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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Kelsey Davenport

WEBINAR: "The Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the NPT"

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Thursday, October 1, 2020
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time
via Zoom webinar 

The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has led Iran to retaliate by exceeding key nuclear limits set by the deal. The U.S. strategy has hobbled but not unraveled the agreement and increased tensions with Iran and the international community. Unless Washington and Teheran return to compliance, however, the deal could collapse entirely creating a serious new nuclear crisis in the region.

In this edition of the “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Arms Control Association, our panelists reviewed the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the global nonproliferation system and the upcoming 10th Review Conference of Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Panelists:

  • Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association;
  • Ellie Gerenmyah, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; and
  • Emad Kiyaei, Director, Middle East Treaty Organization (METO)

Our next webinar in the Critical NPT Issues series will address steps to fulfill Article VI of the NPT. We encourage you to sign up to receive invitations to future webinars and other updates from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Arms Control Association.

RESOURCES

For more information on the JCPOA, subscribe to the P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert from the Arms Control Association, which provides periodic news and analysis on the negotiations and implementation of the nuclear deal. 

If you want to follow discussions on nuclear weapons during the 2020 session of the UNGA First Committee, subscribe to the First Committee Monitor, a publication of WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will, or visit their resource page for more information.

 

Description: 

In this edition of our “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series, we will review the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the upcoming NPT Review Conference.

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U.S., Allies Spar Over Iran Sanctions


October 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States threatened to sanction any country that does not enforce UN restrictions on Iran that the Trump administration claims were reimposed last month, but the UN secretary-general said he will not take any steps to implement those measures, and other states dismissed U.S. claims as invalid.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media in Brussels on Sept. 21. He indicated that month that the United States has no standing to demand the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)UN sanctions on Iran were lifted or modified in 2016 as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the seven-party deal that limited Iran’s nuclear activities. Recently, the Trump administration asserted on Sept. 19 that the sanctions had been restored after the United States initiated a so-called snapback mechanism, created by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which contains language allowing participants in the nuclear deal to reimpose UN sanctions in a manner that cannot be vetoed. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018 has created a dispute over U.S. standing to demand the return of UN sanctions under the terms of Resolution 2231.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sept. 19 that the United States expects “all UN member states to fully comply with their obligations under these reimposed restrictions.” Pompeo said failure to do so would result in the United States using “domestic authorities to impose our consequences for those failures.” He later threatened that “no matter who you are, if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions.”

But Reuters reported on Sept. 19 that UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council in a letter that due to “uncertainty” over the status of the UN sanctions, he will not take any action to implement the measures. Guterres said that “it is not for the secretary-general to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists.”

The same day, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted the U.S. “illegal and false ‘deadline’ has come and gone” and that Security Council “member states continue to maintain [the] U.S. is NOT a JCPOA participant, so its claim of ‘snapback’ is null and void.”

The United States issued a snapback notification to the Security Council president and Guterres on Aug. 20, but Security Council members, including the presidents in August and September, rejected the Trump administration’s claim that it was entitled to use the mechanism in Resolution 2231 to reimpose UN sanctions. The Trump administration took that step after it failed to pass a Security Council resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October according to the terms of the nuclear deal and Resolution 2231. (See ACT, September 2020.)

The United States argues that it is still listed as a participant in the nuclear deal under Resolution 2231, despite having withdrawn from the accord. The Security Council presidents and other Security Council members, including the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, have argued that the United States lacks the standing to trigger a snapback, despite still being listed as a JCPOA participant.

In a Sept. 18 letter to the Security Council, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said the U.S. snapback is “incapable of having any legal effect” due to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA.

France, Germany, and the UK, along with Russia and China, are all parties to the JCPOA and sit on the Security Council.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the group of JCPOA participants known as the P4+1, said on Sept. 19 that “sanctions-lifting commitments under the JCPOA continue to apply.” He also referred to a Sept. 1 statement after a meeting of the P4+1 and Iran, which noted that the United States has not participated in JCPOA-related activities since it withdrew in May 2018 and “therefore could not be considered as a participant state.”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN tweeted more bluntly “Is Washington deaf?” and noted that “we all clearly said in August that U.S. claims to trigger snapback are illegitimate.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed his appreciation at the UN General Assembly for the Security Council’s “decisive and resounding” rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. The United States is in “self-created isolation,” he said on Sept. 22.

