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former IAEA Director-General

Policy White Papers

Iran Nuclear Negotiations: What's Next After Moscow?

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On June 19, Iran concluded the third round of talks on its nuclear program in as many months, this time in Moscow, with senior officials of the six powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Although there were strong incentives for the six to secure limits on Iran's most worrisome stockpiles of enriched uranium and for Iran to avoid an impending tightening of economic sanction, no breakthrough was achieved by the end of the latest round. But neither did diplomatic dialogue come to an end.

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June 28, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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On June 19, Iran concluded the third round of talks on its nuclear program in as many months, this time in Moscow, with senior officials of the six powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Although there were strong incentives for the six to secure limits on Iran's most worrisome stockpiles of enriched uranium and for Iran to avoid an impending tightening of economic sanction, no breakthrough was achieved by the end of the latest round. But neither did diplomatic dialogue come to an end. The sides reached agreement to meet again at a technical level within two weeks in Istanbul, to be followed by renewed contact between the senior negotiators. With perseverance from the parties, the ongoing talks can mark the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end of chances for ultimate resolution.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Posted: June 28, 2012

Long-Range Ballistic Missile Development: A Tale of Two Tests

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North Korea's failed attempt to launch a satellite from its Unha-3 space rocket on April 13 and India's successful flight test of the Agni-5 long-range missile on April 19 marked significant events in the ballistic missile development programs of the two countries. These two ballistic missile test events not only reveal technical information about system performance, but also invite reflection on U.S. policy responses.

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May 10, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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North Korea's failed attempt to launch a satellite from its Unha-3 space rocket on April 13 and India's successful flight test of the Agni-5 long-range missile on April 19 marked significant events in the ballistic missile development programs of the two countries. These two ballistic missile test events not only reveal technical information about system performance, but also invite reflection on U.S. policy responses.  

The demonstration of North Korean failure and Indian success is only the most readily accessible feature of the story. The broader implications for U.S. nonproliferation and security policies are more complicated and less obvious. Both cases imply U.S. failure to accurately assess threats and to adopt appropriate responses for mitigating those threats.

Posted: May 10, 2012

The Breakout Option: Raising the Bar for the Supreme Leader

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The U.S. intelligence community still assesses that Tehran has not yet actually decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be the one to give that order and the one who would control the weapons. It is therefore worth pondering what steps could discourage him from proceeding down the nuclear weapons path.

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April 5, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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The U.S. intelligence community still assesses that Tehran has not yet actually decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be the one to give that order and the one who would control the weapons. It is therefore worth pondering what steps could discourage him from proceeding down the nuclear weapons path.

If Khamenei's foremost goals are the survival of the Islamic Republic with himself as supreme leader, developing nuclear capabilities may be seen an asset, even with the damaging sanctions that result. By positioning himself as a defiant defender of Iranian nuclear progress against foreign bullying, he can reinforce the domestic legitimacy of the clerical regime.

If he came to believe that Iran could forestall continuing economic punishment and eventual military attack only by abject capitulation, he might decide that breaking out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to build a bomb would be the preferred path for restoring Iran's international position and securing the Islamic revolution.

The challenge for the United States is to devise policies that would make it as difficult as possible for Khamenei to retain domestic support and international sympathy if he were to go for a bomb.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Posted: April 5, 2012

Iran Nuclear Brief: Charting a Diplomatic Path On the Iran Nuclear Challenge

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Even as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program rise, the principal parties engaged in the issue say that they seek a peaceful resolution through diplomacy. Earlier this month, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili reportedly sent a letter to European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton—who represents the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)—in response to the six-country offer for the renewal of serious talks on Iran’s nuclear program. With the P5+1 insisting that a diplomatic path to resolve the issue remains open and Tehran’s professed interest in dialogue, the question arises: what steps could the two sides take to resolve the impasse?

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January 25, 2012
By Peter Grail

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Even as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program rise, the principal parties engaged in the issue say that they seek a peaceful resolution through diplomacy.

Earlier this month, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili reportedly sent a letter to European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton—who represents the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)—in response to the six-country offer for the renewal of serious talks on Iran’s nuclear program. With the P5+1 insisting that a diplomatic path to resolve the issue remains open and Tehran’s professed interest in dialogue, the question arises: what steps could the two sides take to resolve the impasse?

