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Former IAEA Director-General
Fuel Cycle

Analysis: Sanctions Bill Poses Risk for Iran Deal

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For Immediate Release: March 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

Section 4

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

Section 8

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

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

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

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

Country Resources:

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

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

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

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

Smugglers Arrested in Moldova

Three men were arrested in Moldova earlier this year for attempting to sell radioactive materials to an undercover police officer posing as a middleman for the Islamic State group.

November 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Three men were arrested in Moldova earlier this year for attempting to sell radioactive materials to an undercover police officer posing as a middleman for the Islamic State group, according to an Associated Press story published last month.

According to the Oct. 6 story, a joint operation involving the Moldovan police and the FBI led to the arrest in February, after the alleged smugglers gave the undercover officer cesium in exchange for money.

Certain types of cesium could be used in a so-called dirty bomb, which combines conventional explosives with radioactive sources to spread contamination.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the operation during an Oct. 7 press briefing and said the continued smuggling of radioactive material has “grave consequences.”

According to the AP article, the seller claimed to have enough cesium-137 for a dirty bomb and wanted to sell it to the Islamic State for the purpose of bombing U.S. citizens.

Three smugglers were arrested after selling cesium-135 to the Moldovan police officer as a test of his intentions before selling him the cesium-137. Cesium-135 is not potent enough for use in a dirty bomb. The AP reported that a fourth man in the smuggling ring, reportedly in possession of the cesium-137, which is suitable for a dirty bomb, escaped.

Moldovan authorities quoted in the AP story said they thought that the radioactive material came from Russia and that the breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations was making it more difficult to track smugglers.

Kirby said that cooperation with Russia on stemming illicit trafficking in nuclear materials is “certainly an issue where we believe there can be cooperative efforts.” There have been such efforts, and “we hope that there will continue to be,” he said.

The February arrests are among several in recent years involving illicit trafficking of radioactive material through Moldova. Most recently, in December 2014, six people were arrested in the eastern European country for trying to sell radioactive materials and uranium-238. U-238 is the most common isotope of uranium, but unlike U-235, it cannot be used as a nuclear explosive material.

The International Atomic Energy Agency tracks theft, loss, and unauthorized use of radioactive materials in its Incident and Trafficking Database, which receives information from about 130 countries. Between 1993 and 2014, the agency confirmed 2,734 illicit incidents involving radioactive materials.

Pakistan, U.S. Said to Be Talking on NSG

Pakistan and the United States reportedly have been holding discussions about Islamabad’s possible admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. 

November 2015

By Daniel Horner

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) meets with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on October 22. [Photo credit: Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images]Pakistan and the United States have been holding discussions about Islamabad’s possible admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Pakistani actions that would open the door to such a move, according to reports in several media outlets and accounts by a former Pakistani official and other observers contacted by Arms Control Today.

In these descriptions, Pakistan would take certain arms control measures and in return would gain the international legitimacy of membership in the NSG. The group, which currently has 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that the exports do not contribute to proliferation. The NSG is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not binding.

By all accounts, any NSG deal with Pakistan would be substantially different from the one reached with India in 2008. At that time, the NSG agreed to an exception to its rule that banned exports to countries such as India that did not open all their nuclear facilities to international inspections.

Admission to the NSG was not part of that package, but in November 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed India for NSG membership. (See ACT, December 2010.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has not agreed to that step.

In conjunction with the 2008 NSG waiver, the U.S. Congress approved a cooperation agreement that allows nuclear trade with India although New Delhi operates nuclear facilities that are not under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Since the U.S. and NSG exceptions for India were granted, Pakistan has complained of unfair treatment and argued that the suppliers should adopt a so-called criteria-based approach for countries that do not meet the group’s requirement of a fully safeguarded nuclear program. Under this approach, these countries would have to take certain steps to demonstrate they are responsible nuclear states.

Like India, Pakistan uses its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities to produce material for a nuclear weapons program.

In an Oct. 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a senior administration official said the United States has “not entered negotiations” on a nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan and is not “seeking an exception for Pakistan within the Nuclear Suppliers Group to facilitate civil nuclear exports.”

