"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Issue Briefs

On Nuclear Security, U.S. Must Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is



Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists. But the threat is constantly changing and may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of the Islamic State group and indications it may have nuclear and/or radiological ambitions.

Despite noteworthy achievements, however, significant work remains to be done to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear explosive device or dirty bomb. For example, even after four Nuclear Security Summits there are no comprehensive, legally-binding international standards or rules for the security of all nuclear materials. The existing global nuclear security architecture needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

It is thus puzzling that just weeks before the final summit in Washington earlier this month, the Obama administration submitted to Congress a budget that proposed significant spending reductions for key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs that lessen nuclear security and nonproliferation risks, accelerating a trend in recent years of short-sighted cuts to these programs. If implemented, these decreases will slow progress on key nuclear security initiatives, jeopardize the sustainability of those initiatives, and undermine U.S. leadership in this area.

As the Senate and House of Representatives begin their work on the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization and energy and water appropriations bills—which establish spending levels and set policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities—lawmakers should reverse these ill-advised budget cuts. Additionally, Congress should encourage the NNSA to augment its nuclear and radiological security work to help ensure the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security.

Disappointing Budget Request

If the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism isn’t on your mind, it should be. The recent Islamic State group-perpetrated terrorist attacks in Brussels offered another bloody reminder of the danger of terrorism. To make matters worse, reports indicate that two of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack had also carried out surveillance of a Belgian official with access to a facility with weapons-grade uranium and radioactive material.

A new report published on March 21 by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concludes that the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was at the time of the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 due to the slowing of nuclear security progress and the rise of the Islamic State group.

Against this concerning backdrop, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department responsible for the bulk of U.S. nuclear security work, in February requested $1.47 billion for core nuclear security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs in fiscal year 2017—a reduction of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, relative to the current fiscal year 2016 level. (Note: these figures exclude the administration’s request of $270 million to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program for excess U.S. weapons plutonium disposition.)

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which improves the security of nuclear materials around the world, secures orphaned or disused radiological sources—which could be used to make a dirty bomb—and strengthens nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. Within this program, the NNSA is seeking $7.6 million less than last year’s appropriation for radiological material security programs and roughly $270 million less for these activities over the next four years than it planned to request over the same period, last year.

Most experts agree that the probability of a terrorist exploding a dirty bomb is much higher than that of a nuclear device. This is due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of these materials, which are used for peaceful applications like cancer treatment, in thousands of locations and in almost every country around the world, many of which are poorly protected and vulnerable to theft. A new report published last month by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) noted that only 14% of International Atomic Energy Agency member states have agreed to secure their highest risk radiological sources by a specific date.

Along with reducing the budget for radiological security, the NNSA is planning to transition from a primarily protect-based approach for radiological materials to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and the promotion of alternative technologies, when feasible. While it makes sense to seek to replace these sources as opposed to securing them in perpetuity, this revised approach raises numerous questions, including whether some sources will remain vulnerable for longer than under the previous strategy. At the current planned pace, it would take another 17 years to meet the NNSA’s much-reduced target of helping to secure just under 4,400 buildings around the world with dangerous radioactive material—down from a target of roughly twice that just last year.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation. This program matures technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations. The NNSA projected a request of $430 million in fiscal year 2017 research and development funding in its fiscal year 2016 request.

The NNSA has defended some of the reductions to the nonproliferation account on the grounds that several major projects have been completed, thereby lessening resource needs, and that the impact of spending cuts can be mitigated by using unspent money left over from prior years, largely due to the suspension in late 2014 of nearly all nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But the cuts proposed for fiscal year 2017, relative to what was projected last year, are significant, especially to the radiological security and research and development programs where the NNSA does not say they will use unspent balances.

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

Similarly, Andrew Bieniawski, a former deputy assistant secretary of Energy who ran the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and who is now a vice president at NTI, said last month that the agency’s recent budget requests “do not match the growing threat and they certainly don’t match the fact that you are having a presidential nuclear security summit.”

Many members of Congress agree with these concerns. In August 2014, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. Though the 2016 request was higher than the previous year’s enacted level, it did not meet the Senators’ desire “to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed.”

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

The global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism is at a key inflection point. While the United States can’t tackle the challenge on its own, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request was a missed opportunity to advance many good ideas in this space that haven't received adequate attention and investment.

Congress has a critical role to play in this endeavor, and there are a number of steps it can take this year to sustain and strengthen U.S. and global nuclear and radiological security efforts.

First, Congress should increase fiscal year 2017 funding for NNSA radiological security and nonproliferation research and development efforts, the two programs hardest hit by the agency’s proposed budget cuts. Additional funding would allow an acceleration of efforts to secure dangerous radiological materials and ensure the United States is prepared to confront emerging security and nonproliferation challenges.

Congress should also call for a global strategy, stronger regulations, and increased funding to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable highest-risk radiological sources around the world during the first term of the next administration. This multidimensional effort should entail a number of elements, including: securing the most vulnerable sources (where needed); requiring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger regulatory requirements; supporting universal adherence to the IAEA Code of Conduct on radiological sources; mandating additional cost-sharing by industry; and, where appropriate, accelerating the development and use of alternative technologies. An accelerated international radiological security effort would be consistent with a proposal from Sen. Carper (D-Del.) requiring the administration to craft a plan for securing all high-risk low-level radiological material in the United States.

In addition, Congress should require NNSA to report on its research and development activities and identify opportunities to expand them in areas such as:

  • developing alternatives to high performance research reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU);
  • converting HEU-powered naval reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (the White House announced on March 31 that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of LEU in naval reactors); and
  • examining ways adversaries could potentially use 3D printing and other new technologies to make nuclear-weapons usable components.

Other ideas that have been put forth to augment NNSA’s (and the rest of the interagency) nuclear security and nonproliferation work worthy of Congressional backing include:

  • completing a prioritization of nuclear materials at foreign locations for return or disposition, to identify the most vulnerable material stocks to focus efforts on, and establishing a time frame for doing so;
  • developing new detection and monitoring technologies and approaches to verify future nuclear arms reductions;
  • outlining a plan for how to expand U.S. nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan and addressing obstacles to such an expansion and how they could be overcome;
  • developing approaches to rebuild nuclear security cooperation with Russia that would put both countries in equal roles;
  • building a global nuclear materials security system of effective nuclear security norms, standards, and best practices worldwide;
  • enhancing protections against nuclear sabotage; and
  • strengthening—and sharing—intelligence on nuclear and radiological terrorism threats.

In addition, Congress should seek ways to dissuade other states from pursuing programs to reprocess fuel from nuclear power plants, which lead to the separation of plutonium.

While the Nuclear Security Summit process has seen significant progress in the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian purposes, global civilian plutonium stockpiles continue to grow. East Asia in particular is on the verge of a major build up of separated plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons and poses significant security risks. Japan and China both have plans to reprocess on a large-scale, and doing so would almost certainly prompt South Korea to follow suit.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recently been more vocal in expressing its concerns about these plans. Congress should encourage the administration, and NNSA in particular, to engage in additional cooperative work with countries in East Asia on spent fuel storage options and the elimination of excess plutonium stockpiles without reprocessing.

Over the years, U.S. support for nuclear security programs at home and abroad has resulted in an enormously effective return on investment that greatly strengthens U.S. security, and will be even more important in the years ahead in absence of head of state level summit meetings.

Indeed, there is a long legacy of members of Congress from both parties working together to reduce nuclear risks. For example, in 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Twenty-five years later, the evolution of security and proliferation challenges requires similarly bold and innovative Congressional leadership.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


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


The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists.

Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile



Volume 7, Issue 13, October 19, 2015

In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, call on President Obama to cancel current plans to build a new fleet of approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Nuclear-armed cruise missiles “are a uniquely destabilizing type of nuclear weapon,” they write, and foregoing the development of a new version “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least" and "could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

The op-ed marks a significant development in the debate about whether to build a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, as Perry was one of the fathers of the current version of the ALCM when it was first conceived in the 1970s.

The ongoing development of a new ALCM is part of the Defense and Energy Department’s plans to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure at a cost of $348 billion over the next decade, according to a January 2015 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. An August 2015 report by the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimated that the sustainment and modernization of nuclear forces could consume almost $1 trillion over roughly the next 30 years.

The projected growth in the nuclear weapons budget comes at a time when other big national security bills are also coming due and Congress has mandated reductions in military spending through the end of the current decade relative to current plans. In addition, despite the fact the president and his military advisors have determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels, the proposed spending is based on maintaining the New START levels in perpetuity.

Given that current U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans are excessive and unsustainable, it behooves the administration and Congress to more closely evaluate options that would both be more cost-effective and promote the reduction of nuclear risks around the world. As the Arms Control Association detailed in a report last year, tens of billions can be saved over the next decade and beyond by trimming portions of the arsenal and scaling back current modernization plans.

As it prepares its budget submission for fiscal year 2017, the president should heed the advice of Perry and Weber and not request funds to advance the development of a new nuclear ALCM.


Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs are carried by the B-52 long-range bomber and can attack targets at long distances. The United States also deployed large numbers of nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) during the Cold War, but ceased deployment of these weapons in 1992.

The original military rationale for developing the ALCM emphasized the cruise missile’s value as a standoff weapon that could overwhelm Soviet air defenses. The B-52’s ability to penetrate Soviet airspace was under pressure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and standoff capability allowed a B-52 to hold strategic targets at risk in relative safety despite its large radar cross section and subsonic speed.

The Air Force’s lone remaining ALCM variant is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030. 

The Air Force currently retains 572 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Fore Base in North Dakota with the W80-1 nuclear warhead. New START does not cap the number of bombs or cruise missiles that can be carried on treaty limited strategic bombers.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile (or LRSO) to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned Long-Range Strike bomber. The first missile is slated to be produced in 2026.

The current Air Force procurement plan for the LRSO calls for about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. According to the service, the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than it plans to arm and deploy with nuclear warheads.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the LRSO and the modified W80-4 warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years.

The total cost to build the LRSO and refurbish the associated warhead could reach $25 billion (in then-year dollars). CSBA estimates the development cost of the LRSO at nearly $15 billion. The Energy Department projects the cost of the life extension program for the ALCM warhead to be between $7 billion and $9.5 billion. 

Dubious Rationale

The two main arguments the Pentagon has made in support of building a new ALCM do not withstand close scrutiny.

First, supporters of the LRSO cite anticipated improvements in the air defenses of potential adversaries as a reason to develop the new cruise missile. However, as Perry and Weber note, the LRSO weapon is just one element of the Air Force’s plan for the air-based leg of the triad.

The service is planning to spend over $100 billion to build 80-100 new stealthy penetrating strategic bombers. One of the top rationales for building a new bomber is to extend America’s air dominance in advanced air defense environments. In addition to carrying the LRSO, the new long-range strike bomber (or B-3) will be armed with refurbished B61 mod 12 nuclear gravity bombs. Upgrading the B61 is expected to cost roughly $10 billion. The B-3 is scheduled to remain in service for 50 years while the B61 mod 12 is expected to last for 20-30 years.

The United States already has redundancy built into its strategic forces posture with three independent modes of delivery. The requirement that the air-leg of the triad have two means to assure penetration against the most advanced air-defenses constitutes excessive redundancy. Other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, can penetrate air defenses with high confidence.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is significantly increasing the lethality of its conventionally armed cruise missiles.

For example, the service is purchasing an extended-range precision air-to-surface standoff cruise missile known as the JASSM-ER. This missile will have a range of over 1,100 kilometers and be integrated onto the B-1, B-52, B-2, F-15E, and F-16 aircraft – and likely on the F-35 and long-range strike bomber as well. The Air Force is planning to arm the JASSM-ER with a new computer-killing electronic attack payload. The technology is designed to have an effect similar to an electromagnetic pulse.

This raises the question of what is so unique about the penetrating mission of a nuclear ALCM that can’t be addressed by other U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities?

Second, proponents of the nuclear ALCM mission say that the missile, by virtue of the lower yield of the nuclear warhead it carries, provides the president with flexible options in the event of a crisis and the ability to control escalation. In other words, the missiles would come in handy for nuclear war-fighting.

Yet, U.S. nuclear capabilities would remain highly credible and flexible even without a nuclear ALCM. The arsenal includes other weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, most notably the B61 gravity bomb.

More importantly, the notion that nuclear weapons can be used to carefully control escalation is dangerous thinking. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work noted at a June 25 House Armed Services Committee hearing: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

This is wise counsel and speaks to the limited utility and added risks of seeking to fine-tune deterrence. It is highly unlikely that an adversary on the receiving end of a U.S. nuclear strike would (or could) distinguish between a large warhead and a small warhead. Large or small, nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the taboo associated with the fact they have not been used in 70 years.

In fact, instead of controlling escalation, nuclear-armed cruise missiles could entail a significant risk of miscalculation and unintended nuclear escalation.

Former British Minister of Defense Philip Hammond drew attention to this problem in explaining the United Kingdom’s decision to reject a sea-launched cruise missile alternative to its current force of sea-launched ballistic missiles.

“At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead,” he wrote in 2013. “Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

Instead of investing billions in a new fleet of nuclear ALCMs, the Air Force should prioritize continued investments in longer-range conventional cruise missiles. Further investment in conventional standoff weapons would provide the Air Force with a more readily useable capability without the unintended escalation risks associated with the possession of nuclear and conventional ALCMs. It would also help set the stage for an eventual global phase-out of nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Excessive Cost

In light of the modernization needs of other defense systems and congressionally-mandated reductions in planned military expenses required by the Budget Control Act, military leaders continue to warn that the United States is facing an affordability problem in the near future when it comes to sustaining and modernizing nuclear forces.

“[W]e do have a huge affordability problem with that basket of [nuclear weapons] systems,” said Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, in April. “It is starting to poke itself into the [future years defense plan] — the five-year plan now. And we're trying to address it.”

Funding for the LRSO program over the next 10-15 years will come at the expense of other costly Air Force priorities such as the acquisition of the long-range strike bomber, KC-46A tanker, the F-35, and a replacement for the existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Though no one knows for sure what the military budget will look like after the expiration of the Budget Control Act, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money to fund all of the military’s nuclear and conventional modernization plans, especially during the decade of the 2020s when costs are expected to be at their highest. Tradeoffs will have to be made.

Given the nuclear ALCM’s redundant mission and inherently destabilizing dual-use nature, its replacement is not necessary.

A Global Ban

The United States, Russia and France are the only nations that currently acknowledge deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. However, countries such as China and Pakistan are believed to be working on them. U.S. security would benefit if they do not deploy such weapons.

Chinese nuclear-armed cruise missiles would add to U.S. concerns about Beijing’s capabilities and would be able to more easily circumvent U.S. missile defenses, which are mainly oriented against ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s program would add to tensions in South Asia and could motivate India to follow suit.

As part of its strategy to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty the United States should express its willingness to engage in technical discussions and agree to special inspections to resolve compliance concerns if Russia is willing to engage with U.S. concerns. Moving forward the United States should promote a global dialogue on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems.

Verifying limits and later a ban on all types of nuclear-armed cruise missiles would no doubt be a significant challenge, though not an insurmountable one. One early preparatory step toward building a transparency and monitoring regime is for the United States to pressure Russia to resume the exchange of data on nuclear-armed SLCMs that occurred under START I.

