Ministers, excuse me.
The U.S. sanctions is much more difficult. Some can be waived via executive order. Some would eventually have to be lifted. However, the problem is a lot of the U.S. sanctions are extraterritorial in nature in that they don’t just apply to entities in the United States. Banks, for instance, in foreign countries now, that do business with Iran, can be penalized and cut off from the U.S. financial system because of the way that we have structured our sanctions. So even if – when we begin to waive sanctions, I think we will see some companies that are very hesitant to go in and do business with Iran because they are concerned that until those sanctions are lifted, if sanctions are re-imposed they could then be penalized for that in the future.
So, yes, there are a lot of – we hear a lot of trade delegations going to Iran from different countries that are interested in doing business, you know, with them, but until we get to the point where some of these sanctions in the U.S. are lifted, I think there will be some hesitancy about actually signing agreements or beginning to do business there.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. And just very quickly on the P-5 plus one group, these are individual governments. They do have individual views. But they have been highly coordinated to this point through EU High Representative Cathy Ashton’s efforts. You know, they’ve got each slightly different motivations for involvement, but what I think is important – and it’s been somewhat surprising – is the level of unity thus far. The U.S. is clearly one of the tallest poles in that P-5 plus one tent, but they have all been acting in quite a unified manner. But the fact that you have got these different entities actually makes this negotiation just tougher to pull off because of the degree of coordination that has to be achieved, and that kind of adds time.
So we might see, for instance, on – at midnight on July 20 the negotiators coming almost to an agreement but one of the P-5 plus one member states needs to check back with their prime minister or their president or the foreign minister to get final approval. So I think it has more of an effect on the – how the talks play out rather than – and the timing rather than the substance.
Let’s take a couple more questions and then we’re going to wrap up. I can’t remember who had their hands up. Yes, the gentlelady in the front and then right behind her, and then we’ll close out.
Q: Hi. Katherine Bova from Search for Common Ground. Thank you for – thank you all for your very clear presentations.
I was wondering, you had addressed what would be needed from the U.S. side to deal with the concerns of Congress. I was wondering if you could speak to what would be required on the Iranian side to satisfy hard-liners in the Iranian government as well as members of the Majlis, who would ultimately have to ratify the additional protocol.
MR. KIMBALL: All right, and then right behind her. Thanks.
Q: Hi. I’m Rafael Lael (ph) from Brazil. So my question will be, what about the countries that are not on the table, especially Israel, that has been very silent lately? And what would be the role played by AIPAC and AJC and other lobbying institutions here in Washington? We heard rumors that they would be pushing for sanctions that would not be related to the nuclear program. So what about if Congress proposes sanctions related to Iran’s sponsoring of Hezbollah and Hamas or human rights? And if you could also elaborate about how would Saudi Arabia take a successful deal, or a partially successful deal, between Iran and the P-5 plus one? Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Such easy questions. (Laughter.) Who would like to take the first question that was just asked?
MS. DAVENPORT: I can take a stab at it.
MR. KIMBALL: OK, and then –
MS. DAVENPORT: I think, similar to the United States, there will be hardliners in Iran that will not be satisfied by any deal. But, that being said, I think a deal that preserves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, that preserves Iranian enrichment, a future for the Arak reactor and allows for the possibility of building up capacity over time is the most likely configuration that is going to be acceptable to Iran.
Iran has made some statements about elements of these aspects being sort of completely unacceptable. Shutting down facilities, for instance, I think is a red line. Having to accept any limits on its missiles I think sort of would be – would be a red line. But I think it is important to remember, again, also from the Iranian side, you have to juxtapose a deal with limits against no deal and what that means for Iran domestically. I mean, Hassan Rouhani ran on a platform promising sort of greater economic prosperity for the country. That will come with sanctions relief. And he has a limited time to deliver on that as well. So I think that, similar to the Obama administration, he will need to do his part sort of selling this within Iran.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Well, let me give you some quick answers on the other questions about Israel, AIPAC, Saudi Arabia.
There are, clearly, strong interests in Israel about the outcome of this negotiation. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has been, I think, quite vocal actually, not so quiet, over the past several months about the kind of deal Israel would like to see. Netanyahu has been arguing for zero enrichment. He has been calling for the closure of the Fordow and Natanz and Arak facilities. And I think that he has been making those arguments in order to try to harden the position of the P-5 plus one going into these conference of – negotiations. He understands, and the Israeli security establishment, intelligence establishment understands that. That is not a realistic outcome.
If they are expecting that out of this, they are going to be disappointed, for many of the reasons that we just discussed. So I think it is a – it’s a tactic. I think that in some congressional offices have heard the Israeli ambassador to the United States come in and make those arguments. And I’ve been told that American lawmakers politely nod, say, thank you for coming here but I don’t think that’s the kind of agreement that is going to emerge if we’re going to have an agreement. So I think it’s understood that this is a bit of posturing. I think it’s a bit of an effort to try to harden the P-5 plus one’s position.
Now, what should we expect Israel perhaps to say if there is an agreement? I would be shocked if Prime Minster Netanyahu praises the agreement in any way. He’s going to preserve his options, OK? He’s saying: This deal is not good enough for me; this is not good enough for Israel and we reserve our right to do what we need to do to defend Israel, which is Israel’s right. But I think in their private conversations those Israeli leaders will probably recognize that this is a better outcome than no constraints on Iran’s program, than no inspections on the undeclared areas of Iran’s program.
And they recognize, even if they hold it out as a possibility, that Israeli military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities is not a solution. It is not going to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities. It would at best set those capabilities back a few years. And they know that it probably would lead Iran’s leaders to change their thinking about the fatwa and to actually actively and openly pursue nuclear weapons, probably with a lot of public support, if that were to happen. So I think we need to understand these statements and put them in context.
And just very quickly, with respect to, you know, others in the United States who speak out about these issues, including AIPAC. I think they have an important role to play. I think they need to – like all of us do, need to take a close look at the agreement. They need to understand what it does. They need to understand that this is a nuclear negotiation and not a negotiation about overall rapprochement with Iran and an effort to try to moderate Iran’s behavior in other nonnuclear areas. And I think they, like all of us, need to take a look at what the alternatives are, and the alternatives to a good and effective and verifiable deal are definitely not as good and can lead to increased Iranian capabilities and increased risk of war, and I don’t think that’s something that AIPAC or anyone really wants to see.
So with that, let me ask you to join me in thanking our three great speakers. (Applause.) And let me also encourage you to read our report, which is online at www.armscontrol.org