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former IAEA Director-General

Iran

IAEA Provides More Detail on Iran

Report covers low-enriched uranium stockpile and testing of a new centrifuge.

April 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provided greater detail about Iran’s nuclear activities in its most recent report, drawing praise from the United States and criticism from Iran.

The IAEA is tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities under the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and reporting quarterly to the agency’s Board of Governors. The agency issued its most recent report on Feb. 24 ahead of the March 6-10 quarterly board meeting.

Officials gathered for the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting March 6 in Vienna. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA)For the first time since the agreement was fully implemented in January 2016, the IAEA reported on the size of Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent. The IAEA said Iran had 101.7 kilograms in several different forms. Under the deal, Iran can keep up to 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent, a level suitable for fueling nuclear power reactors but far below the enrichment level necessary to fuel a nuclear weapon.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that the report provides more information on Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium because of “clarifications” agreed by the Joint Commission. The commission, comprised of representatives from the P5+1 countries, Iran, and the European Union, oversees implementation of the deal and resolves technical and compliance issues.

In December 2016 and January 2017, the commission publicly released decisions it had made over the past year. The January document included an agreement on how to account for enriched uranium that remained in process lines at a plant used by Iran to convert uranium gas into powder. According to the document, Iran could take certain steps under IAEA verification to render the material “unrecoverable,” so it does not count against the 300 kilogram stockpile limit.

Andrew Schofer, a senior official at the U.S. Mission to the International Organizations in Vienna, said in a statement during the IAEA board meeting that the United States welcomes the “inclusion of the additional level of detail, and expects it will continue in the future.” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, disagreed and requested that the IAEA produce future reports that are “as concise as possible.” He said that Tehran opposes the “inclusion of confidential safeguard information under the pretext of transparency.”

The report also noted that Iran’s stockpile of heavy water was 124 metric tons, less than the limit of 130 metric tons established by the deal. Iran is permitted to produce heavy water, which is used to moderate certain types of reactors such as the IR-40 reactor Iran is constructing at Arak, and can sell any excess material on the open market. The quantity is capped based on an assessment of Iran’s needs.

The previous IAEA report, issued in November 2016, said that Iran slightly exceeded the limit and possessed 130.1 metric tons. The Feb. 24 report said that the IAEA verified that 11 metric tons were shipped out of Iran on Nov. 19. The agency verified Dec. 6 that all of the heavy water reached its destination and is in storage in another country.

Najafi contested the necessity of this step during the board meeting and said that nothing requires Iran to ship out heavy water in excess of 130 metric tons if Tehran has not found a buyer. Schofer responded by saying that the deal clearly states that Iran cannot accumulate heavy water in excess of 130 metric tons.

The IAEA report also said that Iran began feeding natural uranium gas into a single IR-8 centrifuge Jan. 21. The IAEA said in its report that this activity is within the limits defined by the deal, which allows testing on a single IR-8 machine in a way that precludes Iran from withdrawing enriched or depleted uranium and under agency monitoring.

Iran is only permitted to produce uranium enriched to 3.67 percent using 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its Natanz facility. The IAEA report said that Iran is abiding by that restriction. Iran’s state-owned Press TV cited a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on Feb. 14 saying that the new domestically manufactured IR-8 centrifuge is 20 times more productive than the IR-1. Iran anticipates mass producing IR-8s as international restrictions are eased starting eight years after the implementation of the nuclear deal, said spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.

The Feb. 24 IAEA report said that Iran continues to allow inspectors access to nuclear facilities and sites in Iran, but did not specify if any of the locations inspected are facilities other than Tehran’s declared nuclear sites. 

Posted: March 31, 2017

ZTE Fined for Sanctions Evasion

Chinese telecom giant ZTE agreed to pay U.S. penalties of $1.2 billion for shipping equipment to Iran and North Korea.

Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. agreed to pay U.S. civil and criminal penalties totaling $1.2 billion for illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea, the largest fine and forfeiture penalty ever imposed in a U.S. export control case. ZTE pleaded guilty to violating U.S. export and sanctions regulations and obstructing justice with “false and misleading” statements during the investigation of its activities, the U.S. Commerce Department said in a March 7 statement. The regulations control the sale of sensitive U.S.-origin technologies.

ZTE “conspired to evade” the U.S. embargo on Iran between 2010 and 2016 in order to “supply, build, operate and/or service large scale telecommunications networks in Iran” using U.S.-origin equipment and software, the Commerce Department said. “As a result of the conspiracy, ZTE was able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with and sales from such Iranian entities.” ZTE also made 283 shipments of items to North Korea, including items controlled for national security purposes, such as routers, microprocessors, and servers, according to the statement. ZTE engaged in evasive conduct designed to prevent the U.S. government from detecting its violations, the Commerce Department said. 

ZTE Chairman and CEO Zhao Xianming said in a March 7 statement that the company acknowledged “the mistakes it made” and is instituting new “compliance-focused” procedures. Under the settlement, ZTE will be subject to audits and additional compliance requirements. The terms specify that $300 million of the penalty will be suspended if ZTE abides by all regulations during a seven-year probationary period. 

Posted: March 31, 2017

Analysis: Sanctions Bill Poses Risk for Iran Deal

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For Immediate Release: March 28, 2017

Media Contact: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102.

(Washington, D.C.)—Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and 13 other Senators introduced a new Iran sanctions bill that would, if enacted, jeopardize the success of the July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Although the legislation (S. 722) focuses on areas not explicitly covered by the nuclear deal, such as Iran’s ballistic missile activity and support for terrorism, sections of the legislation risk undermining U.S. commitments in the agreement.

If this bill becomes law, it could threaten the ongoing implementation of the nuclear deal, which is successfully blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Specifically:

Section 4

This section of the proposed legislation would violate the spirit of the U.S. commitment not to take actions that impede Iran’s access to sanctions relief. It imposes mandatory sanctions on entities whose activity “poses a risk of materially contributing” to Iran’s ballistic missile program. This language is overly broad and imprecise, making it difficult for any company considering business with an Iranian entity to ascertain if that entity is involved in activities that could pose a risk of contributing to Tehran’s ballistic missile development. This provision would likely prevent third party companies and banks from doing business with Iran by generating unnecessary risks. Creating this obstacle runs contrary to paragraph 26 of the nuclear deal, which says that: “United States will make best efforts in good faith to sustain this JCPOA and to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II.”  This language also risks alienating U.S. partners in the agreement–France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China–and sanctioning entities in these states for engaging in legitimate business permitted by the nuclear deal.

Section 8

This section could prevent the United States from fulfilling its commitments to remove individuals and entities from the sanctions designated list on Transition Day, which will occur in 2023 at the latest. According to the text of the nuclear deal, on Transition Day, Washington will delist a set group of individuals and entities, including some designated for ballistic missile activity under Executive Order 13382. The bill will prevent the president from delisting individuals unless a certification is issued that the individual or entity has not engaged in activities related to Iran’s ballistic missile program in the prior three months. Continued engagement in illicit ballistic missile activity by these listed entities is undesirable, but there are no conditions for delisting these entities under the deal. If the president cannot fulfill U.S. obligations to delist individuals and entities, the United States would be in violation of the nuclear agreement.

Iran’s support for terrorist groups is destabilizing and its continued testing of ballistic missiles runs contrary to the spirit of UN Security Resolution 2231, but risking the success of the 2015 agreement, which is blocking Iran’s pathways to the nuclear weapons, is irresponsible and dangerous. For more than a year, Tehran’s nuclear activities have remained restricted and heavily monitored and, according to the most recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is continuing to abide by its commitments under the nuclear agreement.

Before rushing to support this legislation or future bills on Iran, members of Congress should carefully and fully consider the impact on the Iran nuclear deal and the consequences of undermining the accord.

Without the continued and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran’s nuclear program would be subject to less monitoring and far fewer restraints, posing a proliferation risk and threatening international security. Additional sanctions as proposed in S. 722 risk the future of the deal and are unnecessary and unwarranted at this time. 