A few days earlier, after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Oct. 22 meeting with Obama in Washington, Indian media reported similar comments by an unnamed U.S. official. 

One congressional analyst said in an Oct. 27 interview that the senior administration official’s formulation might not preclude an effort to bring Pakistan into the NSG if it were by the criteria-based approach. The official declined to comment on that possibility.

In a report issued in August, Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center said, “We agree with Pakistan’s position that membership in the NSG should be criteria-based, but only if the criteria strengthen nonproliferation norms—well beyond those adopted by India to gain the NSG’s stamp of approval in 2008.” For example, they propose that Pakistan limit production and deployment of short-range delivery vehicles and tactical nuclear weapons, “which are unavoidably the least safe and secure weapons in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.”

If the NSG accepted Pakistan as a member and allowed trade with Islamabad, “companies other than those from China are unlikely to invest in Pakistani nuclear power stations,” Dalton and Krepon said. China currently has an active nuclear trade with Pakistan in spite of the NSG guidelines.

In an Oct. 27 interview, Feroz Khan, a retired Pakistani brigadier general and former director of arms control and disarmament affairs in the Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan’s National Command Authority, said discussions with Pakistan on “nuclear normalization,” including entry into the NSG, have been taking place “for quite some time.” Some of the actions under discussion were similar to the ones described in the Dalton-Krepon report, he said. But Pakistan and the United States have not agreed on “a clear road map,” he said.

The U.S. and Pakistani governments have not officially confirmed the discussions about Pakistani NSG membership, but an Oct. 16 Wall Street Journal story quoted a senior U.S. official as saying, “The idea is to try to change the dynamic, see if helping [the Pakistanis] on the NSG would be a carrot for them to act” to place some restraints on their nuclear weapons program.

The discussions were first reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Date Set for 2016 Nuclear Security Summit

The fourth and final nuclear security summit will take place next March 31-April 1 in Washington, D.C., the White House said Aug. 10.

By Kingston Reif

The fourth and final nuclear security summit will take place next March 31-April 1 in Washington, D.C., the White House said Aug. 10.

The summits are the most visible feature of an accelerated international effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. U.S. President Barack Obama launched the effort as part of his speech in Prague in April 2009. Summits have been held in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, and The Hague last year.

At the summits, participating countries have announced steps they would take individually and collectively to increase the security of fissile materials. These steps have included the removal of nuclear materials, enhancement of capabilities to counter nuclear smuggling, creation of centers to improve nuclear security and training, and ratification of international agreements that govern nuclear security.

In an Aug. 10 press release announcing the summit date, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the 2016 meeting “will continue discussion on the evolving [nuclear terrorism] threat and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.”

As the United States prepares to host the final summit, Laura Holgate, Obama’s top adviser for nuclear security, was nominated on Aug. 5 as U.S. representative to the Vienna office of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

For the last six years, Holgate has served in the position of special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction on the National Security Council staff, where she has played a central role on the U.S. negotiating team for the summits. The White House has not named a successor for Holgate.

In an Aug. 5 statement, national security adviser Susan Rice praised Holgate as “the life blood” of the summit process. 

India, U.S. Cite Progress on Nuclear Deal

India and the United States reached what President Barack Obama described as a “breakthrough understanding” on two issues that have held up nuclear trade between the two countries.

March 2015

By Daniel Horner

President Barack Obama (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on January 25. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)India and the United States in late January reached what President Barack Obama described as a “breakthrough understanding” on two issues that have held up nuclear trade between the two countries under a deal reached under President George W. Bush.

The understandings, announced Jan. 25 during Obama’s visit to India to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deal with the issues of liability in case of an accident at a foreign-supplied reactor in India and with the tracking of U.S. material exported to India.

The second issue concerns the so-called administrative arrangements that are a standard part of U.S. nuclear cooperation with other countries. Like other nuclear exporters, the United States maintains those arrangements to ensure that the material it sends to other countries for their peaceful nuclear programs does not end up in weapons programs.

The two sides released little specific information on what they had agreed, but interviews with sources from industry, Congress, and elsewhere who had been briefed by administration officials provided a generally consistent picture of the U.S.-Indian understandings.

