"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
Kelsey Davenport

Iran Avoids IAEA Censure

October 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran avoided a censure from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors by striking a last-minute deal with the agency that allowed inspectors to access monitoring equipment at several nuclear facilities.

The chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami (R), and Iran's governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharibabadi, attend the IAEA General Conference, an annual meeting of all member states, at the agency's headquarters in Vienna on September 20, 2021. (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)But as of late September, Iran had only partially implemented the deal and had blocked inspectors from replacing damaged cameras at a location the IAEA says is covered by the agreement.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi and Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), announced the access agreement in a Sept. 12 joint statement. The IAEA later confirmed that, under the terms of the deal, Iran allowed inspectors to visit the facilities Sept. 20–22 to replace the data storage units and ensure the surveillance machines are functioning properly. The agency will only be allowed to access the data collected by the monitoring equipment if the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers is restored. Iran limited the IAEA’s access to information and sites in February, as part of a series of actions designed to push the United States to return to the nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Grossi said in a Sept. 12 press conference that the access agreement was “indispensable” for the IAEA’s ability to provide the “necessary guarantee…that everything is in order.” He stressed that the arrangement is intended to “allow time for diplomacy” and is not a “permanent solution.”

Grossi traveled to Tehran to negotiate the access after noting in a Sept. 7 report that Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to access and service the equipment was “seriously compromising” the agency’s technical capabilities to “maintain continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s nuclear program. If the IAEA cannot do that, it could inhibit the agency’s ability to resume the monitoring and verification activities required by the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), according to the report.

The Sept. 12 arrangement also allows inspectors to replace cameras at a centrifuge production facility that Iran claims were damaged during an attack on the site in June. But Iran blocked inspectors from accessing the facility on Sept. 26 to install the new surveillance equipment, according to an IAEA report issued that same day.

Iran removed the cameras shortly after the attack and did not allow inspectors to access the machines until Sept. 4. According to the Sept. 7 report, IAEA inspectors noted that the data storage unit from one of the destroyed cameras was not among the debris and requested Iran find the unit. The IAEA will not know if the data collected from the other damaged cameras are recoverable until the nuclear deal is restored.

The Sept. 26 report said Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to access the site is “contrary to the agreed terms” of the Sept. 12 arrangement. The report notes the importance of installing the machines before Iran resumes production of centrifuge equipment.

Iran has denied it is violating the terms of the Sept. 12 deal with the agency. Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, said on Sept. 26 that the centrifuge production facility is “still under security and judicial investigation” and that the equipment at that site was not included in the Sept. 12 arrangement.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said in a Sept. 27 statement that they were “profoundly concerned that Iran has not fully implemented” the Sept. 12 agreement and warned that if Iran does not cooperate with the IAEA, the agency will “lose the ability to re-establish continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s nuclear program. The three countries are considering “appropriate action” in response, the statement said.

If Iran and the IAEA had failed to reach an agreement on inspector access, the IAEA board appeared poised to pass a resolution censuring Iran during its Sept. 13–17 meeting in Vienna. A European official told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 16 email that, “absent the agreement, a resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with the IAEA was a near certainty.” The resolution would have had enough support from the 35 members of the IAEA board to pass, even with Russia and China opposing it, the official said.

A resolution censuring Iran would have little practical impact in the near term, but it would lay the groundwork for the IAEA board to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. The IAEA board took that step in 2006 after passing several resolutions urging Iran to comply with the agency’s investigation into the country’s undeclared nuclear activities. The Security Council then sanctioned Iran for failing to cooperate with the IAEA.

But a censure could have hindered efforts to restart negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian President Ebraham Raisi warned on Sept. 8 that an “unconstructive” action by the IAEA board would “disrupt the negotiations” in Vienna. Those talks have been stalled since Raisi’s election in June, but he has pledged to return to the negotiating process.

The initial decision to pursue the resolution “did not come easily” for France, Germany, and the UK, the three countries that were pushing for a resolution prior to the Sept. 12 agreement, the official said. The countries were concerned about negatively impacting the Vienna process, but agreed that a censure was necessary to support the agency and send a message to Iran that “its continued failure to cooperate with IAEA requests would not be tolerated.” The states also recognized that restoring the nuclear deal and sustaining it would require the IAEA to reconstitute a record of Iran’s nuclear activities from the time period that inspector access was limited, the official said.

