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former IAEA Director-General

Iran

Trump Threatens Iran Deal Withdrawal

U.S. demands more constraints on Iran or else.


March 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump set the stage for a new showdown over Iran sanctions in early May, putting pressure on Congress and Washington’s European partners to take action to address what he describes as “disastrous flaws” in the agreement.

In a Jan. 12 statement, Trump announced that he was waiving sanctions, as required to keep the United States in compliance with the deal, but he coupled that action with an ultimatum by saying he would not reissue the waivers again unless the deal is fixed. The next sanctions waivers are due around May 12.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on January 13 that President Trump is seeking to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement.” (Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)The four “critical components” that Trump wants addressed include tying Iran’s ballistic missile program to its nuclear activities, extending limits on Iran’s nuclear program that are set to expire over time, ensuring Iran never gets close to development of a nuclear weapon, and allowing international inspectors immediate access to any site on request. Trump said that the waived U.S. sanctions should snap back immediately if Iran does not comply with the provisions he is pursing.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, some limits on Iran’s nuclear program will expire in 10 to 25 years, whereas other provisions are permanent.

The nuclear deal does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, although the UN Security Council’s endorsement of the agreement declared limits on Iran’s ability to transfer ballistic missiles and components and called on the country to refrain from testing missiles designed to be nuclear capable. The deal does contain provisions outlining a process for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to request access to undeclared sites if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activity.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Jan. 13 that Trump’s statement amounts to a “desperate” attempt to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement” and is itself a violation of the nuclear deal. He called for the United States to come into “full compliance.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also rejected the U.S. approach. Moscow will not support any U.S. actions “changing the wording of the agreement,” he said. Russia was one of the P5+1 members (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, but was not included in Trump’s request for a supplemental agreement.

Leaders from the three European countries that Trump called on to negotiate the “supplemental” agreement with the United States offered in October to work with the administration to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, but rejected any renegotiation of the nuclear deal. (See ACT, November 2017.) Those countries are France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

They did agree, however, to participate in joint working groups that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said will address the status of Iran’s nuclear program after certain limits expire and Iranian activities “not related to the nuclear program.”

Tillerson, speaking to reporters during a trip to the United Kingdom on Jan. 22, said that there is a “common view” with the Europeans that these areas need to be addressed. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson only confirmed that the European countries share U.S. concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The three European countries could work with the United States on the ballistic missile issue if it does not “vitiate the fundaments of the Iran nuclear deal,” Johnson said.

Tillerson said that the administration cannot “set timetables for others” but that the United States is under a deadline from Trump to produce results. An official from one of the three European states told Arms Control Today on Feb. 13 that the United States has not been clear about its expectations for the working groups or the results necessary for Trump to continue to waive sanctions.

Congressional reactions to Trump’s demand that Congress pass legislation to address his four areas of concern were mixed. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a Jan. 12 statement that he was working with the administration on a way to “address the flaws in the agreement without violating U.S. commitments.” Corker said it is an opportunity to reach a “better deal” that will “stand the test of time and actually prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” He has yet to introduce any legislation.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time of Trump’s announcement, said he was “open to legislation options that would not violate” the nuclear deal and is supported by Europe.

Posted: March 1, 2018

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, February 5, 2017

P5+1, Congress Respond to Trump’s Demands to Change the Iran Nuclear Deal Officials from the United States and the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) gathered Jan. 25 in London for a working group meeting to discuss the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and Iran’s ballistic missile program. The meeting came after U.S. President Donald Trump renewed sanctions waivers required to keep the United States in compliance with the accord Jan. 12, but threatened to withhold the next round of waivers, due May 12, if Congress and...

Trump’s Cynical Gambit on the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Trump’s ultimatum that Congress pass legislation to unilaterally address what he describes as “flaws” in the agreement is based on flawed assumptions and puts the future of the accord in doubt.

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Volume 10, Issue 2, January 17, 2018

President Donald Trump’s Jan. 12 decision to waive sanctions on Iran keeps the United States in compliance–for the time being–with its obligations under the multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump’s ultimatum that Congress pass legislation to unilaterally address what he describes as “flaws” in the agreement is based on flawed assumptions. His demands are unrealistic and put the future of the accord in doubt.

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images)Trump’s Jan. 12 statement announcing the United States would waive sanctions reiterated the threat from his October Iran policy speech: “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.” In the Jan. 12 statement, however, Trump put a deadline on the “fix,” declaring that he would not waive sanctions again unless Congress passes legislation to address the “flaws” and almost certainly violating the JCPOA. Before the next sanctions waivers are due on or around May 12, Trump specifically called for legislation addressing four factors:

1) It must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.

2) Second, it must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.

3) Third, unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date.

4) Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.

Under the nuclear deal, the United States committed to “implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit, and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.” (See Section C.)

Conditioning continued U.S. participation in the agreement on achieving changes through unilateral action is not a good faith implementation of the JCPOA and sets the United States up to violate the agreement.

Thus far, Congress has wisely refrained from pursuing legislation that would violate the deal. In response to Trump’s ultimatum, it is critical that Congress does not kill the deal under the guise of saving it. Legislation that violates the agreement by unilaterally attempting to extend or alter the nuclear restrictions on Iran poses just as great a risk as Trump revoking the waivers, which would put the United States in material breach of its JCPOA commitments.

Moreover, any U.S. attempt to make changes to the multilateral accord will be staunchly opposed by Washington’s P5+1 negotiating partners, (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) and would be rejected by Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly responded to Trump’s Jan. 12 statement by saying the JCPOA is “not renegotiable” and that the U.S. announcement amounts to a desperate attempt to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Jan. 15 that Trump’s approach is unacceptable and Moscow would work to preserve the existing agreement.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1 group made similar comments last year, noting Sept. 21 that reopening an agreement that is working is unnecessary. Mogherini also called out Trump on his threat to blow up the deal. She warned that the JCPOA “does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”

Clearly, pursuing Trump’s approach will only isolate the United States at a time when Washington needs to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. Worse still, threats to pull out of the JCPOA unless other parties accede to U.S. demands will undermine cooperation on sanctions and negotiations to produce a deal to halt and reverse North Korea’s far more advanced nuclear and missile programs.

Trump’s Unrealistic Renegotiation Demands

A closer look at Trump’s four conditions for new legislation on the JCPOA show them to be unnecessary and unrealistic:

1) “It must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.”

Additional inspections authorities dictated by Congress are unnecessary and risk undermining the independence and integrity of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Under the JCPOA, key nuclear activities in Iran are subject to continuous monitoring to verify Iran is abiding by the deal. The IAEA also has timely access to both declared and undeclared sites. Declared sites can be visited on short notice and key sites can be inspected on a daily basis if requested by the agency.

