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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
September 2014
Edition Date: 
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Cover Image: 

U.S.-UK Nuclear Pact Revised

Jefferson Morley

The United States and the United Kingdom revised and extended their long-standing nuclear forces cooperation agreement in July, with President Barack Obama declaring that “continu[ing] to assist the United Kingdom in maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent” is in the U.S. national interest.

A July 24 White House statement said the changes would “ensure consistency with current United States and United Kingdom policies and practice regarding nuclear threat reduction, naval nuclear propulsion, and personnel security.” Because portions of the new agreement are secret, Obama sent classified and unclassified versions of the agreement to Congress, according to the statement.

As the UK debates the long-range future of its submarine-based Trident nuclear forces, the renewed agreement authorizes U.S. support through 2024. A 1958 mutual defense pact between the two countries allows transfer of “classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors,” according to the White House.

China Conducts ASAT Test, U.S. Says

Timothy Farnsworth

China conducted “a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites” on July 23, according to the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. comment appeared to differ from the Chinese statement on the test. According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency, the Chinese defense ministry called the test a “land-based anti-missile technology experiment,” suggesting that it was a test of a missile defense system rather than of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon.

During his Aug. 13 remarks at the U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium in Omaha, Neb., Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, said the United States “has high confidence in its assessment” that China was testing an ASAT weapon.

Neither China nor the United States provided additional details to support its characterization of the test. China said the test took place within its territory and successfully reached the anticipated goal. The U.S. statement called on China to “refrain from destabilizing actions” that threaten the security and sustainability of space.

Also in its statement, the State Department said that, in the test, China had used the same missile system as in a 2007 test in which China shot down one of its own weather satellites. That event, which created thousands of pieces of debris that continue to present a danger in space, used an SC-19 missile. (See ACT, March 2007.)

China has claimed that subsequent tests of its SC-19 missile in 2010 and January 2013 were part of an effort to develop and understand missile-interceptor technology, not to develop ASAT capabilities, but the two technologies are very similar. (See ACT, March 2013.)

In an Aug. 12 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Brian Weeden, a technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation, said the July 23 U.S. statement marked the first time since the 2007 test that the State Department had publicly declared that China conducted an ASAT test. The United States has never publicly acknowledged the 2010 test or two tests in 2005 and 2006, Weeden said. Information related to those tests was made public after the website WikiLeaks published a 2010 State Department cable about the 2010 test.

Weeden, a former U.S. Air Force space analyst, pointed out the lack of specific details from Washington and Beijing about the July 2014 test, saying that, after the 2010 and January 2013 tests, both countries mentioned another missile that had been launched as a target. The lack of information about the target for the recent test makes it unclear whether this was actually another test of the SC-19 missile tested in 2007, 2010, and 2013 or possibly a test of a new ASAT system—believed to be in development and capable of reaching geostationary orbit, about 36,000 kilometers above the earth—that might have been tested in May 2013. (See ACT, April 2014.)

The State Department’s description of the recent test as nondestructive, combined with the lack of details from Beijing about the test, could point to the testing of this new ASAT weapon in geostationary orbit, Weeden said. “It would be distinct enough from a missile defense profile to allow the US to confidently characterize it as an ASAT test,” said Weeden. As the second test of a new system, it would be consistent with the pattern that China followed for the SC-19, carrying out two nondestructive tests in 2005 and 2006 before conducting an actual intercept in 2007, he said.

 

China conducted “a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites” on July 23, according to the U.S. State Department.

Creedon Takes Office at NNSA

Tom Z. Collina

Madelyn Creedon was sworn in on Aug. 7 by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as the principal deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department.

Creedon, who was confirmed by the Senate on July 23, will assist NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz in the management and operation of the NNSA, according to an NNSA statement. President Barack Obama nominated her last November. (See ACT, December 2013.)

She most recently served as assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, overseeing U.S. nuclear forces and missile defense policy.

The administration is still seeking confirmation of other senior officials for positions dealing with nuclear weapons policy, including Adam Scheinman, currently senior adviser to the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, to be special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation; Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, to be assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance; and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the top nuclear proliferation and defense policy official on the National Security Council (NSC), to be deputy secretary of energy.