Rather than spend billions on a nuclear weapon that is not needed to deter potential adversaries, the United States should cancel its new cruise missile program. This would be a win-win for the military budget and U.S. security.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


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


In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear...

Country Resources:

Responsible Steps to Build on the Nonproliferation Value of the JCPOA



Volume 7, Issue 12, September 21, 2015

On Sept. 17, the 60-day period for congressional review of the nuclear agreement that the United States and its international negotiating partners reached with Iran came to an end without Congress passing legislation preventing President Barack Obama from implementing the deal.

The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), promises to severely curtail Iran’s nuclear program and stop it well short of nuclear weapons for a generation or more. The deal puts in place an unprecedented, multilayered verification and monitoring regime, and includes provisions to help ensure compliance with the restrictions established by the agreement.

If successfully implemented, the JCPOA will be a net plus for nonproliferation and will enhance U.S. and regional security. Implementation of the JCPOA reinforces the rules, norms, and procedures that make up the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

By blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways, the JCPOA should reduce the incentive of other states in the region to pursue their own nuclear fuel-making programs. The JCPOA also provides an opportunity to strengthen nonproliferation in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, reports indicate that some members of Congress are contemplating counterproductive legislative proposals that would re-interpret the terms of the JCPOA and make additional demands of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that could complicate or even undermine implementation.

A more productive approach would be to provide the IAEA with the financial support necessary to carry out its additional monitoring and verification responsibilities, and to work with the Executive Branch to augment the JCPOA by pursuing policies designed to strengthen the barriers against further nuclear and missile proliferation in the region and around the world. 

As Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) put it in a September 17 speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington: “If the United States leads these changes over the next five years, then in 15 years Iran will leave one set of restraints – the JCPOA—and enter another – the parameters of a world with…a bolstered NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty].”

The JCPOA contains several innovative provisions that go beyond the requirements of the NPT and standard IAEA safeguards. These measures could be applied for a longer period of time in Iran if pursued on a regional basis, and there are additional nonproliferation commitments that would bolster the JCPOA in the years ahead.

Several of these measures could help address concerns about Iran’s potential nuclear capabilities in the post-year 15 period of the agreement when many of the restrictions on uranium-enrichment capacity expire.

Below is set of illustrative potential strategies and policy solutions that would build upon the Iran nuclear deal and further reinforce proliferation barriers vis-à-vis Iran, as well as other states in the greater Middle East.

Increase IAEA Resources and Capacity. The administration and Congress must work together to provide the IAEA with the additional financial resources (approximately $10-15 million per year) it will need to carry out its additional inspection and safeguards responsibilities vis-à-vis Iran under the JCPOA.

Legislation that hampers the IAEA’s ability to carry out its work, or requires the president to compromise the confidentiality of the IAEA investigations in Iran, not only risks the success of the JCPOA, but could also erode confidence in the IAEA globally. Requiring the president to disclose to Congress information about the IAEA’s confidential methods risks the independence of the agency.

Expand Application of the Additional Protocol. The additional protocol is a voluntary measure that Iran has agreed to implement and ratify under the terms of the JCPOA. In addition, the JCPOA sets a time limit regarding Iran's response to and cooperation with an IAEA request for access to a site or facility of concern.

U.S. policy should be focused on region-wide adoption of and adherence to IAEA additional protocols. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are among the states that have not concluded an additional protocol agreement with the IAEA.

One approach to expand the application of the additional protocol would be to update Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, which sets the terms for U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries to prevent the misuse of civilian nuclear technology and assistance. Currently Section 123 of the act does not require that a cooperating state have an additional protocol in place with the IAEA. Some members of Congress have introduced legislation to update Section 123 and could pursue a new effort, which would likely win bipartisan support. 

Another strategy would be for the United States and other like-minded members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to agree not to engage in any civilian nuclear cooperation with a state in the Middle East region unless it has agreed to implement and ratify an additional protocol and adopt modified Code 3.1 notification requirements relating to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

Presently, the NSG only has a voluntary policy (adopted in 2011) not to transfer the technology and equipment (enrichment and reprocessing technology) needed to produce weapons-usable nuclear material to new states, especially those states in regions of proliferation concern.

Build a Region-Wide HEU and Plutonium Production Ban. A key goal of the United States and other nuclear technology suppliers should be to strongly discourage any additional states in the region from acquiring uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing technology and to ensure that those that do have such technologies only produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) commensurate with their “practical needs.”

In the JCPOA, Iran agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67% U-235 for a period of at least 15 years. Iran has indicated a willingness to extend that restriction beyond 15 years, if other countries in the region abide by a similar restriction. A goal of U.S. policy should be to extend Iran’s commitment indefinitely by pursing a region-wide commitment to limiting uranium enrichment to less than 5% U-235.

Iran also committed not to separate plutonium from spent fuel in its reactors for 15 years and has stated that it has no intention to do so at any point in the future. A similar region-wide ban on reprocessing and norm in support of shipping out spent fuel should also be encouraged.

Currently Iran and Israel are the only states in the region with uranium-enrichment technology and Israel is the only country in the region to have produced weapons-grade plutonium. Given that Israel has a strategic advantage having already produced plutonium for it undeclared weapons program and because its Dimona production reactor is near the end of its lifespan, Israel might also be encouraged to voluntarily adopt a region-wide policy banning the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and weapons-grade plutonium.

A related strategy would be to accelerate work to phase out the use of reactor fuel greater than 5% U-235 for any purposes by any country in the region and to provide international technical support to convert all reactors to LEU fuel. Six countries in the Middle East currently have research reactors, with a total of seven reactors fueled by uranium enriched to 20% or higher. This region-wide phase-out strategy would be consistent with ongoing U.S. efforts to phase out the use of HEU for civilian nuclear research and naval propulsion reactors worldwide. 

If additional countries choose to pursue enrichment in the Middle East region or elsewhere, they should also be subjected to the same continuous IAEA monitoring at key nuclear facilities that Iran is subject to under the JCPOA. Requiring more stringent monitoring and transparency should be included the region-wide limitation on enrichment to reactor-grade levels.

Encourage Lifetime Fuel Supply and Fuel Take-Back Guarantees. Another related longer-term strategy should be to ensure that Iran has the absolute minimum “practical need” for low-enriched uranium production. Iran currently has one operating light-water reactor for electricity production and has a preliminary agreement with Russia for several more. Russia supplies the Bushehr-1 reactor with fuel and will take back spent fuel from the reactor. The current supply contract for Bushehr-1 can be extended beyond 2021—and even further if necessary. According to preliminary Iran-Russian plans, any future Russian-built units at the site will be supplied by Russia for the lifetime of the reactors and all spent fuel will be returned to Russia.

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran will domestically fuel the Arak reactor, once the reactor is modified and Iran is able to produce fuel assemblies for the reactor. Iran’s enrichment capacity under the first 10 years of the deal—5,060 IR-1 centrifuges—is more than enough to provide fuel for the reactor on an annual basis.

To help negate Iran’s justification for increasing its domestic enrichment capacity beyond the 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges established through the JCPOA for 13 years, any country that enters into a contract with Iran to supply additional power reactors could provide fuel supply guarantees for the lifespan of the reactor, and arrangements to take back the spent fuel so as to deny Iran access to the separated plutonium in the spent fuel.

The United States should also encourage lifetime supply arrangements for any country in the region seeking nuclear reactors.

This approach, combined with a region-wide LEU limitation, would be more likely to dissuade Iran from increasing its uranium-enrichment capacity and/or enrichment levels after years 13-15 of the JCPOA than any “sense of Congress” demand from U.S. legislators that Iran should not be allowed to adjust its uranium-enrichment capacity after years 13-15 of the JCPOA because U.S. legislators do not believe Iran has an “inherent right” to enrich uranium.