If the IAEA has questions about illicit nuclear-related activities at any undeclared site (either civilian or military) that Iran does not address, the agency can request access. If Iran does not comply or fails to provide sufficient access in 14 days, the Joint Commission set up by the JCPOA can require Iran to comply with the IAEA’s request. This process is outlined in Annex I, Section Q of the JCPOA. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano noted Oct. 13 that agency inspectors have had all the access to sites they have requested and that the verification regime is the “world’s most robust.”

The JCPOA does not allow “anytime, anywhere” inspections–but that is not necessary for a strong agreement. Nor is likely that Iran–or any other country–would agree to give inspectors carte blanche access to any site, particularly military facilities. The current measures, combined with U.S. national intelligence means, provide high confidence that any deviations from the provisions allowed in the JCPOA would be quickly detected.

Additionally, the United States cannot and should not dictate the terms of international inspections. The IAEA is an independent organization and the credibility of the agency’s work depends on that perception. For the United States or any other country to try to legislate the agency’s access risks undermining the independence and integrity that is so critical to the IAEA’s work.


2) “It must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.”

It is unclear how Trump thinks legislation can or should be crafted to address this vague demand. A bill that seeks additional barriers based on a unilateral and arbitrary understanding of what constitutes "close to possessing a nuclear weapon" would be outside the scope of the JCPOA and would certainly be rejected by Iran and the United States' partners.

While some of the core restrictions under the JCPOA will expire, a shorter breakout time is not necessarily indicative of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Currently, the breakout, or time it would take for Iran to obtain enough fissile material for one bomb, is approximately 12 months. That timeline will drop after the first 10 years of the JCPOA when restrictions begin to expire. However, a shorter breakout alone does not indicate by itself that Iran has chosen to pursue nuclear weapons. For instance, if Tehran begins producing enough enriched uranium for its Bushehr power reactor, its breakout time would be shorter, but its activities would be legally permissible under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Additionally, key restrictions on Iran are permanent under the JCPOA. The enhanced inspections and monitoring under the additional protocol do not expire, nor does the prohibition on certain weaponization activities (Annex I, Section T). As a result, inspectors have more access than in prior years and Iran cannot claim that certain activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device are for conventional military purposes as it has in the past. The combination of restrictions, enhanced IAEA monitoring and access, and national intelligence means puts the United States in the best possible place to quickly detect covert nuclear activity, or a dash to nuclear weapons using declared nuclear facilities.

There are legitimate concerns about what happens in 10-15 years when some of the core nuclear limits mandated by the JCPOA are due to expire. But it is far better to sustain the current deal and look for opportunities, in conjunction with the P5+1 partners, to build on it in a way that strengthens nonproliferation in Iran and regionally, rather than risk the agreement immediately.


3) “Unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date. My policy is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon—not just for ten years, but forever. If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume.”

Unilaterally demanding an extension of JCPOA restrictions under threat of reimposing sanctions would violate the deal. Under the terms of the JCPOA, full implementation of the JCPOA results in Iran being treated like any other non-nuclear weapon state under the NPT. The State Department itself stated in the 2016 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments that with the implementation of the deal, “previous issues leading to NPT noncompliance findings [regarding Iran] had been resolved.”

Additionally, 10 years from adoption day, barring the reimposition of sanctions on Iran by the United Nations Security Council, that body will no longer be “seized” of the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. At this point, if Iran is in compliance with its international treaty obligations and the United States has no intelligence suggesting that Iran is pursuing a covert nuclear program, there is no legitimate basis to subject Iran’s nuclear program to arbitrary restrictions under threat of sanction.

The United States is also obligated in the JCPOA to seek the statutory lifting of sanctions eight years after adoption day. If Washington intends to threaten automatic reimposition of sanctions in perpetuity if Iran resumes certain nuclear activities, Congress cannot make a good faith effort to statutorily lift the measures.

The United States does not need to seek a basis now in order to respond to future, hypothetical Iranian actions. If national intelligence or evidence obtained by the IAEA were to emerge in the future that Iran had resumed nuclear-weapons related activities in violation of its NPT commitments, the United States should work multilaterally, as it did leading up to the JCPOA, to pursue a response supported by the international community.


4) “Legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”

Formally linking Iran’s long-range missile program to its nuclear weapons program under U.S. law risks putting in place conditions that would disrupt the JCPOA because of activities outside the scope of the agreement.

While the JCPOA does not cover Iran’s ballistic missile activities, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the deal, calls upon Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be nuclear-capable. While this is a nonbinding condition, the eight-year prohibitions on selling or purchasing certain ballistic missiles and related technologies without prior approval from the Security Council are absolute.

Since the Iran nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016, the UN secretary-general has issued four reports assessing the implementation the resolution. Several of the reports, including the most recent in December 2017, call into question Iran’s compliance with the restrictions, noting several allegations of illicit transfer of ballistic missile systems.

Iran’s flouting of UN Security Council restrictions is troublesome, but the United States has a number of tools to address Iran’s ballistic missile activities. The JCPOA did not waive or prohibit additional U.S. sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activity and the United States has responded to Iran’s ballistic missile activities by passing new measures and designating individuals and entities.

In the past six months, the administration targeted additional entities assessed as involved in Iran’s ballistic missiles program as recently as Jan. 12, and Congress passed additional sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activity in August 2017. Implementation of these measures, as well as UN restrictions, should be the focus of U.S. efforts at this point.

Given Iran’s security concerns and the current US-Iranian tensions, an agreement limiting ballistic missiles may be unlikely in short term, particularly if the JCPOA’s future is in doubt, and because of the central role that Iran’s ballistic missiles play in its national security. But the United States can and should do what it can to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and encourage Iran to abide by its announced range restriction. Iran has stated it will limit its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers. While this commitment is voluntary and nonbinding, it has been reiterated by the Supreme Leader, and a June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range.

The United States should also work with its EU allies, which have stated in October a willingness to work cooperatively to address Iran’s ballistic missiles–separate from the JCPOA. That could include discussions on a regional ballistic missile limitation mechanism and greater information sharing to ensure that the existing UN restrictions, as well as U.S. sanctions, are abided by. Training on Resolution 2231 and export controls could also be beneficial to enhance compliance with existing restrictions. Given the broad authorities already on the books, a focus on implementation, rather than additional sanctions, may be the best path forward.

Going Forward

Responsible legislators should understand Trump’s demands to “fix” the deal for what they are: an attempt to force Congress to unilaterally push changes that other parties won’t accept, or allow him to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments.

Even if the Congress proposes “fixes” to the JCPOA that do not violate the terms of the agreement outright—and it is difficult to conceive of legislation that would meet Trump’s conditions without violating the deal—there is no guarantee that Trump will not move the goalposts again in the future and demand additional concessions for continued U.S. participation in the accord.

From a nonproliferation perspective, the JCPOA can continue to block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons for more than a decade if fully implemented. With top U.S. policymakers like Secretary of Defense James Mattis affirming that Iran is meeting its commitments and that the deal benefits U.S. national security interests, there is no reason for Washington to pull out of the deal, demand additional changes, and risk a new proliferation crisis now.