On July 28, the Senate confirmed Brian McKeon, who had served as NSC staff director, as the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. The Senate had held up McKeon’s nomination over concerns that he had withheld information from Congress regarding Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, April 2014.)

Madelyn Creedon was sworn in on Aug. 7 by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as the principal deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department.

Senators Push Nonproliferation Budget

Kelsey Davenport

Twenty-six senators sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting increased funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs in the fiscal year 2016 budget for the Energy Department.

The signatories of the Aug. 13 letter, led by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), urged Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to “seek increased funding for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs.”

The letter noted that the administration “proposed cuts to these programs over the last several years.”

The Obama administration’s budget for fiscal year 2015 would cut the Energy Department’s nonproliferation programs by $399 million from the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. Fiscal year 2014 ends Sept. 30.

It is “not the time to pull back on nonproliferation,” the letter said, noting that recent terrorist actions serve as a reminder of the importance of “ensuing that terrorist groups and rogue states” do not obtain nuclear weapons and materials.

The Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, chaired by Feinstein, increased funding for nonproliferation activities to nearly $2.0 billion, $423 million above the president’s request for fiscal year 2015. The subcommittee released its bill and draft report July 24, but no further action has been taken on the bill.

The increases include an additional $136 million for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and $50 million for the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program.

The letter said the GTRI played an important role in eliminating nuclear materials from 13 countries since 2009 and that “significant work remains” to secure nuclear material at “hundreds of sites spread across 30 countries.”

The senators urged the administration to work with the Senate to “ensure that critical nuclear material security” programs have the necessary resources. The letter urged the administration, in next year’s budget request, to build on the funding levels that the appropriations subcommittee approved for fiscal year 2015.

In addition to Feinstein and Merkley, the signers of the letter included 20 Democrats, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and independents Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine).

Twenty-six senators sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting increased funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs in the fiscal year 2016 budget for the Energy Department.

Congress Questions Policy on N. Korea

Kelsey Davenport

Members of Congress questioned the Obama administration’s policy toward negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program at a July 30 hearing and expressed concern about Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said the administration’s “so-called strategic patience policy is crumbling to pieces” and that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “continues unfettered.”

As described by U.S. officials, the strategic patience policy seeks to hobble North Korean nuclear and missile programs through U.S. and international efforts to prevent the import and export of proliferation-sensitive materials and restart negotiations after Pyongyang demonstrates its commitment to dismantling its nuclear weapons program. For more than a decade, North Korea has had intermittent talks with the United States and its four negotiating partners—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—in the so-called six-party talks.

Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy at the State Department, defended the administration’s approach at the hearing, saying that because North Korea “increasingly rejects meaningful negotiations,” the United States is looking for meaningful actions by North Korea before restarting talks. Davies said these actions could include steps by North Korea such as freezing its nuclear program and inviting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country.

Davies said it might take continued diplomatic overtures combined with “the patient application of increasing amounts of pressure” to make North Korea realize its current path is “leading [it] nowhere.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that “both carrots and sticks” are necessary to change North Korea’s behavior. He said the United States should discuss a nonaggression pact with North Korea and work with China to stem the “enormous subsidies” that Beijing sends to Pyongyang.

Davies said that negotiations with North Korea are a “multilateral task” and the United States is making progress working with countries in the region, including China, to push North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization in order to resume negotiations. Washington is also unilaterally tightening sanctions that “increase the cost” of North Korea’s illicit activities, he said.

North Korea committed to denuclearization in a 2005 joint statement with the other members of the six-party talks, but more recently, Pyongyang has said that it wants negotiations on its nuclear program to resume without any preconditions. (See ACT, November 2013.)

Those talks began in 2003 with the goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The multilateral negotiations were held intermittently until North Korea announced in April 2009 that it would no longer participate.

Washington has also negotiated bilaterally with North Korea in the past.

Pyongyang is believed to possess the nuclear material for approximately four to eight nuclear weapons and is working to increase its stockpile of weapons-usable nuclear material. (See ACT, January/February 2014.)

