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former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

Strengthening Congressional Oversight of 123 Agreements

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The administration submitted the proposed 123 agreement with China on April 21.

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Volume 7, Issue 8, July 2, 2015

While most of the recent conversation about nuclear nonproliferation in Congress has focused on the negotiations in Vienna on a verifiable, long-term comprehensive nuclear deal to block Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons, lawmakers are also considering another lower-profile, but nonetheless consequential, civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with China.

This "123 agreement," named after Section 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with China. 123 agreements ensure that U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with other countries conforms to U.S. export control laws, meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, meets the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not the development of nuclear weapons.

The administration submitted the proposed 123 agreement with China on April 21. U.S. law provides Congress the opportunity to review a nuclear cooperation agreement for 90 days of continuous session. If Congress does not pass a resolution disapproving the agreement before the end of this period, the agreement may enter into force.

While the administration argues the China agreement will advance the nonproliferation and other foreign policy interests of the United States, Congress should closely scrutinize the deal to ensure that it contains appropriate nonproliferation safeguards. 

Most importantly, as Congress reviews the agreement and prepares to consider a new agreement with South Korea--and potentially other agreements in the near future--Congress should consider strengthening the nonproliferation standards and procedures for congressional review of 123 agreements mandated by the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, which have not been revisited since 1978.

123 Agreements and U.S. Nonproliferation Policy

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, efforts to exploit nuclear technology for energy and for profit have complicated the task of reducing the nuclear weapons threat.

The United States has appropriately sought to deny the transfer of sensitive nuclear technologies--particularly enrichment and reprocessing technologies--to states that do not already possess the technology through the terms of our nuclear cooperation agreements.

After the Indian test explosion in 1974, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in 1978 to mandate tougher bulwarks against the diversion of U.S. nuclear assistance for military uses. The amendment put in place nine new provisions, including the requirement that recipients of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation have in place a full scope of safeguards. The Atomic Energy Act has not been updated since.

Some members of Congress have argued that the Obama administration's policy on nuclear cooperation agreements is "inconsistent" because it does not require that all states foreswear enrichment and reprocessing, which some have dubbed the "Gold Standard." 

The so-called "Gold Standard" was enshrined in the recent 123 agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan, and is a useful addition to the global nonproliferation regime, complementing other U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology. 

The United States should seek the inclusion of a legally-binding no-enrichment and reprocessing commitment in new agreements and agreements up for renewal with countries that do not already have these capabilities. However, securing such a commitment will not be possible in all cases, in part because sovereign states are extremely reluctant to forego future technology and commercial options. 

Yet, Congress could consider adjusting the review procedures for 123 agreements that do not include commitments to forego enrichment and reprocessing (or other key standard such as adherence to the tougher International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards under the terms of the additional protocol) so they are subject to an affirmative vote of approval.

The China Agreement

The current 30-year U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement with China entered into force in 1985, but implementation did not begin until 1998 because of certification requirements established by Congress. The new agreement would be another 30-year deal and replace the existing agreement that is set to expire at the end of this year. 

Overall, China's nonproliferation record has improved significantly since the 1980s and 1990s. For example, China has joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has put its civilian reactors under safeguards and increased cooperation with the United States on nuclear material security. In addition, Beijing has curtailed the transfer of technologies and information that have assisted Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and Iran's nuclear program. 

Nonetheless, concerns remain. 

The Nonproliferation Assessment Statement (NPAS) prepared by the U.S. State Department about the 123 agreement, raises concerns about the potential Chinese misuse of civil nuclear technology for military purposes, proliferation of dual-use materials and technologies involving Chinese entities, and China's provision to Pakistan of additional nuclear reactors, which is inconsistent with the Chinese commitments made when it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004.

In addition, some have objected to a provision in the agreement granting each party "advance consent" to reprocess U.S.-obligated nuclear material. This kind of permission, which is not bestowed in the current agreement, has been included in 123 agreements with India and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). China is planning to build commercial reprocessing facilities to reprocess much of its spent fuel domestically.

However, President Barack Obama noted in a March 26, 2012 speech in South Korea that the world "simply can't go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we're trying to keep away from terrorists." It's not clear how providing China with advance consent to reprocessing will reduce global stocks of separated plutonium.

The administration argues the economic, diplomatic, and environmental benefits of the agreement merit continuing nuclear cooperation with China despite ongoing nonproliferation concerns. They point to enhanced features in the new agreement that go beyond the current deal, especially in the area of preventing the diversion of civil nuclear technology and material for military use. They note that any reprocessing of U.S. obligated material would require a future agreement on "arrangements and procedures" and could take place only at facilities that are under or eligible for IAEA safeguards. Rejecting the deal, they say, will leave the United States in a weaker position to influence China's nonproliferation behavior

If Congress is concerned about the nonproliferation risks of nuclear cooperation with China, there are steps it can take to ensure effective oversight of cooperation. 

For example, lawmakers could require regular reports from the administration about China's adherence to the deal and whether it is making progress on strengthening export controls and cracking down on entities engaged in proliferating dual-use goods and technologies.

In addition, the agreement notes that the parties "shall take account into account the need to avoid contributing to the risks of nuclear proliferation...and the importance of balancing supply and demand, including demand for reasonable working stocks for civil nuclear operations." If Congress is concerned about the possibility of Chinese reprocessing, it could ask for a report on how these criteria are being met, if China carries out reprocessing that falls under the agreement.

Updating the Atomic Energy Act

If Congress wants a greater degree of consistency and higher nonproliferation standards in 123 agreements, it can legislate higher standards that should be sought and if those standards are not all achieved, Congress could revise the process by which such agreements should be considered for approval or disapproval by the Congress. 

Such an effort would reinforce the revised voluntary guidelines approved in 2011 by the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group not to transfer enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology exports to states that have not signed or are not in compliance with the nuclear NPT, do not allow safeguards, and do not allow more extensive monitoring under the terms of an additional protocol, among other criteria.
 
Two bipartisan bills introduced in the House in 2011 and 2013 (H.R. 1280 and H.R. 3766) offer a useful framework to consider and build on. 

The bills would not have required that states adopt the gold standard. Instead, the bills would add several new requirements to the nine key requirements already in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act that, if met, would "fast track" that country's nuclear cooperation agreement for approval.

Agreements with states that cannot meet the higher set of standards would be subject to a more rigorous process requiring affirmative congressional approval. 

Among the most important new requirements for "fast track" approval that were in the House bills included

  • the application of the IAEA 1997 Model Additional Protocol (dozens of states have not yet approved an additional protocol, including Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia); and
  • a pledge from countries that do not already possess enrichment and reprocessing capabilities not to acquire these capabilities and/or facilities to conduct them 

Other conditions that might be considered in updating the Atomic Energy Act include

  • clarifying that the recipient state must allow for the application of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement under the terms of the most up-to-date IAEA revisions, which today are known as code 3.1;
  • requiring termination of U.S. nuclear cooperation in the event the recipient state conducts a nuclear test explosion, is found to be in violation of its IAEA safeguards obligations, or acquires enrichment or reprocessing equipment from sources other than the United States;
  • requiring affirmative congressional approval for agreements that provide advance consent to enrich and/or reprocess (except in states that already have prior approval to do so);
  • requiring affirmative congressional approval for agreements lasting more than 30 years; and
  • revising Section 131 of the Atomic Energy Act to lengthen the current 15-day congressional review period for subsequent arrangements to 123 agreements involving the reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear material or nuclear material produced with U.S. supplied technology (subsequent arrangements are required for forms of nuclear cooperation requiring additional Congressional approval, such as recipient states' enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear material transferred pursuant to the agreement).

In light of (1) the growing interest in nuclear power in geopolitically sensitive regions of the globe; (2) the inclusion of the "Gold Standard" in the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan agreements; and (3) new Nuclear Supplier Group rules adopted in 2011, it is prudent to examine how the Atomic Energy Act might be updated to better address the proliferation risks of today-and tomorrow.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Posted: July 2, 2015

Under a Microscope: Monitoring and Verification in an Iran Deal

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One of the Obama administration's key goals for a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran is to deter and detect any attempt by Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons using a covert program.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, April 29, 2015 

One of the Obama administration's key goals for a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran is to deter and detect any attempt by Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons using a covert program. Given Tehran's past activities, including clandestine construction of uranium-enrichment facilities and an organized nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, concerns about a covert program and compliance with a deal are justified. But trust is not required for a good agreement. An enhanced verification, monitoring and transparency regime is the only way to provide the necessary confidence that Iran is abiding by its commitments and any clandestine activities will be quickly discovered. 

The parameters agreed to in Lausanne on April 2 lay the groundwork for a regime that will build an extensive, long-term and multilayered monitoring regime.  

Effective monitoring and verification is critical given Iran's nuclear past. As the U.S. intelligence community has consistently noted since 2007, if Iran were to make a decision to build nuclear weapons, it is more likely that it would seek to do so by means of undeclared secret facilities, a scenario sometimes called a "sneak-out."  

Critics of the deal, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, assert that the oversight is not "serious" and that there is no "control mechanism" to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. Such assertions are inaccurate and do not offer a more effective alternative.

John Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, called the monitoring and verification "as solid as you can get" and judges those who say that the deal paves Iran's pathway to the bomb as "wholly disingenuous."

While no arms control regime can provide a 100 percent guarantee against covert activity, a realistic goal for a final deal in the ongoing negotiations is to increase the likelihood of detection to such a high-degree that breakout is an extremely unattractive option for Iran. Given the limits on Iran's nuclear program that would be put in place under the Lausanne parameters, Tehran would have to re-create its entire supply chain, conversion, and enrichment facilities covertly.  

Under the fortified monitoring and verification parameters of a final deal, it would be nearly impossible for Iran to set up such a covert, parallel program, without early detection. Early detection will ensure that the international community has time to take steps to head-off any attempt by Iran to break out and obtain nuclear weapons.

Undersecretary of State and lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman said on April 27 that "with this agreement, we will have the most extensive system of monitoring and verification we have ever negotiated for any country anywhere in the world. We will have eyes into every part of Iran's nuclear program from cradle to grave."   

On the other hand, failure to reach an agreement would reduce the current level of monitoring and verification to pre-2014 levels. That would increase the likelihood of clandestine activity and decrease oversight of Iran's nuclear program.

Current Safeguards are Insufficient

Prior to the November 2013 interim deal, Iran's nuclear program was monitored through its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), all member states are required to have a safeguards agreement in place. Safeguards are activities that the IAEA undertakes to verify that a state is living up to its international commitments not to use nuclear programs for nuclear-weapons purposes. Safeguard activities undertaken by the agency are based on a state's declaration of its nuclear materials and nuclear-related activities. Verification measures include on-site inspections, monitoring, and evaluation. Activities to verify and account for a state's nuclear materials during and in connection to inspections include auditing the state's accounting reports to the agency, verifying the nuclear material inventories, and applying containment and surveillance measures.There are four types of inspections available to the IAEA as part of a safeguards agreement to undertake these activities:

  • Ad hoc inspections: typically used for verifying the state's initial report on its nuclear materials and any changes to those materials.
  • Routine inspections: limited to locations within a declared nuclear facility, locations containing nuclear material, or places through which nuclear material may flow. These inspections may be carried out according to a schedule or on short-notice.
  • Special inspections: are utilized if the IAEA does not have the information necessary to fulfill its responsibilities, or if further information is required to clarify information obtained during routine inspections.
  • Safeguards visits: inspectors may visit declared nuclear facilities to verify the design information at appropriate times, including during construction, routine operations, and after maintenance procedures, to ensure that the facility was not modified or being used for unreported activities.

Iran's safeguards agreement entered into force in 1974. Under this arrangement, Iran is required to submit information regarding its nuclear program. In particular Iran must declare its quantities of nuclear materials, the locations of materials, and design information about its nuclear facilities. Iran currently has declared 18 facilities to the IAEA. Under the safeguards agreement, the IAEA can verify the quantities and facility designs through on-site inspections. Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA will remain in place in a comprehensive nuclear deal, but additional monitoring and verification measures would buttress the safeguards agreement.

More Extensive Monitoring 

While Iran's current safeguards agreement includes facilities that produce enriched uranium, like Natanz and Fodow, and others that convert uranium into forms for enrichment or for fabricating fuel, the current declaration does not cover Iran's entire fuel cycle. Facilities such as Iran's uranium mines and mills, as well as centrifuge production areas are not included.