The Trump administration must recognize that the best path forward to address Iran’s nuclear program is to fully implement the agreement at hand and look for opportunities to build on its unique nonproliferation value.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Posted: January 17, 2018

Iran Talks Focus on Sanctions Relief

Sanctions relief was a key topic of discussion at a regular meeting between Iran and six countries on implementation of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

January/February 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Sanctions relief was a key topic of discussion at a regular meeting between Iran and six countries on implementation of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

With missile remains as a backdrop, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accuses Iran of violating Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms. She spoke at Joint Base Anacostia near Washington on December 14, 2017. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)The quarterly meeting of the Joint Commission, the body set up by the JCPOA to oversee the nuclear deal and comprised of representatives from all seven states and the European Union, was chaired by Helga Schmid, secretary-general of the European External Action Service, and held on Dec. 13.

Ahead of the meeting in Vienna, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that banks and companies are “afraid” of doing business with Iran because of U.S. actions and that this issue would be a main point of discussion. In a statement following the meeting, Schmid said the participants “extensively reviewed progress” on lifting sanctions and noted that a working group on sanctions had met the previous day.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who headed Iran’s delegation to the meeting, told reporters that the body needs to deal “more assertively” with what he described as U.S. noncompliance with the nuclear accord. All members of the Joint Commission raised concerns about the United States “very explicitly” and stressed the importance of Washington continuing to meet its commitments, he said.

Schmid’s public statement did not specifically mention the United States, saying that all participants “recalled the need for continued implementation of sanctions lifting to allow for the effective realization of the benefits envisioned under the JCPOA.” Her statement also noted the value of addressing challenges related to sanctions relief in forums set up by the accord.

Washington has continued to waive sanctions as required, but Iran has argued that certain U.S. actions have violated the “spirit” of the deal. (See ACT, September 2017.) The Trump administratizon will need to waive sanctions again in mid-January to remain in compliance.

Schmid’s statement said that the states welcomed the news that the International Atomic Energy Agency, in its quarterly report in November, again “confirmed Iran’s continued adherence” to its nuclear-related commitments. The parties also welcomed the work done to advance implementation of Annex III, which lays out recommendations for cooperation between Iran and other states on civil nuclear activities, according to the statement.

Although her statement did not reference specific activities, EU and Iranian representatives met in Isfahan on Nov. 21-22 for the second high-level seminar on nuclear cooperation.

A joint statement released on Nov. 22 said that Iran and the EU discussed the latest developments in nuclear governance, including nuclear safety, nuclear liability, and spent fuel management, and agreed to hold a workshop on nuclear liability and insurance in 2018. The statement noted the cooperative projects that were underway, including stress tests at the Bushehr reactor and a feasibility study on the establishment of a nuclear safety center in Iran.

At a Dec. 12 meeting of the EU Parliament, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, called attention to the importance of civil nuclear cooperation. Mogherini said the civil nuclear cooperation projects make the nuclear deal “more solid through increased transparency.”

UN Report on Resolution 2231

UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a report tied to the nuclear deal on Dec. 13.

The biannual report is required under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal and laid out restrictions on Iran’s missile and conventional weapons activities.

The report noted that Saudi Arabia, in a letter to the Security Council president and UN secretary-general, said that Iran had a role in manufacturing the missiles launched at its territory from Yemen in July and November 2017 in “flagrant violation” of council resolutions. Under Resolution 2231, Iran is prohibited from selling or transferring ballistic missiles or certain missile-related items without the prior approval of the Security Council. Iran denied the allegations as “baseless and unfounded.”

The report noted that the UN Secretariat examined the debris from the missiles and concluded that the diameter was “consistent” with that of the Scud models and that components bore a logo similar to an Iranian entity designated by Resolution 2231. The report said that the secretariat is still analyzing the information and material and will report back to the council.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley displayed at the UN on Dec. 14 what she said were parts of the missile launched at Riyadh and remarked on similarities to Iran’s Qiam missile. She said that there are “many pieces of evidence that tell us of this missile’s Iranian origins.” The U.S. intelligence community has concluded “unequivocally” that the missile was supplied by the Iranian regime in violation of Resolution 2231, she said.

According to the report, the secretariat is also investigating possible violations of Resolution 2231 requirements that prohibit Iran from transferring certain conventional armaments without prior approval from the Security Council. The report encouraged all states to continue to support and implement the nuclear deal and specifically called on the United States to “maintain its commitments.”

Posted: January 10, 2018

Trump’s Decision on U.S. Role in Iran Nuclear Deal

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A Nonproliferation Success That Should Not Be Squandered

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A Nonproliferation Success That Should Not Be Squandered

Volume 10, Issue 1, January 9, 2018

The Trump administration is approaching two deadlines this week that are tied to the nuclear deal between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran: the president’s quarterly certification to Congress and the renewal of sanctions waivers, which are required for continued U.S. compliance with the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to withhold the 90-day certification to Congress, which includes an assessment of Iran’s compliance with the accord and an assessment on whether or not the deal remains in U.S. national security interests. Trump withheld the last certification in October, despite Iran’s compliance with accord, using the subjective determination that the sanctions relief Iran received is disproportionate to the nuclear restrictions. Since the certification is a U.S. legal requirement under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, withholding it does not violate the JCPOA. Given that the international community has become immune to Trump’s bellicose rhetoric surrounding the value of the deal, unless Trump alleges an Iranian violation, withholding certification is likely to become part of the status quo if the United States stays in the deal.

However, Trump has not yet indicated his decision on a second Iran deal deadline: the renewal of U.S. sanctions waivers, which is more critical for the future of the multilateral accord. The United States will violate its commitment to lift certain sanctions under the deal if Trump fails to issue the waivers between Jan. 12-17.

Reimposition by the United States of nuclear-related sanctions would not only violate Washington’s commitments under the deal, but also risks drying up the economic benefits that were promised to Iran in exchange for accepting stringent limits and monitoring on its nuclear program. Because the U.S. sanctions include extraterritorial measures, reimposition of these sanctions would affect companies outside of the United States that have resumed legal business with Iran permitted under the nuclear deal. As a result, it would be more difficult for the government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to continue abiding by the terms of the deal if economic benefits evaporate. If Iran abandons the JCPOA in response to a U.S. violation, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program could re-emerge and spark further instability in the region.

A Legislative Fix?

Trump has given little indication as to how he will approach the upcoming deadlines, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a Jan. 5 interview with AP that the president will either “fix [the deal] or cancel it.”

There is no legitimate reason for the United States to unilaterally try to “cancel” the deal. Iran remains in compliance with the nuclear restrictions under the JCPOA—a fact affirmed by the most recent quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November and by Washington’s P5+1 partners.

The threshold for what Trump would need to see as a “fix” in order to stay in the deal, however, remains vague.

