"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
November 2007
Edition Date: 
Thursday, November 1, 2007
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A Witches’ Brew? Evaluating Iran’s Uranium-Enrichment Progress

David Albright and Jacqueline Shire

What a difference a year makes. In November 2006, Iran had slightly more than 300 gas centrifuges running at its pilot uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz,  approximately 200 kilometers south of Tehran. One year later, Iran has close to 3,000 centrifuges installed in a vast underground hall of the commercial-scale Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz. It has also stockpiled enough of the enrichment feedstock uranium hexafluoride to produce enriched uranium, whether for nuclear energy or for nuclear weapons, for years to come.

This period has also seen two UN Security Council sanctions resolutions: Resolution 1737 was adopted December 27, 2006, and its sibling, Resolution 1747 was approved only three months later, on March 24, 2007. Each demands that Iran suspend its enrichment program and imposes what are arguably mild sanctions, cutting off arms exports and curtailing certain banking and overseas investment. Iran has flatly ignored the call to suspend uranium enrichment, seemingly determined to have its centrifuges and run them too. It has flouted not only the Security Council but also and, perhaps, more importantly the Bush administration’s determination that Iran not achieve a nuclear weapons capability.

To be sure, despite installing close to 3,000 centrifuges, Iran is not enriching uranium on a sustained basis. Yet, neither the UN measures, nor unilaterally imposed sanctions by the United States and some European Union countries, have caused sufficient  economic hardship for Iran to halt its enrichment program. Stronger and better-implemented sanctions, coupled with an aggressive and creative diplomatic effort, offer the most realistic means of turning back Iran’s nuclear program. Nevertheless, the date when Natanz can enrich uranium competently may not be far off.

A senior European diplomat involved in negotiations on the next round of proposed sanctions summed up the situation as a “race between how fast they can build centrifuges and we can turn up the pain.”[1]

Timeline to the Bomb

Of course, Iran steadfastly maintains that it has never had a nuclear weapons program and has no intention of ever building such arms. Few experts accept these claims, given the information to the contrary and Iran’s established violations of its verification commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its associated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement. These safeguards agreements establish the rules and procedures for IAEA monitoring of a country’s nuclear program under the NPT. Of particular concern are inconsistent Iranian statements about the origin and history of its gas centrifuge program, documents in Iran’s possession describing work producing enriched-uranium metal hemispheres, and allegations surrounding a seized laptop containing studies of the “Green Salt Project,” high-explosive testing, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that the U.S. intelligence community says is consistent with carrying a nuclear warhead. Besides indicating a possible military nuclear dimension, the laptop documents also appear to show an administrative interconnection between Iran’s nuclear program and its military. Iran’s numerous safeguards violations, detailed in IAEA reports, include not declaring that it imported uranium hexafluoride gas and enriched it in centrifuges that Iran had built and operated in secret.[2] Other safeguards violations involved experiments with laser isotope separation of uranium and the separation of plutonium.

Predicting when Iran could have nuclear weapons is more art than science. Setting aside the political decision that would precede Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, the country faces the hurdles of acquiring sufficient nuclear explosive material for its first nuclear weapon and weaponizing that material into a workable, deliverable design. These hurdles are surmountable with time. Nonetheless, Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons has gone more slowly than expected, given that Iran began its gas centrifuge program in 1985, at the height of the bloody Iran-Iraq War. According to IAEA officials, the program originated as a military one. The early centrifuge program, however, ran into multiple problems and stalled. It was only with the help of the notorious Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan and another 20 years of effort that Iran has arrived at its current situation with nearly 3,000 centrifuges installed at Natanz.

For the last few years, we have assessed that Iran will not be able to produce its first nuclear weapon before 2009, although the actual date may well be later.[3] The U.S. intelligence community has given the date as no sooner than 2010 but before 2015, and a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reportedly contains the same projected estimate.[4] This NIE and earlier estimates, however, remain classified; and the basis for their projected timelines remains unknown, particularly the justification for the later portion of the estimate that it could take Iran six to eight more years to obtain nuclear weapons. This later estimate stands in contrast to the technical data released by the IAEA.

Two basic scenarios capture Iran’s most likely routes to developing highly enriched uranium (HEU) for its first nuclear weapons. The first would be for Iran to build and operate a secret gas-centrifuge plant. The second would be for Tehran to “break out” after producing a stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) that would then be used to jump-start the production of weapons-grade uranium either at its enrichment plant at Natanz or in a secret site.