The United States shares that concern. Louis Bono, U.S. charge d’affaires to the UN missions in Vienna, said in a Sept. 15 statement to the IAEA board that it is “very important that Iran uphold the understandings reflected” in the Sept. 12 joint statement. He said the United States remains committed to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal but that “will be far more difficult if the IAEA is unable to recover and reestablish” its knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program. The “onus must be on Tehran to do its part,” Bono said.

The IAEA has had limited access to Iranian nuclear sites since February, when Tehran notified the agency it was suspending implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which gives inspectors more access to sites and information in Iran, and certain monitoring provisions specific to the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran passed a law in December 2020 that mandated certain breaches of the JCPOA, including the monitoring reduction, until Iran received relief from U.S. sanctions that were reimposed when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018.

Under a Feb. 21 arrangement reached between Iran and the IAEA before the suspension went into effect, Iran agreed to allow continuous surveillance of certain nuclear facilities to continue. But the IAEA would not have access to the data collected until the 2015 nuclear deal was restored. If an agreement to restore the deal was not reached, Iran said the data would be destroyed.

The initial arrangement between the agency and Iran expired in May. At that time, it was extended for another month. In a June 24 letter to the IAEA board, Grossi raised concerns that Iran had not responded to his requests for information about the status of the special monitoring arrangement. He again noted in the Sept. 7 report that Iran had not responded to IAEA requests to clarify the status of the special arrangement.


Iran avoided a censure from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors by striking a last-minute deal with the agency that allowed inspectors to access monitoring equipment at several nuclear facilities.

South Korea Tests Submarine-Launched Missile

October 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine in September, making it the first country without nuclear weapons to develop that capability.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his country's Sept. 15 test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile was not aimed at North Korea, but "can be a clear deterrent to North Korea’s provocations." (Photo by South Korea's Ministry of National Defense)The Defense Ministry in Seoul described the launch as a success and said the missile “accurately hit its target.” The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability is “an important milestone” that will “contribute to realizing a strong national defense and a solid military readiness posture,” according to a Sept. 15 statement.

The SLBM test took place several hours after North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from a train and four days after it tested a new land-attack cruise missile.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was present for the launch, said on Sept. 15 that the test was “not a response to North Korea’s provocations.” But he noted that “the reinforcement of our missile capabilities can be a clear deterrent to North Korea’s provocations.”

The missile was tested from South Korea’s domestically built attack submarine, the Dosan An Chang-ho, which was commissioned in August. (See ACT, September 2021.) It is the first of three submarines capable of carrying six ballistic missiles that South Korea plans to deploy. South Korean news outlets reported that the submarine successfully fired an SLBM on Sept. 7, but the South Korean government has only confirmed the Sept. 15 launch. Prior to the submarine launches, South Korea conducted test launches from a submerged barge and from a ground-based test facility. The Defense Ministry said it will conduct further tests before an SLBM is deployed on the Dosan An Chang-ho.

States generally pursue SLBMs in order to provide a survivable, second-strike nuclear capability. Given that South Korea is an ally of the United States and covered by its extended nuclear deterrent, including U.S. SLBMs, it is unclear why South Korea views this capability as necessary and worth the risk of continuing to drive the missile race between North and South Korea.

Defense Department spokesman James Kirby said in a Sept. 20 press briefing that the United States is working closely with South Korea to ensure “complementary military capabilities” that are “commensurate with the continued threats that we see on the peninsula.”

Although North Korea is developing its own SLBM capability and has tested missiles from a submerged barge, officials in Pyongyang decried South Korea’s SLBM capability as detrimental to peace on the peninsula and used the test to justify its own continued missile development.

Kim Yo Jong, vice department director of the Worker’s Party of Korea, in a Sept. 15 statement questioned why Moon is “repeatedly calling for backing peace with a powerful force.” Kim, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticized Moon for accusing North Korea of provocations and said South Korea has an “illogical and stupid habit of describing its act as a just one supporting peace and describing [North Korea’s] act of similar nature as one threatening peace.” North Korea’s tests are part of the country’s established self-defense plan, she said.