As the sources described it, the approach endorsed by Modi and Obama would provide much of the information obtained from standard U.S. administrative arrangements, but in a more roundabout way. Under standard arrangements, the U.S. partner assumes most of the burden for the tracking, but in the case of India, the United States would have to do much of the work itself, one source said.

India balked at the standard arrangements because New Delhi considered them costly, intrusive, and unnecessary, the source said.

According to several accounts, India insisted that the United States obtain information on the exported material and its course within India from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which applies safeguards to the nuclear facilities that India has designated as civilian. The IAEA information, however, provides only an aggregate picture of the material in the facilities it safeguards rather than identifying the material on the basis of the country that supplied it.

A second source, a former U.S. official, described his conception of the way the arrangement was likely to work in practice. He said the material the United States would send to India would be in the form of fabricated fuel elements. If India reprocessed the spent fuel coming from that fresh fuel, New Delhi would tell Washington the amount of plutonium that was separated and the amount that it fabricated into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel (so called because it is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides), he said. It also would have to report the amount of spent fuel that the reactor had produced, he said.

With that information and knowledge of the characteristics of the fuel and the reactor in which the fuel was irradiated, the U.S. government could make its own calculations of the amount of plutonium contained in the spent fuel, the former official said. From that starting point, the United States could determine how much plutonium was separated and not fabricated into MOX fuel, he said.

The United States is to meet once a year with India to compare figures, the former official said. He said it was not clear to him how the two sides would resolve discrepancies.

Under the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement and a follow-on accord from 2010, India has permission to reprocess spent fuel that comes from U.S.-supplied fresh fuel or was irradiated in a U.S.-supplied reactor. (See ACT, May 2010.) But the reprocessing must take place in a facility “dedicated to reprocessing safeguarded nuclear material under IAEA safeguards,” according to the 2007 agreement.

India does not have such a facility and has not begun to build one. Its current reprocessing plants are not under safeguards.

The January announcement is the latest development in a saga that began with a joint July 2005 statement by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laying out a blueprint for easing U.S. and international nuclear trade restrictions on India, which is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In 2006 Congress passed legislation known as the Hyde Act, opening the door to nuclear trade with India but establishing certain reporting and monitoring requirements to ensure that U.S. nuclear exports were used only for peaceful purposes.

One source who was involved in that debate and was critical of the overall deal said the newly announced arrangements appeared to meet the requirements of the Hyde Act.

The former official said that, from the descriptions he had received, the procedure seemed equivalent to the standard administrative arrangements. It “should give us the information we need to know [although] in an unconventional way,” he said. But he emphasized that the recently announced accord is on an understanding in principle. The two sides need to draft the administrative arrangement, and “it remains to be seen” if they can “find language that is mutually acceptable,” he said.

At a Jan. 26 press briefing, Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, said, “The Indians certainly came to the table with increased information-sharing and exchanges that met our concerns.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President George W. Bush arrive for a joint press conference at the White House on July 18, 2005. At the press conference, the two leaders announced a new policy on U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)Congress approved the India agreement in 2008, but U.S. companies have not signed any contracts for significant nuclear exports to India. The questions about U.S. monitoring of exports have been an obstacle, but for the companies—especially General Electric and Westinghouse, which have hopes of selling reactors to India—a larger issue has been their concern that they could be found liable in case of an accident. In most countries with nuclear power plants, the operator, not the supplier, is potentially liable for accidents at nuclear facilities.

To address those concerns, India is proposing to create an insurance pool and to establish that its national law is compatible with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, under which reactor suppliers cannot be held liable. Several of the sources expressed skepticism that the steps would be sufficient to convince General Electric and Westinghouse to build reactors in India, but these sources emphasized that the companies would have to be the ones to decide.

At the Jan. 26 briefing, Rhodes said the Indian and U.S. governments believe that “they have reached an understanding on these critical issues that have been an impediment to moving forward in the last several years.” But he acknowledged that “it’s ultimately up to U.S. companies to make their own determinations about whether and when to invest in India and to move forward.”

Russia Skips Summit Planning Meeting

Russia did not attend a planning session held in Washington in late October for the 2016 nuclear security summit, casting doubt on its participation in the summit.