At a July 30 hearing, members of Congress questioned the Obama administration’s policy toward negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program.

Profile: State Dept. Targets ‘Generation Prague’

Kelsey Davenport

Since 2010, the State Department has hosted an annual conference on arms control and disarmament to support President Barack Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons, with students and young professionals in the field as its principal target audience.

In interviews, participants in the conferences praised the meetings while suggesting ways to strengthen the effort.

The State Department uses the term “Generation Prague” to refer to the conferences and the next generation of professionals working in arms control. The term is an allusion to Obama’s speech outlining nuclear policy in Prague on April 5, 2009.

The State Department created the Generation Prague concept in 2010 to provide a “forum and framework for collaboration” with young professionals, students, and foreign governments that were energized by the Prague speech, Erin Harbaugh, outreach officer for the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 25 e-mail.

Now in its fifth year, Generation Prague is an event for “educating and empowering the next generation,” Alexandra Bell, director for strategic outreach in the Office of the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, said in the same e-mail.

Young people view nuclear weapons “through a completely different lens” in comparison to other generations because many were born after the Cold War, Bell said. The conferences give emerging leaders an opportunity to discuss nuclear policies that will fit in a more interconnected world, she said.

Making Disarmament ‘Relatable’

Participants at the conference said they benefited from the experience. For Brenna Gautam, a senior at the University of Notre Dame who attended the conference while working as an intern in Washington, the gathering presented “a more relatable image of the issue of disarmament and arms control.” Gautam, a co-founder of her university’s Global Zero chapter, said in an Aug. 20 e-mail that this is important because she feels that nuclear disarmament is “not a very personal issue” for her generation.

Erin Corcoran, a recent college graduate with an interest in the field, said in an Aug. 21 e-mail that, for young professionals to continue making progress in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, it is important to learn about the gravity of the threat posed by these weapons from “predecessors who lived and worked through the Cold War.”

Officials also say they benefit from the conferences. An Energy Department official said in a July 28 interview that the students and young professionals at Generation Prague have “challenged and broadened his thinking.” He said experts need to be reminded that youth “view the value of nuclear weapons differently” because the weapons do not have the same deterrent value today as they did during the Cold War.

One of the young professionals he mentioned was Kingston Reif, who participated in a 2011 panel and is now the director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Reif said in an Aug. 20 e-mail that he was motivated to participate because nuclear threat reduction is the responsibility not only of previous generations, “but our generation and future generations as well.”

Although the conferences bring in high-level officials such as Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Bell said the State Department has also worked to bring in experts from the “policy trenches” to ensure that the “audience gets an idea of how policy is working from top to bottom.”

Shane Mason said he appreciated the opportunity to meet experts who have been in the field for five to 10 years and support high-level officials. Mason, a research associate at the Stimson Center, said in an Aug. 20 e-mail that these experts provide “practical insights” about finding jobs and developing the necessary skills for the field.

Increasing Participation

Mason said that barriers to careers, particularly at the State Department, “seem pretty insurmountable at times.” Although he acknowledged that budget constraints make hiring difficult, Mason said that young people will not stay in the field if they cannot find jobs.

Bell said a “key driver” for reaching out to young people is demographics, as many experts who “built the arms control and nonproliferation regimes” are reaching retirement age. The State Department “wants to recruit their replacements” and is looking for new ways to hire the next generation of leaders, she said.

Despite the difficulties finding jobs, the number of young people involved in nuclear issues at the global level apparently is growing. Meena Singelee, who has tracked participation by young experts attending conferences that are part of the review process for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said the numbers have “gradually increased” since 2010, due in part to “renewed momentum” on disarmament issues and “new priorities” in areas such as nuclear security.

Singelee, executive director of the International Network Emerging Nuclear Specialists, said there remains a “lack of significant participation by young experts from developing countries,” she said.

The State Department is looking to expand Generation Prague to reach international audiences. Bell noted that the State Department has paired with international partners such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and representatives from countries including Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Harbaugh said that the State Department sees Generation Prague as “one part of a larger push to engage global youth” and welcomes collaborators.

