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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Kelsey Davenport

The Trump Administration’s Failing Iran Policy Is Spurring Troubling Retaliatory Actions by Iran

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Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy 
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2019

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Iran announced Monday that in 10 days it will exceed a limit on enriched uranium set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.

Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced June 17 that Iran has quadrupled its production of 3.67 percent enriched uranium and will cross the limit of 300 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to that level set by the nuclear deal in 10 days. Iran first threatened to breach this cap May 8, one year after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the agreement.

While any violation of the deal is concerning, breaching the limit on low-enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Currently, as a result of restrictions put in place by the deal, it would take Iran about 12 months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. That timeline will decrease if Iran produces enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms, but it takes roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent in gas form to produce enough weapons-grade uranium (over 90 percent enriched uranium-235) for one bomb.

However, Kamalvandi also reiterated that if the Europeans, Russia, and China do not take additional steps to secure sanctions relief envisioned by the deal by July 7, Iran will take actions that pose a more significant and immediate proliferation risk.

Kamalvandi noted that Iran is considering two scenarios for increasing the level of uranium enrichment beyond the 3.67 percent cap set by the deal. He said Iran may pursue five percent enrichment for its operating nuclear power reactor at Bushehr or 20 percent enrichment to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor. These steps would shorten the time it takes Iran to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.

While Iran’s frustration with Trump's reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal. It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement and to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s more intrusive monitoring and verification.

We also urge the Trump administration to rethink its failing Iran’s policy, which has put an effective nonproliferation agreement in jeopardy, increasing the risk of a new nuclear crisis and the threat of conflict in the region.

It may still be possible to save the nuclear deal, which has successfully blocked Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Doing so will require Tehran’s continued compliance with the accord and for the remaining parties to the agreement to ratchet up efforts to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran and to pressure the United States to return to compliance with its commitments. Such developments could serve as a foundation for the United States and Iran to engage in negotiations that address other areas of tension in the region.

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Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.

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Iran Threatens to Breach Nuclear Deal


June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran will no longer adhere to certain limits of the 2015 agreement that restricts its nuclear activities, the government announced on May 8, threatening to breach other restrictions if the states party to the agreement do not deliver the deal’s envisioned economic benefits.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, shown here at a February meeting in Russia, announced May 8 that Iran would no longer be bound by certain limits under the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Sergei Chirikov/AFP/Getty Images)The announcement came exactly one year after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and began to reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement. Over the past year, U.S. President Donald Trump and other administration officials have escalated their use of bellicose language as they implement their strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described Iran’s proposed steps as a reduction in compliance with the deal and emphasized that Tehran is not withdrawing from the JCPOA. He said Iran made this decision because it has received little economic benefit under the deal despite its continued compliance. Rouhani said Iran has no interest in waging war but “will not give in to bullying.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the announcement as ambiguous and said the United States will “have to wait to see what Iran’s actions actually are” before responding. A State Department press release on May 8 called the decision “a blatant attempt to hold the world hostage” and said Washington would build on its pressure campaign.

The remaining five parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) urged Iran to continue complying with the agreement, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed the “irresponsible behavior” of the United States for creating an “unacceptable situation.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the three European countries party to the deal rejected “any ultimatums” from Iran and said they would continue to assess Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA based on whether the country is meeting its nuclear commitments. The statement did not indicate what actions the European Union and the three European states might take if Iran does breach the deal.

Iran’s announcement by the Supreme National Security Council said Tehran would begin to store more heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEU) than the nuclear deal allows. Specifically, the JCPOA permits Iran to stockpile no more than 130 metric tons of heavy water and 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 3.67-percent uranium-235.

Any breach of the JCPOA limits would violate the deal, but the initial steps Iran announced do not pose an immediate proliferation risk. Heavy water is used to moderate certain types of reactors that can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and Iran is far from completing such a reactor.

If Iran exceeds the stockpile limit on LEU, it would reduce the time needed for Tehran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, known as the breakout time, but the 3.67-percent enrichment level is significantly below the 90-percent level considered to be weapons grade. Iran’s current breakout time is estimated at about 12 months. Prior to the JCPOA, it was two to three months.

Iran’s May 8 statement noted that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation” of the JCPOA.

Tehran attributed its decision to the systematic campaign by the United States to deny Iran sanctions relief provided by the deal. Most recently, the Trump administration announced on April 22 that it would no longer grant waivers permitting states to buy limited amounts of oil from Iran, cutting off Iran’s largest export commodity and a key source of currency.

Following that decision, on May 3, the United States announced it would end several waivers for nuclear cooperation activities, including provisions that allowed Iran to store excess heavy water overseas and ship out enriched uranium. Waivers for several other nuclear cooperation projects were granted and will proceed for now.

Rouhani implied that the U.S. decision to target the sale or storage of enriched uranium and heavy water was forcing Iran into breaching the limits. Although the JCPOA allows for Iran to sell excess heavy water and enriched uranium, the country has other options for staying below the caps set by the JCPOA.