Despite the widespread rejection of the U.S. claim that UN sanctions were reimposed, the Trump administration issued a Sept. 21 executive order aimed specifically at sanctioning entities that engage in conventional arms trade with Iran. The order stated that “transfers to and from Iran of arms or related materiel or military equipment represent a continuing threat to regional and international security.”

It is unclear why the Trump administration issued the order, as existing U.S. authorities already allow the president to sanction arms transfers to and from Iran.

Iran views UN sanctions relief, specifically the expiring arms embargo, as one of the few remaining benefits of continued participation in the nuclear deal after the United States withdrew and reimposed U.S. sanctions in May 2018.

But given the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s arms sales, which remained in place even when the United States was a participant in the JCPOA, the EU embargo on Iranian arms sales, and other UN measures that prohibit arms sales to Lebanon and Yemen, Iranian arms transfers will still face a number of restrictions once the UN embargo expires in October.

The United States also announced on Sept. 21 specific sanctions against individuals that are “directly involved” in Iran’s production of enriched uranium in excess of the nuclear deal’s commitments and individuals involved in Iranian-North Korean missile cooperation.

Iran initially threatened to retaliate if the UN snapped back sanctions on Iran, but did not immediately announce any new steps to violate the accord or ratchet up existing nuclear activities in response to the Trump administration’s actions. The near-universal rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose the UN measures appears to have mollified Tehran.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Sept. 21, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif underscored Iran’s continued commitment to the nuclear deal and its willingness to return to full implementation if all parties do the same.

Iran will “absolutely not” renegotiate the JCPOA, he said, but a “more for more” deal may be possible if the United States commits under the nuclear deal “that it will not violate it again, that it will not make demands outside the scope of the deal, [and] that it will compensate Iran for the damages.”

The Trump administration has failed to win support for its effort to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.

India Tests Hypersonic Missile


October 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

India has tested an indigenously built hypersonic weapon that will serve as the basis for a nuclear-capable cruise missile, according to officials involved with the launch. Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said the Sept. 7 test was a success and described it as a “landmark achievement” that contributes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of India becoming self-sufficient.

India displays its Brahmos missile, developed jointly with Russia, in 2018. In September, India tested a different hypersonic cruise missile that was designed and developed indigenously. (Photo: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)India is involved in developing a hypersonic cruise missile in cooperation with Russia. That system, known as the Brahmos II, is based on a supersonic cruise missile. The system tested in September, however, is designed and built indigenously.

Hypersonic weapons travel faster than five times the speed of sound. There are generally two categories of hypersonic weapons, cruise missiles powered by engines, and glide vehicles, which are launched nearly into space before diving back down to their targets.

Proponents of hypersonic cruise missiles, which India is pursuing, say they have several advantages over ballistic missiles. Hypersonic cruise missiles are maneuverable and fly at lower altitudes, making them more difficult to detect, whereas ballistic missiles fly on more predictable trajectories. These characteristics, however, may also make hypersonic weapons more destabilizing as they reduce response time and blur the lines between nuclear and conventional capabilities.

India first launched its hypersonic vehicle in June 2019, but the test failed.

The hypersonic vehicle India tested is powered by a supersonic combustion ram jet, or scramjet, engine after being launched by a solid-fueled ballistic missile rocket motor. The test vehicle flew at an altitude of 30 kilometers at six times the speed of sound for about 20 seconds after separating from the launcher, according to reports from the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which developed the system.

This test, which was conducted from Dr. Abdul Karem Island in the Bay of Bengal, “met all technical parameters,” according to DRDO chief G. Satheesh Reddy and paves the way for more advanced hypersonic systems.

A DRDO statement said that India plans to conduct another three tests in the next five years “to make this platform into a fully-fledged hypersonic weapon that is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.”

The DRDO statement said that the test launch “proved several critical technologies including aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic maneuvers.”

Maneuverability is seen as an asset for evading missile defenses.

India appears increasingly focused on developing a deterrent to Chinese capabilities, which may be driving the pursuit of hypersonic cruise missiles.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists involved with developing the hypersonic systems and noted that “very few countries have such a capability today.”

China, Russia, and the United States are all developing hypersonic weapons and have conducted successful tests of their systems.

Displaying its technological abilities, India successfully flew an indigenously designed hypersonic cruise missile for the first time.