Country Resources:

Posted: March 28, 2017

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, March 10

IAEA Board Meets, Discusses Iran Iran’s nuclear program was a topic at this week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in Vienna. The 35-member board met March 6-10 to discuss a range of topics including the IAEA’s monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program under the July 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Andrew Schofer, charge d’ affaires at the U.S. mission to international organizations in Vienna, delivered Washington’s statement at the meeting. The statement referenced the “essential” role of the IAEA’s monitoring activities in...

Trump Faces Risks With Iran Sanctions

The administration so far is sticking with U.S. obligations under the nuclear deal denounced by the president. 

March 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

As the Trump administration says it is weighing additional sanctions on Iran, some of the measures reportedly being considered could endanger the landmark nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers and hurt U.S. national security interests. 

An Airbus A321, shown arriving January 12 at the Tehran Mehrabad International Airport, is the first of 100 planes ordered by Iran Air from Airbus after sanctions were lifted as part of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. (Photo credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran accepted limits on its nuclear activities and increased monitoring to ensure that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful. Iran is complying with its obligations, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano said Feb. 14. 

In return, Iran received sanctions relief from the United States, European Union, and United Nations. Washington lifted certain nuclear-related sanctions and committed under the terms of the agreement not to reimpose those measures and to refrain from passing any new nuclear-related sanctions “acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and the Congress.” Thus far, Washington has abided by these obligations. 

To continue to fulfill its responsibilities under the deal, which was negotiated between Iran and six countries known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the United States will need to continue to waive sanctions if Iran remains in compliance. A key decision point comes in late May, when the Trump administration for the first time will need to reissue the sanctions waivers that carried over from the Obama administration. 

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who coordinated the P5+1 position during negotiations and now oversees implementation for the group, met with officials at the U.S. State Department and White House in early February. Afterward, she told reporters that “the United States is committed to the full implementation” of the nuclear deal. 

Yet, statements by President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly denounced the agreement as “one of the worst deals” ever negotiated, and some members of Congress call Washington’s commitment into question. 

Revolutionary Guards

There are reports that the administration is considering whether to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s most powerful security and military organization, as a foreign terrorist organization. 

Certain IRGC individuals and elements already are subject to sanctions for activities outside the scope of the nuclear deal, such as missile proliferation and support for terrorism. In August 2015, Adam Szubin, acting U.S. undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, testified to Congress that the nuclear accord did not relieve such sanctions against the IRGC “or any of their subsidiaries and senior officials.”

A decision by the Trump administration to designate the entire IRGC organization, which wields major economic and political influence in Iran, would complicate U.S. goals in the Middle East and have ramifications for the nuclear deal. 

Although the United States retains the ability under the deal to impose further sanctions for activities such as support for terrorism or ballistic missile development, Washington committed to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.” If the IRGC is designated a foreign terrorist organization, anyone conducting transactions with an entity in which the IRGC holds an interest, which covers many areas of the Iranian economy, would be subject to U.S. sanctions. 

 A European official from one of the states that participated in the nuclear negotiations told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 21 email that designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization would “likely kill the deal, as investment and trade with Iran would be increasingly difficult given that the IRGC holds interests in so many sectors of the Iranian economy.” 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow on Feb. 6 that “new obstacles, specifically new sanctions and banking obstacles” imposed by the United States, are not acceptable to Russia. Ryabkov’s comments followed a meeting with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, a senior nuclear negotiator. 

Beyond endangering the nuclear deal, a broad sanctions designation against the IRGC could have damaging regional implications, including in neighboring Iraq, which relies on military help from the United States and the IRGC and where the IRGC could become a renewed threat to U.S. forces. Some analysts warn that further U.S. sanctions could strengthen hard-liners heading into the May 2017 Iranian presidential elections, as well as complicate international efforts to resolve conflicts in places such as Syria and Yemen, where the IRGC is active. 