A verifiable nuclear agreement must extend the IAEA's access to monitor the entire fuel cycle and supply chain and provide timely notification of new facilities. The Lausanne parameters set up a more comprehensive system that will achieve these goals. Some of these measures will be time-limited. Others are permanent measures designed to give the IAEA greater access to verify that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful. 

Additional Protocol

Iran agreed at Lausanne to implement, and eventually ratify, the additional protocol as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal. 

Additional protocols are voluntary agreements negotiated on a state-by-state basis with the IAEA. A principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance that there are no undeclared activities and all declared nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. Iran negotiated an additional protocol with the IAEA and signed the agreement in 2003. Between 2003 and 2006 Iran voluntarily implemented the additional protocol, but never ratified the document. In 2006, Iran announced that it would no longer implement the provisions of the agreement.

Under the additional protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites. States must provide information about all parts of its nuclear fuel cycle and all sites where nuclear material may be located. The expanded list of sites includes uranium mines, fuel fabrication and enrichment plants, and nuclear waste sites. Inspectors can also visit these sites on short notice to resolve questions or inconsistencies or check for undeclared nuclear material. The notice for complementary access can be as short as two hours for verification of design information, ad hoc, or routine inspections. Inspectors are allowed to conduct environment samples, use detection and measurement devices, and check mechanisms, such as seals, that are put in place to prevent tampering or diversion.

A state is also required to provide information about its research and development activities related to the nuclear fuel cycle as part of the additional protocol and allow for the IAEA to verify those activities.

Additional protocols typically include provisions granting multiple entry visas to inspectors, and access to research and development activities. They also require information and verification on the manufacture and export of sensitive nuclear related technologies and allow for environmental sampling beyond declared faculties if the IAEA believes it necessary to fulfill the agency's obligations.

Historical experiences underscore the importance of Iran's adherence to the additional protocol, which will only come as part of a comprehensive deal. Clandestine attempts by Iraq and North Korea in the 1990s to obtain nuclear weapons while members of the NPT demonstrated gaps within the standard IAEA safeguards agreements. The additional protocol is a legal document granting the IAEA inspection authority beyond what is permitted by a safeguards agreement and was designed to respond to the gaps identified in these cases.

With the additional protocol in place, the IAEA will be able to visit and verify all of the facilities associated with Iran's nuclear activities, including sites that it does not currently have access to, such as the uranium mines, Iran's centrifuge production facilities, and its heavy water production plant. The additional protocol also substantially expands the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine, undeclared, nuclear facilities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in a state's nuclear declarations. While these measures do not give the agency carte blanch access to Iran's military sites, as some critics assert is necessary, the agency will be able to access these areas if there is cause or concern about illicit nuclear activities.

These monitoring and verification measures will give the agency a more complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities and allow for early detection of deviations from peaceful activities. Early notification would give the international community time to respond to any dash Iran might make toward nuclear weapons. 

Modified Code 3.1

According to the Lausanne parameters, Iran will also implement modified Code 3.1 to its safeguards agreement as part of a final deal.

Modified Code 3.1 requires countries to submit design information for new nuclear facilities to the IAEA as soon as the decision is made to construct, or authorize construction, of the facility.

In 2003, Iran accepted modified Code 3.1 but reneged unilaterally in March 2007. The IAEA maintains that subsidiary arrangements, including modified Code 3.1, cannot be altered unilaterally. There also is no mechanism in the safeguards agreement to suspend implementation of modified Code 3.1. Therefore, the IAEA maintains that it remains in force, and Iran is not following through with its obligations under modified Code 3.1 to provide the agency with updated design information for new and existing nuclear facilities.

If Iran implements modified Code 3.1 under a comprehensive deal, the IAEA will receive information about any plans Tehran has to expand its nuclear program earlier than it would under the status quo. Iran would also be obligated to share any design changes to existing nuclear facilities. This would be particularly useful in the event of an agreement to ensure that design changes fit within the agreed upon limits of Iran's nuclear program in a final deal.

Additional Measures

In addition to regular access to Iran's declared nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Fordow, Arak, and Esfahan, the IAEA will operate continuous surveillance of Iran's uranium mines for 25 years. The centrifuge rotors and bellows production areas will be under continuous surveillance for 20 years. The stored centrifuges removed from Fordow and Natanz will also be under continuous surveillance. 

In addition, any procurement of dual-use items or materials by Iran for its nuclear program will move through a designated channel and be subject to monitoring and approval. This oversight will assist inspectors in monitoring the flow of dual-use materials into Iran and throughout the country. A stringent accountancy system limits Iran's opportunities to obtain the materials necessary for a covert nuclear program.

Taken together, these measures cover Iran's supply chain. Continually monitoring the inputs and components of Iran's nuclear program will help ensure that Tehran is not covertly pursuing nuclear weapons using a clandestine parallel program. 

Advanced Technologies

The Lausanne parameters, as described by the White House factsheet, contain provision that allows for the use of the most up-to-date, modern technologies to verify Iran's compliance with the deal.

Technologies currently available to the IAEA that could be deployed for monitoring Iran's nuclear program will provide a high-degree of credibility that Iran is adhering to its commitments. 

Some of the various technologies that could be used include remote monitors to asses Iran's enrichment levels in real-time. Under the terms of a final deal, Iran will only be permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent uranium-235, a level suitable for nuclear power reactor fuel. Deploying these monitors would ensure that Iran is abiding by this limit on its enrichment. Any deviations would be immediately detected and reported to the IAEA.

Other technologies can assist in providing assurance that Iran is not diverting material for a covert program. The IAEA is currently using an advanced surveillance system that takes photos on a time lapse and relays the images back to IAEA monitors using encryption. The system is also tied to additional mechanisms, such as electronic seals, and is triggered in the event of tampering.  

The use of technologies such as these increases the likelihood of detection if Iran ever attempted to deviate from the limits of a nuclear agreement or divert material for a covert program.

If there are allegations that Iran has constructed a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, or centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake uranium-production facility anywhere in the country, the IAEA will be able to access the sites to investigate the allegations.

National Intelligence Measures

While a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will lay out the monitoring and verification in an agreement, this regime will also be bolstered by national intelligence agencies, including the U.S. intelligence community. National agencies played a critical role in exposing Iran's past clandestine nuclear facilities, including Natanz in 2002 and Fordow in 2009.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in January 2014, prior to the implementation of the additional transparency measures under the interim deal, that the intelligence community assesses that "Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU [weapons-grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered." This assertion was made prior to gaining Iranian compliance to providing the additional information that will be available under the enhanced monitoring and verification regime. National intelligence agencies will continue to monitor and scrutinize Iran's nuclear program after a deal, providing additional assurance that Tehran is abiding by the comprehensive nuclear deal.

Together, expanded IAEA monitoring and national intelligence will provide a high degree of confidence that any covert nuclear activities in Iran would be quickly detected. No agreement can guarantee that there is no illicit nuclear weapons program, but juxtaposed against the alternative--a no-deal scenario with less monitoring and fewer inspectors on the ground--the benefits of a good comprehensive agreement are clear.


--KELSEY DAVENPORT, Nonproliferation Policy Director

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Posted: April 29, 2015

The Lausanne Framework and a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran

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On April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) reached a breakthrough on the path toward a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

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Volume 7, Issue 6, April 14, 2015 (Updated July 11, 2015)

The Lausanne Framework Lays the Groundwork for Strong, Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Deal with Iran

On April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) reached a breakthrough on the path toward a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Iran and the P5+1 announced that after 15 months of negotiations, they had reached agreement on a set of parameters that outline the nuclear restrictions, monitoring and verification, and sanctions relief in a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. An April 2 White House fact sheet provides more detail on the Lausanne framework.

Negotiators are now on the verge of concluding a final Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (CJPoA), based on the  April 2 parameters.

Such an agreement would meet the core U.S. and P5+1 policy goals: blocking Iran's potential pathways to nuclear weapons using highly-enriched uranium and plutonium and guarding against a covert nuclear weapons program. The CJPoA would be long-term, balanced, and verifiable agreement.

As U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz noted in an April 12 Washington Post op-ed, the "agreement is not for 10, 15 or 20 years; it is a phased agreement built for the long term. And if Iran earns the international community's confidence in its peaceful objectives over this extended period, then the constraints will ease in phases, though its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Additional Protocol would remain in place indefinitely."

Cutting Back Uranium Enrichment Capacity 

The limitations agreed to in Lausanne exceed the Obama administration's commitment to ensure that it would take more than a year for Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon if Iran's leaders decided to do so. Currently, it would only take Iran two to three months to meet that objective. 

The April 2 framework pushes back Iran's breakout time by dramatically reducing the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, removing its installed but not operating machines, and cutting back Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium gas by 97 percent. Uranium enrichment will also take place only at Natanz; Iran's smaller, underground facility at Fordow will be repurposed for non-uranium research activities. These elements together put up a verifiable roadblock to nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium.

Currently, Iran is using about 10,200 first generation IR-1 centrifuges (696 at Fordow and 9,500 at Natanz) to produce uranium fuel enriched to less than five percent U-235. This enrichment level is suitable for making fuel for nuclear power plants. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to greater than 90 percent U-235.

Iran has an additional 6,200 IR-1 machines at Natanz and 2,000 at Fordow that are installed, but not enriching uranium. Another 1,008 more advanced IR-2M centrifuges are installed at Natanz but not operational. In total, that adds up to about 19,500 centrifuges. 

Under the deal the number of machines installed and enriching will be cut dramatically. Iran will operate 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium to less than 5 percent at Natanz. An additional 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges will be installed, but not enriching uranium. The remaining machines--over 13,000--will be removed from Natanz and Fordow and placed under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seal. Iran will only be able to access these machines, with IAEA oversight, if spare parts are needed to repair operating centrifuges. Iran's centrifuge manufacturing base will also be frozen, ensuring that Iran will not be stockpiling centrifuges to quickly deploy during the period of limitations. 

But reducing the number of centrifuges is only part of the package that will significantly extend Iran's breakout time. Determining the time it will take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb (about 25 kg of uranium enriched to over 90 percent U-235) is also a function of Iran's stockpiles of enriched material. If Iran has enough reactor-grade material for a bomb it can accelerate the process of enriching uranium to weapons-grade. Beginning with natural uranium puts more time on the clock if Iran is trying to enrich to weapons-grade levels for a nuclear weapon.

Currently, Iran's stockpile of reactor-grade enriched uranium gas is about 10,000 kilograms--enough material for at least half a dozen bombs if it were to be enriched further.

Under a final comprehensive deal, Iran's remaining stockpile of low-enriched material will be cut to 300 kilograms, far less than what is necessary for a nuclear bomb. Together with the centrifuge reductions, this pushes Iran's breakout time to over 12 months. And given the strength of the monitoring and verification mechanisms, any move to deviate from the deal would be detected quickly.

Critics of deal point out that Iran and the P5+1 have not decided how Iran's existing stockpile low-enriched-uranium material will be neutralized. There are three options for reducing the stockpile from 10,000 kg to 300 kg: 1) Iran could ship the fuel to Russia, where it could be stored or manufactured into fuel plates; 2) Iran could dilute the material back down to natural uranium; 3) Iran could sell the enriched material on the open fuel market. 

The method of neutralization is not a critical element of the deal. What is important is that Iran's stockpile is significantly reduced and out of reach for further enrichment. If Iran was simply allowed to convert the material to powder form for fuel plate manufacturing, that would be more problematic because that process is reversible, and Iran would continue to have access to the enriched material. However, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has been clear on the point that Iran will not simply be able to convert the excess uranium hexafluoride gas to powder. It must be diluted or shipped out.

Under the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and the terms of its extension, Iran committed to dilute half of its stockpile of gas enriched to 20 percent and to convert the other half to fuel powder, which is used for fabrication into plates for its Tehran Research Reactor. These interim actions are to be fully completed by June 30, 2015. 

While the limitations requiring Iran to operate no more than 5,060 centrifuges will end after 10 years, additional measures will ensure that Iran's breakout time is not dramatically reduced over the succeeding years. Iran has agreed to limit enrichment to reactor-grade (3.67 percent) for 15 years, and not to build any new enrichment facilities for the same timeframe.

