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I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb.

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
Greg Thielmann

Iran Nuclear Brief: Iran's Nuclear and Missile Programs as P5+1 Talks Resume

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September 20, 2013
By Greg Thielmann

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As negotiations are poised to resume between Iran and the six powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear program, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu.

For years now, the UN Security Council has demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment. Tehran continues to expand its nuclear program and insists it will never compromise its right to enrich, the United States continues to tighten sanctions on Iranian trade and finances, and alarms are raised about Iran being able to sprint to a nuclear bomb with little warning.

Yet, with a new Iranian president and negotiating team, there are grounds for cautious optimism that talks this time can be different. Although Iran continues to enrich uranium and add to its nuclear complex, time remains to negotiate an agreement that adequately guards against Iran building nuclear weapons.

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As negotiations are poised to resume between Iran and the six powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear program, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu.

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Senators' Exhortations Complicate Iran Solution

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Volume 4, Issue 9, August 8, 2013

By mid-September, P5+1 diplomats (from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will likely resume talks aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program with President Hassan Rouhani's new negotiating team. The talks represent an important opportunity to finally reach a deal that limits Iran's most worrisome uranium enrichment activities, obtains more extensive inspections to guard against a secret weapons program, and shows Iran a path toward phasing out international sanctions.

Unfortunately, in their attempt to encourage President Obama "to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process," a group of 76 Senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has sent a letter on August 2 to Obama that could undermine efforts to resolve the long-running dispute. The letter's prescriptions may prompt the same kind of counterproductive impact by Iran, which Paul Pillar predicted in The National Interest in response to House passage of H.R. 850, the "Nuclear Iran Prevention Act."

The Menendez-Graham letter emphasizes toughening sanctions and making military threats more credible, just as Iran installs a president elected on a platform of renewing diplomatic engagement and putting an end to international isolation. The senator's approach represents a serious misunderstanding of political realities in Iran and the nature of upcoming nuclear negotiations.

The June 2013 election results show that Iranians are dissatisfied by outgoing President Ahmadinejad's handling of the economy and the international isolation that has resulted from his confrontational policies. Newly-elected President Rouhani has signaled a willingness to accept greater transparency in Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for acceptance of Iran's rights to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This is the basic framework within which a negotiated resolution to the Iran nuclear crisis is possible.

With the tough economic sanctions now in place, and a broad political consensus holding among the six powers negotiating with Iran, the international community has the leverage it needs to achieve an acceptable agreement. However, the Senators' letter argues that more sanctions and more credible military threats will persuade Tehran to make a deal.

Sanctions have certainly affected Iran's economy and the government's risk/benefit calculations, but they will not by themselves halt Iran's nuclear program. It is fantasy to believe otherwise. The implementation of still tougher sanctions at the outset of renewed talks would harden Iran's resolve, fracture the P5+1 coalition, and dim the prospects for persuading Tehran to compromise.

Overt threats of military attack would be even more likely to undermine P5+1 solidarity and reduce the likelihood of Iran foregoing the nuclear weapons option. In any case, military action--short of a permanent occupation--cannot prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. In fact, military and intelligence experts agree that striking Iran's nuclear facilities would only delay Iran's program by two to three years and trigger an Iranian decision to openly build nuclear weapons.

Advances in Iran's enrichment capabilities and the start up of a new heavy water reactor next year make it important to reach a deal that limits Iran's bomb-making potential as soon as possible.

But the Senators' implication that "the time for diplomacy is nearing its end" is naïve and unhelpful. Given the deep distrust on both sides of the negotiating table, negotiations will not likely produce immediate results. Furthermore, security experts assess that if Iran chooses to actually build nuclear weapons, it would take at least a year and probably two or more years to produce enough fissile material, manufacture the warheads, and integrate them on ballistic missiles to field a credible arsenal.

The Senators' letter also calls for demanding Iran "move quickly toward compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment." U.S. policymakers must recognize that, although total and permanent suspension of enrichment would be an ideal way to facilitate achievement of an ultimate agreement, it is no longer feasible. Realists know that the negotiating issue at stake is not whether to allow enrichment, but rather the circumstances under which enrichment can occur.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already testified to Congress in March 2011 that Iran had a right to enrich under "very strict conditions." Today, the P5+1 is insisting on sufficient transparency for nuclear activities inside Iran so that the International Atomic Energy Agency can be confident Tehran is not developing nuclear weapons and on placing sufficient limitations on enrichment that Tehran has no quick break-out options.