Moving Forward

Several participants agreed that the conferences could accomplish more. Corcoran said that small-group discussions at future conferences might be useful so that there would be more opportunities to “directly engage” with some of the experts.

Reif suggested that the State Department work with universities on events that bring officials to campuses to “demonstrate that nuclear weapons are not just a problem of the past.”

Gautam agreed and suggested that the State Department work with pre-existing clubs on college campuses that are dedicated to arms control issues. She said a stronger online presence could be helpful in reaching out to students who cannot attend events such as the annual conference in Washington. Streaming the conference live would be a good step, she said.

Harbaugh said that the State Department wants to partner with universities and nongovernmental organizations to “offer more opportunities through the year, in and out of Washington.”

She said plans are already underway for next year’s conference and that organizers hope to make it more “interactive.”

For the past five years, the State Department has hosted an annual conference on arms control and disarmament to heighten interest in the issue among students and young professionals.

Vietnam Pact Nears End of Hill Review

Daniel Horner

A U.S.-Vietnamese agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation is on the verge of clearing its main hurdle in the United States, as Congress seems unlikely to complete the action it would need to take to block or revise the pact in the little remaining time left to do so.

Legislation that would have altered the duration of the Vietnam pact and some other agreements passed the Senate, and when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had marked up the legislation, it considered but did not approve amendments that would have made changes that are more far-reaching.

In interviews since then, congressional staffers indicated that although the Senate bill is very unlikely to become law during the current Congress, its key provision and the amendments considered by the committee could resurface in some form. That is because they set standards for nuclear cooperation agreements rather than specifically changing the Vietnam accord, the staffers said.

Under current law, nuclear cooperation agreements that meet nine basic nonproliferation requirements can enter into force without a congressional vote of approval if they lie before Congress for 90 days of so-called continuous session without Congress blocking them. Most agreements, including the one with Vietnam, are in this category.

The 90-day clock for the Vietnam pact began when President Barack Obama submitted the agreement to Congress on May 8 and ran until Congress adjourned for its August recess, leaving only two of the 90 days when Congress returns in early September, according to congressional sources. House action on the legislation within that time is seen as extremely unlikely.

The agreement with Vietnam is the first in what could be a series of agreements with countries that are considering launching nuclear power programs. For nonproliferation advocates in Congress and elsewhere, a key issue is how hard the United States should press these countries to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, activities that are considered sensitive because they can be used to produce nuclear explosive material.

The legislation approved by the Senate would require most new agreements to be reviewed by Congress every 30 years. The Vietnam agreement has an initial duration of 30 years “and shall continue in force thereafter for additional periods of five years each.” Either party can terminate the agreement at the end of those periods.

Changes Contemplated

When the Foreign Relations Committee marked up legislation July 22, it considered amendments by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that would have made broader changes in U.S. law.

Corker’s amendment would have added a 10th item to the nonproliferation list, a “guaranty” that the country would not “engage in activities related to the enrichment or reprocessing of material.”

At the markup, Corker noted that adding the language does not mean that countries necessarily would be required to forgo enrichment and reprocessing. But if they did not agree to that condition, the agreement would require congressional approval, a much higher political hurdle than lying before Congress for 90 days without being disapproved.

Markey’s amendment would bar funding for U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that take certain actions, including pursuing development of enrichment and reprocessing programs unless such programs are authorized by the country’s nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.

Markey’s amendment failed by a vote of 11-5; Corker’s lost on a voice vote. Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told Corker and Markey that he supported their “aspirations” but not the amendments. He said he would be willing to work with the two lawmakers to come up with language that was more likely to win support in the Senate. Menendez is the author of the language requiring the 30-year review, which was incorporated into a resolution of approval for the Vietnam agreement.

In an Aug. 6 interview, a senior Senate staffer said the resolution had been crafted to recognize the different roles of Congress and the administration. Negotiating agreements is the responsibility of the executive branch, and it is “not our job to change the agreement that is negotiated,” he said. Congress has “other powers,” namely the ability to establish in law the standards that agreements must meet, he said.