Secure Region-wide Agreement to Forego Experiments That May Be Used for Designing Nuclear Weapons. In Annex I, Section T of the JCPOA, Iran agreed to a ban on all such experiments even though some ostensibly have civilian applications. By encouraging other states in the region and elsewhere to voluntarily declare and/or reach a Memorandum of Understanding with the IAEA that such experiments, if conducted, would constitute a violation of their safeguards agreements, confidence in the NPT would be strengthened.

Region-Wide Adherence to the CTBT. A principal element of U.S. nonproliferation policy has been to prevent nuclear testing by any state, particularly because nuclear test explosions enable emerging nuclear weapon states to proof test a warhead design and build smaller, lighter warheads for delivery on ballistic missiles. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992 and is a signatory to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). All of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and European Union states have ratified the CTBT, except for the United States and China.

Currently, there are three states in the Middle East—Egypt, Iran and Israel—that must ratify the CTBT to facilitate its entry into force.

Senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who signed the CTBT in 1996, have recently expressed their support for the treaty.

In 1999, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, then Iran’s deputy foreign minister, spoke in support of the CTBT and endorsed a UN conference statement calling for cooperation aimed at bringing the treaty into effect.

In a Sept. 12 interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Lassina Zerbo, the head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which is based in Vienna, said if Iran doesn’t ratify the CTBT, “it will leave room for the doubt that people have put in this deal and the good intentions of Iran.”

To reinforce Iran’s commitment to a non-nuclear weapons future and increase security and stability in the region, the United States and our allies should also actively encourage all states in the Middle East region that have not signed/ratified the CTBT (including Saudi Arabia) to do so and to fully support the CTBT’s international monitoring system, as well the development of its on-site inspection capabilities that will be available after the treaty enters into force.

Reinforce Legal Obligations In the Event of NPT Withdrawal. If a state decides to leave the NPT and pursue nuclear weapons, there should be tough penalties. One approach is to establish that even if a state decides to exercise its right under the “supreme national interest” clause of the NPT that state remains obligated not to use any of the nuclear material or technology under safeguards, or that has been supplied by other states, for weapons purposes. There have been numerous proposals along these lines that have not been adopted in the context of the NPT or mandated by the UN Security Council.

Regional Ballistic Missile Restraint Measures. Iran has perhaps the largest short- and medium-range ballistic missile arsenal in the region, but there are other states with similar capabilities and ambitions. It should be an objective of U.S. policy to develop a region-wide moratorium on research, development, and flight-testing of medium-range and long-range ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, particularly those capable of lifting WMD payloads. The United States should also work with its partners in the Missile Technology Control Regime to strengthen and reinforce the norms against transferring technologies for missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

Through the years, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have put forward important ideas to strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation system, some of which have substantially contributed to U.S. national policy.

In 1978, Congress came together to strengthen the standards for U.S. civil nuclear cooperation as first established under the 1954 Atomic Energy Act.

In 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Another example was S. 1977, “The Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act” of 2007, introduced by then Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). It became the blueprint for much of the Obama administration’s first-term nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament policies.

Given the ongoing proliferation threat posed by North Korea, the increasing nuclear arsenals in Indian and Pakistan, and the need to further strengthen proliferation barriers in the Middle East region, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should consider how they can work together with President Obama and his successor to bolster U.S. and global nuclear weapons risk reduction strategies.



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


By blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways, the JCPOA should reduce the incentive of other states in the region to pursue their own nuclear fuel-making programs. 

Country Resources:

Frequently Asked Questions About The Iran Deal - Part Two



Volume 7, Issue 11, September 3, 2015

The following is an excerpt from the Arms Control Association's newly updated report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."  The questions and answers were split into two separate Issue Briefs. Read part one online.

In response to the many inquiries we have received about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over the course of the past several weeks, the Arms Control Association has compiled the following brief responses to the most frequently asked questions.  

4. The Impact of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Capabilities

Will the JCPOA block all of Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways? 

Yes. This comprehensive agreement will effectively block Iran's uranium and plutonium pathways to the bomb for 15 years or longer. Among other features, the agreement establishes verifiable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium. Under the JCPOA, the time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb would increase to 12 months or more. It will also dramatically cut the output of plutonium at the Arak heavy-water reactor and eliminate Iran’s ability to pursue plutonium-based nuclear weapons.

The JCPOA will also put in place additional measures to ensure that any covert program is deterred or quickly detected. These measures will build on the additional monitoring and verification under the interim agreement, which expanded international oversight of Iran's nuclear program through increased IAEA access to sites. 

In addition, Iran is required to implement and ratify its additional protocol as part of the JCPOA. Specifically, the additional protocol gives the IAEA expanded rights of access to information and sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will continuously monitor Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, centrifuge production facilities, and its heavy-water production plant. This will make it extremely difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program without prompt detection.

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 timely inspections in any facility, civilian or military, that the IAEA has reason to believe is engaged in noncompliant activity. 

How does the JCPOA limit Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity after 10 years?

During the first ten years of the JCPOA, Iran may not enrich uranium to more than 3.67 percent U-235 and it may only do so with 5,060 first generation (IR-1) centrifuges at its Natanz site. 

During the first eight years Iran will be permitted to conduct testing with uranium on a single IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 machines. Enriched uranium will not be extracted. 

After eight and a half years, Iran will be permitted to test up to 30 IR-6s and 30 IR-8s, again without withdrawing any uranium. The Joint Commission must approve any changes to the research and development plan, which must be submitted well in advance.

While Iran will be able to manufacture IR-6 and IR-8 machines after eight years, it will only be permitted to produce 200 of each type of machine per year and will not be permitted to produce the rotors. During this time Iran’s centrifuge production manufacturing will still be subject to continuous monitoring. 

After ten years, Iran will be permitted to produce complete machines but production levels must be consistent with Iran’s civilian enrichment needs, which will be low. 

In years 11–13, Iran can deploy more advanced machines, but it will need to remove the equivalent capacity of the operating IR-1 centrifuges so that the overall enrichment capacity remains the same. Excess centrifuges will be stored under IAEA seal.

As stated in annex I, section A, “Iran will begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years. During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz up to a total installed uranium-enrichment capacity of 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges.” 

For 15 years, Iran may not possess more than 300 kilogram of low-enriched uranium, which also helps to limit its potential breakout capacity.

For years 14–15, Iran could increase its uranium-enrichment capacity, but Iran would still remain several months away from accumulating enough material, and if it tried to do so, it would promptly be detected in sufficient time to stop or delay such an effort.

What is an additional protocol and is it permanent?

An additional protocol is an expansion of a country’s comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. All countries that are members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are required to have a safeguards agreement in place. The additional protocol is optional, but strongly encouraged, and once ratified it is binding. The necessity of the additional protocol became clear after the Iraq and North Korean cases of the 1990s demonstrated that traditional safeguards are not thorough enough. 

An additional protocol broadens the scope of the IAEA’s monitoring to all facilities related the country’s nuclear supply chain and allows for short-notice inspections. It also allows for the IAEA to request access to undeclared sites, including military areas, if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activities. 

Once ratified an additional protocol is permanent. Iran negotiated an additional protocol and voluntarily implemented it between 2003–2006. As part of the JCPOA, Iran must update and implement its additional protocol before sanctions are suspended and it must seek to ratify its additional protocol no later than eight years after implementation day.

What is Code 3.1?