Pyongyang also sought to downplay the South Korean SLBM by questioning the veracity of the test. North Korea’s Academy of National Defence issued a statement Sept. 20 saying that the photos of the SLBM that South Korea released “could have deliberately been retouched” and that the missile looked more like a short-range ground-based ballistic missile that South Korea had already developed. The statement claimed that the weapon “has not yet reached the stage of being regarded as a weapon of strategic and tactical significance.”

South Korea’s SLBM test comes amid an expansion of the country’s military capabilities and continued debate over the country’s status as a non-nuclear-weapon state. In addition to the SLBM capability, South Korea has increased its military spending under Moon and invested in several new weapons systems. (See ACT, September 2021.)

Public support for South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons reached a new high in 2020 with 69 percent of the population voicing support, according to a Sept. 13 report from the Asan Institute. Since the institute began polling on this question, support for an indigenous nuclear weapons program was the lowest in 2018, when 55 percent of the population supported the idea.

In the 2020 poll, 61 percent supported reintroducing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, a view that one leading candidate for South Korea’s presidential election in March has also endorsed.

Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative, said that if elected he would support a nuclear sharing agreement with the United States. Lee Jae-myung, the likely candidate from Moon’s party, opposes nuclear sharing, arguing that it diminishes South Korea’s credibility in demanding that North Korea denuclearize.

In 1991, the United States removed nuclear weapons that it had based in South Korea.


The test, several hours after North Korea tested a different missile, marked South Korea as the first non-nuclear weapon state to have SLBM capability.

Iran, IAEA Reach Access Agreement

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement Sept. 12 that will allow agency inspectors to access remote monitoring equipment at certain nuclear facilities in Iran to service the units and install new data storage. The agreement likely staved off an IAEA Board of Governors resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Sept. 8 that “unconstructive” action from the board could “disrupt” negotiations in Vienna to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Talks...

IAEA Report on Iran Raises Serious Concerns About Monitoring

The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program paints a bleak picture of the agency’s current ability to monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities and the new Iranian government’s willingness to cooperate with the agency. Newly inaugurated Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi may think intransigence and ambiguity over the status of Iran’s nuclear program will build leverage in negotiations to bring Tehran and Washington back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal—which would reimpose on Iran the most stringent monitoring regime ever negotiated—but his...

IAEA Report on Iran Raises Serious Concerns About Monitoring

The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program paints a bleak picture of the agency’s current ability to monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities and the new Iranian government’s willingness to cooperate with the agency. Newly inaugurated Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi may think intransigence and ambiguity over the status of Iran’s nuclear program will build leverage in negotiations to bring Tehran and Washington back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal—which would reimpose on Iran the most stringent monitoring regime ever negotiated—but his...

Iran Suggests Harder Line in Nuclear Talks

September 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Newly inaugurated Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pledged to continue talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, but his rhetoric increasingly suggests Tehran may complicate the process by demanding more concessions from the United States.

Will Iran's newly inaugurated President Ebrahim Raisi, shown at his Aug. 5 swearing-in ceremony in Tehran, insist on renegotiating certain issues as part of a nuclear deal with the United States? If so, the move could threaten the agreement.  (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)Prior to Raisi’s election in June, the United States and Iran participated in six rounds of indirect talks in Vienna to hash out the steps that each side would need to take to return to compliance with the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The European Union coordinated the negotiations on behalf of the other parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Although the parties did not reach an agreement, Washington and Tehran said that considerable progress was made on determining the actions the United States and Iran must take to restore the deal. (See ACT, June 2021.) But talks have remained paused since Raisi’s election.

Rob Malley, U.S. special envoy for Iran, told Politico on Aug. 19 that although a deal with the Raisi administration is still possible, “[i]t’s one big question mark” and “not something that [the United States] can fully control.”

Iranian officials informed the EU after the inauguration that they intend to return to talks in Vienna in September, and Raisi said during his Aug. 5 inaugural address that he would pursue “smart engagement” to achieve a lifting of U.S. and international sanctions on Iran. But his administration appears dissatisfied with the progress made during the first six rounds of negotiations and may attempt to renegotiate certain issues.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said on Aug. 9 that the Biden administration needs to return to talks in Vienna with a new “realistic approach” so that a conclusion is reached in the “shortest time.”

This was after an Iranian committee set up to review progress made during the negotiations for the incoming Raisi administration determined that the Vienna talks failed to produce an agreement on several key areas because of “bullying” by U.S. and European parties, Kayvan Khosravi, spokesperson for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said in July.