A centrifuge works by increasing the percentage of the key isotope uranium-235 to a concentration higher than the less than one percent concentration found naturally in uranium. LEU fuel typically has less than a five percent uranium-235 concentration, while weapons-grade uranium has more than 90 percent of the uranium-235 isotope. A breakout scenario would involve using an accumulated stock of LEU in centrifuges to greatly shorten the amount of time needed to produce weapons-grade uranium.

These scenarios depend on the operational flexibility of gas centrifuges, which are operated together in cascades. Iran’s workhorse cascade consists of 164 centrifuges connected by pipes and designed to make LEU. Eighteen cascades are operated as a unit called a module. At the FEP, uranium hexafluoride is fed through a single point connected to each of the 18 cascades, operating in parallel to one another. At the end of each cascade, or “top,” is additional piping that transports the enrichment product to a single collection point.

 In a matter of weeks, Iran could reconfigure the piping in the cascades and start producing weapons-grade uranium. Reconfiguring the cascades would involve rerouting the piping to allow the uranium feed to travel from one cascade to the next in series. In doing so, Tehran would also have to ensure that the HEU inside the plant did not accumulate, reaching a “critical state” where a chain reaction could start spontaneously and cause a dangerous, potentially fatal accident. Iran reportedly acquired information from Khan about how to build cascades to make HEU while avoiding criticality, which it could apply to a reconfiguration scenario.

Iran could also produce HEU without reconfiguring the cascades, although steps to prevent criticality would also be necessary. In this method, called batch recycling, the cascade product is fed back into the same cascade for subsequent cycles of enrichment. The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) stated in an interview that weapons-grade uranium could be produced in four passes in this manner.[5]

Alternatively, if IAEA inspections were to end, Iran could achieve the same goal by adding three smaller centrifuge modules in a secret centrifuge plant or in the FEP. Pakistan designed its centrifuge plant in this manner, and Khan provided Iran with the detailed blueprints for designing such a set of cascades. In the case of the FEP, such an approach would require additional construction and thus take longer to accomplish than reconfiguration or batch recycling.

Enrichment Capabilities

One of Iran’s most significant achievements in the past year was gaining the ability to produce large quantities of sufficient quality feedstock for enrichment. Once viewed as a bottleneck in the enrichment program, the uranium-conversion facility near Isfahan has produced enough uranium hexafluoride for tens of nuclear weapons. Iran’s production of uranium hexafluoride at Isfahan has grown from 55 metric tons, reported by the IAEA in its November 2006 report, to more than 330 tons as of August 14, 2007.[6] Although the quality of Iran’s uranium hexafluoride has been doubted, and centrifuge operation will improve with higher-quality feedstock, most of it is sufficient for centrifuges.[7]

 In less than one year, Iran has successfully installed, far from perfectly as we discuss below, 2,952 gas centrifuges in 18 cascades in the underground A1 hall at Natanz.[8] As of August 19, the IAEA reported that 1,968 centrifuges in 12 cascades were enriching uranium simultaneously at the Natanz FEP. Another two cascades were on the verge of operating, and two more were under construction. Since late August, the final two cascades have reportedly been installed. With these two cascades, Iran will soon or has achieved its objective to install a complete module, consisting of 18 cascades.

The P-1 Centrifuge

During the last year, more information has emerged about Iran’s ability to operate centrifuges, and one conclusion is clear. Iran will not operate centrifuges as well as the European enrichment consortium, Urenco, whose earlier-version machines Khan stole and later sold to Iran. Iran operates the P-1 centrifuge, a design of Dutch origin that is neither as reliable nor as economical as the German centrifuges that replaced it at Urenco. In particular, the rate at which the Dutch centrifuges break, or “crash,” is higher than the rate of crashes of the German one. Khan himself described the P-1 centrifuge as “not error free.”

Iran is unlikely soon to master the operation of a centrifuge, but it can be expected to become competent enough, despite inefficiencies and setbacks, to produce significant quantities of LEU.

The August IAEA report does not state how much LEU Iran has produced, only that the IAEA has verified enrichment to levels up to 3.7 percent, though Iran has claimed enrichment up to 4.8 percent. One way to derive how much enriched uranium Iran is producing is to examine how much uranium hexafluoride it is feeding into the cascades at the FEP.

An April 12, 2006 statement from an Iranian official describes the optimal production for the FEP. In remarks carried on Iranian television, Gholamreza Agazadeh, head of the AEOI, said, “In the 164 chain, the maximum amount of material that we can feed the system is 70 grams an hour, with a 10 percent product of 7 grams. The product is 7 grams.”[9]

If Iran were feeding uranium hexafluoride at Agazadeh’s rate and operating on a continuous basis, one would expect about 50 kilograms per month of uranium to be introduced into a single 164-machine cascade, or about 400 kilograms per month if eight cascades were operating or 600 kilograms per month if 12 cascades were operating. These values are far higher than what Iran has achieved so far.