In October, Trump directed his administration to work with Congress to develop legislation that would address what he viewed as flaws in the agreement, including the so-called "sunset" provisions, or nuclear restrictions that phase out over time, and ballistic missile activity, which is not covered by the deal but is dealt with in a UN Security Council resolution endorsing the agreement. In October, Trump said he would exit the deal if these concerns are not resolved, but did not set a deadline for results or a threshold for what would satisfy his concerns.

As a result, it remains unclear if efforts such as the commitment from Germany, France and the United Kingdom to work with the United States on addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program separate from the nuclear deal are enough to keep the United States in compliance with the terms of the multilateral JCPOA agreement.

Tillerson also said that the administration is pursuing a fix with members of Congress on a “very active basis” and implied that a fix did not have to be finalized, but just in the works, for Trump to reissue the waivers. U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), met with U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster Jan. 4 to discuss Iran, but did not provide any details on possible legislation.

While such legislation might appease Trump’s political desire to distance himself from an agreement negotiated during the Obama tenure, it is critical that any congressional initiative on the issue does not violate or seek to recast the terms of the JCPOA.

For example, unilateral efforts by the U.S. Congress to indefinitely extend all or some of the JCPOA’s core nuclear restrictions on Iran, which are due to phase out over time, as Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Corker (R-Tenn.) proposed in October, would violate the accord and are strongly opposed by Washington’s negotiating partners.

Appeasing Trump’s demand to "fix" the agreement also risks setting a dangerous precedent—that threating to abandon the deal can extract additional concessions. There is no guarantee that Trump—or another leader—will not change the goal posts again down the road and demand more "fixes" in order for the United States to continue complying with the accord.

On the other hand, Congress could eliminate provisions requiring the president to issue the certification every 90 days, which might appeal to Trump as he would no longer have to publically acknowledge the deal on a regular basis. Such a move would only impact U.S. law and have no bearing on the deal itself.

Moving the spotlight off the Iran deal every 90-days might also give the United States and its negotiating partners more time to work multilaterally on options to build upon the nuclear deal and restore confidence in the U.S. commitment to the agreement.

The Nonproliferation Consequences of Nixing the Deal

It is unclear what steps Iran will take if the United States violates the accord, but if Tehran no longer sees benefit to remaining in the deal and resumes nuclear activities that are now restricted or halts cooperation on verification measures mandated under the JCPOA, there could be significant nonproliferation consequences.

Bahram Qassami, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Jan. 8 that “all options are on the Islamic Republic’s table” and they will be quickly implemented in response to any U.S. actions. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in November that Iran could resume enrichment to 20 percent within days if the United States walks away from the deal. Before the negotiation of a November 2013 interim nuclear deal with the P5+1, Iran enriched uranium to the 20-percent uranium-235 level, which is below the level necessary for nuclear weapons but more of a threat than the current 3.67 percent uranium-235 limit set by the JCPOA.

Resumption of higher-level enrichment and/or the operation of additional centrifuges, including advanced machines, that were dismantled as part of the JCPOA, could return Iran to the 2-3 month “breakout time” (the time estimated to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon) that it was before the deal was negotiated. As a result of the restrictions and limits under the deal, the breakout time is currently estimated to be around 12 months.

Tehran could also choose to stop implementing the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which it currently adheres to voluntarily under the deal. Salehi hinted at this Jan. 8 when he stated that Iran would adopt measures that could affect the current level of cooperation with IAEA. Losing the additional protocol would give inspectors less access to Iranian nuclear facilities and information about its program.

In addition to an increased risk posed by an unrestricted Iranian nuclear program, there are regional implications to losing the nuclear deal.

Currently, Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear energy program and pursuing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. Thus far, Saudi Arabia has refused to forswear acquisition of uranium enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. If the nuclear deal with Iran collapses, and Iran’s uranium enrichment program is unrestricted, it is more likely that Saudi Arabia will also choose to go down this route.

For decades, the United States has placed a high premium on halting the further spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology. It would be a mistake for the U.S. executive branch or legislative branch to take actions that jeopardize continued implementation and compliance with Iran deal in a way that risks the pursuit of these sensitive technologies by other states in the troubled Middle East region.

Responding to the U.S. Decision

If Trump abandons the nuclear deal, it behooves Iran and the remaining P5+1 partners to use what tools they have to continue implementing the deal.

The European Union, for instance, could issue a blocking regulation to try and protect European companies and businesses from extraterritorial sanctions. The EU has used this regulation in the past when the United States imposed secondary sanctions on Cuba that the EU did not support.

An EU sanctions blocking regulation, however, cannot guarantee protection and as a result the risk of secondary sanctions might cause companies and investors to pull out of the Iranian market. Nevertheless, it would send a powerful message to the United States that the EU rejects Trump’s irresponsible behavior and continues to support the deal. Issuing the block regulation would also help demonstrate to the Trump administration that the United States will only be further isolated if it continues to reject its international obligations.

While political pressures in Iran might prevent continued implementation of the deal in the long run, the Rouhani government should do what it can to continue meeting the limits of the JCPOA. The current program allowed under the nuclear deal is consistent with Iran’s needs and a commitment by the rest of the P5+1 to continue to take steps, such as providing 20-percent enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, would meet needs not covered by Iran’s domestic nuclear activities.

Without question, the nuclear deal with Iran has effectively removed the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons program and significantly scaled back the country’s nuclear activities. The Trump administration would be foolish to disrupt a successful deal that has addressed a significant threat in a tension-filled region and contributes to strengthening the global nonproliferation regime.

If, in the end, Trump take steps to kill or undermine the successful Iran nuclear deal, the international community—particularly the remaining P5+1 and Iran—should do what they can to continue to implement it. The last thing the Middle East and the United States needs at this time is a major nuclear proliferation crisis manufactured by the White House.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Posted: January 9, 2018

Triggers, Redlines, and the Fate of the Iran Nuclear Accord

Why action now by Congress could be counterproductive.

December 2017
By Richard Nephew

Following President Donald Trump’s decision no longer to certify that the Iran nuclear accord is in the
U.S. national security interest, the conversation in Washington has focused on what Congress can and ought to do next.

Given the centrality of the issue of when certain restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities expire under the accord, there is a possibility that Congress will seek to pass legislation to address the perceived problem by attempting to unilaterally change the terms of the 2015 agreement. Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) said they would introduce legislation1 that creates triggers or redlines for the automatic snapback of U.S. sanctions suspended pursuant to the agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), although there is a chance that they will hold off moving forward for some time due to lack of support.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) with President Donald Trump at the White House on August 2. Cotton has been a leading voice in the Senate urging the president not to certify Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord, so that Congress can act.  (Photo credit: Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)These triggers or redlines could be simple (e.g., focused on uranium centrifuge numbers) or complex (e.g., related to stages of ballistic missile development). Yet, the concept is the same across the board: manage the political problem of a president who campaigned against the nuclear agreement having to validate Iranian compliance, which is occurring, while devolving responsibility for the response to that compliance away from the chief executive and legislative branch to a set of “dead man’s switches.”