Code 3.1 is an extension of a comprehensive safeguards agreement. When Iran begins to implement this provision as required by the JCPOA, the IAEA will receive information about any plans Tehran has to expand its nuclear program much earlier than it would under the existing safeguards agreement. Under Code 3.1, Iran must notify the IAEA when it chooses to build a new facility as opposed to six months before the introduction of nuclear material. Iran would also be obligated to share any design changes to existing nuclear facilities in advance.

In 2003, Iran accepted modified Code 3.1 but reneged unilaterally in March 2007. The JCPOA commits Iran to implement Code 3.1 indefinitely.

Does the JCPOA provide the IAEA with "anytime, anywhere" access to suspected nuclear sites? 

The JCPOA provides timely access to any site, military or civilian if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activities. The IAEA must identify specific questions to be resolved and identify specific locations where it wants to send its inspectors. Providing the inspected party, in this case Iran, with this information will not provide it with information that helps Iran evade detection or stall the investigation.

There are 121 countries that have an additional protocol in force and 78 complementary access visits were carried out last year. Only in Iran is there a process to ensure timely access. 

Under the JCPOA, the request by the IAEA triggers a 24-day clock under which Iran and the IAEA have 14 days to come to an agreement on access. If not, the Joint Commission, created by the JCPOA, has seven days to make a determination on access, and if at least five of the eight members vote to allow the IAEA to investigate, Iran has three days to comply. 

If Iran tries to stall access beyond 24 days, there are consequences. If just one of the P5+1 countries is not satisfied with the decision of the Joint Commission on access, it could take action to re-impose earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

It is possible that there will be no delay, and in response to a request for urgent access by the IAEA, Iran will open the site for immediate inspection. 

If there is a delay, the IAEA will be closely watching a site once it becomes suspicious by ordering satellite imagery, perhaps continuing through the investigation, and by seeking corroborating information, especially from states willing to share intelligence information. 

Could Iran cover up illicit activities at a suspect site within in 24 days?

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is required to provide inspectors access to undeclared facilities (military or civilian) if the IAEA requests it under the terms of Iran’s additional protocol. Under an additional protocol, the IAEA can request explanations for suspect activity and access to a potential covert site to investigate evidence of undeclared nuclear-related activities.

Critics of the JCPOA site access provisions charge that 24 days may provide Iran with enough time to cover up certain types of nuclear activities. 

As IAEA safeguards veteran Thomas Shea has noted, when an IAEA request for timely site access involves a building, and especially when it involves uranium (or plutonium), 24 days will not be long enough to prevent detection.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told Politico on July 22 that Energy Department specialists assess that, “It is essentially impossible, certainly with confidence, to believe that you’re going to do this kind of work with nuclear materials and be confident at having it cleaned it up.”

Would the IAEA Depend on Iran for Nuclear Residue Testing?

No. Under managed access procedures that may be employed by the IAEA, the inspected party may take environmental swipe samples at a particular site in the presence of the IAEA inspectors using swabs and containment bags provided by the IAEA to prevent cross contamination. According to former IAEA officials, this is an established procedure.

Such swipe samples collected at suspect sites under managed access would likely be divided into six packages: three are taken by the IAEA for analysis at its Seibersdorf Analytical Lab and two to be sent to the IAEA's Network of Analytical Labs (NWAL), which comprises some 16 labs in different countries, and another package to be kept under joint IAEA and Iran seal at the IAEA office in Iran as a backup and control sample if re-analysis might be required at a later stage. The process ensures the integrity of the inspection operation and the samples for all parties.

How Long Does the 24-Day Limit on Suspicious Site Access Last?

Section C, page 9, paragraph 15 of the main section of the JCPOA states that this requirement will last for 15 years. After that point in time, Iran’s additional protocol will remain in place as will the Joint Commission to resolve any disputes.

Does the JCPOA require Iran to provide the IAEA with information about its past activities with possible military dimensions (PMDs)?

Yes. 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 PMDs, in a step-by-step manner. Iran provided some but not all of the information. 

The new Iran-IAEA July 15 “roadmap” requires that Iran deliver to the IAEA all information by August 15 that is necessary to allow the agency to conclude its investigation. The JCPOA requires that Iran allow the IAEA to answer follow-up questions and respond with all necessary information by October 15, and before the implementation of the agreement and the removal of nuclear-related sanctions. This will provide the IAEA with key information necessary to make its final determination on the PMD issues and to verify that no such efforts are taking place in the future.

Resolving the questions about the past military dimension issue is important but is not a prerequisite for designing the verification and monitoring system. Nor is it realistic or necessary to expect a full "confession" from Iran that it pursued nuclear weapons in the past. 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 Iran hid a nuclear weapons program.

Is sanctions relief dependent on the PMD investigation?

Iran must provide the IAEA with the information and access the agency requires to complete its long-running investigation into the past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program before Iran receives any relief from UN, U.S. or EU sanctions. However, sanctions relief is not dependent on the agency issuing its final report on the PMDs.

What is the IAEA’s broader conclusion?

The “broader conclusion” is a rigorous designation issued by the IAEA to provide assurance that a country’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. It requires implementation of the additional protocol for a number of years, and in Iran’s case, compliance with the JCPOA. The IAEA makes two conclusions as part of the broader conclusion, that there has been no diversion of nuclear materials and no indication of undeclared nuclear materials and activities. The broader conclusion goes beyond the conclusion issued to countries only applying a safeguards agreement or with outstanding questions. Under a safeguards agreement, the IAEA only reports that declared nuclear material has been used only for peaceful purposes for the year in question.

How does the JCPOA procurement channel work and how long will it last?

Under the terms of the JCPOA, if Iran wants to purchase any goods or materials that could be used for its nuclear program that are identified on established IAEA dual-use lists, the Joint Commission working group on procurement would need to review the request and authorize any purchases. The working group would also be permitted to conduct end-user checks to ensure that the materials ended up in the right places. Combined with the complete inventory of the materials that Iran uses for its nuclear program, this will help ensure a thorough accounting of dual-use materials to prevent siphoning off for a covert program. This procurement channel mechanism will be in place for no less than 10 years.

How long does the sanctions snap-back provision last?

For the 10-year duration of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, if a dispute is not addressed through the Joint Commission to the satisfaction of the P5+1, any one of the six-countries could act to snap back earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. (The JCPOA specifies that if a complaining party believes that there has been a violation of the agreement even after good faith efforts to resolve it, it may call for a vote on a resolution to extend the suspension of earlier sanctions, which only requires one of the P5 to veto to trigger the re-imposition of UN sanctions.) The United States has said the P5 have agreed that they will maintain the same approach for an additional five years.

How long Does the Joint Commission last?

The JCPOA does not specifically state when the termination date for the Commission is, but some requirements of the JCPOA that the Joint Commission is responsible for overseeing will last 25 years. Therefore it will have responsibilities that last for 25 years, and possibly longer.

5. Other Issues

Does Congress have a right to see the confidential IAEA-Iran documents on concluding the agency’s PMD investigation?

As an independent organization, the IAEA's process should not be subject to approval of the P5+1 or the U.S. Congress. Nor should the IAEA be forced to disclose sensitive information that could also compromise Iran’s legitimate security concerns. While it is critical that Iran cooperate with the IAEA and provide the agency with the access and information it requires, the content of the agency's investigations and inspections are not typically public because sensitive information is at stake. 

Additionally, the IAEA laid out its concerns about past nuclear weapons work, and it should be up to the agency to determine what access is necessary to resolve its questions, not the P5+1. The IAEA does answer to its Board of Governors, where the United States is represented, and will be required to report on progress to the UN Security Council, where again, the United States will be fully appraised of the process.

Will the United States be able to impose more sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear related concerns?

Yes. The JCPOA prohibits the reissuance of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear activities. If the United States imposes these measures then Iran can walk away from the deal. However, additional U.S. sanctions for terrorism and human rights related issues are fair game.

