"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
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Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Kelsey Davenport

Iran is stockpiling uranium it could use to make a nuclear bomb. But don't panic just yet.

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March 4, 2020 -05:00

Europe Seeks to Avoid UN Iran Sanctions

March 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The three European parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal triggered the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism in January, potentially buying time to preserve the deal, but also increasing the risk that suspended UN sanctions on Iran could be snapped back. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said they had “no choice” but to initiate the process on Jan. 14 after Iran’s announcement nine days earlier of its fifth violation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the high representative of the European Union, attends an EU foreign ministers meeting in January. He later said that France, Germany and the UK will try to draw out the JCPOA dispute resolution mechanism to avoid referring Iran to the UN Security Council. (Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)Once commenced, the dispute resolution mechanism begins with a 15-day review by the JCPOA Joint Commission, the body created to oversee the deal’s implementation. If it cannot resolve allegations of noncompliance, the foreign ministers of the participating JCPOA countries have 15 days to resolve the complaint. At the same time, or in lieu of ministerial consideration, a three-member advisory board can issue a nonbinding recommendation that the Joint Commission can consider for five days. The time periods for consideration by the Joint Commission and at the ministerial level can be extended by consensus.

If no resolution is achieved, any JCPOA participant can then refer the dispute to the UN Security Council, but such a step is not an automatic consequence of the dispute resolution mechanism process.

The terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which eased UN sanctions against Iran after the JCPOA was negotiated, allow for those sanctions to be restored easily. Any council member may introduce a new resolution to continue lifting the sanctions, and if the resolution fails, the sanctions would be restored. The process thus bypasses the veto power of the council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States).

A referral to the Security Council would likely collapse the JCPOA as Tehran has threatened to withdraw from the JCPOA and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if the case ends up before the Security Council.

The Trump administration reportedly threatened to impose a tariff on European automobile parts imported to the United States if the three European nations failed to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism. Although the three said they decided to use the mechanism independently of U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat, the timing created speculation that they folded under pressure from the United States.

Their statement, however, emphasized that they are “not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran” and reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA. The three nations have made clear that triggering the dispute resolution mechanism is designed to preserve the deal and address Iran’s breaches, but the move does increase the risk that Security Council sanctions could be reimposed on Iran. Still, during a Feb. 4 trip to Tehran, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said that the three European nations agreed to “continuously postponing the dates and time limits” of the mechanism to avoid Security Council referral.

He also emphasized that the dispute resolution mechanism “is not a measure orientated to finish with the deal, but to try to keep it alive, to give time for negotiation.” Borrell said he expected “some positive steps on the nuclear side” and “some positive aspects on the economic side” to come out of the process.

After meeting with Borrell in Tehran on Feb. 4, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran is “still ready for interaction and cooperation” with the European Union to resolve issues and will “return to its commitments” when the other parties to the deal meet their obligations.

The agreement to extend the dispute resolution process creates time, but it is unclear what steps the remaining parties are willing and able to take to provide Iran with sanctions relief that Tehran is demanding.

The three European nations have attempted to set up a trade mechanism to preserve legitimate trade with Iran that bypasses U.S. sanctions, but the mechanism has yet to process a transaction.

A Swiss effort to create a payment mechanism to facilitate transactions for humanitarian goods is nearly operational, the Swiss government announced on Jan. 30, but it is limited in scope to medical exports, pharmaceuticals, and food.

The three European nations may just be attempting to buy time until after the U.S. presidential election in November. The Democratic candidates for the nomination have all expressed their intent to rejoin the JCPOA.

Despite the three nations’ intentions to use the dispute resolution mechanism to preserve the deal, the move could backfire. Failure to continue extending the consultative periods, or the Trump administration pressuring one of them to break consensus, could result in Iran being referred back to the Security Council.

The Trump administration may also choose to paint the dispute resolution mechanism process as a failure if it does not address Iran’s noncompliance and try to force the Security Council to reimpose sanctions unilaterally.

Given that Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in May 2018, it is unclear if Washington has legal recourse to go directly to the Security Council to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

Resolution 2231 allows any JCPOA participant to refer an allegation of noncompliance directly to the Security Council. The resolution was not amended to remove the United States as a participating state after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA.

The U.S. State Department has reportedly written a memo outlining its case for why the United States can still refer Iran to the Security Council for significant noncompliance, and several members of Congress are pressuring the Trump administration to pursue this route.

The remaining parties to the deal, however, appear poised to challenge any U.S. attempt to use the Security Council to reimpose sanctions.