Separate and apart from the wisdom of this approach, discussion of such options misses the real point concerning Iran and the challenge if Iran’s nuclear program expands in the future. The central challenge is not in figuring out how the United States could respond in such a scenario; it is in ascertaining how best to achieve the goal of preventing Iran’s nuclear program from expanding in the first place. In legislating on the topic of nuclear redlines and Iranian sunsets, Congress may be able to cobble together a framework for managing the U.S. policy response. By doing so, however, Congress might eliminate any chance for negotiations with the Iranians to arrest this problem. In fact, legislating on Iranian behavior without any thought as to how Iran will actually be convinced to agree is not only somewhat pointless, it is also counterproductive in the extreme.

The Trouble With Triggers

To start, it is worth reviewing the text of existing U.S. law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). In essence, it lays out the process whereby the JCPOA would be evaluated by Congress for its suitability and then enforced into the future. Congress was not entirely clear as to what would be involved in the JCPOA, as specific provisions were still under negotiation with the Iranians and U.S. partners in the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) when the legislation passed. Nevertheless, as a result of extensive briefings provided by the Obama administration, Congress had a decent idea that the agreement would involve U.S. and UN Security Council sanctions relief being traded for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear program, as well as additional monitoring and transparency.

Congress therefore gave itself a broad mandate to review the JCPOA and its constituent parts and the president a broad obligation to confirm on a regular basis that Iran was living up to its responsibilities under the deal. The result was a series of reporting requirements imposed on various parts of the U.S. executive branch and intelligence community, as well as the quarterly certification requirement that Iran was complying with its obligations and that sanctions relief under the JCPOA was in the U.S. national security interest. It is this latter point that the president has now refused to certify.

The rest of that law, however, is constructed as a way of signaling to Iran what would happen if it were to cheat on its obligations and to simplify the process of mounting that response. The concept is that a sanctions snapback strategy might be required if Iran starts to break out of its nuclear restrictions and that it would be prudent for that process to be as expedient as possible. Congress therefore defined cheating in broad terms, speaking of “material breaches,” “compliance incidents,” and even “potentially significant breaches.”

Congress wisely left the determination of what constitutes what in the hands of the president and the executive branch, requiring information about any such problems but avoiding prescription. Congress even acknowledged the possibility that a breach or compliance issue might arise but be “cured” by Iran, noting in essence that mistakes or provocations were to be expected during the JCPOA and that flexibility ought to be afforded to the president and his diplomats to fix them.

By discussing redlines and triggers, Congress may undo this effective and prudent setup to our collective detriment. First and foremost, if drawn tightly, such redlines and triggers could create unwarranted and unnecessary crises with Iran even where fundamental risks from the nuclear program are not present. Triggers and redlines are intended to serve as a forcing function in which A automatically results in B. For example, a redline may be drawn that Iran may not possess more than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium in forms other than fuel in perpetuity. If the amount of enriched uranium was reported at 301 kilograms, although this has no significance from the perspective of weapons breakout, the result would be the same as if Iran possessed 1,000 or 10,000 kilograms of enriched uranium in the same form: snapback of U.S. sanctions and likely a confrontation with Iran. At the same time, if the decision is made to have a redline that is looser than the underlying JCPOA requirement, say, a redline at 350 kilograms rather than 301, then the approach opens up areas of “acceptable” marginal behavior, giving Iran the impression that it can play within the range of 300-350 kilograms.

Some may argue that this is precisely why a tight trigger ought to be agreed, to stop Iran from playing games on the margins of the JCPOA. Proponents of this strategy might note that Iran played such games on heavy-water production in 2016, edging just over the permissible threshold of heavy-water possession on two occasions, and that it is precisely this kind of behavior that merits prevention. The theory goes that if Iran sees a tight trigger, it will be dissuaded from testing the fences that ring it in the JCPOA.

But, there are few scenarios in which a numerical benchmark is obtainable. Many of the issues in the JCPOA depend on interpretation of data where there may be no consensus or no judgment. On transparency and verification, for example, throughout the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is called on to conduct inspections and complementary access visits in order to verify various aspects of the agreement. As a matter of logical necessity, it is up to the IAEA to make the call as to whether it assesses Iranian compliance with those elements or not. Member states can object to the IAEA assessment and render their own verdicts, but this too is a subjective appraisal. It is impossible, therefore, to have a trigger attached to such access that is immune from interpretation unless it is so mundane as to be meaningless (e.g., numbers of inspector visits).

This opens up another problem: what happens if part of the JCPOA is not captured under an explicit trigger? Just as with the concept of a 350-kilogram limit on enriched uranium, any indication given to Iran that some provisions are less important than others could convey an unhelpful signal to Iran that noncompliance in one area would be treated differently than noncompliance in another. Even if a catchall provision were to be retained, the damage might still be done, as it is human nature to take signals from perceived prioritization. After all, laws are written to forbid specific crimes rather than to encourage people to behave as good citizens.

Last but not least, if a trigger and redline approach operates as intended, then it eliminates the opportunity for diplomacy and negotiation in managing incidents that might emerge. Automaticity in the design of snapback means by its very definition that once an assessment of noncompliance is made, there would be limited opportunities for the Iranians to make redress. Presumably, they could do so before such a determination was reported to Congress, although this would create all the same problems as under the present system and as outlined above with respect to a more flexible interpretation of noncompliance.

After that, unless there is significant leeway accorded to the president on enforcement of snapped-back sanctions, which would reduce the credibility of threat itself, the die would be cast. This might be fine if the intent is to police behavior without concern for the consequences of violations, but it is worth underscoring that it is not in the interest of the United States for there to be violations in the first place. The entire basis of the accord was that the imposition of consequences for Iran’s violations of its obligations was less valuable than a resolution of the underlying nuclear problem with Iran. That would not necessarily be the case with a less flexible approach.

In all of this, an analogy with U.S. nuclear strategy in the 1950s and 1960s may be warranted. Advocates of the trigger and redline approach lament the flexible response arrangements of the present, but it is not apparent that going to a “massive retaliation” strategy would accomplish much more than raising real risks of a rapid and unintended escalation into a crisis with Iran.

Of course, some advocates of triggers and redlines have underscored that their interest is not necessarily in going after Iran today but rather laying out a set of requirements on Iran for the future. This trigger and redline approach would be potentially different because it would not be intended to resolve implementation problems but rather to police Iranian behavior after Iran’s affirmative obligations under the JCPOA start to lapse.

In this conception, the redlines and triggers would not really come into play until such time as Iran’s nuclear program begins to change and expand toward the later years of the JCPOA restrictions, or roughly 2023 forward. Options could include things such as a decision to snap-back sanctions if Iran fields advanced centrifuges in greater numbers than research and development scale starting in 2028 or a decision to reimpose sanctions if Iran declined to source its future power reactors from foreign vendors, instead preferring to build and fuel its own.