Seeking Clarity

Late last year, the Obama administration completed a three-year internal review of its policy on civilian nuclear cooperation. A senior administration official last December described the policy as “principled...but also pragmatic and practical.” (See ACT, January/February 2014.) The administration did not issue the documents that typically accompany such a policy announcement, leading to questions in Congress and elsewhere about the specifics of the policy.

At a Jan. 30 Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Menendez and Corker pressed administration witnesses to provide a clear explanation of the U.S. policy on nuclear cooperation, particularly with regard to restricting enrichment and reprocessing.

Menendez said he wanted to know what criteria the administration would be using to determine whether to push a country to refrain from enrichment and reprocessing activities. Corker said there was a “great inconsistency across agreements.”

In the Aug. 6 interview, the staffer said the absence of clearly articulated criteria means that Congress has no baseline for judging if the administration “got as much as [it] could” in negotiating nonproliferation conditions with other countries. “We don’t enjoy that,” he said.

At a July 10 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Daniel Lipman of the Nuclear Energy Institute argued against “inflexible preconditions to U.S. nuclear cooperation with potential partners, especially nontraditional preconditions that potential partners refuse to accept and other supplier nations do not require,” a description that would apply to the proposals to press countries to renounce enrichment and reprocessing activities. Lipman, the institute’s executive director for policy development and supplier programs, said enrichment- and reprocessing-related provisions in U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements should “reflect the unique circumstances of each bilateral relationship.”

But he said that the nuclear industry “has no quarrel” with a 30-year limit on the duration of civilian nuclear agreements. The most important issue with regard to the term of the agreements is that renewal negotiations begin early enough to avoid situations in which “an agreement is ready run out” and the renewal agreement has not been completed. “The term to us is, to some degree, immaterial,” he said.

Congress is in the midst of a wave of new and renewed nuclear cooperation agreements. Renewal agreements with Taiwan and the International Atomic Energy Agency recently entered into force. Earlier this year, the United States and South Korea agreed to a two-year extension while they sought to resolve issues preventing a longer-term agreement.

The United States also is in various stages of negotiations with a number of other countries, including China, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. China’s agreement expires next year; the ones with Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be new ones.

The congressional review period for a U.S.-Vietnamese civilian nuclear agreement is almost finished, and action seems unlikely. Some congressional sources say broader issues raised by the pact could resurface.

White House Reviewing Nuclear Budget

Tom Z. Collina

Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, the White House is overseeing an interagency review of multibillion-dollar plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, an Obama administration spokesman said in August.

This review will inform the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress, Ned Price of the National Security Council (NSC) said in an Aug. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The NSC staff is leading the review, Price said.

The budget request is to be submitted to Congress early next year.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan, independent report commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department and released July 31 calls the administration’s plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.”

The report, “Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future” by the National Defense Panel, which focuses primarily on broader defense issues, finds that current plans to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad—land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers—would have a “substantial cost” of $600 billion to $1 trillion over 30 years. Although the panel supports retaining the triad, it states that “the merits of some aspects of this expensive recapitalization can be debated.”

The panel, co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and retired Gen. John P. Abizaid, former commander of U.S. Central Command, says that the U.S. nuclear arsenal “could be reduced” if future arms control agreements required that. Either way, the United States will have to stop the “neglect” that has existed since the end of the Cold War and make some “reasonable decisions” about modernization of delivery systems and life extension of nuclear warheads, the report says.

The administration and Congress should “urgently and jointly” conduct a nuclear review to “examine the intellectual underpinnings of our strategic deterrence policy” and to “find cost-efficient ways to modernize the force,” the report says.

Big Plans, Smaller Budgets

Military spending is slowing at the same time as the departments of Defense and Energy are making long-term decisions about how many new missiles, submarines, bombers, and nuclear warheads the United States will build over the next 50 years.

The Navy wants to buy 12 new, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines with a total production cost of about $100 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-armed strategic bombers that are expected to cost at least $55 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). The Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pursuing a $60 billion plan to upgrade five nuclear warhead types, including the B61 gravity bomb. (See ACT, May 2014.)