The additional steps that Iran threatened, which would begin 60 days after the May 8 announcement if the remaining JCPOA parties are not able to facilitate further oil sales or establish banking relations, pose a more significant proliferation risk. Those steps include restarting work on Iran’s heavy-water reactor and enriching uranium to 20-percent uranium-235.

Uranium enriched to 20 percent is still far below what is considered to be weapons grade, but significantly less work would be required to enrich that material to the 90-percent level than is needed to enrich uranium from 3.67 percent to 20 percent, further shortening Iran’s breakout time.

Restarting construction on the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak would not pose a short-term risk, as the reactor is years away from operating, but would still create concerns because the facility’s original design was capable of producing enough plutonium for approximately two nuclear weapons every year.

The nuclear deal required Iran to modify the reactor to produce much less plutonium annually, to refrain from separating any plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel, and to ship out all spent fuel for 15 years. If Iran begins construction based on the modified design, it poses far less of a proliferation risk.

The remaining JCPOA parties have tried to preserve the economic benefits envisioned by the agreement, but efforts have been slow. Despite EU efforts to block the implementation of U.S. sanctions on European companies, the threat of U.S. sanctions and the risk of penalties has pushed most entities out of Iran. It is unclear if the EU, China, and Russia will be able to meet Iran’s demands.

The EU and Iran have set up a dedicated financial channel to facilitate transactions that are not subject to U.S. sanctions. When Mogherini first announced that such a mechanism would be created, she said it may be used to facilitate oil sales, but now European officials have stated that it will be limited to humanitarian trade. Although the mechanism has been set up, it is not yet functioning and is unlikely to be expanded to include oil trade within Iran’s 60-day timeline.

China appears to be the only state willing to risk U.S. sanctions by continuing to purchase oil from Iran. Beijing has been Iran’s largest oil customer, and China received a waiver from the United States in November to continue purchases for 180 days. The waiver ended May 2 and was not renewed, but an oil tanker owned by a Chinese bank left an Iranian port with 2 million barrels of oil on May 17. It is unlikely that this single shipment will be enough for Iran to refrain from following through on its threat to breach certain JCPOA limits, but it may indicate a willingness by some states to continue purchasing oil from Tehran.

If Iran does follow through on its threat to violate the deal, it will likely further escalate tensions between the United States and Iran.

National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in a May 5 statement that the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force were being deployed to the U.S. Central Command region in response to a number of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” Bolton said the move will “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

U.S. officials said Iranian-backed forces were behind May 12 attacks on oil tankers docked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, but offered little public evidence to support that assessment.

U.S. allies and members of Congress briefed on the intelligence have disagreed with Bolton’s characterization of it. British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, who serves as deputy commander of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State, said on May 15 there is no increase in the threat from Iran.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on May 21 that intelligence presented does not indicate that Iran is “taking unprovoked and offensive measures” against the United States and its allies.

Trump has repeatedly said that he does not want war with Iran, but tweeted on May 19 that “if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

Rouhani responded to Trump’s May 20 rhetoric, saying that the “situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that “economic terrorism and genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran.’”

One year after the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran says it will not abide by some of the agreement’s limits.

Kim Missile Tests Draw Muted U.S. Reaction


June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump played down North Korea’s decision to test a new short-range ballistic missile in May, and administration officials said the United States remains committed to negotiations with Pyongyang over the North’s nuclear weapons program. Neither Washington nor Pyongyang, however, appears willing to show a more flexible approach to talks, making it unclear when negotiations might resume.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) waves with China's Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Li Zhanshu following a September 2018 military parade which featured a missile that North Korea apparently tested May 4. (Photo: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea’s May 4 flight test of the new mobile missile marked the country’s first ballistic missile launch since it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the test, and the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported his “great satisfaction” with the drill. The missile, designated the KN-23, was tested again May 9.

The solid-fueled KN-23 can travel about 400 kilometers and appears to be the same system displayed in a 2018 North Korean military parade, according to missile analysts. Although North Korea has developed and deployed ballistic missiles with similar ranges, the KN-23’s features provide Pyongyang with new capabilities. The use of solid fuel makes the missile easier to transport and quicker to launch because the missile can be stored with the fuel loaded. North Korea’s other short-range ballistic missiles are mostly liquid-fueled systems that typically need to be fueled at the launch site.

The missile also flies at a lower trajectory and appears to be capable of maneuvering in flight, according to analysts and U.S. officials, making it more difficult to intercept using ballistic missile defenses. Development of a missile with this trajectory and maneuvering capability may be a response to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense systems that the United States deployed in South Korea in 2017.

North Korean media condemned a recent THAAD training exercise in South Korea on May 10, calling it “a military provocation” and saying that if the United States “truly wishes for peace on the peninsula,” it should “stop all acts of hostility” toward North Korea.