From a nonproliferation perspective, both of these Iranian steps are objectionable in their own ways. Other examples of potentially problematic Iranian nuclear activities that could occur as restrictions lapse abound, such as a decision by Iran to restart R&D on spent fuel reprocessing or the production of uranium enriched to a level higher than 3.67 percent U-235. For this reason, it is in the U.S. interest to avoid these outcomes and to work to prevent these developments.

The Matter of Iranian Honor

Those inclined to pursue a redline and trigger approach appear to believe that the most effective way forward is to threaten Iran into cooperation. They are arguing implicitly that an Iran that knows the potential consequences of its activities is an Iran that will stay meekly in its box, abiding by foreign-imposed restrictions.

Unfortunately, that is not likely to take place. Iran’s very core identity is that of a revolutionary state that resists the imperialistic tendencies of the West and those of the United States in particular. This identity was forged in the resentments that were engendered in a history of colonialism and foreign power domination, most recently experienced in the U.S. and UK-assisted coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and in the predatory oil investment arrangements that Iranians felt were foisted on them throughout the 20th century.

Iranian soldiers march Sept. 22 past President Hassan Rouhani during the annual military parade in Tehran marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Rouhani vowed that Iran will boost its ballistic missile capabilities despite criticism from the United States.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Taking aside completely whether a U.S. decision to impose penalties against Iran for nuclear activities that, to a certain extent, were determined to be acceptable in the JCPOA would be a violation, the simple reality is that an overt imposition of obligations on Iran from the outside is the completely wrong way to start this conversation with Iran. Throughout the 2002-2015 period, when various attempts at negotiation with Iran were made, the Iranians were unambiguous about precisely one thing: they would not accept any arrangement in which they were forced to obey the demands of an outside power.

The Iranian system imposed this constraint, and Iranian negotiators observed it religiously. It is this reason, for example, that the JCPOA and the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) that preceded it included so many references to Iran undertaking voluntary actions or making a decision as to what it would do. The legal impact of these decisions was the same as a prohibition, but the phrasing was an essential element of getting Iran to agree.

U.S. negotiators were confronted with this challenge early on in the JPOA’s restrictions on its enrichment plants and the Arak heavy-water reactor. The United States wanted to have a concrete requirement on Iran not to expand its enrichment plants or to construct the reactor, which would be capable of producing weapons-usable plutonium. Iran would not agree to such blunt language. In the end, the United States agreed to accept a statement that “Iran announces that it will not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, Fordow, or the Arak reactor, designated by the IAEA as IR-40.”2 The United States then used IAEA inspector access and U.S. intelligence resources to verify that this announced intention was observed.

The result was that Iran was able to frame its commitment in its own way, and the United States got the desired end result. Proponents of a trigger and redline approach might argue that they too would be fine with such an outcome and that their concept would not inherently preclude Iran making a similar declaration in the future. Yet, by framing the very discussion of this approach as coercing Iran’s future behavior, Congress would nonetheless feed into the internal deliberations in Iran as to why it would be taking or, more likely, forgoing nuclear steps in the future. This would make the jobs of those future Iranian leaders more difficult if not impossible, especially if the next few years involve a more general increase in tensions between the United States and Iran.

An important difference must be made between legislating what the United States wants and getting what the United States wants. Congress naturally has the ability under the U.S. Constitution to set conditions for what the U.S. executive branch can offer insofar as sanctions relief is concerned or even what would constitute an acceptable policy toward Iran. Historical precedent has tended to accord a president latitude in implementing his own foreign policy, which Congress has largely respected. Yet, Congress cannot legislate what a foreign government will do, only what the United States will do in response. The problem therefore emerges: how to get Iran to sign on to U.S. requirements and preferences.

The prevailing theory of the redline approach is that the threat of overwhelming U.S. sanctions pressure will be sufficient. This is a dubious proposition. U.S. sanctions prior to the 2013 JPOA were hardly light in touch, driving the Iranian economy into recession and depriving it of more than $50 billion in oil revenues in 2012 alone. Some have argued that Iran would have accepted deeper concessions in JCPOA negotiations had sanctions not been held back in 2013, but this is at best conjecture and speculation, if not wishful thinking. This author’s own assessment is that sanctions had delivered as much pressure as was going to be achievable and that they were a wasting asset.

Either way, the sanctions pressure was able to bring Iran along only so far, and bringing more to bear would require not only snapback but far deeper sanctions against Iran. Given international hesitancy to support the Trump administration approach, it is a purely hypothetical exercise to suggest that even snapback would be effective, much less obtaining the comprehensive global embargo against Iran that would be necessary for a sanctions-focused strategy to have even a chance of succeeding.

Getting the Best of Both Worlds

As was hinted in the description of what Iran accepted in JPOA language, the right answer is to get Iran to believe it is in its own interest to take the required steps and to be able to sell the result at home. This requires more tact and diplomacy and less rigid demands from the outside, but has the hope of creating actual solutions with Iran and a more sustainable agreement to boot.

To start, Congress should not change the approach of a flexible response to compliance standards embodied in INARA, and it should not adopt rigid redlines to manage Iran’s future nuclear program. Instead, Congress should maintain its more general view of how Iranian compliance under the JCPOA should be judged and should outline the broad strokes of U.S. priorities for future negotiations with Iran.

Activists participate in a protest in front of the White House October 12 denouncing President Trump's anticipated decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Congress can offer legislation that mandates reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran long into the future if evidence emerges that Iran is once again violating its nonproliferation commitments or that the IAEA is unable to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared Iranian nuclear activities after the JCPOA’s expanded verification requirements end. This would be the establishment of a redline but one sufficiently distant and broad so as to permit latitude for executive branch performance. Alternatively and preferably, Congress can simply wait to see what happens, content in the knowledge that a massive snapback of sanctions remains a U.S. policy option in perpetuity, provided there is adequate cause and scope.

Privately, Congress can register with the administration its views as to what would constitute sufficient measures for a long-term arrangement, charging the administration to seek negotiations with Iran and other U.S. partners in its pursuit. The administration can define core elements for such an arrangement, prioritizing those measures that would provide expanded confidence as to Iran’s nuclear intent, and then seek a variety of ways for bringing them about. These could include enhancements to the IAEA’s standard safeguards practices, improved global export controls, regional arrangements, and even a direct agreement with Iran.3

Such a strategy would not generate immediate headlines nor would it satisfy the visceral desire on the part of some to see Iran acquiesce to the demands of the United States. Yet, it might just have a chance of securing the kind of steps and commitments on Iran’s part that would be necessary to convert the JCPOA into a longer-term, more sustainable nonproliferation instrument.