Will the JCPOA trigger or head-off a proliferation cascade in the Middle East, with countries like Saudi Arabia deciding to move toward nuclear weapons. 

The JCPOA imposes 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 will 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 far less monitoring. This poses a far greater threat to countries in the Middle East and could increase the possibility of a "proliferation cascade" in the region.

How does the Iran Deal compare to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea?

Iran is not North Korea. The JCPOA differs substantially from agreements reached with North Korea in 1994 and 2005 regarding its nuclear program. 

The IAEA inspections and monitoring measures on Iran's nuclear program will be much more intrusive and stringent than those placed on North Korea, which were limited to one site. Iran has also demonstrated that it values its position in the region and international community and it wants UN Security Council sanctions on its program removed. This only comes through adherence to an agreement. 

The 1994 Agreed Framework, unlike the JCPOA, did not require North Korea to dismantle or modify its plutonium production reactor and it did not include stringent transparency and inspection provisions across the entire fuel cycle and across the country. As a result, North Korea was able to evade detection and pursue a secret uranium-enrichment program.

Is a “Better Deal” possible or necessary?

No. Nevertheless, some critics of the agreement like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) argue that Congress should reject the JCPOA and “urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal.”

But that is wishful thinking. 

If Congress blocks implementation of the JCPOA, it would turn an American diplomatic breakthrough into a strategic disaster. The result would be that:

  • The United States would undercut its European allies and other UNSC members,
  • The necessary international support for Iran-related sanctions would melt away,
  • Iran would be able to rapidly and significantly expand its capacity to produce weapons-grade material,
  • The United States would lose out on securing enhanced inspections needed to detect a clandestine weapons effort,
  • The international nonproliferation regime would suffer a severe blow, undermining the stability of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the foundation for international security, and
  • The risk of a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of a war over Iran’s program would increase.

On balance, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal is a strong, effectively verifiable, long-term agreement that increases the security of the United States, its allies, and Iran. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander.—KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL


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


The following is an excerpt from the Arms Control Association's newly updated report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."

Country Resources:

Frequently Asked Questions About the Iran Deal - Part One



Volume 7, Issue 10, August 31, 2015

The following is an excerpt from the Arms Control Association newly updated report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."

In response to the many inquiries we have received about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over the course of the past several weeks, the Arms Control Association has compiled the following brief responses to the most frequently asked questions.  

1. Iran's Nuclear and Missile Programs

Is Iran still pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program?

No. 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 (PMDs) 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. 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.

In the 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also said that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded nuclear material and enrich enough to weapons grade for a bomb without discovery. 

Does Iran have or is it developing long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads? 

The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Iran may be technically capable of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with sufficient foreign assistance, but has not reported that they are doing so. 

To date, Iran has never tested any long-range missiles. Iran's longest-range systems (2,000 kilometers) are medium-range ballistic missiles, not ICBMs, as some have implied. Iran would need an ICBM with a range of over 9,000 kilometers to reach the United States. If Iran makes a concerted effort, deploying such a missile within ten years is theoretically possible, but 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. 

2. Impact of the Joint Plan of Action

Did the 2013 interim agreement, or Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), halt advances in Iran's nuclear program?

Yes. The implementation of the November 2013 JPOA halted the expansion of Iran's nuclear program and rolled back the most proliferation-sensitive elements.  

Under the JPOA, Iran stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1, because 20 percent enriched uranium is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235). Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched-uranium gas. 

Iran halted major construction activities on its Arak heavy-water 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 the centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.

Without the JPOA, Iran could have very significantly increased its uranium-enrichment capacity and possibly completed the Arak reactor.

Did Iran comply with the terms of the November 2013 JPOA, or did it violate it by operating an advanced centrifuge, the IR-5?

The IAEA's November 7, 2014 quarterly report 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 was not a violation of the JPOA, which prohibits the use of advanced centrifuges to accumulate enriched uranium. However, to dispel any ambiguities, in the extension agreed to on November 24, 2014, Iran agreed not to feed the IR-5 with any uranium for the duration of the interim agreement.  

The IAEA has reported, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on November 24, 2014, that Iran upheld its commitments under the interim deal. 

3. Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

Did the UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to permanently halt enrichment, dismantle its enrichment facilities, and dismantle the heavy-water reactor at Arak?

No. Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and suspend construction 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.

Did President Obama shift U.S. policy from stopping Iranian enrichment to managing it?

No. Beginning in mid-2006, it was the George W. Bush administration that shifted U.S. policy and opened the door for Iran to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes if it met certain conditions.

The 2006 proposal states that the enrichment moratorium could be lifted if Iran demonstrates “credible and coherent economic rationale in support of the existing civilian power generation program.” Additionally, Iran would have been required to declare all nuclear facilities, demonstrate that it had no secret nuclear programs, and answer outstanding questions about the military aspects of its nuclear program.

It is a formula with some similar characteristics to the agreement reached in 2015 by the P5+1 and Iran.

By allowing Iran to continue its uranium-enrichment program, is the P5+1 recognizing a “right to enrich” under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)?

Article IV of the NPT grants non-nuclear weapons states access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in return for pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons and meeting their IAEA safeguards obligations. The NPT, however, does not specifically grant or deny enrichment and spent fuel 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 recognize a “right to enrich” under the NPT. In the interim agreement and in the JCPOA, the United States and its P5+1 partners acknowledged that Iran has an enrichment program and will retain a limited enrichment program commensurate with its “practical needs” for its civil nuclear activities.

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 interim agreement in November 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that U.S. policy remains unchanged and since then has repeatedly said: “there is no inherent right to enrich.”

Why doesn’t the JCPOA require Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons capability?

Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate 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, including the knowledge, is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran were required to completely “dismantle” 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.

When did the arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions become an issue in the negotiations?

The UN arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions were imposed on Iran as part of Security Council Resolution 1929 on Iran’s nuclear activities and were designed to help push Iran to the negotiating table. Following the conclusion of their framework agreement in April 2015, the two sides debated intensely over when to lift the UN Security Council-imposed heavy arms embargo and the ballistic missile restrictions emerged. Iran, along with Russia and China, argued for ending them upon implementation of the JCPOA, while the United States insisted on maintaining them for an extended period of time. The final agreement, which secures ongoing restrictions on heavy arms transfers to Iran and on Iran’s ballistic missile activities for five and eight years respectively, was a major achievement in the negotiations for the United States.

How effective are the existing multilateral constraints on ballistic missile development/proliferation?

Not all ballistic missiles pose equal risk. Ballistic missiles capable of carrying a 500 kilogram payload over 300 kilometers are generally recognized as having the minimum capability needed for delivering a nuclear weapon. A multilateral regime known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is designed to limit the transfer of these systems, or related technologies, to nonmember countries (Iran is not a member). All of the P5+1 countries are members of the regime, except China, which voluntarily adheres to its guidelines. The MTCR restrictions have not stopped Iran’s program, but have inhibited Iran’s development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles. Additionally, U.S. restrictions on ballistic missiles will remain in place, as will UN restrictions on transferring ballistic missiles to Hezbollah.—KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL


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

Country Resources:

Restrictions on Iran’s Nuclear Program: Beyond 15 Years



Volume 7, Issue 9, August 25, 2015 (Updated Aug. 26)

Experts and analysts broadly agree that the nuclear deal struck between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran on July 14 will effectively and verifiably block Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons for 15 years or more. Absent the agreement, Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium could rapidly increase and sharply reduce the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Although several key restrictions on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpile of enriched uranium will expire after 15 years, the deal—known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—establishes several other restrictions and tools that will help constrain and provide deep insights into Iran’s nuclear program far beyond the first 15-year period.