Fordow Repurposed

Uranium enrichment at Fordow will also be prohibited for 15 years. Fordow's location, deep inside of a mountain, is a key concern for the P5+1 because the facility, originally constructed in secret, would be difficult to target in a military strike. Iran, however, was deeply opposed to shutting down any of its nuclear facilities.

As a compromise, the Fordow facility will be repurposed as a nuclear physics, technology, and research center. Of the 2,710 IR-1 centrifuges currently located there, 1,800 will be removed and stored under seal by the IAEA. The remaining 900 will not be used for uranium enrichment, but rather modified for the production of isotopes for medical research. No fissile material will be permitted in the facility and no research using uranium will be allowed for 15 years. 

Advanced Centrifuge R&D Restrictions

Defining the parameters of Iran's research and development program on advanced centrifuges posed a significant challenge to negotiators. The P5+1 favored limits on research and development to ensure that Iran could not master more efficient, advanced machines in the early years of a deal that would then allow Tehran to quickly amass enough weapons-grade material for a bomb.

However, Iran's interest in moving beyond the inefficient, crash-prone IR-1 machines is also justifiable, particularly given Tehran's interest in domestically fueling its Bushehr power reactor (currently fueled by Russia). That would require a significant increase in Iran's domestic capacity down the road, which is more easily achievable with advanced machines.

The April 2 parameters will limit Iran's testing of its advanced machines, the IR-2M, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, IR-6s, and IR-8, models and prohibit the use of any of these machines to produce enriched uranium. Testing will also be limited to single machines, and over time, to small cascades. This will ensure that Iran cannot breakout quickly using its advanced machines once the 10-year limit on enrichment using IR-1s ends. 

After 10 years, advanced machines are likely to be phased-in and enrichment increased gradually according to an agreed upon schedule. Continued research and development will proceed according to a plan reached between Iran and the P5+1 and submitted to the IAEA.

Critics of the agreement are concerned that working on the advanced machines could allow Iran to head off a cliff after the 10 years of limitations expire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that after 10 years Iran's breakout time will be near zero.

However, while Iran will be able to increase its enrichment capacity and phase-in advanced machines over time, additional limits and international obligations will remain in place.

In addition to the monitoring and verification that would detect any dash to a bomb, Iran will be limited to enriching to 3.67 percent, the stockpile will remain capped at 300 kg, and Iran will be prohibited from building new enrichment facilities for an additional five years. Iran's centrifuge manufacturing base will also remain frozen during the deal, thus ensuring that Iran is not stockpiling centrifuges that it could quickly deploy after the uranium-enrichment restrictions taper off. Together, these limits will keep Iran's uranium-enrichment program in check and weapons-grade enrichment out of reach.

Blocking the Plutonium Pathway

The April 2 parameters block Iran's pathway to nuclear weapons using separated plutonium indefinitely.

Under the agreed upon terms, Iran -- with internation assistance lead by China -- will modify the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak and destroy or ship out the original core. Construction of the reactor was halted under the interim deal, but if completed as designed, the core would produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for about two nuclear weapons on an annual basis. The weapons-grade plutonium could then be separated from the spent fuel and used for a bomb.

In addition to redesigning the reactor so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, Iran will ship the spent fuel out of the country.

The heavy-water production plant will continue to operate, but Iran will not accumulate excess heavy water, which is used to moderate some types of reactors, like the one under construction at the Arak site. Excess heavy water will be sold on the open market. 

Iran will also not construct any new heavy-water reactors for at least 15 years. Even after that time frame, however, Iran's plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons will remain blocked. Iran also committed indefinitely to refrain from reprocessing plutonium or conduct any research on reprocessing. 

Taken together, these provisions provide a strong guarantee Iran's plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons is verifiably blocked.

Enhanced Monitoring and Verification 

One of the most critical elements of an effective nuclear deal with Iran is ensuring that the enhanced monitoring and verification regime is intrusive enough to block a covert path to nuclear weapons and would very quickly be able to detect any deviation from the deal.

Based on Iran's past attempts to covertly build nuclear facilities and pursue weapons-related research, compliance concerns are real. But trust is not required for a good agreement. Enhanced verification, monitoring and transparency will provide the necessary confidence that Iran is abiding by its commitments. 

The monitoring regime described in the April 2 parameters is a multilayered approach that subjects every step of Iran's nuclear cycle and supply chains to intensive monitoring and verification.

In addition to regular access to Iran's declared nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Fordow, Arak, Esfahan, the IAEA will operate continuous surveillance of Iran's uranium mines for 25 years. The centrifuge rotors and bellows production areas will be under continuous surveillance for 20 years. The stored centrifuges removed from Fordow and Natanz will also be under continuous surveillance. Also, any procurement of dual-use items or materials for Iran's nuclear program will move through a designated channel and be subject to monitoring and approval.

Taken together, these measures cover Iran's supply chain. Continually monitoring the inputs and components of Iran's nuclear program will help ensure that Tehran is not covertly pursuing nuclear weapons using a clandestine parallel program.

If there are allegations that Iran has constructed a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, or centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake uranium production facility anywhere in the country, the IAEA will be able to access the sites to investigate the allegations.

The parameters of the deal also include Iran's immediate implementation of the Additional Protocol. This requirement expands Iran's nuclear declaration to include a larger number of sites that encompass the entirety of Iran's fuel cycle. The Additional Protocol has more extensive accountancy requirements, and the IAEA can conduct short-notice inspections. The Additional Protocol is permanent once ratified.

Skeptics have pushed back about the language regarding the Additional Protocol, noting that the White House fact sheet does not indicate if Iran will ratify the document as part of the deal. However, it is important to note that Iran committed to ratification in a final agreement as part of the November 2013 interim deal.

The IAEA will also receive earlier notification of any new nuclear facilities that Iran intends to build. Iran will implement Modified Code 3.1 of its safeguards agreement. Under Code 3.1, Iran will notify the agency as soon as it decides or approves a new facility. Under the existing safeguards, the agency only receives six months notice before the facility is commissioned. Greater advance notice will give the international community more time to assess the impact of the new facilities and ensure that they are in line with Iran's peaceful nuclear program.

Taken together, these monitoring and verification measures span the entirety of Iran's fuel cycle and provide assurance that Iran cannot divert material or construct a parallel covert nuclear weapons program. 

Some critics argue that the comprehensive nuclear deal must allow for inspections "anywhere, anytime" including at military sites. It is unrealistic to assume that any country, not defeated in wartime, would accept unlimited, no-notice inspections at any and all military sites. And more importantly, it is unnecessary in the Iranian case. 

Under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA will have access to military facilities if there are concerns about nuclear weapons-related activities. The two sides will likely agree to an adjudication mechanism designed to also ensure that Iran does not block IAEA access to such sites.

Additionally, the IAEA will not provide the only oversight of Iran's nuclear program. Confidence in Iran's compliance will be bolstered by national intelligence organizations. These organizations played a critical role in detecting Iran's covert facilities in the past and uncovering evidence of Iran's past work related to nuclear weapons. They will continue to keep Iran's nuclear activities under a microscope.

Past Possible Military Dimensions

Some critics claim that the April 2 Lausanne framework will not require Iran to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation into Iran's past activities with military dimensions. Iran however, will be required to implement a set of measures to address the IAEA's outstanding questions. 

It is well established that Iran conducted activities relevant to weapons development as part of an organized program prior to 2003. The IAEA laid out its allegations regarding those activities in November 2011.

While the IAEA and Iran have made some progress between November 2013 and August 2014 on resolving those issues, the investigation is now stalled. Iran should not, and will not, be let off the hook. It is critical that Iran answers the IAEA's questions and allows access to the individuals and sites necessary to complete the investigation.

The Lausanne framework also makes it clear that the removal of nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions will not occur until and unless Iran cooperates with the IAEA investigation and the past questions are resolved.

However, a "full confession" by Iran that it engaged in nuclear weapons-related work, as some critics demand, is extremely unlikely given Iran's past statements about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic. A confession is also an unnecessary precondition that would only delay the conclusion of the investigation even further. What is most important is designing and implementing an enhanced monitoring and verification regime capable of ensuring that there are no ongoing weaponization activities. The April 2 Lausanne framework provides the tools and the incentive to achieve that goal.

Sanctions Relief

Phased sanctions relief will serve as an incentive for Iran to follow through on key nuclear restrictions. At the onset of a deal, access to frozen assets, relief from U.S. sanctions in the form of waivers, and the lifting of EU sanctions will provide Iran with significant relief commensurate to the dramatic nuclear concessions that Iran will make early in the Joint Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action. This first tranche of relief will likely come when Iran has taken the steps to push its uranium-enrichment breakout time to over 12 months. 

The core architecture of U.S. sanctions will remain in place for years into the agreement, however, facilitating swift re-imposition if Iran violates the deal. The final agreement will have a dispute resolution process to ensure fair findings regarding any alleged violation.

According to the Lausanne framework, UN Security Council sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program will remain in place until Iran completes key steps on uranium-enrichment, modifying Fordow and Arak, and addressing the IAEA investigation into past possible military dimensions. A mechanism will also allow for the re-imposition of sanctions if Iran is violating the agreement.

Key UN sanctions barring arms sales and ballistic missile component sales by UN member states to Iran will initially remain in place and will likely end after the initial implementation period is concluded. As mentioned above, any sale of dual-use nuclear technology to support Iran's peaceful nuclear activities will take place through a monitored, dedicated channel.

Providing sanctions relief and reintegrating Iran back into the global economy will also likely change Iran's cost-benefit analysis for pursuing nuclear weapons. As Iran's economy becomes stronger and more interdependent, the cost of any cheating on the deal will increase. The backlash of the international community if Iran violates the agreement would be severe. These elements increase the cost of pursuing weapons and would likely play into any Iranian decision making in the future.

Assessing a Final Comprehensive Deal

The framework deal reached in Lausanne on April 2 lays the groundwork for a strong, effective, verifiable, multi-phased, comprehensive nuclear deal. If the final deal is consistent with the April 2 framework, it will verifiably block Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that is in the best interest of U.S. and international security. 

A number of prominent nonproliferation experts agree that if implemented, this deal will put in put in place an effective, verifiable, long-term plan to guard against an Iranian nuclear weapon. These experts agree that a framework will:

  • significantly reduce Iran's capacity to enrich uranium to the point that it would take at least 12 months to amass enough uranium enriched to weapons grade for one bomb;
  • require Iran to modify its Arak heavy water reactor to meaningfully reduce its proliferation potential and bar Iran from developing any capability for separating plutonium from spent fuel for weapons;
  • put in place enhanced international inspections and monitoring that would help to deter Iran from attempting to violate the agreement, but if Iran did, increase the international community's ability to detect promptly and, if necessary, disrupt future efforts by Iran to build nuclear weapons, including at potential undeclared sites; and
  • require Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to conclude the investigation of Iran's past efforts to develop a nuclear warhead and provide transparency sufficient to help ensure that any such effort remains in abeyance.

There is no better deal on the horizon. Efforts in Washington to block implementation of an effective agreement consistent with the April 2 framework would undermine global support for the existing sanctions architecture, remove the limits on Iran's nuclear capabilities, eliminate the chance for more robust international inspections, and increase the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon and a military conflict. U.S. and Israeli intelligence analysts assess that a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would only set back its nuclear program for a period of two to four years.  

The conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a long-term, win-win solution for both sides.


--KELSEY DAVENPORT, Nonproliferation Policy Director, with DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Posted: April 14, 2015

Netanyahu On the Iran Nuclear Issue: A Reality Check

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to undermine support for the agreement, in part by exploiting partisan politics in Washington.

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Volume 7, Issue 5, March 3, 2015 

In Switzerland today, the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) are moving closer to a comprehensive, verifiable, long-term agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The outlines of the agreement are taking shape. A political framework agreement by the end of March is within sight.

Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to undermine support for the agreement, in part by exploiting partisan politics in Washington.

In his address today before a joint session of Congress, he claimed that the deal-in-the-making just isn't good enough.

He argues that the agreement-in-the-making would make it a near "certainty" that Iran pursues nuclear weapons because it would retain a nuclear program. This is just plain wrong.