The committee included members of President Hassan Rouhani’s negotiating team, some advisers to Raisi, and several members of parliament.

Despite such Iranian comments, the Biden administration does not appear to be changing its approach to the negotiations. At an Aug. 5 press briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States has made very clear it is prepared to resume talks in Vienna and expects that the “seventh round would pick up where the sixth round has left off.” He said the administration hopes Iran “seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions.”

Price warned that the opportunity for restoring the JCPOA would not last forever. He indicated that if Iran’s nuclear program advances to the point where the nonproliferation benefits of the deal cannot be restored, the United States will change course. He did not provide details on when that threshold might be crossed.

Meanwhile, there are domestic pressures on Raisi, who is required under Iranian law to continue ratcheting up the country’s nuclear program.

In a July 8 speech, Rouhani blamed the law, passed by parliament in December 2020, for impeding negotiations to restore the deal. It included provisions requiring the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to take certain steps to accelerate the country’s nuclear program in violation of the nuclear deal, including the resumption of uranium enrichment to a level of 20 percent uranium-235, the installation and operation of certain advanced centrifuges, a reduction in monitoring by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, and the production of uranium metal. The law was passed in response to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakrizadeh and as a means to pressure the United States to return to the JCPOA and lift sanctions. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

In accordance with the law, Raisi will be required to oversee the stockpiling of 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent U-235, which is below the level of weapons-grade uranium but which can be more quickly enriched to that level, and the expansion of Iran’s use of advanced IR-6 centrifuges.

Raisi has given no indication that he would seek any suspension of the law’s requirements. Most recently, the IAEA reported on Aug. 16 that Iran has produced 20 percent-enriched uranium metal. Iran claims this capability is necessary to make fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, which manufactures medical isotopes, but the process is also relevant to nuclear weapons development. Iran is prohibited from uranium-metal production under the JCPOA.

In an Aug. 16 statement, Price said that “Iran should cease its nuclear escalations and return to negotiations” to restore the deal. He said Iran has “no credible need to produce uranium metal” and noted its “direct relevance to nuclear weapons development.”

Despite Raisi’s rhetoric and Iran’s advancing nuclear program, the European parties to the deal remain optimistic that the JCPOA will be restored.

In an Aug. 12 interview with Arms Control Today, an official from one of the three European countries said that implementation of the deal “remains in the best interest of all parties” and is the “most likely scenario” once talks resume. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would “be foolish not to be ready with a plan B,” such as a smaller, interim deal that suspends certain Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Even if Raisi is posturing and takes a more pragmatic position when talks resume, Iran’s nuclear advances may “make it impossible to keep the door open for restoring the deal,” the EU official acknowledged. He expressed concern that the nuclear deal could also “end up a casualty of escalating regional tensions.”

Malley also said in his Politico interview that the United States must be “prepared for a world in which Iran’s intentions are not to go back” into the nuclear deal.

Recent incidents in and around the Persian Gulf underscore the risk of external issues exacerbating tensions and hindering efforts to restore the nuclear deal. The United States attributed a July 30 attack on a commercial vessel off the coast of Oman that killed two crew members to an Iranian manufactured drone. The Group of Seven countries condemned the attack in an Aug. 6 statement, calling it a violation of international law.

In addition to delays that could result if Raisi attempts to renegotiate progress made in the first six rounds of talks and if external spoilers such as drone attacks continue, the negotiations will be complicated by the need to address several issues that were not resolved prior to Iran’s change in government.

First, the United States is looking for a commitment from Iran to engage in further negotiations after the nuclear deal is restored. President Joe Biden pledged to pursue a “longer and stronger” agreement with Iran that builds on the nuclear deal by addressing regional security issues.

Raisi and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to have rejected the idea of follow-up talks. In a July 28 speech, Khamenei said that future Iranian administrations should “avoid tying their plans” to negotiations with the West “for they’ll certainly fail.”

Meanwhile, Iran is seeking a commitment that Biden’s successors will not withdraw from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions, as President Donald Trump did in May 2018.

The United States appears unlikely to make such a commitment. A senior State Department official said in a June 24 press call that “there is no such thing as a guarantee” that the United States will not withdraw from the deal again.

There are signs that newly inaugurated Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi may demand more concessions from the United States.


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