An official from one of the three European countries told Arms Control Today that “Trump does not get to pick and choose the parts of the deal” to advance his interests. The official suggested that any U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions at the Security Council would be challenged by other members of the JCPOA.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to ratchet up pressure on Iran as the remaining parties to the JCPOA attempt to preserve the accord. The United States sanctioned the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and its leader, Ali Akbar Salehi, in late January. According to a Jan. 31 announcement, Salehi was targeted for playing a “leading role in Iran’s nonperformance of its key nuclear commitments.” The AEOI was already subject to sanctions reimposed when the United States withdrew from the Iran deal.

The AEOI responded to the sanctions Jan. 31 by calling the move “unwise” and said it would “not in any way interrupt [Iran’s] peaceful nuclear activities and policies.”

But the Trump administration did renew sanctions waivers for 60 days, allowing several cooperative nuclear projects with Iran to continue. The Jan. 31 announcement by the State Department did not specify what JCPOA projects will be included, but the waivers likely cover modifications at the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak, the transfer of spent fuel out of Iran, the provision of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, and activities at the Bushehr power reactor.

During his visit, Borrell also requested that Iran continue to abide by the monitoring and verification provisions of the JCPOA. When Iran announced in January that it would no longer adhere to any restrictions put in place by the deal, Tehran affirmed its intent to continue to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Feb. 5 that Iran continues to adhere to its safeguards agreement and its additional protocol, a more intrusive set of monitoring measures required by the JCPOA.

Grossi said in a Feb. 4 interview that if Iran is implementing its additional protocol, the international community “will always have prompt warning about any…concerning development.”


By triggering the JCPOA's dispute resolution mechanism, three European nations hope to save the accord.

Iran Displays New Solid-Fuel Missile

March 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran unveiled a new short-range ballistic missile and touted its solid-fueled rocket motor advancements during a Feb. 9 ceremony, demonstrating the nation’s continuing efforts to develop more sophisticated systems.

Gen. Amir Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guard's Aerospace Force Command, speaks in 2019. He announced Iran's development of a new, solid-fueled ballistic missile during a Feb. 9 ceremony. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)The new missile, named the Ra’ad-500, has a range of 500 kilometers, according to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force Command. Iran has previously developed missiles with similar ranges, but the command described the Ra’ad as lighter and more accurate.

The IRGC ceremony also featured a rocket engine fueled by a “new generation of propellants” and incorporating “moveable nozzles” for ballistic missiles and satellite launch vehicles. IRGC Aerospace Force Brig. Gen. Amir Hajizadeh said the technology will give Iran the ability to “control solid-fuel missiles in the outer space.”

France, a member of the multilateral group that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, said in a Foreign Ministry statement on Feb. 10 that Iran’s ballistic missile program “undermines regional stability and affects the security of Europe.” The statement called on Iran to “fully comply with its international obligations.”

UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal, includes nonbinding language calling on Iran to refrain from activities relevant to developing ballistic missiles designed to be nuclear capable. The nuclear-capable missile threshold is generally understood to be a system that can deliver a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers.

Although the new missile appears to exceed that limit, Iran argues that its ballistic missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons and therefore not covered by Resolution 2231.

Iran also attempted to put the Zafar-1 satellite into orbit Feb. 9 using its three-stage Simorgh space launch vehicle. The launch took place at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport.

Ahmad Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian Defense Ministry, said on Feb. 9 that the first two stages of the rocket “functioned properly” and the “satellite was successfully detached from its carrier” but failed to achieve the necessary speed to enter orbit. Despite the failure, Hosseini described the launch as “remarkable.”

The Zafar-1 is the heaviest satellite Iran has attempted to launch and would have been used for remote sensing and communications, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.

Iran has successfully launched satellites into orbit in the past, but recently suffered a string of failures. The Simorgh’s previous two launches, in 2017 and 2019, also failed to orbit satellites.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Feb. 11 that Iran’s satellite launches use technologies that are “virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in longer-range” ballistic missile systems. Satellite launch vehicles and ballistic missiles do share similar features, but long-range ballistic missiles require technologies, such as reentry vehicles, not necessary for space launch.

The Feb. 10 French statement also condemned the satellite launch as contrary to Resolution 2231, noting that the Simorgh uses ballistic missile technology.

Although the language on testing is nonbinding, Resolution 2231 prohibits Iran from transferring missiles and related technologies without approval from the Security Council. The United States has accused Iran of violating that provision on multiple occasions, and the UN secretary-general continues to investigate alleged incidents of illegal transfers.