The reality is that the agreement the P5+1 are pursuing would increase Iran's theoretical "breakout" time to amass enough enriched uranium gas enriched to bomb grade from today's 2-3 months to more than 12 months, and it would do so for over a decade. It would block the plutonium path to weapons.

The deal would put in place enhanced, intrusive inspections that could promptly detect and deter a potential clandestine nuclear weapons effort. Some of these inspections would continue indefinitely, as would Iran's obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu's alternative? Hold out for a better deal and do so until Iran's changes its foreign policy behavior. Walk away from a "bad deal," he said, and Iran will come back. That's bad advice.

If the Congress rejects an effective nuclear deal, it would only help Iran's hardliners, invite Iran to expand its nuclear program, and dissolve international sanctions pressure. Israel and the world would be less secure.

Additional pressure, through still tougher sanctions, he suggests, will somehow persuade Iran's leaders to dismantle their major nuclear facilities entirely. That's a risky and unrealistic gamble. For over a decade Iran has resisted such an outcome. There is no reason to believe they would agree to do so now.

As U.S. National Security advisor Susan Rice said March 2, "There's simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better--or- longer-than the type of deal we seek."

Here are several reasons why the Prime Minister's logic about how to address the Iranian nuclear issue is flawed.

Dismantling Iran's nuclear weapons capability is, unfortunately, not possible.

For more than a decade, Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons.

Eliminating that capability is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran completely "dismantled" its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.  

Ergo, the goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to prevent Iran from exercising that capability by limiting and constraining its nuclear capacity (especially fissile material production) and by increasing transparency over its program. Phased sanctions relief also offers Iranian leaders incentives for continued compliance with the terms of the deal.

More pressure will not lead Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

Netanyahu, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons is to secure an agreement that requires Iran to abandon key elements of its nuclear program, including its enrichment facilities and its Arak heavy-water reactor project.

Such an outcome would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint, but it is unrealistic to expect that Iran's leadership would accept such terms, even under the tougher sanctions pressure.

As former U.S. nuclear negotiator Robert J. Einhorn said in January testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, "... no one who closely follows Iran and its domestic politics believes that it is achievable, whatever pressures we are able to bring to bear."

U.S. National Security Advisor, Susan Rice argued in an address to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "...we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal."

"Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy," Rice said. "If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable."

If the P5+1, or members of Congress, tried to hold out for dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, Iran would not agree, negotiations would break down, and Iran would resume efforts to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity. A nuclear-armed Iran, a conflict over its program, or both, would become far more likely.

More sanctions now, would do more harm that good.

The international sanctions regime helped push Iran toward the negotiating table, but sanctions alone cannot convince Iran to agree to verifiably limit its nuclear activities. In fact, sanctions have never stopped Iran from advancing its program further.

Moreover, initiating new sanctions at this time as proposed by Senators Kirk (R-Ill.) and Menendez (D-N.J.), would violate the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and risk pushing Iran toward escalatory measures and away from the negotiating table.

Moving forward on any sanctions bill will give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal even further.

New sanctions could also cause Iran to pull out of the negotiations. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action.

New sanctions risk fracturing the international coalition supporting sanctions, which is instrumental to maintaining pressure on Iran.

As Rice said at AIPAC March 2, "Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn't play the spoiler now."

UN Security Council resolutions do not require Iran to permanently halt its nuclear program.

Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak. None of the six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council called for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment. 

During debate on the most recent resolution in June 2010, British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the P5+1, said the resolution was intended to keep "the door open for continued engagement" with Iran over its nuclear program. Amb. Grant said that the purpose of such diplomatic efforts must be to achieve a comprehensive, long-term settlement, that respects Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy.

The Security Council resolutions were never intended to eliminate an Iranian civil nuclear program in the future that complies with the conditions of the NPT.

Iran's long-range ballistic missile program is behind schedule.  

Assertions about an imminent threat of Iranian long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) are overstated. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Iran may be technically capable of developing an ICBM with sufficient foreign assistance, but Iran's progress is well behind the schedule previously predicted by the intelligence community.

Even if Iran made a concerted effort to develop and deploy, it is very unlikely it could do so within the decade.

Iran has, not surprisingly, opposed putting its short- and medium-range ballistic missiles up for negotiation because it sees those missiles as a deterrent against foreign aggression, including Israel's own nuclear and missile arsenal.

The best way to neutralize a long-term Iranian long-range ballistic missile threat is the comprehensive nuclear deal the P5+1 are pursuing because it would block Iran's potential pathways to a bomb, making its ballistic missiles much less of a threat.

An effective nuclear deal will reduce the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region and strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation system.

A verifiable, comprehensive nuclear deal will impose strict limits and monitoring on Iran's nuclear program. It will reduce the risk that Iran may someday pursue nuclear weapons.

This will provide assurance to the international community that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that any deviations from the deal will be quickly noticed. This should reduce, not increase, the temptation by some states in the Middle East-particularly Saudi Arabia-to pursue the technical capabilities necessary to acquire nuclear weapons.

The alternative--no comprehensive P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal--would lead to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with less monitoring. This poses more of a threat to countries in the region and could increase the possibility of a "proliferation cascade" in the region. (For an in-depth look at this issue, see: "How to Actually Prevent a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East," by Kingston Reif, The National Interest, March 2, 2015.)

The agreement the P5+1 are pursuing would not invite Iran to pursue nuclear weapons after the major elements expire.

U.S. officials have been seeking an agreement that is at least 10 years in duration and possibly longer. Iran has said it will not agree to strict limits on its nuclear program for an indefinite period.

Even after the core limits on Iran's nuclear program expire Iran will be subject to enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring that will promptly detect any noncompliance and in a manner that will allow timely action by the international community to disrupt any potential nuclear weapons effort.

Once and if Iran ratifies the IAEA additional protocol to its safeguards agreement as anticipated in the P5+1 and Iran deal, the additional protocol is permanent, and Iran, as a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, will be legally required to continue those inspections and be prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons.

As Susan Rice noted on March 2, "[I]t has always been clear that the pursuit of an agreement of indefinite duration would result in no agreement at all.

"There's simply no alternative," she said, "that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better--or longer--than the type of deal we seek."

Conclusion

P5+1 negotiators have an historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that limits its nuclear program, blocks its pathways to a bomb, and guards against covert activities.

The gravity of the situation demands a discussion on a comprehensive nuclear deal that is based on realistic alternatives, not wishful or flawed thinking.--DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

 

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Posted: March 3, 2015

Voting Up-or-Down on an Iran Nuclear Deal: Not as Easy as 123

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Volume 7, Issue 4, February 11, 2015

The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), says he will introduce legislation that would give Congress the opportunity to vote to disapprove or approve a comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran.

Corker argues that an up-or-down vote on a P5+1 and Iran deal—patterned on the procedures in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act for congressional approval/disapproval of civil nuclear cooperation agreements—is a way for Congress to weigh-in and have a “constructive” role in Washington’s negotiations with Iran.

However, a closer examination of Corker’s initial proposal to subject the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement or an arms control treaty raises more questions—and problems—than its answers.   

Consequently, the Obama administration has signaled that it opposes the Corker proposal, which has not yet been formally introduced but may soon be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker’s proposal would block implementation of any comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran until the congressional review period and vote is completed. 

The congressional review period would not begin until the Obama administration and the intelligence community completes a detailed nonproliferation assessment of the agreement—a complex process that could take many weeks to prepare.

As a result, Corker’s proposal would effectively delay or block implementation of measures in the comprehensive agreement that would curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

This would put the comprehensive agreement, as well as the interim agreement, in a state of legal and political limbo that could lead to the unraveling of the historic diplomatic opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. 

In addition, any initiative that would subject a comprehensive P5+1 and Iran deal to congressional approval (and possible amendments that place conditions or requirements on its implementation) would overstep congressional authority in the area of executive branch conduct of foreign policy.

By putting the agreement, and/or waivers of sanctions necessary to implement the deal, up for an early vote—and possible disapproval— before Iran has a chance to demonstrate it will carry out initial nonproliferation steps, Congress creates the very real risk that the United States (not Iran) would be blamed for derailing any long-term P5+1-brokered agreement to verifiably limit its nuclear capabilities. Such a deal, is, by far, the most effective way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, proliferation in the region, and/or another war in the Middle East.

Before any legislation for a direct vote of approval/disapproval is advanced in Congress, responsible policymakers should carefully examine the proposal, evaluate downside risks, consider common sense alternatives, and recall the respective roles of the legislative and executive branches.

They should be mindful that unlike a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and another country, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will be a political agreement between the five-permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran designed to induce Iran to meet goals and obligations established by the Security Council and Iran’s obligations as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Over time, Congress will have a vital role in monitoring implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, including legislative action to remove and/or not renew legislatively-mandated, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran—if and when Iran fulfills key non-proliferation obligations called for in a comprehensive agreement.

An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not a 123 Agreement

Senator Corker stated in a January 2015 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing that he is working on legislation that would require an up-or-down vote on a comprehensive Iran deal that “builds off the 123 agreements” currently in place. 

Under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, nuclear cooperation agreements are subject to approval by Congress. These “congressional-executive” agreements are designed to ensure that U.S. cooperation with foreign nuclear programs, including the transfer of U.S. nuclear material, equipment, or technology, conforms to U.S. export control laws, meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, and is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

After the administration negotiates a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with another country, it is submitted to Congress, first to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then to Congress, for review.

The agreement must meet nine nonproliferation criteria and include a nuclear proliferation assessment statement explaining how the agreement meets those criteria and does not damage U.S. national security interests.

If no action is taken by Congress during the review period, the nuclear cooperation agreement enters into force. If Congress adopts a joint resolution disapproving the agreement and the resolution becomes law, the agreement does not enter into force.  Sometimes, the resolutions are hotly debated and amendments are adopted that set additional conditions on U.S. nuclear transfers to the other country.

A nuclear deal with Iran, however, will not involve the transfer of proliferation sensitive material, technology, or information from the United States.

Instead, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear agreement will require Iran to meet specific requirements that effectively limit its capability to produce material that can be used for nuclear weapons and will put in place additional monitoring requirements to guard against any dash for nuclear weapons in the future. 

Subjecting the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement is unnecessary, and it carries enormous risks for the success of a good P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Delay and Possible Derailment of Steps to Curb Iran’s Capabilities

If it follows the process of a 123 agreement, Corker’s proposals would require putting implementation of the P5+1 and Iran agreement on hold for at least 90 days (and perhaps longer), including implementation by Iran of key steps that would reduce its proliferation potential.

At the onset of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, Washington may need to waive certain sanctions measures in return for Iranian concessions. An extended congressional review process could impede the process and delay implementation of additional limits and monitoring on Iran’s nuclear program.

Worse still, if Congress votes to disapprove of the nuclear deal with Iran or vote to revoke or block the President’s existing legislative authority to waive certain nuclear-related sanctions, the Corker proposal would have derailed the carefully-constructed P5+1 diplomatic framework to verifiably block Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons.

In that scenario, the approach being pursued by Senator Corker would leave the United States with no credible “Plan B” to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Additionally, if the United States is seen as causing the deal to collapse, international support for the sanctions regime that was critical to bringing Iran to the negotiating table will erode.

Executive and Legislative Authority

Voting a verifiable, comprehensive agreement with Iran up or down also undermines the respective roles of the Executive and Legislative branches.

A nuclear agreement with Iran is not a treaty that requires Senate advice and consent for ratification. A nuclear deal with Iran will not, in any way, limit the military capabilities of the United States, as is the case with bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control treaties and nonproliferation agreements that are subject to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Nor will an agreement impose obligations on the United States beyond lifting sanctions that were intended to push Iran to the negotiating table.

It is the prerogative of the executive branch to conclude agreements in the national security interests of the United States. Setting a precedent for congressional review of such agreements sets a dangerous precedent for future executive branch decisions.

Furthermore, given that the UN Security Council will likely consider and approve a new resolution recognizing the agreement and mandating that the P5+1 and Iran undertake certain actions to implement it, a congressional vote of approval/disapproval would be redundant. And, if Congress votes to disapprove the agreement, it could lead to a direct conflict of opinion and legal authority between the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. President/UN Security Council.