These restrictions include a more intrusive and permanent inspections regime that will provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) far greater access to and information about Iran’s nuclear program than under the current safeguards regime. Among these are continuous monitoring of Iran’s uranium mining activities and its centrifuge manufacturing sites. In addition, the JCPOA permanently prohibits Iran from conducting certain “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Taken together, these additional restrictions and transparency measures will provide the international community with a powerful set of tools to promptly detect and deter an Iranian attempt to pursue nuclear weapons well beyond the initial 15-year period.

To reinforce the JCPOA in the out-years, the United States, its P5+1 partners, and other countries in the region can and should make the most of the time provided by the JCPOA to pursue additional measures that would decrease Iran’s incentive and its justification for expanding its indigenous uranium-enrichment program and also guard against the pursuit of dangerous, dual-use nuclear fuel cycle activities by other states in the region.

This issue brief describes some of these options as well as the JCPOA restrictions that will help bound Iran’s nuclear capabilities 15 years after the implementation of the deal.

Increased Monitoring and Transparency

After 15 years a number of intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms remain in place that will give the international community a clearer picture of Iran’s nuclear program and an early warning if Iran intends to increase its enrichment capacity.

The IAEA will be able to continuously monitor Iran’s production of centrifuges for 20 years and it will be able to continuously monitor uranium mines and mills for 25 years. Taken together, the continuous surveillance on these elements will help ensure that the IAEA and the international community will be aware of Iran’s capabilities and resources, allowing for assessment of how quickly Iran could ramp up its program and produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.

Even after these restrictions sunset, the deal puts in place a more intrusive inspections regime as compared to what Iran is currently subject to by the IAEA.

Implementation, and eventual ratification, of Iran’s additional protocol will allow for short-notice inspections at all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Inspectors can access Iran’s declared nuclear facilities in as little as two hours if they are already on site. This is particularly important for monitoring Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities.

The expanded nuclear declaration under Iran’s additional protocol will include more facilities than are counted under Iran’s current comprehensive safeguards agreement—such as the uranium mines and heavy-water production plant.

Iran’s additional protocol, once ratified, is permanent. Iran voluntarily implemented it between 2003-2006, but did not ratify the document. The JCPOA requires Iran to seek ratification within eight years. 

As part of the JCPOA, Iran will also implement modified Code 3.1 to its safeguards agreement. Under the terms of Code 3.1 Iran must notify the IAEA when it decides to build a nuclear facility (rather than simply six months prior to introducing nuclear material) and provide updates on the design of existing nuclear facilities. This will give the IAEA additional warning if Iran intends to expand its nuclear program, and adjust the safeguards approach accordingly. 

The IAEA's ability to request access to undeclared sites to investigate concerns about illicit nuclear activity is also permanent under Iran’s additional protocol. Without the JCPOA, which ensures ratification of Iran’s additional protocol, the IAEA will have no mechanism to request access to undeclared nuclear sites to check for illicit activities.

Under the Model Additional Protocol, if the agency has concerns about a particular site the agency will provide that country with the reasons for its concerns. The country must then respond to the IAEA’s request. If the explanation does not satisfy the IAEA, it can request access to the site. Under its additional protocol, Iran, like any other country, can take some steps to protect sensitive information if, for instance, the inspection is on a military facility. But ultimately, it is up to the IAEA to determine if the access is sufficient. 

Under the Model Additional Protocol, the agency does not have to allow a country time to respond to evidence or concern if a “delay in access would prejudice the purpose for which the access is sought.”

The IAEA can refer the case to its Board of Governors and the UN Security Council if it unsatisfied with Iran’s compliance.

Permanent Restrictions

Iran also agreed to permanent restrictions prohibiting activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device under the JCPOA. While Iran committed not to pursue nuclear weapons when it joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the JCPOA commits Iran to adhere to restrictions beyond its NPT obligations.

The NPT does not explicity prohibit research or use of explosives suitable for nuclear weapons for non-nuclear purposes. Iran has asserted that some of its past activities with possible military dimensions (PMDs) that the IAEA has been investigating were for non-nuclear weapons purposes.

Under the deal, however, Iran can no longer make this dubious claim. Iran agreed to forgo computer modeling to simulate nuclear explosive devices, testing, developing, or acquiring multi-point explosives and neutron sources, and development and designing of nuclear explosive diagnostic systems (Annex I Section T). 

While some of these activities are relevant for developing conventional explosives and for activities like drilling, in the future, if caught conducting research in these areas, Iran will not be able to claim it is undertaking any of these activities for non-nuclear purposes.

The JCPOA also closes the door on the plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons indefinitely. As part of the deal, Iran said it never intends to reprocess spent fuel, the process by which weapons-grade plutonium is removed from spent reactor fuel. Iran also said it intends to ship out all spent fuel from any future reactors. 

Decrease Incentives

The JCPOA is a strong, verifiable, agreement from a nonproliferation viewpoint, but the United States, along with its P5+1 partners and countries in the Middle East, can and should take steps to further decrease Iran’s motivation and justification to significantly ramp up its enrichment capacity after 15 years.

Fuel Supply Guarantees

Civil nuclear cooperation between certain nuclear supplier states and Iran can and should be designed to ensure that Iran has assured access to the nuclear fuel for its research and power reactors so that Tehran has less of a “practical need” to significantly expand its uranium-enrichment program beyond the capacity allowed under the JCPOA for the first 10-15 years. Pursuing this strategy would prevent Iran from justifying increased enrichment capacity based on a need to domestically produce reactor fuel to ensure continuity of supply.

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran will domestically fuel the Arak reactor, once the reactor is modified and Iran is able to produce fuel assemblies for the reactor. Iran’s enrichment capacity under the first 10 years of the deal, 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, is more than enough to provide fuel for the reactor on an annual basis.

Iran claims that it wants to provide fuel for its power reactor at Bushehr, which is currently supplied by Russia. That would require the equivalent of over 100,000 IR-1 centrifuges.

Any country that enters into a contract with Iran to supply additional power reactors could provide fuel supply guarantees for the lifespan of the reactor, and arrangements to take back the spent fuel so as to deny Iran access to the unseparated plutonium in the spent fuel. Iran’s current memorandum of understanding with Russia for the provision of additional power reactors at the Bushehr site already includes this kind of arrangement.

If necessary, to provide additional assurances that there will be no fuel supply disruption, Russia could deliver to Iran enough fuel for several years at a time. Fuel could be stored under IAEA seal until it is used.

China is also currently in discussions with Iran about supplying nuclear power reactors and should be strongly encouraged to ensure that any reactor contracts include lifetime fuel supplies and spent fuel removal arrangements. This example could be employed region-wide to decrease the incentives of other countries considering nuclear power programs from pursuing enrichment.

The United States and its P5+1 partners should also work to ensure that the IAEA fuel bank, is fully funded and supplied. Kazakhstan and the IAEA will sign an agreement establishing the fuel bank on Aug. 27, 2015. The fuel bank is designed to ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies for nuclear reactors and prevent the withholding of fuel from supplier countries for political reasons. If for some reason Russia was unable or unwilling to supply Iran’s reactors, Tehran could obtain nuclear fuel from the IAEA bank.

Strengthen Regional Norms

Iran has stated in the past that it would be willing to accept permanent enrichment restrictions, such as capping enrichment levels at reactor grade (enriched to less than five percent U-235), if other countries in the region agreed to similar restrictions. A regional commitment to forgo enrichment to higher levels could serve as a major confidence building measure against further proliferation in the region. Another possible confidence building measure could be to encourage all states in the region to commit to continuous IAEA monitoring, similar to what Iran agreed to for its nuclear supply chain, on key nuclear facilities region-wide.