ENDNOTES

1. “Fixing the Iran Deal: Background and Key Elements,” n.d., https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/INARA%20Amendment%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

2. “Appendix C: Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” Arms Control Association, June 23, 2014, https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/Solving-the-Iranian-Nuclear-Puzzle/2014/06/APPENDIX_C-Text-of-the-Joint-Plan-of-Action.

3. Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew, “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Prelude to Proliferation in the Middle East,” Brookings Institution, May 31, 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-iran-nuclear-deal-prelude-to-proliferation-in-the-middle-east/.


Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Previously, he was principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the Department of State from 2013 to 2015. Nephew also served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran on the nuclear deal. From May 2011 to January 2013, Nephew served as the director for Iran on the National Security Council Staff.

 

Posted: December 1, 2017

Iran’s Leader Sets Missile Range Limit

Iran is focusing on accuracy gains rather than extending range.

December 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country will not develop ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 2,000 kilometers, reinforcing prior statements by officials and military leaders about missile range limitations.

Although that constraint leaves the United States out of range, most of the Middle East, including regional U.S. military facilities and Israel, are within the 2,000-kilometer range. Further, there was no indication that Khamenei’s order, citied by Iranian officials, precludes Iran from continuing to develop satellite launch rockets, a capability that would inform any attempt to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles.

A military truck carries a Qadr medium-range ballistic missile past a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a military parade in Tehran September 22, 2015. One version of that missile has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, according to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  (Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)Iranian government officials have said repeatedly that Iran would abide by such a limit voluntarily and focus on improving accuracy. A statement by the supreme leader in this regard carries greater political significance. Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests appear to confirm that Tehran is concentrating on accuracy rather than trying to extend the range of its systems.

A June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range. The report did mention that Iran’s space launch vehicles could provide a pathway to longer-range ballistic missiles, but many experts note that there are significant technological differences between space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.

Iran’s ballistic missiles are not covered by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal, called on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile testing on systems “designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the nuclear deal for failing to include ballistic missiles and, in an Iran policy speech on Oct. 13, directed his administration to work with Congress to “fix” what he described as “flaws” in the agreement, including the issue of ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2017.)

Washington’s EU partners in the nuclear agreement—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—said in a statement responding to Trump’s speech that they are willing to work on ballistic missile restrictions outside of the deal.

Khamenei, however, said that Iran’s ballistic missiles are non-negotiable and “not to be bargained for.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani similarly emphasized that Iran’s ballistic missiles are necessary for state security and that production of ballistic missiles is not a violation of international law.

Although Resolution 2231 only “called” on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile activities, including development and testing, there is a clear prohibition on transfers or exports of ballistic missiles and related technologies without advance approval from the UN Security Council. A similar process is required for a range of armaments.

Yet, a U.S. statement tying a missile fired on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Iran raises concerns that Iran may have violated the restriction prohibiting transfers. The Saudi military intercepted a missile from Yemen targeted at Riyadh’s international airport on Nov. 4.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan, head of U.S. Air Force Central Command in Qatar, said on Nov. 10 that there have been Iranian markings on missiles used by the Houthis against Saudi and Saudi-backed forces in the war in Yemen. He said the markings “connect the dots to Iran.” Other countries, including Saudi Arabia and France, also linked the missile to Iran in earlier statements.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in Iran on Nov. 5 that accusations that the missile came from Iran are “baseless” and contended that Yemen can produce its own ballistic missiles.

Iran allegedly has transferred missile components in violation of Resolution 2231, according to a June report from the UN secretary-general assessing implementation of the resolution. The report referenced two cases in which missile components were seized in Ukraine. Additionally, the report noted letters from authorities in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates alleging that arms of Iranian origin were seized in Yemen.

IAEA Points to Iran’s Compliance

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, presenting findings that point toward Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said on Nov. 14 that his “assessment of the current situation” is that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments. Speaking at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Amano said that the IAEA is “confident” that it can “detect diversion of nuclear material or misuse of nuclear facilities and any nuclear activities and materials that are not included in Iran’s declaration in a timely manner.”

In the Nov. 13 report, the IAEA noted that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 96.7 kilograms, well below the 300-kilogram limit, and its stockpile of heavy water was 114.4 metric tons, below the limit of 130 metric tons. Further, Iran was abiding by the limitations on operating centrifuges, which caps Iran’s use of centrifuges for enriching uranium to 5,060 IR-1 machines, according to the report.       

In a new development, Iran provided the IAEA in an Oct. 29 letter with preliminary design information for a light-water critical reactor, which it proposes to build in the “near future” for research purposes, consistent with the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Annex I of the accord notes that Iran will “rely on light water for its future nuclear power and research reactors,” and Annex III says that the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) “will facilitate Iran’s acquisition of light water research and power reactors.”

The report is the first since U.S. President Donald Trump withheld a certification to Congress on the nuclear deal. Although Trump did not do so on the grounds that Iran was violating its commitments, he said that Iran had “intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”

Amano, however, said that inspectors have had access to all the necessary sites and noted that inspectors are now spending 3,000 workdays a year on the ground, twice the number in 2013.

Amano also sought to dispel doubt over the agency’s authority to monitor Iran’s compliance with the accord’s Section T, which prohibits Iran from undertaking activities that “could contribute to the design and development” of a nuclear device, including experiments with certain types of explosives.

That provision includes no specific reference to IAEA verification, and Russia has interpreted that to mean the Vienna-based agency has no authority over it. Western powers disagree with Russia. Amano in September sought clarification from the P5+1 on the IAEA’s role in implementing Section T. U.S. Ambassador the United Nations Nikki Haley in September accused Russia of trying to use the issue to “shield” Iran from inspections.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: December 1, 2017

Trump Sets U.S. Up to Violate Iran Deal

Next steps fall to Congress, as key allies appeal for U.S. to stick with the nuclear accord.


November 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

President Donald Trump directed his administration to work with Congress to address “serious flaws” in the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, but with Tehran and Washington’s negotiating partners rejecting renegotiations, his approach is unlikely to yield results and risks resulting in the United States violating the agreement.

Outlining his Iran policy in an Oct. 13 speech, Trump said he would terminate the accord if Congress and the U.S. negotiating partners in the P5+1 group—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—fail to address areas of concern, such as the expiration of certain nuclear constraints and Iran’s ballistic missile development.

President Donald Trump speaks October 13 at the White House about his decision to deny quarterly certification of the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)Trump also said he was withholding a quarterly certification to Congress tied to the nuclear deal on the grounds that sanctions relief provided to Iran was not proportionate to the restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program. That was an expected step after Trump said in July that he was unlikely to issue the certification. (See ACT, September 2017.)

The certification is a U.S. legal requirement comprised of several determinations. In addition to the determination on sanctions proportionality, the certification includes determinations related to Iran’s compliance with the deal and the national security value of the accord. In the weeks leading up to the certification deadline, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that Iran was meeting its obligations; and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the deal is in the U.S. national security interest, indicators that key advisers in Trump’s cabinet opposed his decision to withhold certification.