To be sure, Iran did not start feeding the cascades with uranium hexafluoride until about mid-April 2007, a step reported by the IAEA in a communication to the IAEA Board of Governors on April 18. This letter states simply that Iran fed “some” uranium hexafluoride into eight cascades.

From early 2007 to August 2007, Iran fed a total of some 690 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride into the cascades at the FEP. According to the August IAEA report, this is “well below the expected quantity for a facility of this design.”

Based on this quantity of uranium hexafluoride, we estimate that Iran has produced 70 kilograms of LEU at the FEP from February through August 2007.[10] According to IAEA officials, the actual total may be even less. During the most recent May-August reporting period reflected in the August safeguards report, we estimate that Iran produced no more than 43 kilograms of LEU, or about 14 kilograms per month.[11] For comparison, 2,000 centrifuges operating at the level Pakistan is said to have achieved for P-1 centrifuges would have produced about 90 kilograms of LEU per month.[12]

Indeed, if the P-1 centrifuges were operating at their maximum outputs, 2,000 P-1 centrifuges could produce as much as 140 kilograms per month of LEU.[13] Iran is thus achieving only about 10-15 percent of an optimal output of enriched uranium.

 Iran’s reduced values for enrichment suggest that it has either encountered technical difficulties in operating its centrifuge cascades or has chosen to operate at this level for some unstated purpose. Iran likely has managed to learn how to operate individual centrifuges and cascades adequately, but it may still be struggling to operate a large number of cascades at the same time in parallel.

If Iran has been deliberately underfeeding the cascades, operators may be uncertain about what could occur in the cascades. Concerns could include the possibility of large-scale crashing of centrifuges or unexpected interruptions in cascade operations. This caution could be driven by inexperience in operating and controlling a large number of cascades, particularly involving centrifuges subject to excessive vibration. It is also possible that Iran has taken a technological risk, jumping as quickly as it can into industrial-scale operation without an adequate testing phase. If so, the speed with which it has installed centrifuges at the FEP could later prove problematic.

Iran may have slowed down for political reasons. Its leadership may have decided to slow work in order to forestall negative reactions that would lend support for further sanctions by the UN Security Council, Europe, or Japan. Although this possibility may have been part of the reason for the slowdown last summer, it may be less true now. According to a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, senior Iranian centrifuge scientists are working under a great deal of pressure from their senior political leaders to demonstrate that the centrifuges will work as intended.

We cannot yet estimate how well Iran’s centrifuges at the FEP will perform over time. Iran is likely to need several more months to get the module fully operational. On balance, the Iranian centrifuge project leaders appear to have run into several problems and have made several mistakes that are leading to reduced centrifuge performance. A key variable to continue watching, which will help indicate how well the centrifuges are operating, is how much uranium hexafluoride Iran introduces into the cascades over the next six months to a year.

How Much LEU Is Enough for a Breakout Capability?

A key milestone will be reached when Iran accumulates enough LEU to break out and relatively quickly produce weapons-grade uranium. An accumulation of approximately 700-800 kilograms of 4 percent enriched LEU would unquestionably provide it with enough LEU for a breakout capability whereby in a few months it could produce 20-25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a nuclear weapon. There would be little time for the international community to respond diplomatically, even though the IAEA would likely quickly detect any significant diversion of LEU.

This scenario assumes that the LEU would be enriched to weapons grade at Natanz or a secret site. The production of HEU could be accomplished in approximately three months using 2,000 P-1 centrifuges, or in about two months in 3,000 such centrifuges.[14] If Natanz were used, the IAEA would also detect such activity, leading most analysts to conclude that Iran is more likely to divert the LEU to a secret site that cannot be destroyed as easily as Natanz.

Estimating this milestone is fraught with uncertainties. Unknowns include the efficiency of the centrifuges, the likelihood of unexpected technical or political problems, and variations in operation dictated by different choices for the amount of weapons-grade uranium needed for a first weapon or key enrichment parameters, such as the tails assay, which is the fraction of uranium-235 remaining in the waste stream after enrichment. A higher tails assay typically translates into the faster production of enriched uranium.

At current rates of production at Natanz, Iran would need a long time to accumulate this amount of LEU. If Iran’s production of LEU is assumed to rise slightly, to about 25 kilograms of LEU per month, it would take Iran more than two years to produce 700 kilograms of LEU.