The Senators also argue that the goal of U.S. policy should be that "we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability." This assertion ignores the fact that Iran already has the capability to develop nuclear weapons, according to the 2007 and subsequent assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community, but that the Tehran government has not made a decision to do so. It is reasonable to assume that Tehran wants to have an ability to build nuclear weapons quickly, but does not necessarily intend to leave the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Opinion polls in Iran indicate strong public support for Iran's "right" to enrich uranium, but only a minority of Iranians favor the building of nuclear weapons.

President Rouhani told reporters on August 6 that "Iran has a serious political will to solve the nuclear problem while protecting the rights of the Iranian people at the same time as it seeks to remove concerns of the other party." He also said a "win-win" outcome is possible. Yet Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, clearly suspects that the real U.S. goal in negotiations over the nuclear program is to achieve regime change in Tehran.

Khamenei may ultimately insist on keeping more nuclear options open to Iran than any deal the P5+1 could tolerate. But if the Iranian negotiators can strike a compromise acceptable to the six powers, Rouhani will need to convince the Supreme Leader and other regime elements that Iran's honor has been preserved and its national interests protected.

The Menendez-Graham letter may be well intentioned, but its emphasis on threats and demands is misplaced and ill-timed. As President Obama argued in March 2009, "[the diplomatic] process will not be advanced by threats." The president was right then and the advice resonates now more than ever.

The United States would be wise to seize the opportunity presented by Iran's new president, reinvigorating diplomatic efforts to secure a verifiable agreement-on the basis of realistic and achievable goals. In this way, Washington can ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and the United States does not again go to war. --GREG THIELMANN

[An earlier version of this article appeared in The National Interest, August 6, 2013]

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

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By mid-September, P5+1 diplomats (from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will likely resume talks aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program with President Hassan Rouhani's new negotiating team. The talks represent an important opportunity to finally reach a deal that limits Iran's most worrisome uranium enrichment activities, obtains more extensive inspections to guard against a secret weapons program, and shows Iran a path toward phasing out international sanctions.

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The Naval Nuclear Reactor Threat to the NPT

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By Greg Thielmann and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini
July 24, 2013

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The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has long been a critical bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons. Although preventing the production and accumulation of fissile material is an important part of this effort, the NPT does not explicitly regulate the production, use, and disposition of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for naval nuclear reactors. This exclusion poses a growing risk to achieving the nonproliferation goals of the treaty. While seeking to advance prospects for a fissile material cutoff treaty, the United States is continuing to design naval reactors for the world’s largest nuclear submarine fleet that are powered with weapons-grade uranium. While proclaiming its renunciation of any nuclear weapons ambitions, Brazil plans to build six nuclear submarines powered by uranium fuel that may be close to weapons grade. Neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor important NPT member states have fully confronted the proliferation implications of excluding naval reactor fuel from safeguards. The IAEA and NPT members should take steps to minimize the use of HEU for any reason—a goal they declared just this month at a nuclear security conference in Vienna.

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Preventing the production and accumulation of fissile material is an important objective of nuclear nonproliferation efforts. Unfortunately, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) exempts the fuel used in naval propulsion reactors from the constraints the treaty otherwise applies to enriching uranium beyond the levels used in civilian power reactors. As the number of countries with nuclear-powered submarines expands, this exclusion poses a growing risk to achieving the nonproliferation goals of the treaty.

Understanding the 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report

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Volume 4, Issue 7, July 17, 2013

The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

Covering the period ending on December 31, 2012, the report provides no obvious basis for the conclusion rendered in a recent amendment adopted by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that Russia was "in active noncompliance with existing nuclear arms obligations."

The vague public charge repeatedly made by HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon appears to refer to more specific allegations in the press that a missile recently tested by Russia is a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Yet neither the Compliance Report nor the July 10, 2013 "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" assessment of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) identifies any Russian intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which the INF Treaty defines as missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km.

No Russian INF Missiles
With regard to the INF Treaty, the 2013 Compliance Report registers no issues of concern during the reporting period. This month's NASIC missile threat report says explicitly that "neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM [1,000-3,000 km range] or IRBM [3,000-5,500 km range] systems..." The NASIC report lists no Russian SRBM [<1,000 km range] with a range over 280 km.

Moreover, the missile threat report, the product of three Defense Department intelligence agencies, covers missiles under development, as well as those deployed. The absence of any Russian INF-category missiles in the report strongly implies that those observed in flight tests from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan (in October 2012 and June 2013) were the "New ICBM" NASIC lists with a range of 5,500+ km, and as "not yet deployed ."