Congress’s Constructive Role

There are other, more constructive ways for Congress to monitor compliance and implementation of a comprehensive P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

As part of the broad parameters agreed to in the interim deal, the United States committed to remove all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran as part of a comprehensive agreement. Under that process, the phase-out of those sanctions will begin with Presidential waivers, and later, if Iran meets key nonproliferation obligations, removal of UN Security Council and U.S. sanctions.

In the future, if Iran is abiding by its commitments, Congress will need to pass legislation removing some of these key nuclear-related measures, which incentivizes Iran to comply with the deal in the long term.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed this point in a January 2015 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the Iran nuclear talks. He said:

“… the best way to ensure that Iran complies with its obligations would be to suspend the existing sanctions, not end them, to test Iran's compliance, and only then, and obviously Congress would have to play a lead role in this, to actually end the sanctions.”

Additionally, Congress can provide a forum for a public discussion of Iran’s implementation of any comprehensive agreement.

Periodic congressional oversight hearings to discuss findings from the IAEA and the executive branch on Iran’s compliance with a comprehensive agreement and the impact of such an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program can serve an important role in holding both sides accountable.

At the same time, Congress should refrain from mandating automatic re-imposition of sanctions measures against Iran on the basis of unsubstantiated third party reports or intelligence obtained by foreign governments about possible noncompliance with the terms of the agreement.

It is and should remain the responsibility of the President, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and using information obtained by the IAEA, to determine whether Iran has materially violated the comprehensive agreement in a manner that threatens international security and is not working to come back into compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Establishing a record of compliance (or noncompliance) will be key when Congress eventually votes on whether or not to remove nuclear-related sanctions on Iran that are essential to the implementation of the agreement.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, and DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

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Posted: February 11, 2015

What Would An Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Deal With Iran Look Like?

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Volume 7, Issue 3, February 9, 2015 

Top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran are working hard to build upon their successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement, which has halted, and in some areas, rolled back the most proliferation-sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

The P5+1 are seeking a comprehensive, verifiable nuclear agreement that would block Iran's major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development--the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route--and guard against a clandestine weapons program, thus removing a major threat to international security.

Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant progress on long-term solutions on several challenging issues. Following the most recent round of high-level talks, Western officials were reported to have said that the two sides have further narrowed differences on how many uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate under a long-term agreement, but hard-to-bridge differences remain on the timing for the lifting of sanctions and the duration of any deal.

The P5+1 and Iran are aiming to reach a political framework agreement by the end of March and conclude the technical annexes by the end of June.  

Senior U.S. officials have said their goal is to significantly reduce Iran's capacity to enrich uranium in order to increase the time that Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

Just as importantly, the comprehensive agreement would increase the international community's ability to promptly detect and disrupt any future effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons (including at potential undeclared sites).

Though the aims and objectives are clear, a number of myths and misperceptions have clouded the discussion about what a comprehensive agreement must achieve and why. Debate on a good deal should be based on a realistic assessment of the issues, objectives and options.  

Toward a Realistic Evaluation

Any comprehensive agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature (such as the number of centrifuges).

While each element is important, the agreement should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran's fissile-material production capacity and providing the additional transparency and monitoring necessary to detect and deter any future Iranian nuclear weapons program.  

Policy makers should also assess the comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran in the context of the plausible alternatives, including the absence of a comprehensive agreement, rather than  vague hopes of a "better" deal that might still be negotiated at some future time.

Blocking the Uranium Path  

A key element of a comprehensive agreement will be sustainable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity that verifiably block Iran from quickly amassing enough fissile material for weapons.

As part of the 2013 interim nuclear agreement, the two sides agreed Iran would halt production of uranium gas enriched to 20% uranium-235, eliminate its stock of uranium gas enriched to that level, and temporarily halt further expansion of its centrifuge capacity. Iran has 19,000 centrifuges, of which 10,200 first generation centrifuges are operating.

The two sides also agreed in the interim deal that a comprehensive agreement should define a "mutually defined enrichment programme" with "agreed limits on the scope and level of enrichment, activities, capacity...and stocks of uranium" that should be "consistent with practical needs" for a "period to be agreed upon."  

Iran's nuclear fuel supply needs currently are very limited, but could grow in the coming years. Its current enrichment capacity exceeds its near-term needs and provides the technical capacity to produce a quantity of weapons-grade uranium gas sufficient for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months if such an effort were not detected and slowed or halted.

Consequently, the P5+1 is pressing Iran to significantly reduce its overall uranium-enrichment capacity for at least ten years in order to increase the time Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

While the overall number of operational centrifuges is a major factor, in reality, the agreement must address a number of elements of Iran's overall enrichment capacity in order to reach the 12-month theoretical "breakout" objective, including

  • barring Iran from enriching uranium above normal power reactor grade (five percent or less uranium-235);
  • putting in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement;
  • significantly reducing the number/capacity of Iran's 10,200 operating IR-1 centrifuges for several years;
  • reducing the amount and form of low-enriched uranium stockpiled in Iran; and
  • verifiably disabling the approximately 9,000 centrifuge machines that are now installed but not yet operating.  

There are several possible ways these variables can be combined to increase the time that it would take Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

For example, by reducing Iran's current operating enrichment capacity by half, combined with a significant reduction in the size of Iran's low enriched-uranium stocks and conversion to more proliferation-resistant oxide form (or removal to a third country), the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon would grow to nine to 12 months.

With enhanced international monitoring capabilities, that is more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.  

Blocking the Plutonium Path

A comprehensive agreement will need to address the risks posed by Iran's unfinished 40-MWt, heavy-water reactor project at Arak. Under the current design configuration, the reactor could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium per year for about two nuclear weapons. Because the Arak site represents Iran's only indigenously developed and domestically constructed nuclear facility, Tehran strongly opposes any outcome that would require it to shutdown the facility.

Preventing completion of the Arak reactor or converting it to a light-water reactor is not the only way to guard against its possible use for fissile material production, as some have claimed.  

Iran and the P5+1 agree in principle that as part of a comprehensive agreement, the design of Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor project can and should be modified-by reducing the power level and/or changing the fuel content and configuration--to drastically cut its annual weapons-grade plutonium output far below what is required for a nuclear weapon. They also agree that Iran shall not build a reprocessing facility that would be needed to separate that material from spent reactor fuel. A critical step for this particular path for obtaining nuclear-weapons material.

More Robust Inspections and Monitoring

Iran's major nuclear sites are already regularly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and very closed watched by U.S. intelligence. However, U.S. intelligence officials have testified since 2007 that if Iran were to make the decision to build a nuclear weapon, it would probably "use covert facilities--rather than its declared nuclear sites--for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon."

On January 29, 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reported to Congress that the intelligence community still assesses "Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough [weapons-grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered."

Blocking the clandestine path to a bomb-also known as "sneakout"-is a top goal for the P5+1. Iran has already agreed to more intrusive IAEA scrutiny of its nuclear sites, including daily access to its enrichment facilities," as part of last year's interim nuclear agreement.

But to guard against "sneakout," it is essential that a more robust international monitoring and inspection system be put in place to detect and deter potential weapons work at any secret sites. The only way to achieve this is through a long-term comprehensive nuclear deal.

To achieve the transparency necessary to promptly detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, even through a potential clandestine program, Iran and the P5+1 agreed that a comprehensive deal would, among other things, require implementation and ratification of the additional protocol to the IAEA's safeguards agreement with Iran.

Specifically, the additional protocol gives the IAEA expanded right of access to information and nuclear sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will have regular access to Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, fuel fabrication facilities, and the heavy-water production plant. This will make it more difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program if the IAEA is tracking inventory.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for clandestine activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out inspections in any facility suspected to contain nuclear material or be part of a nuclear weapons program. It also enables the agency to visit the facilities at short notice, making it more difficult to cover-up any activities intended to divert materials or that are inconsistent with a facilities' stated purposes.

Once ratified, these arrangements would last in perpetuity. Additional inspection measures, including on site inspections of centrifuge workshops, will also likely be part of the agreement.

Resolving Questions About Possible Military Dimensions

It is vital that Iran continue to cooperate with the ongoing IAEA investigation of past activities with "possible military dimensions," and to do so in a timely manner. Given the need for a thorough investigation, however, it would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines.

To make the determination that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the agency will need to investigate each of the issues involving possible military dimensions individually, and assess them as a system to gain a complete understanding of Iran's past work on nuclear weapons development. In late-2013, the IAEA and Iran agreed to a framework for cooperation for resolving the issues.

Measures proposed in the U.S. Congress that would require Iran to resolve all questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program before the conclusion of negotiations on a comprehensive agreement are counterproductive.

Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that key sanctions relief measures, including UN Security Council measures tied to the issue, would not be removed until, and unless, the investigation is completed. As a result, it is more likely that Iran will more fully cooperate with the IAEA investigation if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement with the P5+1 that offers incentives to comply.

Some members of Congress, along with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), suggest that without a "full" explanation of Iran's past weaponization efforts, "it is impossible to fully understand its nuclear capability."

Iran's nuclear capability is well understood, though clearly, the more the IAEA understands about Iran's past work the better. Given Iran's history, it should be assumed that Iran's scientists have already acquired information that is important for building nuclear weapons.

An admission from Iran that its scientists once engaged in work intended to help build nuclear weapons will not erase that knowledge. It is also naive to think that Iran's leaders, some of whom have issued religious decrees against the development, production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons, will make such an admission.

The chief goal for the P5+1 is to structure a comprehensive agreement in such a way that it ensures the IAEA obtains sufficient information to determine that Iran has halted any nuclear activities with possible military dimensions. A good deal will also put in place the monitoring and verification to ensure that Iran is not pursing these activities in the future.  

The Role of Sanctions and Sanctions Relief

U.S. and international sanctions have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table and changed Iran's cost-benefit calculus, but sanctions alone have not stopped and cannot stop Iran's nuclear progress. Additional sanctions have little chance of extracting further concessions from Iran in the future, would likely prompt Iran to take escalatory steps, and could blow up the diplomatic process.

As the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and the European Union wrote in The Washington Post January 21, "... introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture."

To enhance Iran's incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under a comprehensive agreement, the two sides agree that the P5+1 will phase out and later remove nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its obligations under the deal, and the IAEA investigation of Iran's nuclear program is concluded.  

If Iran fails to meet its core obligations, key sanctions measures could be swiftly re-imposed by the president and, if necessary, by Congress.

More Pressure Will Not Lead Iran to Abandon Its Program

Some members of Congress, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons is to secure an agreement that requires Iran to abandon key elements of its nuclear program, including its enrichment facilities and its Arak heavy water reactor project.

Such an outcome would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint, but it is unrealistic to expect that Iran's leadership would accept such terms, even under the tougher sanctions pressure, as some members of Congress and Netanyahu are now advocating.

As former U.S. nuclear negotiator Robert J. Einhorn said in January testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, "... no one who closely follows Iran and its domestic politics believes that it is achievable, whatever pressures we are able to bring to bear.

"Iranian leaders," Einhorn said, "have successfully convinced their public that an enrichment capability is an inalienable right, an essential component of a respectable civil nuclear program, and a source of national pride - and that giving it up in the face of Western pressure would be a national humiliation. No one across the Iranian political spectrum, even those who strongly want a deal, would be prepared to accept an outcome banning enrichment and dismantling nuclear facilities."

Moreover, as Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Senate hearing January 21, as a practical matter

... the problem is that Iran has mastered the fuel cycle, whether we like it or not. We can't bomb that away, we can't sanction that away, we can't argue that away. They have that knowledge.

The real question is not whether they have any enrichment capacity. The real question is whether it is so limited, so constrained, so confined, so transparent, that as a practical matter, they cannot develop enough fissile material for a bomb without us having the time to see it and to do something about it. That is the practical test.

Now in an ideal world, would we want them to have zero enrichment? Sure. Is that something they will ever agree to? I think the answer is probably not, in fact. And second, our partners are unlikely to stick around in terms of implementing the sanctions regime if that has to be the bottom-line test.

The complete dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment program also goes against the broad parameters for a comprehensive deal outlined in the Nov. 2013 interim agreement, which recognized that under a long-term agreement, Iran would have a limited enrichment program based on its "practical needs."

If the P5+1, or members of Congress, tried to hold out for dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, Iran would not agree, negotiations would break down, and Iran would resume efforts to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity.   