The United States announced on Dec. 4 that it had seized a cache of Iranian missile components headed for Yemen in violation of international law.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said the initial investigation into the seized parts “indicates that these advanced missile components are of Iranian origin,” but did not provide any details on what was seized. Reportedly, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard boarded a small boat in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 27 and discovered the cache, which has been described as the most advanced missile components bound for Yemen that the United States has intercepted.

A biannual report from the UN secretary-general on implementation of Resolution 2231 did not cover the seizure confirmed by the Pentagon on Dec. 4, but it said that the secretary-general’s office is investigating a U.S. allegation that Iran received a shipment containing a compound that can be used for solid-fueled rocket motor propellant in violation of Resolution 2231.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom also informed the secretary-general’s office that Houthi forces in Yemen launched a new medium-range ballistic missile that shares similar features to an Iranian system, the Qiam-1. They said that Iran “may be acting in breach” of Resolution 2231.

In a letter to the secretary-general, Iran denied the claim made by the European countries and said the argument that Resolution 2231 prohibits the transfer of missile technology is a “distortion of the text.” Iran also said that, for “political reasons,” the Security Council has been prevented from “actual operationalization for the necessary mechanism for making required decisions to permit such activities.”

The Dec. 10 report also included the secretary-general’s assessment of the cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles used in an attack against Saudi oil facilities in September.

Saudi Arabia provided the secretary-general’s office with access to debris from the attack and said on Sept. 18 that the weapons used were Iranian made. The United States also accused Iran of being behind the attack.

The secretary-general’s office examined the debris and was “unable to independently corroborate” that those systems came from Iran, but said that investigations into the origins of the systems are ongoing.


Iran presses forward with new technologies.

India Tests Submarine-Launched Missile

March 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

India conducted two tests of a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in January. When deployed, the missile, known as the K-4, will significantly expand India’s second-strike capability.

India tests its K-4 missile from a submerged platform in January. The Indian Navy plans to deploy the 3,500-kilometer-range missile on Arihant-class submarines. (Photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis/Getty Images)The Jan. 19 and Jan. 25 tests of the K-4 were both conducted from submerged pontoons in the Bay of Bengal. The Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation, which developed the missile, did not comment on either test, but Indian officials were quoted in news outlets describing the launches as successful.

The K-4 has an estimated range of 3,500 kilometers. Prior to the January tests, it had been launched successfully in 2016 from a submarine, but a subsequent test in 2017 failed. Conducting the January 2020 tests from a submerged pontoon could have been intended to prevent any damage to India’s ballistic missile submarines in the event of a failure.

India plans to deploy the K-4 on its domestically built Arihant-class ballistic missile submarines. Two of the submarines are complete, and New Delhi intends to build two or three more. The existing submarines will likely be able to carry four K-4s, but subsequent submarines could be expanded to fit eight launch tubes.

India’s deployed nuclear-capable SLBM, the K-15, has an estimated range of 700 kilometers. The K-15 was successfully tested from an Airhant submarine in 2018 and likely deployed shortly afterward, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in November 2018 that the country’s first ballistic missile submarine had completed its inaugural deterrence patrol. (See ACT, December 2018.) Airhant-class submarines can carry up to 12 K-15 missiles.

At the time, Modi said India was pursuing a second-strike capability in response to “those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.”

The K-15’s range would allow India to target parts of Pakistan, but New Delhi would need the longer-range K-4 to reach Islamabad and northern parts of Pakistan. The extended range of the K-4 would also allow India to reach more targets in China. Increasingly, India’s focus on developing and deploying longer-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles appears directed at countering China, not Pakistan.

Pakistan has referred to India’s pursuit of SLBMs as destabilizing, arguing that they are the first “ready-to-fire” missiles deployed in South Asia.

Indian and Pakistani nuclear warheads are largely believed to be de-mated, or stored separately from delivery systems. On a submarine, however, de-mating is not feasible, and the warheads are installed atop the ballistic missiles.

India continues to develop its sea-based deterrent.

Nations Recommit to Nuclear Security

March 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

More than 140 states have endorsed a February declaration reaffirming their commitment to effective and comprehensive nuclear security at the third International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ministerial meeting on the subject. During the International Conference on Nuclear Security 2020, states also expressed support for the IAEA’s role in advancing and coordinating nuclear security efforts.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi speaks at the agency's International Conference on Nuclear Security, stressing the agency's continuing role in helping nations to prevent nuclear or radiological materials from falling into the wrong hands. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)In remarks opening the Feb. 10–14 conference in Vienna, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said that nuclear activities are “growing in a very sustained way” worldwide, creating a “magnet for groups with malicious intent” and requiring further action to prevent nuclear terrorism. He said the 2020 meeting included “record participation by ministers, which reflects the great importance” that states attach to nuclear security.