With regard to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the 2013 Compliance Report certifies that Russia is in full compliance with the terms of the 2010 treaty. As in the case of every previous U.S.-Soviet or U.S.-Russian nuclear limitation treaty, implementation-related questions have been raised by both sides in the designated commission for discussing these issues, according to the report, and discussions are ongoing.

Russian Skies Not Completely Open
The 2013 report identifies four concerns, two of them new, regarding Russia's fulfillment of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty. This treaty establishes a regime for conducting unarmed observation flights by States Parties over the territories of other States Parties.

Specifically, the State Department report says that Russia has imposed: 1) restrictions on access by Open Skies aircraft to three areas: over Chechnya; in an air traffic control zone around Moscow; and along the border of Russia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions of Georgia that only Russia recognizes as independent countries; 2) air traffic control restrictions around Moscow that prevented flights or flight segments from taking place; and 3) airfield closures in support of holidays. Russia, the report notes, has also failed to provide a first generation duplicate negative of processed photographic film. Only the latter concern appears headed toward resolution, anticipating that Russia's future use of digital cameras will eliminate the need for negatives.

Through a Glass Darkly: BWC/CWC
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) section raises concerns about compliance with a number of countries, but conclusions are usually tentative or qualified. For example, "It remains unclear if Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article II..." and  "Syria may be engaged in activities that would violate its obligations under the BWC if it were a State Party to the Convention." These constructions are not surprising given the absence of a verification mechanism for the treaty.

As in last year's report, the United States assesses that Russia's Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) declaration is incomplete with respect to chemical agent and weapons stockpiles. In the absence of additional information from Russia, the United States is unable to ascertain whether Russia has declared all of its CW stockpile, all CW development and production facilities. Both the United States and Russia were unable to meet the convention's deadlines for eliminating chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles and facilities. In the "U.S. Compliance" section of the 2013 report, the authors artfully report only that the United States "continues to work towards meeting its CWC obligations with respect to the destruction of...[CW] and associated CW facilities."

Rogue's Gallery
Although the vast majority of states parties to arms control agreements are said to be complying with their commitments, the actions of North Korea, Iran, and Syria are   conspicuous for including multiple instances of noncompliance.

As in last year's report, the 2013 report again found North Korea to be in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in noncompliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement before its announced withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. North Korea's continued nuclear program development was judged to be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and of Pyongyang's commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.

Iran and Syria were said to be in violation of their obligations under the NPT and their IAEA Safeguards Agreements. As before, Iran was also cited for violating its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

In light of the U.S. assessment that Syria has used nerve gases against its domestic opposition in recent months, it is worth mentioning that Syria is not a party to the CWC, which prohibits such use. Moreover, although Syria is a party to the 1925 Protocol Against the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, that treaty does not prohibit use of chemical weapons within a state's own borders in a civil conflict. The Syrian case provides a dramatic reminder that absent arms control treaties and their verification mechanisms, the prospects for deterring, detecting and reversing behaviors unacceptable to the international community are much diminished.

An Encouraging Word on Burma
The concern expressed in last year's report about Burma's compliance with the NPT has eased. The 2013 report notes that Burma announced in November 2012 that it agreed to sign on to more intrusive IAEA inspection procedures, such as the Additional Protocol and that it would abide by certain UN Security Council resolutions on nonproliferation.

Compliance with the Global De Facto Nuclear Test Moratorium
The 2013 Compliance Report notes North Korea's 2013 nuclear weapons test explosion, but does not report any violation of the nuclear test moratoria, which have been declared by each of the five NPT nuclear weapon states since 1996, and by India and Pakistan beginning in1998.

Taking Arms Control Compliance Seriously
Compliance reports provide not only an important snapshot of contemporary issues regarding the implementation of arms control agreements; they also supply a valuable measure of progress over time and of relative performance between states parties. It is encouraging to see the Obama administration re-establishing executive branch fidelity to the congressional mandate for yearly reports--particularly after the previous administration managed to produce only two over an eight-year period.

Reviewing the content of the 2013 Compliance Report offers a reminder that adequate verification provisions and consultative mechanisms are prerequisites to meaningful monitoring and resolution of compliance issues. There is thus a symbiotic relationship between verifiable arms control agreements and conscientious efforts to monitor and report on compliance.