If the Congress initiates action on new sanctions against Iran while the interim agreement is still in force, it would violate the terms of the successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.  

Toward a Sober Evaluation of the Alternatives

The goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to limit Iran's capacity to amass enough fissile material for nuclear weapons and to strengthen oversight and transparency to ensure prompt detection of any effort-even a clandestine attempt-to build nuclear weapons. Phased sanctions relief is critical to providing Iran with the political and economic incentives for continued compliance with the agreement well into the future.

In the final analysis, serious policymakers in Washington and other capitals must consider whether their country is better off with an effective comprehensive nuclear agreement-or the continued pursuit of an effective deal-than without one.

They must consider the results of failing to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

  • There would be no constraints on Iran's enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran's nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

Although Iran would still have to overcome significant hurdles to try to build nuclear weapons, such an effort would likely increase the possibility over time of a military confrontation.  

Yet, even Israeli leaders know that military strikes are not a solution. Such an attack would only delay, not destroy, Iran's nuclear program and, at worst, would lead to a wider conflict that could push Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons. Israel would be far less secure.

Some say, "no deal is better than a bad deal." But it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is within reach.--DARYL G. KIMBALL

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Posted: February 9, 2015

Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Separating Myth from Reality

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This issue brief seeks to dispel some of the most commonly held and articulated misconceptions about Iran's nuclear activities and the negotiations.

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Volume 7, Issue 2, January 23, 2015 

As the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) move closer to a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, myths and misperceptions about Iran's nuclear program, its intentions, and U.S. policy goals in the negotiations cloud discussion of this important international security priority.  

An effective, verifiable comprehensive nuclear agreement is in the best interest of the U.S. national security and the stability of the Middle East. Such an important issue deserves discussion and debate based on facts, not myths.  

This issue brief seeks to dispel some of the most commonly held and articulated misconceptions about Iran's nuclear activities and the negotiations.

Iran's Nuclear Program

MYTH: Iran is pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.

REALITY: According to evidence collected by and shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, but abandoned it in 2003. These activities are referred to as the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program and are actively being investigated by the IAEA. This corresponds with the assessment from the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, which also stated with moderate confidence that Iran had not restarted its nuclear program. In the 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also said that Iran also would not be able to divert safeguarded nuclear material and enrich enough to weapons grade for a bomb without discovery. 

According to a 2011 IAEA report, activities that could be relevant to nuclear weapons development may have continued after 2003, but not as part of an organized program.

MYTH: Iran is developing long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads.  

REALITY: The U.S. intelligence community assess that Iran may be technically capable of developing an ICBM with sufficient foreign assistance, not that they are doing so. To date, Iran has never tested any long-range rockets. Iran's longest-range missiles (2,000 kilometers) are medium-range ballistic missiles, not intercontinental-range missiles, as some have suggested. Iran would need an ICBM with a range of over 9,000 kilometers to reach the United States. Experts assess that even if Iran makes a concerted effort, deploying such a missile within the decade is unlikely. Additionally, if a comprehensive nuclear deal blocks Iran's potential pathways to a bomb, its ballistic missiles become less of a threat, because they cannot be armed with a nuclear weapon. 

MYTH: UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to permanently halt enrichment, dismantle its enrichment facilities, and dismantle the heavy water reactor at Arak.

REALITY: Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak. None of the six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council called for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment.  The call for suspension was intended to push Iran to comply with the IAEA investigation into concerns about past activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development, and to promote a diplomatic resolution to the concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

During debate on the most recent resolution in June 2010, British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the P5+1, said the resolution was intended to keep "the door open for continued engagement" with Iran over its nuclear program. He said that the purpose of such diplomatic efforts must be to achieve a comprehensive, long-term settlement, that respects Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy. The Security Council resolutions were never intended to eliminate an Iranian civil nuclear program in the future that complies with the conditions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

MYTH: Iran is just using the negotiations to buy more time to advance its nuclear program and nuclear weapons-related capabilities.  

REALITY: This argument may have been valid before the November 2013 interim agreement, but not now. The interim agreement has pushed Iran further away from a nuclear weapons capability by halting Iran's progress on nuclear projects of greatest proliferation concern-thus buying time to negotiate a comprehensive, long-term agreement to block Iran's potential pathways to the bomb.

Furthermore, according to April 2013 testimony from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Iran could not divert nuclear material and enrich enough weapons grade material for a bomb without being detected. The additional monitoring and verification measures put in place under the November 2013 interim agreement, including daily access to Iran's uranium-enrichment sites and caps on stockpiles of enriched-uranium gas, bars uranium enrichment beyond 5% uranium-235 (weapons-grade is 90%) and the introduction of additional uranium centrifuge machines, all of which provide additional assurances that Iran is not pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.

MYTH: Iran needs a large-scale uranium-enrichment program to provide for its nuclear energy needs.

REALITY: Iran's current, practical needs for enriched uranium are very limited and will remain so over the next several years. There is no practical reason for Iran not to be able to reduce its uranium-enrichment capacity in the near-term in order to build confidence it is not seeking an option to build nuclear weapons.

Iran is currently operating about 10,200 first-generation IR-1 operating centrifuges, which exceeds its current needs. Iran also has approximately 9,000 more centrifuges that are installed but are not yet operating, including some 1,000 more advanced IR2-M machines.

However, Iran says it cannot afford to reduce that number because it wants to increase its enrichment capacity significantly by the 2020s. Iran points to its hopes for building new nuclear power reactors and says it wants to be able to eventually produce fuel for its one operating light-water reactor at Bushehr, which would require the equivalent of over 100,000 IR-1 machines.

Currently, Bushehr uses fuel provided by Russia under a 10-year deal that could be extended past its 2021 end date. In fact, Russia is obliged to supply fuel unless Iran chooses not to renew the contract--which would be a foolish move given the fact that Iran does not currently have the technical capacity to fabricate fuel for the reactor. A new deal with Russia for two additional reactors at the Bushehr site will be fueled by Russia for their duration, thus not requiring domestically produced Iranian fuel.

Impact of the Joint Plan of Action

MYTH: The interim agreement, or Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), has not stopped advances in Iran's nuclear program.

REALITY: Implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action has halted the expansion of Iran's nuclear program and rolled back the most proliferation sensitive elements.  

In total, under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran has stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1 because 20 percent enriched material is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235).  

Over the past twelve months, Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched-uranium gas. Iran also halted major construction activities on its Arak heavy-water reactor project, froze the number of its operating and installed centrifuges, and agreed to more intrusive inspections, including daily access to its enrichment facilities. Iran also agreed only to produce centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.

MYTH: Iran has violated the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action by operating an advanced centrifuge, the IR-5.

REALITY: The IAEA's quarterly report of Nov. 7, 2014, noted that Iran began feeding natural uranium hexafluoride "intermittently" into a single IR-5 centrifuge at its pilot facility for the first time. While unhelpful, this does not appear to be a violation of the Joint Plan of Action, which prohibits the use of advanced centrifuges to accumulate enriched uranium. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Nov. 24, 2014 that both Iran and the P5+1 have upheld their commitments under the interim deal. However, to dispel any ambiguities, in the extension agreed to on Nov. 24 , 2014, Iran agreed not to feed the IR-5 at this time.  

MYTH: Allowing Iran an enrichment program recognizes a "right to enrich" under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which the United States has long opposed.  

REALITY: While the NPT clearly affords non-nuclear weapons states access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in return for pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons and having IAEA safeguards in place, it does not specifically afford or deny enrichment and reprocessing rights to member states. Iran interprets the treaty to include a "right to enrich" and has insisted that its right to enrichment be "respected" under a nuclear agreement.

The U.S. policy does not recognizes a "right to enrich" under the NPT. In the interim agreement, the United States and its P5+1 partners acknowledged that Iran has an enrichment program and will retain a limited enrichment program in a comprehensive deal commensurate with its "practical needs."  

Acknowledging that a program exists is not the same as acknowledging that a treaty affords a "right." The United States has done the former, not the latter. And, after reaching the agreement last November, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that U.S. policy remains unchanged by the agreement. In an interview with ABC he adamantly said, "there is no inherent right to enrich."

Sanctions 

MYTH: New sanctions that go into effect after the negotiation deadline are not a violation of the interim deal.

REALITY: Even if new sanctions do not go into effect until after the June 30, 2015 deadline for negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, they would still violate the November 2013 interim deal. In that agreement, the United States committed not to initiate any new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran during the talks.  

In a January 16, 2015 press conference, President Barack Obama asked Congress to hold off on new sanctions, saying that they would "jeopardize the possibility" of a nuclear deal. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action.  

Additionally, new sanctions risk fracturing the international coalition supporting sanctions, which is instrumental to maintaining pressure on Iran. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power noted on January 12, 2015, that "if we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now, we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves.

MYTH: Additional sanctions will pressure Iran into dismantling its nuclear program.

REALITY: The international sanctions regime helped push Iran toward the negotiating table. Increasing sanctions at this time, however, violates the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and risks pushing Iran toward escalatory measures and away from the negotiating table. Moving forward on any sanctions bill will give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal even further.

New sanctions could also cause Iran to pull out of the negotiations. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action. Iran's Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said  that a "deal is dead" if the United States imposes more sanctions, even if they do not go into effect during the negotiations.

While complete dismantlement of Iran's nuclear program may have been the most ideal end-state, and possible a decade ago when Iran only had several hundred centrifuges, it is unrealistic and unnecessary. A final deal with stringent limits and intrusive monitoring and verification will guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and ensure that there is no covert program. Insisting on complete dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment program also goes against the broad parameters for a comprehensive deal outlined in the Nov. 2013 interim agreement, which recognized that under a long-term agreement, Iran would have a limited enrichment program based on its "practical needs."

Negotiations on Comprehensive Nuclear Deal with Iran

MYTH: A comprehensive deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons using a covert program.

REALITY: A comprehensive agreement will block Iran's uranium and plutonium pathways to the bomb. Among other features, the agreement will set verifiable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium. It would also dramatically cut the output of weapons-usable plutonium at the Arak heavy-water reactor. U.S. negotiators have stated that an acceptable final deal will push the time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb to 12 months.

A comprehensive deal also would put in place additional measures to ensure that any covert program is deterred or quickly detected. The additional monitoring and verification under the interim agreement has already dramatically expanded international oversight of Iran's nuclear program through increased IAEA access to sites. A comprehensive deal will provide additional monitoring and verification.

In addition, Iran has agreed to implement and ratify the additional protocol as part of a comprehensive deal. Specifically, it gives the IAEA expanded right of access to information and sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will have regular access to Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, centrifuge production facilities, and heavy-water production plant. This will make it far more difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for any clandestine nuclear activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out inspections in any facility with nuclear material. It also enables the agency to visit the nuclear facilities on short notice, making it more difficult to cover-up any activities intended to divert materials or that are inconsistent with a facilities' stated purposes.

MYTH: Iran needs to provide the IAEA with information about its past activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development before a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.

REALITY: On November 11, 2013, Iran and the IAEA concluded a framework agreement for moving forward to resolve the outstanding concerns. Under the terms of the framework, Iran and the IAEA agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including past military dimensions, in a step-by-step manner. Iran has provided the IAEA with information on 16 areas to date, but is behind on turning over information on two past military dimension issues. Tying a comprehensive nuclear agreement to a resolution of the IAEA's investigation into the past activities is unnecessary and risks derailing a deal.

Resolving the questions about the past military dimension issue is important but is not a prerequisite for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Nor is it realistic or necessary to expect a full "confession" from Iran that it pursued nuclear weapons in the past. Expecting Iran to "confess" that it pursued a nuclear weapons program is unrealistic and unnecessary. After having spent years denying that it pursued nuclear weapons and having delivered a fatwa against nuclear weapons, Tehran's senior leaders cannot afford to admit that it hid a nuclear weapons program.

Both sides understand that the IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, all sanctions tied to this particular issue should not be removed unless the questions are adequately resolved. This makes it more likely that if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, Iran will have a stronger incentive to provide the IAEA with the information necessary to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or will in the future.

MYTH: A nuclear deal with Iran, like a treaty or a "123" Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, requires Congressional approval.  