Ballistic Missile Sanctions

These factors, which do not rule out the application of further sanctions, highlight that that close consideration will be needed to the consequences of additional measures and to possible alternatives. Twice since the deal was fully implemented in January 2016, the United States has issued new designations on individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program. 

The nuclear deal, does not cover ballistic missile tests; but UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal and lifted most UN sanctions, “called” on Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” 

Despite this inclusion, Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles. Its most recent test on Jan. 29 involved a missile with a range and payload that fits into the definition of nuclear capable, meaning it can deliver a 500-kilogram payload a distance of more than 300 kilometers. That test drew rebukes from Washington and European capitals, asserting the test was inconsistent with the spirit of Resolution 2231. Iran countered that the missile is permitted because it is not “designed” to carry a nuclear warhead. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the State Department on February 9. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Following that test, the United States issued designations on individuals and entities under Executive Order 13382, “which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery and supporters of such activity,” according to the Feb. 3 Treasury Department press release. A senior official in a White House-arranged call to reporters said that the designations were made “outside” of the nuclear deal and that the United States “continues to implement its commitments” under the deal. 

The official, who spoke under terms requiring anonymity, affirmed that none of the entities designated on Feb. 3 were on the list of individuals and entities the nuclear deal delisted. Relisting entities could constitute a violation of Washington’s commitment not to reimpose certain sanctions. 

President Barack Obama issued similar designations in response to ballistic missile activities in January 2016, the day after the nuclear deal was fully implemented. The Obama administration, however, retained communications with Iran after the negotiations were completed and was able to communicate directly that, despite the designation actions, Washington remained committed to the agreement. 

Talk from the Trump administration about scrapping or renegotiating the nuclear agreement sends mixed signals to Iran about the intentions of additional sanctions. “One of the worst deals I’ve ever seen is the Iran deal,” Trump said in opening remarks at a White House news conference Feb. 15 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing—I mean ever—a nuclear weapon.” 

It also sends mixed signals to anxious allies, whose support is needed in dealing with Iran. Washington’s P5+1 partners and Iran cannot “learn about Trump’s policy toward the deal over social media,” the European official said in his email. He urged the new administration to maintain close coordination with the P5+1 partners and to establish clear lines of communication with Iran to “prevent mixed messages” about U.S. intentions toward the agreement.

Posted: March 1, 2017

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, February 17

Israel and EU Talk Iran During Washington Visits Neither U.S. President Donald Trump nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advocated for abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran during a Feb. 15 joint news conference in Washington, DC. But both leaders called for additional sanctions on Tehran and Netanyahu said he welcomed Trump’s “challenging Iran on its violations of ballistic missiles.” There are no prohibitions on ballistic missile activity in the July 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but continued testing of certain ballistic missile...

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Test: Troubling But Not Cause for Provoking Confrontation

Without question, Iran’s decision to continue testing ballistic missiles is unhelpful and inconsistent with the spirit of a key 2015 UN Security Council resolution. But the Trump administration and the Congress should measure their response to Iran’s missile test and refrain from actions that will provoke escalation or unnecessarily endanger the nuclear deal. Implementation of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) and Iran blocks Tehran from building nuclear weapons for more than a decade. Keeping the deal...

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, January 17

Iran Deal Hits One Year Milestone Jan. 16 marked one year of full implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal. Around the anniversary, key U.S. and Iranian figures issued contrasting comments about the future of the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On ABC News’ This Week program, President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did not directly answer a question about whether Trump was still committed to tearing up the deal. Priebus said the deal is on “life support,” but that he is “not here to declare one way or the other...

U.S. Congress Extends Iran Sanctions

Iran’s president calls the action a “gross violation” of the nuclear accord.

January/February 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

Iran denounced U.S. congressional action to extend sanctions against the country as a violation of the nuclear deal it negotiated with the United States and its partners. 

The sanctions, set to expire at the end of 2016, were extended for 10 years. As part of the nuclear deal, Washington is waiving certain sanctions on Iran, including provisions of the Iran Sanctions Act, in return for limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, shown in this December 2016 photo, attacked the sanctions extension as a “gross violation” of the nuclear accord and said that Iran would “firmly respond.” (Photo credit: Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images)Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attacked the extension as a “gross violation” of the nuclear accord and said that Iran would “firmly respond.” 

The nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, prohibits the United States from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran or reintroducing sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal. Proponents of the extension assert that extending the existing sanctions does not constitute new restrictions. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the sponsor of the extension legislation, said on Dec. 15 that adoption “ensures the U.S. retains its ability to hold the [Iranian] regime accountable.”

The Obama administration maintained that the 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act was unnecessary, but said the action does not violate U.S. commitments under the nuclear deal. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the extension was not necessary for accountability to the nuclear deal and that, had the act had expired, the administration “would continue to have all the authorities” needed to reimpose sanctions quickly.

Despite President Barack Obama’s assurance that the measure was not needed to snap sanctions back into place in the event of an Iranian violation of the deal, Congress overwhelmingly supported the extension. The legislation passed 419-1 in the House of Representatives on Nov. 15 and 99-0 in the Senate on Dec. 1. 

The bill officially became law on Dec. 15, after Obama in a symbolic move chose not to sign it. When Congress is in session, the president has 10 days to sign or veto any legislation sent to the White House. If the president takes no action during that period, as in this case, the bill becomes law.

Kerry said that the extension “does not affect in any way the scope of the sanctions relief” nor the ability of companies to do business in Iran consistent with the nuclear deal. Kerry said he renewed the sanctions waivers required by the nuclear deal on Dec. 15, even though the existing waivers were not impacted by the Iran Sanctions Act renewal, “to ensure maximum clarity and convey to all stakeholders that the United States will continue to uphold our commitments” under the deal. 

President-elect Donald Trump will need to continue waiving sanctions on Iran to meet U.S. commitments under the nuclear agreement. Waivers typically last 120 or 180 days, but can be reissued early. If Kerry does not reissue the waivers before Obama leaves office, the earliest the Trump administration would need to reauthorize the waivers is mid-April. 

Trump has not articulated his approach to the Iran accord since being elected president, although he criticized the “disastrous deal” on the campaign trail. His advisers have expressed a range of opinions, with some calling for scrapping the deal and others for vigorously enforcing its provisions. (See ACT, December 2016.)

Despite assertions by Obama and Kerry that the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act is consistent with U.S. obligations under the deal, Iranian officials called it a violation and took steps to respond.

Iran on Dec. 16 called for a meeting of the joint commission established by the nuclear deal to discuss the implications of the U.S. action. Any participant in the nuclear deal (China, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) can request a meeting of the commission at any time, and the coordinator has one week to convene the participants. That body has a working group on issues related to lifting sanctions. 

Rouhani announced on Dec. 13 that Iran would begin researching and developing nuclear propulsion for marine vessels. Specifically, he called for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to “plan the design and construction of a nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation.” White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest said the announcement “does not run counter” to the deal. 

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the AEOI, said he discussed the plans with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano during Amano’s visit to Tehran on Dec. 18. Salehi said the work on marine propulsion will be conducted within the framework of the nuclear deal and consistently with IAEA safeguards. 

Salehi said he spoke with Amano about how the project will fit within the IAEA framework. The IAEA statement on the meeting confirmed that Amano sought clarification about Iran’s plans for marine nuclear reactor research. 

Under the nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium to a level higher than 3.67 percent for 15 years. Naval nuclear reactors typically require fuel with a higher level of uranium enrichment. China, for instance, operates naval reactors with uranium enriched to 5 percent, and the United States uses weapons-grade enriched uranium (greater than 90 percent) for its naval reactors.

Posted: January 11, 2017

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, December 22

The Iran Deal Under Trump President-elect Donald Trump has yet to clarify his administration’s policy toward Iran and the July 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But he will need to move quickly as Iranian news outlets are reporting that the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said a meeting of the nuclear deal's Joint Commission will take place in early January and include members of the Trump team. Trump’s advisors, however, have voiced conflicting views about the agreement. The presumptive National Security Advisor,...

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