Although the U.S. Government's contributions to evaluating compliance are invaluable, any report by an individual national government can be subject to inherent limits on objectivity. Additional insights can be gained from such independent elaborations as the "2010-2013 Report Card" of the Arms Control Association on progress made by 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories. In this assessment, there are no straight "A"s to be seen. --GREG THIELMANN

1. 2013 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments; Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; Washington, DC, July 2013.

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

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The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

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Sorting Out the Nuclear and Missile Threats From North Korea

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By Greg Thielmann
May 2013

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Following condemnations by the international community of North Korea’s December satellite launch and February nuclear test, Pyongyang unleashed a furious barrage of rhetorical threats in March and April against the United States and South Korea. Now, the hot air war of the early spring appears to be over, despite the exercise launch of six short-range missiles by North Korea off its east coast in recent days and the ongoing visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to South Korea.

Yet North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear and missile capabilities continues, its political isolation from the international community deepens, and the United States is now stuck with a commitment to spend an additional billion-dollars on strategic missile defenses in Alaska. It is time to sort out what the threat actually is and what can be done about it.

 

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Following condemnations by the international community of North Korea’s December satellite launch and February nuclear test, Pyongyang unleashed a furious barrage of rhetorical threats in March and April against the United States and South Korea. Now, the hot air war of the early spring appears to be over, despite the exercise launch of six short-range missiles by North Korea off its east coast in recent days and the ongoing visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to South Korea.

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Panel Discussion “Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran”

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the launch of the Atlantic Council Task Force report on U.S. immediate and long-term strategy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. (To watch the complete event online go to  C-Span.org).
Washington, D.C.
April 4, 2013

I’m very happy to help launch the latest publication of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force.  I want to thank the Council for this report, as well as the “issue briefs” and panel discussions, which preceded it.

Today’s release is the latest in a number of quality reports on the Iran nuclear issue that have been published in the first quarter of 2013.

The Arms Control Association released a “briefing book” in February: “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”  I would also mention: the International Crisis Group’s “Spider Web” report on the Iran sanctions; the National Iranian-American Council’s report on how Iranian stakeholders view the sanctions; and the Carnegie Endowment’s report on the “Costs and Risks” of Iran’s nuclear program.

Building on its own previous findings, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force now recommends a long-term strategy to guide our policies on Iran.  I believe this report makes an important contribution to shaping an emerging consensus on how we should deal with Iran.

I will be offering some of my own perspectives today on the very difficult policy decisions we face in trying to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons.

In deference to proclivities developed during seven years as a State Department intelligence analyst, I will also try to register at least one dissenting footnote to the views of the majority.

Obstacles to negotiating a solution

It’s easy to get discouraged by recalling the history of our bilateral relations with Iran.  Both sides have missed opportunities.  Some of Iran’s grievances toward the United States predate any arguments over the nuclear program, but they are still obstacles to a nuclear solution.

If the historical baggage is heavy, contemporary concerns don’t seem very light either.  We are constantly reminded by the press and commentators that the sanctions have failed to convince the Iranians to change their policies and that time is running out.  Every quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency informs us how many more centrifuges Iran has installed, how much more enriched uranium Iran has accumulated and how uncooperative Iran has been in addressing the agency’s questions about suspicious past activities.

A political consensus seems to have formed in the United States around the notion that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be “unacceptable,” even as a debate rages about how close Iran should be allowed to get.

Although even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have extended his red line to next year, a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored by David Albright warns that Iran on its current trajectory will be able, by mid-2014, to assemble sufficient fissile material for a bomb within one to two weeks of an order from the Supreme Leader.

Some of you may have heard this past Monday at Brookings of the low expectations for the next round of negotiations from former White House official Gary Samore.  Samore predicted that there would be no agreement before Iranian elections in June, commenting that we have a long way to go before even a confidence-building-measure is possible.  Former EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana opined at the same event that it will be very difficult to resolve the nuclear issues while the Syrian political crisis rages.

Where are we now in negotiating a solution?

Samore did not, however, rule out a narrowing of differences when the parties meet tomorrow in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  And this is exactly what I would like to discuss next.  Where are we in negotiating necessary constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities?

By all accounts, February’s six power talks with Iran and the March meeting between the parties’ technical experts in Istanbul were constructive.  In a real sense, these talks are beginning to resemble real negotiations.

The initial focus of the six powers is on halting the growth in Iran's stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium that would provide the fastest route toward producing the fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran's principal objectives are to establish the legitimacy of uranium enrichment and to gain as much sanctions relief as possible, while keeping its future options open.