REALITY: Unlike a treaty, which requires the support of two-thirds of the Senate, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran does not require a vote of approval from Congress. Unlike a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and another country, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will be a political agreement between the five-permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran designed to induce Iran to meet goals and obligations established by the Security Council and through Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Over time, Congress will, however, have a vital role in implementing a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, including legislative action to remove and/or not renew legislatively-mandated, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran if and when Iran fulfils key non-proliferation obligations called for in a comprehensive agreement.

MYTH: A nuclear deal that allows Iran uranium enrichment and civilian nuclear power program will cause a proliferation cascade in the Middle East, with countries like Saudi Arabia deciding to move toward nuclear weapons.

REALITY: A verifiable, comprehensive nuclear deal will impose strict limits and monitoring on Iran's nuclear program, thus reducing the risk that Iran may someday pursue nuclear weapons. This will provide assurance to the international community that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that any deviations from the deal will be quickly noticed. This should reduce, not increase, the temptation by some states in the Middle East-particularly Saudi Arabia-to pursue the technical capabilities necessary to acquire nuclear weapons.

The alternative--no comprehensive P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal--would lead to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with less monitoring. This poses more of a threat to countries in the region and could increase the possibility of a "proliferation cascade" in the region.

MYTH: A good comprehensive deal with Iran must dismantle Iran's nuclear weapons capability.

REALITY: Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed that Iran has developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, nuclear warhead mechanics, and delivery systems, that would give it the option to launch a nuclear weapons development effort in a relatively short time frame "if it so chooses." Eliminating that capability is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran completely "dismantled" its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.  

Ergo, the goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to prevent Iran from exercising that capability by limiting and constraining its nuclear capacity (especially fissile material production) and by increasing transparency over its program. Phased sanctions relief also offers incentives for continued compliance to comply with the deal and not decide to build a nuclear weapon in the future.

Conclusion

U.S. negotiators have an historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that limits its nuclear program, blocks its pathways to a bomb, and guards against covert activities. The gravity of the situation demands a discussion on a comprehensive nuclear deal that is based on the realities of Iran's nuclear program, not myths and misconceptions about Tehran's past and current activities.--KELSEY DAVENPORT, DIRECTOR OF NONPROLIFERATION POLICY

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Posted: January 23, 2015

Congress Should Support Negotiations, Not New Iran Sanctions

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The United States has an historic opportunity to limit Iran's nuclear program, block its pathways to the bomb, and guard against a covert nuclear weapons program.

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Volume 7, Issue 1, January 15, 2015 

The United States has an historic opportunity to limit Iran’s nuclear program, block its pathways to the bomb, and guard against a covert nuclear weapons program.

Congressional action on sanctions at this time, however, threatens the significant progress made over the past year by the United States, its allies, and Iran toward a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Moving forward on new sanctions legislation against Iran threatens to derail negotiations, push Iran away from the negotiating table, and erode international support for the sanctions regime currently in place.

Contrary to the claims of sanctions proponents, any new nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran at this time would violate the terms of the first-phase deal that the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) committed to in the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.

In addition, a bill might place new and unrealistic requirements on the comprehensive agreement that the parties are currently negotiating. Efforts by the U.S. Congress to move the goalposts for the final phase negotiations beyond the parameters already established by the P5+1 would undermine prospects for a final phase agreement.

A comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is the only effective way to limit Iran's nuclear program and ensure that it is entirely peaceful. Rather than sabotaging the progress made to date and undermining the prospects for a more far-reaching final phase deal, the Congress should allow the P5+1 negotiators the time and support necessary to negotiate an effective diplomatic solution.

Sanctions Violate the Interim Deal

Several members of Congress are drafting new sanctions legislation. If approved, these sanctions would directly violate the United States commitment to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" under the November 24, 2013 interim agreement

The most imminent sanctions bill will be considered before the Senate Banking Committee on Jan. 20 and marked-up later in the week. Its primary authors, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), introduced a sanctions bill in December 2013, S. 1881, which, if passed, would have derailed the talks and the progress generated under the interim deal--which has halted the most worrisome aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back key elements.

Proponents of additional sanctions at this time claim that these measures will not go into effect until negotiations breakdown and that the possibility of additional sanctions pressure will keep Iran at the negotiating table.

However, passing new sanctions while talks are ongoing risks shattering the carefully built international coalition pressuring Iran to remain at the negotiating table.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Jan. 12 that the administration opposes new sanctions at this time, noting that "if we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now, we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves."

If Washington passes sanctions now, the United States would be blamed for any breakdown of the talks, and other countries may resume trade with Iran. That would dramatically reduce U.S. leverage and the prospects for a diplomatic solution.

Even if sanctions were designed not go into effect immediately, and are “triggered” by an event such as the breakdown of talks, they would directly contradict the terms of the Joint Plan of Action. Triggered sanctions that depend on a “breakdown” also would require a subjective determination of what constitutes a breakdown in the talks.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former senior advisor the U.S. Department of Treasury, said at an Arms Control Association-Carnegie event on Dec. 3 that triggered sanctions send the wrong message to Iran. Rosenberg, now at the Center for a New American Security, said that sanctions at this time “... will be seen as an act of bad faith in Iran on the part of the U.S. and a sign that the U.S. negotiating team will not be able to deliver what it promises and that it won’t be able to successfully coordinate with Congress.”  

Rosenberg also said that “Iranians may not believe that Congress won’t change the goal posts again” when it comes time to lift sanctions when Iran takes particular actions in the event of a comprehensive agreement.

More Pressure Will Not Help

Some members of Congress, however, mistakenly believe that additional economic pressure at this time will push Iran to make further concessions at the negotiating table.

Kirk said on Jan. 4, “now is the time to put pressure on Iran especially with oil prices so low. We are uniquely advantaged at this time to shut down this nuclear program.”

This reasoning is illogical and incorrect for several reasons.

From a negotiating perspective, moving forward on any sanctions bill will give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal even further.

New sanctions could also cause Iran to pull out of the negotiations. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action. Iran's Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said that a "deal is dead" if the United States imposes more sanctions, even if they do not go into effect during the negotiations.

However, for some members of Congress, the purpose of passing new sanctions is to end negotiations. Sen.Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Jan. 13 “the end of these negotiations isn't an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence, a feature, not a bug, so to speak."

Rejecting a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran before it is reached is irresponsible and dangerous. If the United States violates the interim agreement and talks fail, Iran is likely to also move down the path of escalation.

In December 2013, after Menendez and Kirk released the text of their sanctions bill, S. 1881, Iran drafted a law that would require Tehran to increase its uranium enrichment to 60 percent. One Iranian lawmaker said it was in response to “America’s hostile act.” While short of the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium, 60 percent puts Iran considerably closer than the five percent cap Tehran agreed to under the interim agreement.

The only way to block Iran’s pathways to the bomb, limit its nuclear activities, and put in place sufficiently intrusive monitoring to promptly detect a dash to the bomb is through a comprehensive nuclear deal. A return to the pre-interim agreement status quo of Iran’s steadily increasing nuclear capabilities with less international monitoring threatens U.S. and international security.  

Onerous and Unrealistic Conditions

Sanctions legislation in the past has also sought to put onerous and unnecessary constraints on the terms of a final deal. S. 1881, for instance, contained provisions that prevented sanctions relief unless Iran agreed to zero-enrichment and complete dismantlement of its "illicit nuclear infrastructure," which presumably would include Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities and the heavy-water reactor project at Arak.

Not only are these demands unrealistic and unnecessary to guard against a nuclear weapons program, they also contradict the broad parameters laid out in the November 2013 interim agreement. The interim deal states that Iran will have a limited uranium-enrichment program based on its “practical needs.”

Demanding complete dismantlement or zero enrichment may have been conceivable a decade ago when Iran only had a few hundred centrifuges. But today, demands that Iran permanently halt uranium enrichment are unrealistic and unattainable. A deal that bars Iran from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes would be unsustainable politically inside Iran. Additionally, such an outcome is not necessary.

The agreement that the negotiators from the United States, France, the U.K. Germany, France, China and Russia are now pursuing would dramatically increase the time it would take to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb and put in place new international monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance and to promptly detect a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.

Bottom Line

Contrary to the claims of proponents, legislation that imposes new sanctions on Iran would undermine, not enhance, the diplomatic effort to secure a comprehensive nuclear deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

New, additional sanctions on Iran are clearly unnecessary at this time. The existing sanctions regime provides more than sufficient leverage on Iran to keep it at the negotiating table.

To date, both the P5+1 and Iran have abided by their commitments under the interim agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action. The enactment of additional sanctions would violate the commitment made by the United States in the interim agreement and could push Iran take escalatory steps of its own or pull out of the negotiations.  

If the International Atomic Energy Agency determines in the future that Iran is not fulfilling its commitments under the interim agreement, the Congress would still have the option to act quickly, and if necessary enact new sanctions. But as long as Iran and the P5+1 are holding up their ends of the agreement and a comprehensive deal is possible, Congress should support, not sabotage, the talks. --KELSEY DAVENPORT, DIRECTOR FOR NONPROLIFERATION POLICY

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Posted: January 15, 2015

Understanding the Extension of the Iran Nuclear Talks and the Joint Plan of Action

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Under the terms of the extension, Iran and the P5+1 committed to reaching a political agreement on the terms of a comprehensive nuclear deal within four months of November 24, 2014.

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Volume 6, Issue 12, December 23, 2014

The decision last month by the United States, its P5+1 negotiating partners, and Iran to extend their negotiations by additional four months means that a long-term resolution to the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program has been delayed once again. At the same time, it also means that significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program remain in place while the nuclear talks continue.

Not only did the two sides agree to extend the restrictions on Iran’s program that were put in place under the November 2013 interim agreement, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action, but additional restrictions were put in place under the terms of the extension to ensure that progress on the most proliferation-sensitive elements of Iran’s nuclear program is halted.

To date, both Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russian, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have adhered to the obligations of the interim agreement. In the press conference announcing the extension of the talks and the Joint Plan of Action on November 24, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called attention to the compliance record, noting that there have been no violations of the agreement.

Terms of the Extension

Under the terms of the extension, Iran and the P5+1 committed to reaching a political agreement on the terms of a comprehensive nuclear deal within four months of November 24, 2014 and then taking an additional three months to complete any technical annexes by June 30, 2015.

However, several of the parties expressed an intention to complete the negotiations on a political agreement in a shorter time frame. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on November 24 that a deal could be reached in a matter a days. British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said that two to three months was a realistic goal. Regardless of the timing, the restrictions of the interim agreement will remain in place through June 2015.

In total, under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action, Iran has stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1 because 20 percent enriched material is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235). Leading up to the interim deal, Iran had nearly amassed enough 20 percent enriched uranium gas, which when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one bomb (about 250 kilograms).

Over the past twelve months, Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium gas. Half of its stockpile was blended down to less than five percent enriched uranium gas, and the other half was converted to more proliferation-resistant uranium powder, which is used to make fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.

Iran also halted major construction activities at the Arak reactor, froze the number of its operating and installed centrifuges, and agreed to more intrusive inspections, including daily access to its enrichment facilities.  Iran also agreed only to produce centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.

The extension announced November 24 imposes additional obligations on Iran. Under the new restrictions, Iran will continue to convert its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium powder into fuel plates. At the time of the Nov. 24 extension, Iran had approximately 75 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium powder in its stockpile. Tehran agreed to convert 35 kilograms of this powder into fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor over the next seven months.[1]

While this material can be converted back into gas form for further enrichment, the conversion steps would take additional time and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would very likely detect any such efforts quickly. Iran also committed not to set up a line to reconvert uranium oxide powder back into gas. The IAEA notes in its reports on Iran’s nuclear program that no such conversion line exists.

Iran and the P5+1 also agreed to more specific restrictions on Iran’s research and development program to resolve ambiguities and prevent Iran from moving its advanced centrifuges to new levels of testing.

Under the interim agreement, Iran can continue its safeguarded research and development activities.  This includes testing of advanced centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, so long as testing is not used for the accumulation of enriched uranium.

The additional restrictions on research and development as a result of the Nov. 24 extension, are designed to resolve ambiguities[2] regarding permitted and prohibited research activities. According to the documents outlining the extension, these provisions are designed to “limit research and development on advanced centrifuges that move the machines to the next level of development.”