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Nations Rebuff U.S. on Iran


September 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

UN Security Council members dismissed the Trump administration’s August attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, saying that the United States has no standing to do so after Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal that capped Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2019. Zarif recently criticized U.S. efforts to snap back UN sanctions that have eased as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)Iran threatened to take action if the Trump administration attempted to snap back UN sanctions, but Tehran might refrain from doing so after a number of council members, including the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, rejected the U.S. move as illegal.

On Aug. 20, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified UN Security Council President Dian Triansyah Djani of Indonesia that the United States was demanding all UN sanctions on Iran be reimposed under a mechanism in the Security Council resolution that supports implementation of the nuclear deal.

Resolution 2231, passed unanimously by the council in July 2015, endorses the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and modifies UN sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo that is set to expire in October. It contains a provision that allows participants in the nuclear deal to snap back sanctions on Iran within 30 days if Tehran is not meeting its obligations under the agreement. The provision is written in such a way that the snapback cannot be vetoed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Aug. 20 letter to Djani that “the reckless and unlawful U.S. position disregards well-established rules of international law,” requesting that Djani “refrain from receiving and circulating the inadmissible U.S. notification” on snapback.

The Trump administration notified the Security Council of its intent to snap back sanctions after a U.S. resolution extending the arms embargo on Iran failed to pass the council on Aug. 14. Only the Dominican Republic voted with the United States. Russia and China voted against the resolution. The remaining 11 members abstained, including JCPOA participants France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who have traditionally supported the United States in security matters.

Pompeo said the council’s failure to pass the resolution is “inexcusable,” whereas Zarif described the vote as “miserable failure of U.S. diplomatic malpractice.”

Pompeo said in an Aug. 20 press briefing that triggering the snapback of UN sanctions is now necessary because the United States will “never allow” Iran to freely buy and sell conventional weapons. He said the United States is confident that the sanctions will come back into effect in 30 days and that “we’re going to do everything we can to enforce them.”

Pompeo cited Iran’s violations of the accord as the rationale for the snapback.

Iran announced in May 2019 that it would “reduce compliance” with its obligations under the JCPOA in response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions in May 2018.

Iran’s breaches have been well documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the European parties to the JCPOA triggered the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism to try and address them in January. However, the remaining parties to the nuclear deal argued that the United States does not have standing to reimpose UN sanctions using Resolution 2231.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Djani, the three European participants in the JCPOA—France, Germany, and the UK, known as the E3—said they do not consider the U.S. notification effective because the United States “ceased to be a JCPOA participant in 2018.”

They argued that the U.S. notification is “incapable of having legal effect” and that any outcome from the U.S. request to snap back “would also be devoid of any legal effect.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said on Aug. 20 that Russia “will challenge” the Trump administration because the United States does not have “the legal right or the reason” to initiate snapback.

An Aug. 20 statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the United States has “no legal ground” to reimpose sanctions, and therefore China does not consider the snapback to have been invoked. The move is “nothing but a political show,” it said.

The Trump administration argues that it is entitled to snap back because the United States is still listed as a JCPOA participant in the text of Resolution 2231 even though the United States is no longer party to the nuclear deal.

When U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, however, he said that the United States is no longer a participant. Then-National Security Advisor John Bolton also dismissed a snapback as an option, noting that the United States is no longer in the JCPOA. He reiterated his opposition to a snapback in a Wall Street Journal commentary on Aug. 16, saying that “[i]t’s too cute by half to say we’re in the nuclear deal for purposes we want but not for those we don’t.”

In May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised a “crushing” response if the arms embargo is extended. Iran views the lifting of the arms embargo as one of the few remaining benefits of staying in the JCPOA.

Yet, at an Aug. 20 press conference, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iranian ambassador to the UN, appeared to downplay the likelihood of Iran responding by taking further action on its nuclear program. Although he said Iran has legal options on the table to respond to a snapback, he noted that the United States is isolated within the Security Council on this issue and expressed confidence that the U.S. request for reimposition will be rejected.

The E3 did express “serious concerns about the implications for regional security” when the arms embargo expired and said they are ready to work with the Security Council to address those concerns. The E3 sought a compromise solution to the arms embargo issue, but Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, appeared to rebuff those efforts in June, saying the U.S. position was that the embargo needed to be extended indefinitely.

Pompeo accused the E3 of choosing to “side with ayatollahs” in his Aug. 20 remarks and said their actions “endanger” people in the region and their own citizens.