With Iran’s presidential elections less than three months away, it does not seem likely Iran would be inclined to cut a deal – even on a small, interim step.  Nonetheless, it is reasonable to hope for a further narrowing of differences that would bring the sides closer to taking that first step – an agreement that would build confidence and buy time for a more comprehensive settlement.

Agreement on dates and venues for continued talks would be a minimum acceptable outcome.  I expect at least this to happen, because neither side has an interest in giving the impression that the negotiating process had stalled.

What kind of an agreement?

This brings us to the task of identifying the substantive and procedural requirements for an interim agreement.

I would first suggest conceding Iran’s conditional “right” to enrichment.  Anyone interested in a negotiated settlement of the Iran nuclear issue knows that we cannot successfully achieve exceptional transparency measures and exceptional limitations on Iran’s nuclear program without accepting Iran’s ability to enrich some uranium for civilian power reactor fuel.  It would be helpful to more clearly telegraph this willingness to accept the obvious.  Demanding a halt to all enrichment does not give the United States leverage when the Iranians know full well it will ultimately be withdrawn; it just gives Tehran an excuse for diverting attention from the real issue -- Iran’s noncompliance with its obligations to the IAEA.

We must, of course, continue to stress the conditionality of uranium enrichment rights.  Though inalienable, NPT Article IV rights must be “in conformity with Articles I and II” of the treaty.

I would also suggest trying hard to separate the perfect from the good.  As an interim measure, it is more important to quickly achieve a modest but useful agreement that can be easily monitored than seeking up-front a better, more extensive and permanent limitation.

For example, there appears to be agreement in principle to stopping expansion of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile.  I would argue that achieving this immediate goal is more important than Tehran agreeing to move its stockpile to another country.  While imperfect, even conversion of the existing stockpile of uranium gas to the solid form used for fuel in the Tehran Research Reactor, would be a step forward.

Similarly, it seems to me that ending the production of medium grade uranium anywhere in Iran is more important than winning agreement to shutter the deep underground facility at Fordow.  The key question is frequency and ease of IAEA access to uranium enrichment facilities, not their location.

Finally we should drop the demand to shut down Fordow. It’s not very persuasive to argue for closure “because Fordow is too difficult for Israel to destroy.”

Although details are sketchy, the six powers are offering some relief to the ever-expanding web of sanctions, relaxing restrictions on gold trading and the sale of petrochemical products.  Perhaps implementation of certain EU sanctions could also be suspended, but the core sanctions must be maintained until Iran is ready to seal the deal.

The key for an interim agreement will be to find a package of sanctions relief proportionate to the concessions offered by Tehran – both in scale and reversibility.

The Big Picture

When an interim agreement has been achieved, negotiations can begin in earnest on measures to ensure transparency, resolve questions about past military activities, and on unwinding the sanctions.

We need to dwell not on what we most want, but on what we must have.  Maintaining six power cohesion remains a priority.  And we need to spend at least a little time worrying about how Iran’s negotiators will sell a negotiated agreement in Tehran, not just how it will go over in the U.S. Congress.

Footnote

And now for the footnote I promised.

The “military option” section includes, on the one hand, thorough lists of “grave” implications for a nuclear Iran, and on the other, of  “dire” consequences for a “premature military strike.”  I’m sure I join everyone in our audience today in fervently wishing for neither rather than either.

But I personally think the consequences of a nuclear Iran are somewhat overdrawn and description of consequences a little too torrid.

-- Why would an Iranian success in violating UN Security Council resolutions “shred” the NPT when North Korean violations have not?

-- Why should we believe an Iranian bomb would “threaten the very existence of Israel” when Yehud Barak does not?

Moreover, I’m not sure what it means to “ensure that the option of military strikes remains credible.”  Given the ramifications of an attack that would delay but not even prevent an Iranian bomb, I doubt that the United States hitting first with a unilateral “preventive attack” can ever be very credible.  Constantly repeating that “the military option is on the table” won’t make it so.

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I’m very happy to help launch the latest publication of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force.  I want to thank the Council for this report, as well as the “issue briefs” and panel discussions, which preceded it.

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Lessons for Handling Iran From the Sad Saga of Iraq

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By Greg Thielmann and Alexandra Schmitt
March 2013

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Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush said in a radio address to the nation: "It is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm." Eleven days later, he announced the invasion of Iraq to remove the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Hussein's brutal regime and to prevent their use by or transfer to terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. That no such weapons existed was less a symptom of flawed intelligence than the U.S. leaders' obsession with achieving regime change in Baghdad and their consequent willingness to distort evidence on WMD toward that end.