Under these provisions, Iran agreed not to test the IR-5 with uranium hexafluoride gas. Iran also agreed not to pursue testing of the IR-6 on a cascade level with uranium gas, or semi-industrial scale testing of the IR-2M. Iran also agreed not to complete installation of the IR-8 centrifuge, which is currently partially installed at the Natanz pilot plant.

The IAEA will also have greater access to Iran’s centrifuge production sites under the extension. According to the terms, the agency’s inspections visits will double and be conducted with very little notice.

Taken together, the limits on research and development and regular access to monitor centrifuge production facilities will prevent Iran from refining and mass-producing more efficient machines that could allow it to move more quickly to enrich material for weapons purposes.

Iran also agreed to forgo uranium enrichment using other methods, including laser enrichment. While it is unlikely that Iran could move quickly to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels using these alternative methods, the commitment to refrain from testing any of these methods is positive and should mitigate concerns about covert enrichment activities involving such technologies.

Iran is known to have experimented with laser enrichment in the past, and as part of its agreement to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into inconsistencies with its nuclear declaration and alleged activities with past military dimensions, Iran provided the agency with information about its laser enrichment activities. Iran also granted the IAEA access to the Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Centre on March 12 as part of its investigation.

On the P5+1 side, the limited sanctions relief from the United States and the European Union in the petrochemical and precious metals trade remains in place. As does the commitment not to pass any new nuclear-related sanctions at the U.S., EU, or UN levels. The humanitarian channel also remains in place.

In addition, Iran will receive access to $700 million of its frozen assets per month.

Conclusion

With the Joint Plan of Action in effect, Iran’s nuclear program remains limited and highly-monitored. The additional measures in the extension move Iran further away from a dash to the bomb. And contrary to the assertion of some skeptics, Iran cannot use the extension to advance its nuclear capabilities.

President Barack Obama said on December 21 in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" that since the United States began negotiations with Iran in mid-2013, it’s "probably the first year and a half in which Iran has not advanced its nuclear program in the last decade."  

Both sides must use the additional time afforded by the extension of the talks wisely. It is essential that the two sides work expeditiously but carefully to bridge remaining gaps necessary to conclude an effective, verifiable, long-term agreement that blocks all of Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons: the plutonium route, the enriched uranium route, as well as the clandestine route. –KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL


ENDNOTES

[1] As pointed out by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in a Dec. 9, 2014 paper, some of the material fed into the conversion process remains within the process or in scrap or waste form. Some of this material can be recovered and converted back into gas for further enrichment. We agree that the waste and scrap are an issue of nonproliferation concern that should be dealt with appropriately in the comprehensive agreement now under negotiation. However, in judging Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, it is our judgment, and that of the IAEA, that Iran is in compliance with the commitments as set forth in the interim agreement.

[2] The IAEA’s quarterly report of Nov. 7, 2014, noted that Iran began feeding natural uranium hexafluoride “intermittently” into a single IR-5 centrifuge at its pilot facility. While unhelpful, this does not appear to be a “violation” of the Joint Plan of Action, as the ISIS has alleged. ISIS published an analysis on the IAEA report that said that “Iran may have violated” the Joint Plan of Action by starting to feed natural uranium gas into the IR-5 centrifuge. ISIS went on to claim that: "Under the interim deal, this centrifuge should not have been fed with (gas) as reported in this safeguards report." See: “U.S. experts disagree on whether Iran violated nuclear deal with powers,” by Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, Nov. 8, 2014. 

            However, the text of the Joint Plan of Action is more ambiguous than ISIS suggests. It says: "Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices, which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium." The Nov. 7 IAEA report noted, in paragraphs 25 and 26, that no low-enriched uranium was withdrawn as the product and tails were recombined at the end of the process.

            Furthermore, while the Joint Plan of Action prohibits the introduction of uranium gas into additional centrifuges at Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), it does not rule out research and development of this kind at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP).

            However, due to the ambiguous nature of the terms of the Joint Plan of Action and the concern that Iran might try to exploit those ambiguities, the P5+1 succeeded in persuading Iran to agree to further limits on feeding or testing its more advanced types of centrifuges as part of the extended Joint Plan of Action.

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Posted: December 23, 2014

25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Enduring Value of Nuclear Arms Control

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Moscow’s challenge to Europe requires a tough and unified response, but the challenge can’t be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities.

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Volume 6, Issue 11, November 7, 2014

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has rightly aroused concern in Western capitals about Moscow’s commitment to international peace and security and a rules-based international order. These concerns are compounded by troublesome Russian behavior in the nuclear arena, such as the testing of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and not so subtle reminders from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia is strengthening its “nuclear deterrent capability.”

Russia’s belligerence has prompted calls from some in the United States to abandon long-standing bipartisan arms control efforts to reduce the Russian nuclear threat.

Some members of Congress have proposed mimicking Moscow by placing a greater premium on nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy.

But this would be a mistake. Moscow’s challenge to Europe requires a tough and unified response, but the challenge can’t be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities.

In a Sept. 8 opinion piece in Foreign Policy, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) stated that Russia's development of new nuclear capabilities should accelerate plans to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons "and perhaps even develop new nuclear systems."

Similarly, former George W. Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker recently argued in The Washington Post that the Obama administration should punish Russia by suspending implementation of the reductions mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)and cease efforts to further reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.

Heeding these calls would be counterproductive and self-defeating. U.S. presidents from both parties have long recognized the value of arms control agreements in constraining and reducing Russian nuclear forces. While current tensions between the United States and Moscow may preclude new negotiated agreements in the near term, the arms reduction process has survived similar downturns in the past, and remains in the national interest today.

Nuclear Weapons and the Ukraine Crisis

To date, the United States and European Union have responded to Russian moves in Ukraine and Crimea primarily with economic sanctions, financial and limited military assistance to Ukraine, and conventional military support to NATO countries, particularly the alliance’s easternmost members that border Russia.

U.S. nuclear forces have not played a significant role in the current tensions over Ukraine. The nuclear component of the U.S. response has been limited to sending nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 aircraft to Europe to participate in military exercises. The deployment of the bombers is largely seen as a symbolic gesture meant to reassure NATO allies alarmed by Russian actions. The calls from Eastern European allies for reassurance have been almost exclusively for non-nuclear measures.

The unparalleled destructive power of nuclear weapons makes them unusable in all but the direst of circumstances. Given the catastrophic impacts of using just a handful of nuclear weapons, deterring their use can be achieved with a far smaller nuclear force than the arsenal of 4,800 weapons the United States currently possesses.

Nuclear weapons are especially irrelevant to the strategy of “hybrid war” that Russia has pursued in Ukraine and which some NATO officials fear could be deployed against the alliance’s eastern flank.  A recent article in the Financial Times described the Russian approach as “a broad range of hostile actions, of which military force is only a small part, that are invariably executed in concert as part of a flexible strategy with long-term objectives.” These tactics fall well below the threshold that makes threatening or using nuclear weapons rational or credible.

In fact, an overreliance on nuclear weapons could make preventing future Russian misbehavior more challenging. For example, many NATO members are skeptical of the continued deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. According to former British Secretary of State for Defense Lord Des Browne, this situation is a “godsend” for Russia, which is eager to exploit fissures in the alliance. In addition, the money spent on maintaining a bloated nuclear arsenal is money that can’t be spent to help Ukraine’s economy or provide central and eastern European allies with additional conventional military support.

Responding to Russia’s INF Violation

The State Department’s 2014 arms control compliance report released in July found “that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

The United States government has not published details of the violation. Sources told the New York Times in January 2014 that the missile of concern – which may not be intended to deliver nuclear weapons – has not yet been deployed. The Obama administration has taken up the issue with the Russians, but Washington remains unsatisfied with Russia’s explanation for the tests.

The Obama administration should publicly criticize Russia for its violation of the INF treaty, consider steps to make Russia pay a price for its actions, and engage with Moscow in an attempt to bring it back into compliance with the agreement. However, withdrawing from the INF treaty, stopping implementation of other arms control treaties, or ceasing pursuit of future agreements would not serve U.S. interests.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan continued to observe the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow despite its determination that a large radar located at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia violated the treaty. It also engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Union on the INF treaty and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty during this period. It took time, but diplomacy worked and the Soviets eventually tore down the radar.

Likewise, building new nuclear capabilities to counter Russia would be unwise. The U.S. military does not have a requirement for new INF-range missiles. Forcing the Pentagon to spend money on such hardware would suck funds from investments for which there are requirements. In addition, trying to find hosts for new intermediate range missiles would have political costs.

Overall, the implementation record of arms control agreements with Russia has been highly successful—which is why both Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued such agreements. Without these efforts, Russian forces would be unconstrained, our ability to verify what Russia is doing would be curtailed, and the incentives to engage in a costly arms race would be magnified.

The Case for Further Reductions

Over the last 40 years, the United States and Russia have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons to the benefit of U.S., Russian, and global security. Successive administrations, on a bipartisan basis, have reduced the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a way to draw down Russia’s arsenal, build international support for nonproliferation, and save money. These rationales still hold true today.

Paradoxically, the current tensions with Russia reinforce the value of arms control agreements such as New START. The United States and Russia are no longer adversaries like they were during the Cold War and the risk of a deliberate nuclear exchange is exceedingly low. However, by verifiably capping U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear forces, the treaty bounds the current tensions between the two countries.

Blocking implementation of New START would be a major propaganda victory for Moscow and could cause it to renege on its own commitments under the treaty. This would limit the U.S. ability to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile, thereby driving up the worst case assessments of military planners, leading to a potentially costly surge in weapons procurements.

Even under New START, the United States and Russia are allowed to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons with thousands more in reserve. After an extensive review of nuclear deterrence requirements, U.S. military leaders concluded last year that the United States could safely reduce the size of its deployed strategic arsenal by up to one-third below the New START levels.

In the past, U.S. nuclear weapons reductions have provided an incentive for Russia to similarly reduce the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States, via both formal treaties and unilateral cuts. Today, Russia is already well below the New START limit on deployed delivery vehicles. While Russia is aggressively modernizing its nuclear forces, some observers expect Russia’s stockpile to continue to decline as its largest and most heavily loaded missiles reach the end of their lifetimes and are retired.

Russia has so far resisted U.S. offers to negotiate further cuts below News START, and given current tensions between the two sides over Ukraine and INF Treaty compliance issues, further negotiated treaty cuts seem unlikely in the near term. However, the United States and Russia have continued to cooperate on other risk reduction goals, such as constraining Iran’s nuclear program, destroying Syrian chemical weapons, and securing dangerous nuclear and radiological materials. Likewise, disagreements over Ukraine should not reverse the overall trend toward smaller nuclear arsenals.

One option is for the United States and Russia to informally agree to reciprocally reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,000 warheads and 500 delivery systems. According to a 2012 report by the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, this lower level could be verified using the New START verification provisions and reduce Russia’s incentive to build back up to New START levels and deploy new delivery systems.

Continued U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions are a necessary condition for including other nuclear-armed states in the arms control process, most notably China. If the United States and Russia fail to further reduce their arsenals, China, which is believed to possess less than 300 nuclear warheads, is unlikely to consider capping the size of its arsenal and could instead speed up efforts to increase the capability and size of its arsenal.

There are also strong financial reasons for the United States to consider retiring excess weapons. The congressional mandate for significant reductions in projected military spending could force reductions to the U.S. arsenal with or without Russian reciprocity.

A December 2013 Congressional Budget Office report estimated the cost of the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans at $355 billion over the next decade. But this is just the tip of the spending iceberg. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion.

Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, a bipartisan, independent report commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department recently called the Obama administration’s plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.” Russia also faces significant financial constraints, as a drop in global oil and natural gas prices, the growing costs of the war in Ukraine, and the impact of Western sanctions have taken a significant toll on Russia’s economy.

Now is the time to reevaluate existing spending plans before major budget decisions are made.

Calls to place a greater emphasis on nuclear weapons in response to Russian revanchism is not the magic bullet that some critics make it out to be.  The marginal utility of the 4,799th and 4,798th warheads in the U.S. stockpile is next to nil. Pursuing common sense arms control measures and reshaping U.S. nuclear policy to comport with current security and fiscal realities makes sense as a way to reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and free up resources to address the most 21st century security challenges. – KINGSTON REIF

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Posted: November 7, 2014

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