In June 2013, President Barack Obama announced he would pursue a new agreement with Russia to reduce strategic nuclear weapons, and the U.S. military leadership has determined it can reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,000-1,100, or about one-third lower than the levels set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Russia showed little interest in further arms reductions, even before U.S.-Russian relations worsened over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and actions to support rebels in Ukraine.

At the same time, the administration’s nuclear modernization plans have started to run into trouble as the 2011 Budget Control Act’s limits on defense spending have begun to bite. For example, the defense budget still needs to be cut by $115 billion for fiscal years 2016-2019 to meet the act’s requirements.

As a result, the administration has had to delay producing the Navy’s new submarines by two years, delay certifying the new bombers to carry nuclear weapons, delay developing a new nuclear-armed ALCM by three years, delay rebuilding nuclear warheads, and cancel plans to build a new warhead production facility in New Mexico.

Questions on New Cruise Missile

Seeking to cut spending, Congress has begun to scrutinize administration budget requests for nuclear weapons more closely. Last year, the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee reduced the administration’s funding request for the B61 bomb life extension program by half, only to have the budget restored by a last-minute political compromise. (See ACT, March 2014.)

This year, that panel and the House and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittees all cut the administration’s request for the new ALCM.

In its June 17 report accompanying the bill, the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee said it is “reluctant to provide funding for a new cruise missile warhead when the Air Force cannot identify sufficient funding in its budget planning documents to design and procure a cruise missile to deliver a refurbished warhead.”

To shore up support for the weapon, Frank Kendall, chairman of the joint Pentagon-NNSA Nuclear Weapons Council, wrote a June 24 letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) stating that a bomber force armed with nuclear cruise missiles provides the president with “uniquely flexible options in an extreme crisis, particularly the ability to signal intent and control escalation.”

No date has been set for a vote in the full Senate on the defense and energy appropriations bills.

The White House is overseeing an interagency review of multibillion-dollar plans to rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal, while a bipartisan congressional commission has found the administration’s modernization plans “unaffordable.”

Iran, P5+1 Extend Nuclear Talks

Kelsey Davenport

Iran and six-country group known as the P5+1 agreed in July to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program through Nov. 24, a step officials said they hope will give the parties enough time to find solutions to the remaining gaps and reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

The negotiators originally aimed to conclude a comprehensive agreement by July 20, which marked the end of the implementation of a six-month interim agreement. But the interim accord, which the parties reached last Nov. 24, allows for the initial six-month time period to be extended if all parties agree. (See ACT, December 2013.)

In a joint statement announcing the extension in Vienna on July 19, Iranian Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), said they had made “tangible progress” in some areas but that “significant gaps on core issues” will require “more time and effort” to reach an agreement.

The statement did not give an exact date for the resumption of negotiations, but said that the parties would reconvene “in the coming weeks in different formats.”

On Aug. 7, U.S. officials, led by Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator and undersecretary of state for political affairs, met with Iranian officials in Geneva to discuss the nuclear negotiations.

A European diplomat familiar with the talks told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 14 e-mail that negotiators would likely meet before the UN General Assembly convenes Sept. 16. A ministerial-level meeting during the General Assembly is probable, he said.

He said both sides “remained entrenched” on the issue of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. A comprehensive agreement is unlikely unless both sides are willing to move away from “extreme positions” on what uranium-enrichment capacity Iran needs in the years to come, he said.

Iranian officials have opposed any cuts to the current capacity, which is about 10,200 operating first-generation centrifuges, and want to build up a program that will allow them to provide enriched-uranium fuel for domestic nuclear power reactors Tehran says it plans to build. Iran currently has one nuclear power reactor, Bushehr, and has a contract with Russia for the reactor’s fuel through 2021.

The P5+1 wants to cut Iran’s current capacity and maintain strict limits on uranium enrichment for a number of years.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who joined negotiators July 13-15 in Vienna, said in a statement after the extension announcement that, despite the gaps, there is a “path forward.”