This distortion, along with failures by the press and Congress to exercise due diligence in evaluating the assertions of the executive branch, blinded the public to contravening information on Iraqi WMD that was readily available during the six weeks preceding the attack.

Ironically, the most important sources of this ignored information were the very inspectors that the international community had forced Iraq to readmit the previous fall. There are lessons here for current efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

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Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush said in a radio address to the nation: "It is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm." Eleven days later, he announced the invasion of Iraq to remove the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Hussein's brutal regime and to prevent their use by or transfer to terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. That no such weapons existed was less a symptom of flawed intelligence than the U.S. leaders' obsession with achieving regime change in Baghdad and their consequent willingness to distort evidence on WMD toward that end.

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Iran's Missile Program and Its Implications for U.S. Missile Defense

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By Greg Thielmann
January 2013

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Although plans for expanding U.S. strategic missile defenses focus on the Iranian ICBM threat, that threat is not emerging as was previously predicted.  Iran conducted no long-range ballistic missile tests in 2012 and has not flown even the larger space launch vehicle that it displayed two years ago, which could have helped advance ICBM technology.  Moreover, Tehran has still not decided to build nuclear weapons and continues to focus on short- and medium-range rather than longer-range ballistic missiles.

It is, therefore, time to adapt U.S. missile defense plans accordingly by suspending the fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. Doing so would remove an obstacle to negotiating further reductions in the strategic forces of Russia - the only country that poses an unambiguous existential threat to the United States.

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Although plans for expanding U.S. strategic missile defenses focus on the Iranian ICBM threat, that threat is not emerging as was previously predicted.  Iran conducted no long-range ballistic missile tests in 2012 and has not flown even the larger space launch vehicle that it displayed two years ago, which could have helped advance ICBM technology.  Moreover, Tehran has still not decided to build nuclear weapons and continues to focus on short- and medium-range rather than longer-range ballistic missiles.

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Time Is Now to Act on Treaties to Guard Against Nuclear Terrorism

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Volume 3, Issue 15, December 3, 2012

As the 112th Congress enters its final days, one of its critical priorities should be approving implementing legislation for two treaties that help raise the barriers against nuclear terrorism.

For more than a decade, U.S. defense and security leaders have warned that nuclear terrorism poses a severe threat to American security. The 9/11 Commission report stated, "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons."

During the 2004 presidential debates, the two candidates agreed that "the biggest threat facing the country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network." At the Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium in Washington, D.C., December 3, President Obama reiterated that "nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security."

The task now is for the United States and other key countries to implement the action steps necessary to get the job done.

At the first 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington, the Obama administration announced the acceleration of U.S. efforts to complete ratification procedures for the two treaties. It urged other countries to do the same.

Congress needs to act on the treaty legislation before it so that U.S. law will align with the norms Washington has been seeking to internationalize. The treaties, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, are common sense measures that enhance the world's ability to prevent incidents of nuclear terrorism and punish those responsible.

The amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials will add standards of protection for the storage and use of nuclear materials and strengthen existing measures for materials in transport, but the United States and other countries have to ratify the amendment before it can enter into force.

The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism creates an important legal framework to investigate, prosecute and extradite those who commit terrorist acts with dirty bombs, nuclear material or against nuclear facilities. Such a framework is necessary for effective international action against nuclear terrorists.

As Andy Semmel, a senior State Department official under George W. Bush, recently noted that these treaties "would strengthen the ability of the United States and, ultimately, the international community, to fight the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism and help prevent nuclear proliferation."

By approving these measures, the United States will set a positive example that can influence the actions taken by other nations and help achieve the ambitious goals that the United States endorsed at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012. One of these goals is entry into force of the amendment for the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials by 2014.

After strong backing for the treaties from the president and his predecessor, the House of Representatives finally passed compromise implementing legislation earlier this year with broad bipartisan support. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan) urged prompt passage of their bill in a November 14 letter to the Senate leadership. They explained in the letter that they had "worked together closely, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to carefully craft bipartisan legislation to finally achieve implementation of the critical treaties."

However, rather than facilitating swift Senate action on the treaties, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) slowed the process in the Judiciary Committee by seeking amendments on issues his Republican colleagues in the House had already set aside.