Another option for increasing regional confidence in the peaceful nature of Tehran’s activities would be to “multilateralize” Iran’s existing uranium-enrichment facility, providing regional oversight and nuclear fuel for countries pursuing nuclear power in the Middle East. 

Regional countries that invest in the enrichment facility would be able to have their personnel access and monitor the facilities, thus providing a greater degree of confidence that Tehran’s nuclear activities are peaceful and it could help prevent stockpiles of enriched uranium from accumulating in Iran.

Regional inspections could also provide greater transparency and assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. Brazil and Argentina, both of which pursued nuclear weapons programs and now have domestic uranium enrichment, have a bilateral inspections agreement known as the ABACC arrangement (Argentina-Brazil Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials), which augments the standard IAEA safeguards system for those states.

Despite the checkered past of both countries in nuclear weapons research, the bilateral inspections help provide assurance that neither country is currently pursuing nuclear weapons.


While some of the restrictions on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity expire after 15 years, other measures remain in place, some of which are permanent. The United States, it P5+1 partners, and countries in the region also have a number of options to strengthen the deal and dis-incentivize Iran from ramping up its uranium enrichment 15 years after implementation of the JCPOA.

If Congress rejects the deal, Iran’s nuclear program will be free of the long-term restrictions and more intrusive monitoring system mandated by the JCPOA.

On the other hand, the JCPOA provides a solid formula for blocking Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons for at least 15 years, and the time necessary to pursue and implement complimentary initiatives to head off the possibility that Iran will try to pursue an expansion of its nuclear program over the long-term.—KELSEY DAVENPORT


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


Absent the Iran nuclear agreement, Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium could rapidly increase and sharply reduce the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Country Resources:

Addressing Iran’s Ballistic Missiles in the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution



Volume 7, Issue 8, July 27, 2015

For more than a decade, the possibility of Iran developing nuclear warheads for its medium-range ballistic missiles has been at the top of U.S. security worries for the region, followed by Iran’s potential to expand the range of its missile forces to threaten Europe and the United States.

Now, with the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)between the P5+1 and Iran, which will block Iran from building nuclear weapons for at least 15 years, along with a new UN Security Council resolution (2231) on the nuclear deal, which extends restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities and trade, the potential threat from Iranian ballistic missiles has been radically reduced.

Negotiations Were About Nuclear Warheads, Not About Missiles

In the long negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the parties had avoided contentious issues beyond the nuclear realm in the belief that resolving the nuclear imbroglio was the highest international security priority and including other issues could overload the agenda and jeopardize reaching any agreement.

Senior U.S. officials stressed the talks were focused exclusively on resolving concerns about Iran’s growing nuclear program—not, for example, on its support for terrorism, behavior in the region, or human rights practices.

However, among the restrictions established by six UN Security Council resolutionsin response to Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities are restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities relating to the delivery of a nuclear weapon and restrictions on heavy conventional arms transfers to Iran.

UN Security Council Resolution 1737, passed in December 2006, states that countries must not provide technical or financial assistance, training, or resources related to certain nuclear and ballistic missile-related goods, and that all member states must refrain from importing designated nuclear and ballistic missile-related items from Iran.

UN Security Council Resolution 1929, passed in June 2010, establishes a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, banning the sale of “battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems” to Iran.  Iran is also prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles, and the resolution requires states to take necessary measures to prevent technology relevant to ballistic missiles from reaching Iran. 

The primary purpose of these resolutions was to restrict Iran’s sensitive nuclear activity until such time as negotiations could resume and lead to an agreement preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman had assured Congress during her early testimony on the negotiations that Iran’s ballistic missiles would be addressed, but she did not specify how this would occur.

Iran’s position was that the negotiations were about its nuclear program and not about its ballistic missiles or conventional military capabilities; a replacement resolution in response to an agreement on the nuclear issues should therefore not maintain any restrictions on its ballistic missile activities and acquisition of conventional arms. The Russians and Chinese were in support of Iran’s view.

Even U.S. Secretary of State Kerry acknowledged in response to a question at his July 14 press conference that “[UNSC Resolution 1929] says specifically that if Iran comes to negotiate – not even get a deal, but comes to negotiate – sanctions would be lifted.”

Missile Restrictions and Heavy Weapons Embargo Extended

Despite the Russian, Chinese and Iranian opposition, U.S. negotiators dug in their heels. Although not explicitly addressed in the JCPOA, UN Security Council Resolution 2231, unanimously adopted on July 20, contains an eight-year restriction on Iranian (nuclear-capable) ballistic missile activities and a five-year ban on conventional arms transfers to Iran.

Specifically, Annex B of the new resolution calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The resolution also grants the Security Council the authority to review and deny on a case-by-case basis any transfer to Iran of materials, equipment, goods, or technology that could contribute to nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Moreover, even after restrictions on arms sales and ballistic missile activities are lifted under the new resolution, they would still be subject to re-imposition “in the event of significant non-performance by Iran of its JCPOA commitments…”

These features of the arrangement have not gone over well in Tehran. According to the official statement from Tehran, issued in response to the resolution, “Iranian military capabilities, including ballistic missiles, are exclusively for legitimate defense. They have not been designed for WMD capability, and are thus outside the purview or competence of the Security Council resolution and its annexes.” A prominent Iranian hardliner complained, “The negotiating team was not supposed to negotiate on Iran’s ballistic missile technology.”

Despite the U.S. negotiators’ success in retaining features of the earlier resolution’s constraints on ballistic missiles and conventional arms, U.S. critics of the JCPOA either entirely ignore the UN’s adoption of a new multi-year arms trade embargo and its continuing restrictions on Iranian (nuclear-capable) ballistic missile activities or they complain that these restrictions are not permanent.

A Much Lower Threat From Iran’s Ballistic Missiles

There are many potential hurdles to implementation of the JCPOA; surviving U.S. Congressional scrutiny over the next sixty days is the most imminent. But it is important to consider how carrying out the nuclear deal is likely to affect Iran’s potential ballistic missile capabilities during the coming decade.

First and foremost, the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons, thus ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear warhead capable of being delivered via ballistic missile. This renders Iran's ballistic missiles a far less of a threat to regional and international security.

Second, even without the nuclear weapons constraints in the JCPOA, the reality of Iran’s ballistic missile program has never quite lived up to its reputation. Iran never developed or flight-tested a long-range ballistic missile; it has never even asserted a need to build one. This professed disinterest stands in contrast to Tehran’s boastful posture with regard to many other home-grown weapons programs and its explicit justification for medium-range missiles as a deterrence against Israeli attack.

In fact, after developing a modest inventory of relatively inaccurate medium-range ballistic missiles, Iran seems to have put most of its recent energies into improving the performance of shorter-range missile systems, more relevant to Iran’s immediate neighborhood around the Persian Gulf. No medium-range missiles have flown since 2012; even the long-awaited Simorgh space-launch vehicle, with technology relevant to a longer-range ballistic missile, has yet to appear. Although “death to America” may still be heard during Friday prayers in Tehran, neither the nuclear warhead nor the delivery vehicle for administering such a blow is being built.

Now, with both the JCPOA’s impediments to pursuing nuclear weapons and the new UN Security Council resolution extending restrictions on nuclear-capable ballistic missile activity and missile trade years into the future, the potential magnitude of the Iranian ballistic missile threat has been significantly reduced. —Greg Thielmann


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


For more than a decade, the possibility of Iran developing nuclear warheads for its medium-range ballistic missiles has been at the top of U.S. security worries for the region...

Country Resources:

Strengthening Congressional Oversight of 123 Agreements



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


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

Country Resources:

Under a Microscope: Monitoring and Verification in an Iran Deal



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


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.

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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The Lausanne Framework and a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran



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


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.

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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