Both sides committed to continue implementation of the measures from the six-month interim agreement and agreed to take several additional steps before Nov. 24. For example, Iran agreed to convert 25 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium powder into fuel assemblies for its Tehran Research Reactor.

During the term of the interim agreement, Iran neutralized its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium gas by diluting half to reactor-grade enrichment levels of less than 5 percent and converting the other half to powder form for fuel assemblies. Kerry said that implementation of the interim agreement was a “clear success” and rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade.

The stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium in gas form was a particular concern to the P5+1 because uranium enriched to this level is more easily enriched further to weapons grade.

The P5+1 committed to allow Iran to transfer $2.8 billion of its funds locked up in overseas accounts back into the country over the course of the four-month extension. U.S. sanctions have prohibited foreign banks from transferring payments for Iranian exports such as oil to Iranian banks. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

IAEA-Iran Cooperation

Meanwhile, Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited Tehran on Aug. 17 to discuss how to “strengthen cooperation and dialogue” between the agency and Iran, according to an Aug. 15 IAEA press release.

During his one-day visit, Amano met with President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif, and Ali Akbar Salehi, chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

In comments to the press during his visit, Amano said he discussed with Iranian officials how to “move ahead with existing practical measures.”

He was referring to a May 21 joint announcement in which Tehran pledged to provide the agency with information in five areas of concern to the IAEA by Aug. 25. (See ACT, June 2014.) Amano said implementation of these measures had begun and he expected further progress to be made over the next week.

These actions are part of a November agreement, the Framework for Cooperation, in which Iran and the IAEA committed to “resolve all present and past issues.” (See ACT, December 2013.) The IAEA laid out its concerns, including allegations of activities with possible relevance for developing nuclear weapons, in detail in its November 2011 report to the agency’s Board of Governors. (See ACT, December 2011.)

As one of the May actions, Tehran was to provide the IAEA with information addressing allegations that Iran conducted experiments with certain kinds of high explosives that could be relevant to nuclear weapons. Iran also said it would provide information on studies “in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials,” another area with direct connections to nuclear weapons development.

Detonators

Under one provision of the November framework agreement, Iran provided the IAEA with information by May on its past work on exploding bridge wire detonators, which is one of the activities relevant to developing nuclear weapons. Iran maintained in its communications to the agency that the detonators were developed for use in the oil and gas industry. (See ACT, June 2014.)

Amano said the IAEA “followed up” on issues related to the information Iran provided on the exploding bridge wire detonators during his visit. Salehi told reporters on Aug. 17 that Iran “responded to all of the questions” Amano asked about the detonators and said he hoped Amano would “wrap up” this topic. Salehi said future steps would be easier if the topic were closed.

Amano, however, said that to assess Iran’s need for the detonators, the agency will need to consider “all past outstanding issues” and assess them as an entire system.

Amano said he and Iranian officials also discussed new measures that Iran is to take “in the near future” to address the agency’s unresolved concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, who was in Tehran during Amano’s visit, said on Aug. 18 that Iran is trying to resolve its problems with the agency while protecting Iran’s “principles, interests, and national security.” He said he hoped this cooperation would continue but that some IAEA requests are “irrational” and unacceptable to Iran.

Iran has provided the IAEA with information to address 13 areas of concern since the November agreement. After the August talks, Amano said he was glad to hear “from the highest levels [of the Iranian government] a firm commitment to implementation” of the November agreement.

Amano said that the IAEA remains committed to “resolve all past and present issues.”

 


 

Kelsey Davenport’s reporting from Vienna was supported by a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America.

Iran and six world powers agreed to a four-month extension for negotiations on a comprehensive deal addressing Iran’s nuclear program.

Syrian Chemicals Destroyed on U.S. Ship

Daniel Horner

The destruction of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons materials was completed Aug. 18 aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea, President Barack Obama announced in a statement that day.

The MV Cape Ray neutralized about 600 metric tons of Syrian chemicals using two mobile units of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a technology developed by the Defense Department. About 20 metric tons was weapons-usable sulfur mustard, and the rest was a sarin precursor known as DF, according to figures from the Defense Department and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The announcement of the milestone in the ongoing effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program came a few days before the one-year anniversary of a chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, the catalyst for the sequence of events that led to Syrian chemical weapons materials being destroyed on a U.S. ship.