The Grassley amendments are peripheral to the requirements for effective action against nuclear terrorism at home and potentially counter-productive for spurring other states to adopt necessary measures. His insistence on imposing the death sentence in terrorism cases is especially ill-advised considering opposition from most of the world's democracies and ironic from a senator whose own state eliminated capital punishment from its laws in 1965.

Without fast-track treatment by the Senate of the bipartisan bill from the House, there will be no action on the treaties in the current Congress and possibly none in the next. And U.S. inaction will have a negative impact on progress against nuclear terrorism by other countries. As terrorist groups ramp up their attempts to acquire nuclear material, failure to expeditiously support international measures to cope with this threat is irresponsible.

Members of the current Congress confront an enormous challenge in quickly overcoming the rancor of the election campaign to attend to the nation's business over the few weeks remaining in the current session. Passing the bipartisan legislation from the House on the nuclear terrorism treaties would be an excellent start.--GREG THIELMANN

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

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As the 112th Congress enters its final days, one of its critical priorities should be approving implementing legislation for two treaties that help raise the barriers against nuclear terrorism.

A Preventive War Against Iran? Sound Familiar?

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
September 20, 2012

Today is very close to the tenth anniversary of my retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service.  I remember very well the national mood at that time.  The country was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks one year earlier and the George W. Bush Administration was associating al-Qaida, which had perpetrated the attacks, with Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Baghdad, which had nothing to do with them.  That spring, the president had dubbed Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of an “axis of evil,” bent on developing weapons of mass destruction.  The president had announced a change in U.S. military doctrine, arguing that the nation had to be ready to strike first at countries, which might pose a WMD threat in the future.  Congress, meanwhile, was funding Iraqi opposition groups seeking regime change.

And exactly ten years ago today, the once and future prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote theses words in The Wall Street Journal:

[Saddam Hussein] is a dictator who is rapidly expanding his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, who has used these weapons of mass destruction against his subjects and his neighbors, and who is feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons. …

Two decades ago it was possible to thwart Saddam's nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation. Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Now I know that there is a difference between Iraq and Iran – and that it is more than the last letter of a four-letter word.  But I also recall Mark Twain’s comment that: although “history does not repeat itself, it does rhyme.”

I want to speak today about the rhyme and reason of Iran’s nuclear program, which has so bedeviled our already difficult bilateral relationship.

Once upon a time, about a century ago, the United States stood high in the esteem of Iranians.  One martyr to the cause of Iranian democracy in 1909 was a 24-year old Nebraskan named Howard Baskerville.  He died in defense of the young constitution of Iran, fighting counter-revolutionaries near Tabriz.  In 1911, a 34-year old American named Morgan Shuster became a hero of Iranian democracy while serving as Treasurer General of the Persian Empire when, answering only to the Persian Parliament, he defied the imperial demands of Russia and Britain.

Through the Second World War, the United States was perceived as the anti-colonial power.  Alas, in the post-World War II era, the U.S.-Iranian relationship suffered two major traumas.  At the top of every Iranian’s grievance list is the U.S./British-engineered coup in 1953 against the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, who had led a nationalization of Iran’s oil industries.  In his place, we installed the young Shah Reza Pahlavi.

For Americans, the searing national memory was the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the holding of 53 hostages for 444 days.  (The latter episode was twice personal for me – as a young U.S. diplomat and as someone who knew one of the hostages as my student teacher in high school.)

We do not have time to list all of the grievances carefully nurtured by both sides, but I will try to summarize the nuclear dispute, which is bringing us close to war.  The Iranians have long held grand (or grandiose) plans for a nuclear power industry, which would also provide the infrastructure for building nuclear weapons.  The Shah nonetheless signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (or NPT), under which Iran foreswore development of nuclear weapons – a commitment, which was later reaffirmed by the Islamic Republic and redefined as a religious as well as a legal obligation.  As part of the bargain, the NPT also affirms the right of its members to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy, contingent upon compliance with the safeguards procedures established in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (or IAEA).  It is not clear what the Iranian public’s views are on developing nuclear weapons, but there is solid public support for Iran’s nuclear program as the government defines it.