The May missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit any ballistic missile development or testing by North Korea, but the launches do not violate the voluntary moratorium on long-range ballistic missile testing that Kim announced in April 2018.

The Trump administration has touted the lull in missile testing and the announced moratorium as positive outcomes of the diplomatic process, and its response to the May tests has been subdued.

Trump said on May 10 that he did not consider the missile tests a “breach of trust” between himself and Kim and said the relationship remains strong. Trump said he knows that North Korea wants to negotiate but may not be ready to resume talks right now.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the missile tests did not pose a threat to the United States or its allies in the region. Pompeo said that there is still “an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome” on denuclearization, but did not provide any detail on the U.S. approach to advance diplomacy.

Kims' decision to test the new missile was likely intended to send signals to the Trump administration, as well as a North Korean audience. After returning from the Hanoi summit without sanctions relief, Kim may have felt compelled to shore up domestic support and silence critics in North Korea that were skeptical of his approach to negotiations by demonstrating his resolve and continued commitment to North Korea’s security.

Components of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system arrive at Osan Air Base in South Korea in March 2017. The ballistic missile tested recently by North Korea may be designed to avoid interception by such defenses. (Photo: U.S. Forces Korea/Getty Images)The decision to resume missile testing without breaching the April 2018 moratorium may also have been designed to demonstrate that Kim’s ultimatum for negotiations is serious. Kim said in April that the United States must change its negotiating approach by the end of the year or face a “bleak and very dangerous” situation. Specifically, he called on the United States to pursue a new “methodology” for talks, likely a reference to North Korea’s rejection of the Trump administration’s preference for a comprehensive deal. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The test followed new U.S.-South Korean military drills that replaced larger, annual exercises that North Korea regularly criticized as provocative. Trump canceled those maneuvers in March, but Kim still denounced the scaled-down exercises in April and warned that North Korea was likely to respond to the exercises in kind.

Although the missile test may have been intended to signal North Korea’s resolve, it does not appear to have altered Trump’s approach to negotiations. It remains unclear how the administration plans to bridge the divide between the U.S. and North Korean negotiating positions.

The Trump administration continues to reiterate its preference for a comprehensive agreement that would require North Korea to agree to the end goal of the negotiations and dismantle its entire nuclear weapons infrastructure before receiving any U.S. sanctions relief.

In a May 19 Fox News interview, Trump again denounced North Korea’s preference for an incremental approach to denuclearization and provided some further insight into the differences that caused the abrupt end of the Hanoi summit in February. Trump said he wanted North Korea to dismantle five nuclear sites, whereas Kim was only willing to close one or two sites, and that offer was “no good.”

This detail supports commentary from U.S. and North Korean officials that Trump wanted a more comprehensive “big deal,” while Kim sought a more limited agreement on the Yongbyon nuclear facility. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The U.S.-North Korean relationship was further strained by the U.S. Justice Department’s May 9 announcement that the United States had seized a North Korean vessel, the Wise Honest, for its role in evading U.S. and UN sanctions. According to the May 9 press release, the vessel, which had been detained a year earlier in April 2018, had been involved in illicitly transporting coal and heavy machinery since 2016.

North Korea condemned the U.S. seizure as an “illegal and atrocious act of robbery” and said that Washington was acting in “complete denial of the basic spirit” of the Singapore summit declaration agreed by Trump and Kim at their first meeting in June 2018. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) North Korea said the United States should “return the vessel without delay” and consider “what kind of consequences will be caused by its gangster-like behavior.”

The Trump administration has consistently stated that it will enforce all sanctions on North Korea during negotiations. Nothing in the Singapore summit joint statement specifically states that Washington should refrain from sanctions enforcement.

The U.S.-North Korean stalemate has also slowed the inter-Korean process, but the two Koreas have begun preparations for a fourth summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim.

Moon also downplayed the impact of the missile launches on North Korea’s negotiations with the United States and the inter-Korean process. He said it does not violate the Panmunjom agreement between North and South Korea and characterized the test as an expression of “discontent” by Pyongyang. He said North Korea is “being careful not to disrupt the atmosphere for talks.”

 

Recent North Korean missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions, but President Trump appears eager to maintain talks.

Donald Trump's North Korea Strategy Is Not Working With Iran

News Source: 
Newsweek
News Date: 
May 23, 2019 -04:00

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Door to Diplomacy Remains Open Despite Missile Tests The next steps for U.S. diplomacy with North Korea remain unclear after Pyongyang tested several short-range ballistic missiles in early May. Despite the missile tests, South Korea and the United States urged a resumption of dialogue. North Korea, however, has said little about returning to talks since Chairman Kim Jong Un declared in April that he would give the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its approach to negotiations or face a "bleak and very dangerous" situation. North Korea tested a salvo of rockets May 4 (...
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