The IAEA held its first ministerial-level meeting on nuclear security in 2013 amidst a growing awareness of the threat posed by nuclear terrorism spurred in large part by the Nuclear Security Summits, a series of four head-of-state level meetings held every two years from 2010 through 2016. (See ACT, May 2016.) The summits aimed to minimize and secure weapon-usable nuclear materials in civil programs around the world. The second IAEA ministerial convened in 2016 after the summits ended and emphasized the importance of maintaining momentum on the nuclear security agenda. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

In the 2020 declaration, the states emphasized that nuclear security is a state responsibility and encouraged national adoption of “threat mitigation and risk reduction measures.” The declaration also highlighted actions that states should take, including minimizing stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU), where “technically and economically feasible.”

The declaration also highlighted the role the IAEA plays in “establishing and improving effective and sustainable national nuclear security regimes.” In the document, the states pledged support for the IAEA to continue assisting and fostering cooperative efforts in a number of areas, including information security and protecting against cyberattacks.

Grossi also emphasized the “indispensable” IAEA role in nuclear security, including acting as “the inclusive global platform for...cooperation.”

In the three years since the last ministerial conference, the IAEA provided radiation-detection equipment to 33 countries, provided training for more than 1,300 people, and released 12 new publications outlining best practices in nuclear security.

Grossi urged states to request IAEA expert peer-review and advisory missions, describing these services as “among the most important” the agency offers. He said the IAEA conducted 15 expert missions to advise states on how to improve nuclear security at certain facilities since 2016.

He raised concerns, however, about the sustainability of the agency’s resources to address the increasing requests for nuclear security assistance. Under the IAEA’s operating structure, its nuclear security activities are only minimally funded by the agency’s general budget. Instead, the bulk of agency nuclear security resources is provided by individual nations.

Requests by member states for IAEA nuclear security assistance is “constantly increasing,” Grossi said, adding that the nuclear security mission is “much too important to be dependent on extrabudgetary contributions.” A number of states committed to donate money to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund during the 2020 conference.

In the U.S. statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette also called on states to continue providing the IAEA with the necessary resources to achieve its nuclear security mandate. He said the United States has provided $51 million to the agency’s nuclear security work over the past three years.

Brouillette highlighted that, in the three years following the prior conference, the United States worked to improve the physical protection of nuclear materials at 10 facilities around the world and has equipped 672 border crossings with radiation-detection systems. He also noted U.S. efforts to blend down 13 metric tons of surplus HEU in the United States and to support cooperative work to remove or dispose of more than 1,000 kilograms of nuclear material in other countries.

The meeting’s declaration also drew attention to the importance of an upcoming conference in 2021 on the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and its amendment, which entered into force in 2016.

The CPPNM established legally binding requirements for the security of nuclear materials in international transit and its 2005 amendment expanded the requirements to include physical protection of sites housing nuclear materials and domestic transit. Parties to the convention will hold a review conference in 2021 to assess the treaty’s implementation.

Grossi highlighted the agency’s role in encouraging member states to join the CPPNM and its amendment and noted that 10 states had ratified the amended convention since the 2016 meeting.


A Vienna meeting aims to sustain nuclear security efforts.

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IAEA Head Notes No New Breaches by Iran Iran has not taken any further steps to breach the 2015 nuclear deal after announcing its fifth violation in early January, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, told reporters in Washington Feb. 5 . Experts have taken this to mean that Iran has not installed additional centrifuges nor further increased its enrichment level after announcing Jan. 5 that it would no longer be bound by any operational limits of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Grossi stressed...

Iran Could Have A Nuclear Weapon By This Time Next Year

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National Interest, The
News Date: 
February 11, 2020 -05:00

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North Korea Reiterates End to Test Moratorium North Korea will no longer observe its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, a counselor to Pyongyang’s mission at the United Nations in Geneva said Jan. 21 . The April 2018 moratorium was designed to “build confidence with the United States,” but given that Washington “remains unchanged in its ambition to block the development” of North Korea, Pyongyang has “no reason to be unilaterally bound” by its past commitment, Ju Yong Chol said. The statement did not indicate if or when North Korea would resume nuclear or long-...

Experts: Iran Could Be a Nuclear Armed State in Just 1 Year

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National Interest
News Date: 
January 21, 2020 -05:00

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