After the first war with Iraq (to liberate Kuwait), the IAEA found that it had underestimated the extent of Iraq’s illicit proliferation activity.  The agency subsequently developed a more rigorous regime, called the “Additional Protocol” to provide greater transparency for its members’ nuclear activities.  Most members have signed up to this protocol, but Tehran has not.  Iran is also not carrying out all requirements of its existing Safeguards Agreements with the IAEA.  For example, it has not provided the required advance notice to the IAEA for new construction – most conspicuously and consequentially, with regard to the uranium enrichment facility it had secretly burrowed into a mountain at Fordow.  Iran is not permitting timely access to some other nuclear facilities the agency requests to visit, such as the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak, which could be a future source of plutonium for weapons.  Also, it has not allowed the agency to adequately investigate suspicious past activities.  For these reasons, the IAEA is unable to provide assurances that Iran’s nuclear activities are only peaceful.

So the real issue with Iran is not the right to enrich uranium.  The UN Security Council has said that Iran must suspend, not end, enrichment while Iran resolves questions about past activities.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made clear in testimony to Congress that the United States will not oppose Iran’s enrichment of uranium under the right circumstances.

We do not know whether or not Tehran ultimately wants to build and deploy nuclear weapons, but it appears to be determined to build the infrastructure and cadre of experts that would give it the option of doing so.  The technical option of building the bomb is available to a number of non-nuclear weapons states – Japan and Germany being conspicuous examples.  (Either could build a deliverable nuclear weapons – probably within one year of deciding to do so.)  The most important thing for preventing proliferation is to ensure that states do not have the motivation to go nuclear and the ability to take action without being detected.  With the physical plant for producing fissile material and the human resources that could pull it off, Iran already has the means ultimately to become a nuclear weapons state.  It must be persuaded that such a course is not in its best interests.

The six powers negotiating with Iran – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, or the P5+1, are attempting to make that case.  Their strategy includes both increasing the costs of non-cooperation through economic and military sanctions and keeping the door open to compromises which would allow Tehran to recognize an outcome as beneficial and one that could be credibly portrayed as beneficial.

The three negotiating sessions in the first half of this year were an important beginning, but they have not yet yielded tangible results.  The heads of the respective sides met for a four-hour dinner in Istanbul earlier this week to discuss starting a new round of negotiations.  European High Representative Catherine Ashton called the meeting: “useful and constructive.”  The Iranian chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called it: “positive and fruitful.” These are more upbeat appraisals than heard at the end of the last group session in Moscow, but we must still wait for concrete results.

The crux of the strategy used to achieve the NPT’s nonproliferation objectives is to concentrate on denying states the means to obtain the weapons grade uranium or plutonium needed to construct nuclear weapons.  Getting the ingredients for the core of the weapons is generally assessed to be the most difficult part of nuclear bomb-making.  Although vigorous pursuit of activities permitted by the NPT will give states a legs-up, there would still be a long way to go to construct a weapon.

The P5+1 are therefore appropriately focused on halting and reversing Iran’s continuing production of uranium hexafluoride enriched to a U-235 isotope concentration of 20 percent. This is the isotope needed at a 90 percent enrichment level to produce the metallic core of a nuclear warhead. Unfortunately, at 20 percent, the uranium has already travelled 90 percent of the distance required to reach weapons grade. Even though civilian power reactors require only 3.5 percent enrichment, Iran claims it needs the higher level to refuel an ageing research reactor that makes medical isotopes.  Large stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium thus pose a much more rapid “breakout” option for Iran.

As a confidence building measure, the six powers renewed this year their offer from October 2009 to provide fuel elements for the research reactor.  But the updated condition this time is for Iran to stop production of 20 percent enriched, ship the stockpile out of the country, and shut down the Fordow facility.  This effort would give each side something it wants – for the six powers, elimination of the most imminent threat; for Iran, tacit acceptance of its right to enrich.  But the deal has not yet been clinched.  The Iranians also want sanctions relief up front, which the P5+1 cannot give without movement on the compliance issues which prompted the sanctions in the first place. And the six powers want to shut down Fordow, which the Iranians can hardly be expected to do, just because the facility is more difficult for aggressors to destroy.

The U.S. presidential election season is not a propitious time for offering compromises or even apparently for objective discussions of the status quo by the press.  Most U.S. commentary on the latest IAEA report, for example, carried alarmist headlines.  It did not highlight either the reduction in 20 percent stockpiles during the last quarter or the continuing absence of Iranian progress on advanced centrifuge installations.

My hope is that if we can keep the channel of communications open, maintain P5+1 unity on both sanctions and negotiating initiatives, and avoid distortions leading to war, we will have new opportunities for nonproliferation progress in 2013.  With an intelligence community that has improved its analytical tradecraft and an administration that has spoken more honestly to the American people than its predecessor, I think that we will be able to avoid a preventive attack.

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 20, 2012.

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