In her letter to Jalili last October calling for renewed negotiations, Ashton said the process would need to begin with confidence-building measures to facilitate longer-term engagement. Given the current trust deficit and the inability of the fractured Iranian political leadership to agree on whether and how to engage on the nuclear issue, an approach that builds upon short-term arrangements makes sense. But it will also be necessary to have some idea of what the end-goal of such engagement might be.

In this respect, Ashton said in her letter that the goal of the six countries is “a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme,” reaffirming the group’s commitment to proposals it put forward 2006 and 2008. This brief provides an overview of these proposals and related confidence-building steps and discusses how they address the critical issue of Iran’s enrichment program.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Posted: January 25, 2012

Iran Nuclear Brief: The Path to Avoiding War and Resolving the Nuclear Crisis

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The Nov. 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency details why the international community remains deeply concerned about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. While sanctions and other measures have slowed down Iran’s movement toward acquiring a nuclear weapons option, Tehran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities and has so far refused to implement the confidence building steps necessary to ensure it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

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January 4, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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U.S.-Iranian relations are bad and getting worse. The New Year has opened with rising tensions between the United States and Iran and an increased prospect of war—either intentional or accidental.

The Nov. 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency details why the international community remains deeply concerned about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. While sanctions and other measures have slowed down Iran’s movement toward acquiring a nuclear weapons option, Tehran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities and has so far refused to implement the confidence-building steps necessary to ensure it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

The latest round of U.S. unilateral sanctions has been met with Iranian threats of closing the Straits of Hormuz through which 35% of the world’s seaborne oil passes. Iran reinforced those threats with ten days of military exercises in nearby waters that included launches of anti-ship missiles. These and other developments highlight how relatively minor incidents could quickly escalate into a major military conflict.

At the same time, Iran proposed on December 31 a new round of talks with the P5+1 group of nations, suggesting that that diplomatic options to resolve the nuclear concerns about its nuclear activities have not been exhausted.

In the following Iran Nuclear Brief, ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann argues that in order to avoid unintentional conflict with Iran, there is an urgent need to establish better lines of bilateral communication at all levels—between military forces in the region, between diplomats, and between senior officials. Thielmann also explains why pragmatic diplomatic engagement is essential to a successful strategy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Additional presentations and analyses from ACA’s "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" project are available here.

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Posted: January 4, 2012

Iran Nuclear Brief: Making Sense of the IAEA’s Latest Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program

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The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program in early November attracted intense media interest and stimulated strong political reactions in the United States and around the world. The IAEA report and its 14-page annex represented a milestone for the Vienna-based agency in terms of its willingness to present detailed information to the public on activities of concern in Iran’s nuclear program.

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December 5, 2011
By Greg Thielmann

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The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program in early November attracted intense media interest and stimulated strong political reactions in the United States and around the world. The IAEA report and its 14-page annex represented a milestone for the Vienna-based agency in terms of its willingness to present detailed information to the public on activities of concern in Iran’s nuclear program.

The Arms Control Association provided an in-depth assessment of the IAEA report on November 8, 2011. Yet much of the subsequent press coverage has been inaccurate in its comparison of the IAEA’s latest report with past characterizations of Iran’s nuclear activities – most notably, the public summary of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.

The following Iran Nuclear Brief elucidates the similarities and differences in those two documents, incorporating an earlier article by ACA’s senior fellow, Greg Thielmann, and Benjamin Loehrke, senior policy analyst for the Ploughshares Fund, which was published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on November 23, 2011.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Posted: December 5, 2011

Iran Nuclear Brief: Assessing Iran's Nuclear Program Without Exaggeration or Complacency

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Shortly after the early September release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear program, the Arms Control Association assembled a panel of top experts to assess the status of Iran’s nuclear effort and examine strategies to address it. The September 19 briefing for Congressional staffers was part of an ongoing series of briefings organized by ACA and its partners on “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”

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October 3, 2011
By Greg Thielmann

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Shortly after the early September release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear program, the Arms Control Association assembled a panel of top experts to assess the status of Iran’s nuclear effort and examine strategies to address it. The September 19 briefing for Congressional staffers was part of an ongoing series of briefings organized by ACA and its partners on “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”

Along with nuclear terrorism, the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by states not yet in possession of them is at the forefront of U.S. national security concerns. Iran dominates the field.