Trump also turned down a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin for a virtual heads-of-state meeting to “in order to outline steps that can prevent confrontation” at the UN and to “facilitate the emergence of reliable mechanisms in the Persian Gulf region for enduring security and confidence building.”

Bloomberg revealed in August that Iran informed the IAEA of its intention to install three cascades of advanced centrifuges at its underground fuel-enrichment facility at the same location.

A July 21 report from the IAEA seen by the Arms Control Association stated that the three cascades in question were being moved from the pilot plant at Natanz. Iran has installed and is operating advanced machines in violation of JCPOA limits, but given that these machines were already enriching uranium, the move does not appear likely to increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

 

U.S. Names New Special Representative for Iran

Elliott Abrams will take over as U.S. special representative for Iran following the departure of Brian Hook, who will be leaving the State Department soon, according to an Aug. 6 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Appointed to the position more than two years ago, Hook has “achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime,” Pompeo said, setting in motion “a range of new strategies that advanced the national security interests of the United States.” Hook played a prominent role in pushing the U.S. maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which has not led to new negotiations with Tehran, the stated aim of the policy.

Abrams currently serves as special representative for Venezuela, a role he will retain in addition to his responsibilities on Iran. Abrams served as deputy national security advisor during the George W. Bush administration and worked at the State Department during the Reagan administration. While at the State Department in the 1980s, he became embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved a secret attempt to sell arms to Iran, which was subject to an embargo, and divert funds from the sale to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Seyyed Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, tweeted on Aug. 7 that there is “no difference” between Hook and Abrams regarding U.S. policy toward Iran.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States found nearly no support in its efforts to sanction Iran.

South Korea to Pursue Military Satellites


September 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea and the United States agreed to new guidelines in July allowing Seoul to develop solid fuels for space launch vehicles, which officials say they will use to launch military satellites to monitor North Korea.

South Korea's Naro space launch vehicle rockets successfully to orbit in January 2013. A new U.S.-South Korean agreement will allow Seoul to import solid-fuel rocket technology for its space launch vehicles. (Photo: Korea Aerospace Research Institute/Getty Images) South Korea had been previously prohibited from solid-fuel development under a 1979 agreement between Seoul and Washington that limited South Korean missile and rocket activities. Those guidelines have been revised several times to allow South Korea to extend the range and increase the payload of its ballistic missiles, but this is the first time Seoul will be able to develop and produce solid and hybrid fuels.

Although the use of solid fuel is restricted to space launches and cannot be used for ballistic missiles under the agreement, South Korea intends to use the more powerful rockets for launching satellites with military surveillance capabilities.

Kim Hyun-chong, deputy national security adviser, said in a July 28 press conference that the South Korean military needs “unblinking eyes” to monitor the Korean peninsula. South Korea has launched observational satellites in the past, but it does not have any military satellites in orbit and relies on satellite images shared by the United States.

Kim said Seoul “will soon have many low-orbit military satellites with excellent surveillance capabilities” allowing for 24-hour monitoring of the region.

North Korea criticized South Korea for its “evil intentions” on Aug. 2 and accused the country of increasing tensions. Pyongyang said Seoul’s steps to enhance its military power and increases in military spending are incompatible with pursing peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

The agreement has led to speculation that South Korea may use the solid-fuel technology for ballistic missiles down the road. Solid-fueled rocket motors can be launched more quickly, making preemption more difficult, and the fuel is more cost effective.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for “missile sovereignty” on July 29, the day after the revised guidelines were announced, but did not detail what that means for the future of the country’s ballistic missile program.

Kim indicated that South Korea may pursue an extension of the current range limits for its ballistic missiles, noting that the question will be “resolved in due time.” The original 1979 agreement limited South Korea to ballistic missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload to a range of 300 kilometers. In 2012 the two countries agreed to extend the range to 800 kilometers, and the payload restriction was eliminated in a 2017 agreement. (See ACT, November 2012.) The 800-kilometer range allows South Korea to target any part of North Korea.

South Korea also announced plans to pursue a new system to intercept North Korea’s long-range artillery, according to the country’s recently released defense blueprint for 2021–2025. The system will be indigenously developed, but based on Israel’s Iron Dome.

North Korea is believed to have stationed large caliber artillery along the border between the two countries that is capable of targeting Seoul.

The new system will “focus on protecting the capital area,” according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

 

Under a revised U.S.-South Korean agreement, Seoul will be allowed to developed solid-fueled space-launch vehicles.

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