In response to that attack, which the United States, other governments, and most independent analysts attributed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes against Syria. But Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal under which Syria, which has close ties to Russia, agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and destroy its chemical arsenal under an expedited schedule. (See ACT, October 2013.) The OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council subsequently endorsed the plan.

Parties to the CWC are responsible for destroying chemical weapons components that they possess, but the plan allowed for the possibility of destruction outside Syria, in part because of the civil war that has been taking place in Syria since early 2011. Several countries were seen as candidates for hosting destruction facilities, but all of them declined, making shipboard destruction an attractive option, particularly for the most dangerous chemicals.

In an Aug. 19 statement congratulating the United States, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü reported that “OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment.”

Some of the lower-priority chemicals, as well as the effluent from the Cape Ray operation, are being processed in land facilities in Europe and the United States.

Of the 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons material that Syria declared when it joined the CWC, approximately 90 percent was removed from the country for destruction. About 130 metric tons of isopropanol were destroyed in Syria.

The removal of the material proceeded sporadically, and Syria fell months behind the timetable set by the OPCW and the United Nations. Syria and Russia blamed the civil war and the resulting dangers to overland transport. Other countries assigned much of the blame to the Syrian government; Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, said Syria was “drag[ging] its feet.” (See ACT, March 2014.)

The chemicals had to be gathered from across the country to the port of Latakia, where an international convoy picked them up for delivery to the Cape Ray and other destruction locations. An OPCW-UN mission oversaw the operation.

Beating the Schedule

As Obama and Üzümcü noted in their statements, the chemical destruction on the Cape Ray was completed ahead of schedule. The estimates varied somewhat, but generally had projected that the task would require about two months.

In an Aug. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Defense Department official said the original estimates were 45 to 90 days, with the range later narrowing to 45 to 60 days once officials had a better idea of the quantities the Cape Ray would be handling. The Pentagon maintained 60 days as the publicly announced figure to avoid “external pressure to meet an ‘artificial’ deadline,” the official said.

The 60-day figure built in some time for delays the official said, noting that the Cape Ray operation marked the first time chemical weapons neutralization was carried out at sea.

The hydrolysis units operated 24 hours a day for six days a week, with one day set aside for activities such as maintenance and testing, the official said, adding that there were no “major problems or delays.”

In an Aug. 18 press release, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had called the ship to congratulate the crew on its work.

Production Facilities

Several weeks before the Cape Ray completed its task, the OPCW announced an agreement on a long-running, contentious issue, the destruction of Syria’s 12 remaining chemical weapons production facilities. In a July 24 statement following an Executive Council meeting earlier that day, the OPCW said that seven hangars would be “razed to the ground” and five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels, would be “sealed permanently to make them inaccessible.”

Syria had previously insisted on converting the facilities to other uses rather than destroying them. (See ACT, July/August 2014, Web Extra.) The CWC allows countries to do so, with the approval of their fellow to the treaty parties.

The council’s decision document and an addendum from Üzümcü, which were not publicly released but were obtained by Arms Control Today, provide some details on the upcoming steps for the production facilities. The addendum describes a “fill and plug” process that would essentially destroy the parts of the underground structures that were directly related to chemical weapons production.

Sensors will be installed “to monitor the integrity of the interior plug.” The OPCW Technical Secretariat will have the right to inspect the closed portions for five years after the filling and plugging operation is completed, the addendum says.

No “toxic chemical activities” are allowed in the parts of the structures that remain usable.

According to the decision document, the destruction of the hangars is to start within 60 days of July 24, and destruction of the underground facilities within 90 days.

In his Aug. 18 statement, Obama said, “Going forward, we will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities.” He also cited “serious questions” about “omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW” and “continued allegations of use,” apparently a reference to allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria earlier this year. The OPCW is investigating those allegations.

The destruction of Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons materials was completed Aug. 18 aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

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