December 2014

By Kingston Reif and Daniel Horner

Russia did not attend a planning session held in Washington in late October for the 2016 nuclear security summit, casting doubt on its participation in the summit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends the opening plenary session of the nuclear security summit in The Hague on March 24. Russia said last month that it does not intend to participate in the preparations for the next summit, which is to be held in the United States in 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)In a Nov. 5 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow “does not see any possibility to take part in the preparations” for the upcoming summit, which would be the fourth installment of the biennial meetings.

The summits are the most visible feature of an accelerated international effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. U.S. President Barack Obama launched the effort as part of his speech in Prague in April 2009. Summits have been held in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, and The Hague last March.

The 2016 summit in the United States is scheduled be the last. In its statement, Russia questioned the need for that meeting.

“[M]ost of the political commitments undertaken by the participants of the preceding summits have been implemented,” said the statement. “These summits have thus nearly exhausted their agenda.”

The statement expressed “grave concern” with the proposed framework for planning the summit. According to Russia, the planning process privileges the hosts of the previous summits in the drafting of the preparatory summit documents.

Russia criticized the creation of “working groups formed arbitrarily and with limited membership” to “devise guidelines for such international bodies and initiatives” as the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and Interpol. The five working groups are intended to examine how to embed the work of the summits into existing international institutions that have a nuclear security mandate. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Officials from several countries confirmed that some states have raised some objections to the process. But a main purpose of the planning meetings is to air and resolve such objections, Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said in a Nov. 17 interview.

In a Nov. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a European official said that “[n]ew proposals concerning the organization of the workshops have been made.” The official wrote that “[i]t is logical that each host is willing to influence the way the summit goes,” but emphasized that “nothing is set in stone at this stage,” as the proposals are under negotiation.

“What matters is to preserve the consensus rule,” the official said.

Summits’ Progress
At the summits, participating countries have announced steps they would take individually and collectively to increase the security of fissile materials. These steps have included the removal of nuclear materials, enhancement of capabilities to counter nuclear smuggling, creation of centers to improve nuclear security and training, and ratification of international agreements and conventions that govern nuclear security.

Russia, which possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear material, has been an important participant in the summit process. In particular, Russia has assisted in the accelerated return of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Russia and the United States worked together in late September to assist with the removal of HEU from Poland and Kazakhstan. (See ACT, November 2014.)

Russia’s decision to boycott the preparations for the 2016 summit comes on the heels of a downturn in relations with the United States over Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

But Kenneth Luongo, a former senior adviser to the secretary of energy for nonproliferation policy who is now president of the Partnership for Global Security, said Russia’s absence from the October planning session goes beyond the current crisis in relations over Ukraine. It is another step in a decision that Russia has made to “wind down cooperation” with the United States on nuclear security, Luongo said in a Nov. 21 interview.

Luongo, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said the backsliding began with Russia’s insistence in 2013 on a pared-down replacement for the old Cooperative Threat Reduction program. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) That was followed by limited action from Russia at this year’s nuclear security summit, Luongo said. Russia notably failed to endorse a key initiative from the summit, formulated by the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States and joined by 32 other countries.

On another nuclear security issue, Luongo noted that Russia had announced recently that it would not sign any new contracts for work with the United States on bolstering the security of nuclear materials and facilities inside Russia. Those contracts expire at the end of this year. (See ACT, November 2014.)

Luongo characterized Russia’s behavior as “irresponsible” and warned that U.S. options for convincing Russia to change course are limited. “You can’t throw a life preserver to someone floating away from you,” he said.
Russia said that it informed the United States of its decision not to participate in the 2016 summit preparations in mid-October. Of the 53 countries that attended the 2014 summit, Russia was the only one that did not participate in the planning session.

Closing the Door?
In spite of its negative tone and its expression of “doubts regarding the added value the 2016 forum,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement did not explicitly rule out Moscow’s attendance at the 2016 summit. But one high-ranking Russian official went beyond the statement. “We are not planning to attend the summit,” said Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during a Nov. 5 discussion with reporters at his home in Washington.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a Nov. 4 press briefing that “the United States regrets Russia’s decision not to participate” in the October meeting. Earnest added, however, that “the door remains open to Russia joining future meetings like this.”

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