Withholding certification does not violate the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump said that the United States intends to remain party to the agreement for now, while he looks to Congress and U.S. allies to "address the deal's many serious flaws."

Despite Trump’s threats to terminate the accord if changes are not made, Washington’s negotiating partners and Iran rejected renegotiating elements of the deal. Shortly after Trump’s Oct. 13 announcement, Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1, said that the deal is working, the EU will continue to implement it, and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is under pressure from regime hardliners, said Iran “will not be the first to withdraw from the deal but, if its rights and interests in the deal are not respected, it will stop implementing all its commitments and will resume its peaceful nuclear program without any restrictions.”

Washington’s actions prove that the United States is “not a reliable negotiating partner,” he said, a statement that could have ramifications for any future talks with Iran, as well as for U.S. efforts to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement Oct. 13 expressing “concern about the possible implications” of Trump’s decision to withhold certification and encouraging him and Congress to consider “the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement.”

Withholding certification allows Congress to introduce legislation within 60 days to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal using an expedited legislative process, but it appears unlikely that Congress will pursue this route, which would clearly violate the agreement.

The current approach espoused by several Senate Republicans would seek to address Trump’s concerns about ballistic missiles and limits that expire under the deal and refrain from reimposing sanctions. Still, if enacted as described, this approach would violate the terms of the accord by seeking to pressure Iran, under threat of sanctions, to abide by limits for a longer duration than required under the deal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released a factsheet Oct. 13 summarizing his legislative approach, titled “Fixing the Iran Deal,” which outlines that U.S. sanctions waived under the deal will be reimposed automatically if Iran takes certain steps, including activities that are permitted under the nuclear deal or will be permitted in the out years of the agreement.

For instance, the factsheet says that U.S. sanctions waived under the deal will snap back automatically if Iran’s nuclear weapons “breakout” time, commonly defined as the time it would take Iran to amass enough weapons-grade fissile material for one bomb, drops to less than one year.

For the first 10 years of the nuclear deal, the combination of limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and stockpile of enriched uranium holds Iran to a 12-month breakout time. By year 15, however, certain limits expire; and Iran could choose to expand its uranium-enrichment capacity, at which point breakout would likely drop below 12 months.

Despite the deal permitting Iran to expand uranium enrichment, U.S. sanctions would be automatically reimposed at that point, which many experts contend violates the agreement. Corker’s factsheet, however, argues that approach is “ridding the JCPOA of sunset provisions as they apply to U.S. sanctions.”

Trump did not specifically mention Corker’s initiative in his speech, but said he supported congressional efforts to “make all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law” and “prevent Iran from developing” an intercontinental ballistic missile.

It seems unlikely that Democrats would support any approach that violates the deal. In the Senate, any such effort to bring legislation altering the terms of the nuclear deal up for a vote would require 60 votes; and key Senate Democrats, including several who opposed the deal in 2015, signaled they do not support abrogating the deal.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the deal in 2015, but denounced Trump’s decision to withholding certification as “reckless” and “without factual or material evidence” to warrant such a move.

Cardin said that “we will not buy into the false premise that it is Congress’ role to legislate solutions to problems of [Trump’s] own making” and that it is “up to Congress to show the world that there is bipartisan support for the United States to uphold its commitments, including the JCPOA.”

An official from a European country that participated in the negotiations told Arms Control Today on Oct. 23 that the “deal is done” and that “any efforts to unilaterally change its terms” jeopardizes the agreement.

He said Mogherini was very clear at the United Nations in September that there is “no interest in or need to renegotiate or reopen the accord.” Concerns outside of the deal, such as ballistic missiles, can be addressed separately from implementation of the agreement, he added.

May, Macron, and Merkel made a similar statement in their Oct. 13 letter, saying that they “stand ready to take further appropriate measures to address” issues such as ballistic missile development “at the same time as we work to preserve the JCPOA.”

Corker’s factsheet does not explicitly mention ballistic missiles, but in interviews following Trump’s speech, he has said his approach may reimpose sanctions automatically in response to certain ballistic missile activities conducted by Iran.

The nuclear deal does not prohibit Iran from developing ballistic missiles, but the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal “called upon” Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and regulates Iran’s purchases of materials and technology relevant to developing ballistic missiles.

The United States, as permitted by the accord, continues to sanction individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile activities.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: November 1, 2017

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, October 20, 2017

Trump’s “Decertification” Decision Sets Washington Up to Violate the Nuclear Deal As expected, President Donald Trump announced Oct. 13 he would not issue a certification to Congress required by U.S. law that is tied to the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While withholding certification does not, by itself, violate the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal and Trump said the United States is staying in the agreement for now, his proposed policy toward the deal sets the United States on a course to violate the accord, further isolate Washington from...

Trump’s Stance on Iran Nuclear Deal Risks Proliferation Crisis

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Arms Control Experts Say Efforts to Pressure Iran to Renegotiate Terms of 2015 Agreement Are Irresponsible and Dangerous

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Arms Control Experts Say Efforts to Pressure Iran to Renegotiate Terms of 2015 Agreement Are Irresponsible and Dangerous

For Immediate Release: October 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107. 

(Washington, D.C.)—Experts from the Washington-based Arms Control Association denounced President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to withhold a certification to Congress tied to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The President’s gambit is irresponsible and dangerous. Any attempt by the White House or Congress to unilaterally change the terms of the highly-successful nuclear deal with Iran risks setting Washington on a course to violate the deal.” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Trump signaled that he will withhold certification because he believes the sanctions relief granted to Iran is not proportional to the restrictions Iran is abiding by under the agreement. He further said he would push for Congress to pass legislation requiring sanctions to snap back into place if Iran does not meet additional limits that are not currently mandated in the JCPOA.

“It is critical that Congress refrain from any actions that would effectively seek to renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA. Any steps seeking to dictate an extension of the JCPOA restrictions or add additional requirements through U.S. legislation will create a major schism with U.S. allies and could push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities restricted under the deal,” Kimball said.

“Trump’s plan to unilaterally extend the limits of the current deal by holding Iran hostage to the threat of reimposing U.S. sanctions is a fantasy that jeopardizes an agreement that is verifiably blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

“Trump’s pressure-centric approach only risks undercutting Iranian incentives to remain in compliance with the accord and isolating the United States from its negotiating partners, all of whom reject reopening the agreement. With the looming threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, the United States cannot afford to manufacture a second nuclear crisis,” she added.

"If the Trump administration is truly concerned about the future of Iran’s nuclear program, Washington should meet its obligations under the deal, vigorously enforce the accord, and seek global support to build on the innovative nonproliferation elements of the agreement.” Davenport said.

“Trump’s reckless actions have consequences beyond threatening the nuclear deal with Iran. He risks triggering a spiral of proliferation and destabilizing nuclear competition in the region, and beyond,” Kimball added.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Posted: October 13, 2017

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