The following Iran Nuclear Brief by Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, is based on his presentation at the September 19 briefing. It provides a status report on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and an evaluation of their potential as a nuclear weapons threat.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Posted: October 3, 2011

Strategic Missile Defense: A Threat to Future Nuclear Arms Reductions?

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With Russia’s ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the stage is now set for new discussions between Washington and Moscow on further steps toward reducing the two states’ enormous nuclear arsenals that together comprise more than 90 percent of total nuclear weapons worldwide.  Based on statements in Russia’s ratification documents and the statements of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, continued U.S.-Russian disagreements on missile defenses threaten to undermine those future talks.  U.S. policymakers need to consider ways to prevent strategic missile defense system development and deployment from becoming an obstacle to progress in enhancing stability and reducing nuclear dangers. In his latest Threat Assessment Brief, ACA’s senior fellow Greg Thielmann analyzes the nature of the U.S.-Russian missile defense challenge.

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January 26, 2011
By Greg Thielmann

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With Russia’s ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the stage is now set for new discussions between Washington and Moscow on further steps toward reducing the two states’ enormous nuclear arsenals that together comprise more than 90 percent of total nuclear weapons worldwide.  Based on statements in Russia’s ratification documents and the statements of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, continued U.S.-Russian disagreements on missile defenses threaten to undermine those future talks.  U.S. policymakers need to consider ways to prevent strategic missile defense system development and deployment from becoming an obstacle to progress in enhancing stability and reducing nuclear dangers. In his latest Threat Assessment Brief, ACA’s senior fellow Greg Thielmann analyzes the nature of the U.S.-Russian missile defense challenge.

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Posted: January 26, 2011

New START Verification: Up to the Challenge

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The multilayered limits of the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the elaborate verification measures flowing out of them were born of the difficult negotiations conducted in the waning days of the Soviet Union. The streamlined verification measures in the New START agreement, finalized in April 2010, are an appropriate response to the replacement treaty’s specific limits, which are designed to address post-Cold War realities. Combining proof-tested measures from 15 years of START implementation with new approaches to contemporary challenges, New START verification provisions are well suited to fulfill their core function. These provisions promise to permit the same high confidence in compliance achieved when the original START was in force, but will do so with more focused and up-to-date methods, including innovative verification provisions for monitoring deployed warhead ceilings.

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May 17, 2010
By Greg Thielmann

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The multilayered limits of the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the elaborate verification measures flowing out of them were born of the difficult negotiations conducted in the waning days of the Soviet Union. The streamlined verification measures in the New START agreement, finalized in April 2010, are an appropriate response to the replacement treaty’s specific limits, which are designed to address post-Cold War realities. Combining proof-tested measures from 15 years of START implementation with new approaches to contemporary challenges, New START verification provisions are well suited to fulfill their core function. These provisions promise to permit the same high confidence in compliance achieved when the original START was in force, but will do so with more focused and up-to-date methods, including innovative verification provisions for monitoring deployed warhead ceilings.

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Posted: May 17, 2010

New START Verification: Fitting the Means to the Ends

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The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) promises to lock in significant reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals by establishing lower ceilings on deployed weapons. The treaty’s verification provisions are means to that end--providing confidence that the sides are complying with those lower limits. Although the goal is to establish the high confidence levels maintained during the 15 years of the original START (1994-2009), the successor agreement will achieve that goal with more focused and up-to-date methods, including innovative verification provisions for deployed warhead ceilings. START’s multilayered limits and the elaborate verification measures flowing out of them were born of the Cold War. New START verification can be streamlined in accordance with the new, simplified limits and in response to post-Cold War realities. In assessing the new treaty, it is critical that verification provisions be judged by how well they fulfill their core function.

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February 22, 2010
By Greg Thielmann

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The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) promises to lock in significant reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals by establishing lower ceilings on deployed weapons. The treaty’s verification provisions are means to that end--providing confidence that the sides are complying with those lower limits. Although the goal is to establish the high confidence levels maintained during the 15 years of the original START (1994-2009), the successor agreement will achieve that goal with more focused and up-to-date methods, including innovative verification provisions for deployed warhead ceilings. START’s multilayered limits and the elaborate verification measures flowing out of them were born of the Cold War. New START verification can be streamlined in accordance with the new, simplified limits and in response to post-Cold War realities. In assessing the new treaty, it is critical that verification provisions be judged by how well they fulfill their core function.

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Posted: February 22, 2010

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