If Iran achieves by the end of this year a higher but still relatively low rate of LEU production, such as 50 kilograms of LEU per month, it would take Iran 14-16 months to produce 700-800 kilograms of LEU. In this case, Iran could accumulate 700-800 kilograms of LEU by late 2008 or early 2009. If Iran were to operate the P-1 centrifuges at a high rate of 90 kilograms per month by the end of this year, it would need until late spring or early summer 2008 to accumulate this quantity of LEU.

This date, however, is not a prediction of when Iran could have its first nuclear weapon, merely of when its stock of LEU reaches a certain identified level at which point a breakout scenario would become possible. Whether Iran plans to exercise this option remains unknown.

Fading to Black: Iran’s Increasingly Hidden Centrifuge Program

With weakened IAEA inspections, the invisible or black areas of Iran’s gas centrifuge program are growing. The most recent IAEA reports highlight the deterioration of the IAEA’s ability to verify Iran’s current activities, stating for example in May 2007 that unless Iran implements its version of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, the IAEA will not be able to “provide assurances” about the “absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.”[15] In January 2006, Iran ended a period of voluntary compliance with the protocol, which gives the IAEA greater ability to ferret out undeclared nuclear activities. Iran had agreed to the protocol during the period when it suspended its enrichment activities as part of an agreement with the European Union.

 Little is known now about where Iran manufactures individual P-1 centrifuge components. Before the suspension ended, the IAEA had a good understanding of the many locations that had been involved in manufacturing and assembling the P-1 centrifuges. Iran is believed capable of making the roughly 100 P-1 centrifuge components, despite still needing to acquire certain materials and equipment overseas. Iran assembles P-1 centrifuges at Natanz, although it may have other sites also equipped for assembly. Under existing safeguards, the IAEA is not allowed to visit manufacturing, assembly, or storage sites.

Another opaque area is Iran’s overseas acquisition needs for its centrifuge program. Such information can act as a barometer of Iran’s technological progress and stumbling blocks. Iran has long maintained an international illicit nuclear procurement network, which outfitted its centrifuge program in the first place. During the last few years, Iran has sought a range of items overseas for its centrifuge program, including specialized valves, vacuum pumps, oils, spare parts for its existing equipment, and possibly used manufacturing equipment.

Iran also has not provided the IAEA access to its P-2 centrifuge effort, although it has agreed to answer questions from inspectors about the history of this program. Iranian statements about this program will mean little if its safeguards inspectors cannot verify them. The Iranian P-2 centrifuge is a modified, more advanced version of a centrifuge provided by Khan. Within the next few years, Iran is expected to try to build the more powerful P-2 centrifuges, rather than P-1s. Reliably determining this program’s status and location is dependent on intelligence agencies, which are limited in their ability to collect and learn about Iran’s nuclear program.

Could There Be a Secret Enrichment Facility?

An important question—even harder to answer with weakened inspections—is whether Iran could be building a secret gas-centrifuge plant. Detecting construction of such a facility would be difficult if not impossible for the IAEA considering the limitations on its inspection rights and Iran’s refusal to declare to the IAEA any enrichment-related construction projects prior to the start of construction or operation. Iran is the only country with an active nuclear program insisting on adhering to an outdated, 1976 safeguards measure that permits such inspections only six months before the introduction of nuclear material into a facility.

Given all the discussion of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, it would not be surprising that Iran would consider building a backup facility to Natanz. In June, the Institute for Science and International Security detected the construction of a tunnel complex adjacent to the Natanz plant that could be used to store LEU, natural uranium, and centrifuge equipment in an emergency.[16] Although Iran has recently increased its air defenses of Natanz with the addition of at least four sophisticated Russian-supplied Tor-M1 (SA-15) air defense missile systems, Iran may no longer be confident that the underground halls can survive a concerted attack. As discussed above, building this plant in secret would not violate any safeguards agreement, although its discovery would be shocking. If the plant were designed with cascades to make weapons-grade uranium, it would be dramatic evidence of a nuclear weapons intention. On the other hand, if the plant were designed to make LEU, the international community might divide over its significance.

How Many Centrifuges Can Iran Make?

If Iran were building another centrifuge plant, it would need to produce enough components for Natanz and this other plant. Could it build a secret site while maintaining and expanding the Natanz plant?

When Iran ended in its voluntary adherence to an additional protocol in early 2006, it had in hand enough components for 5,000-10,000 centrifuges, according to senior diplomats in Vienna.[17] Several diplomats noted, however, that many of the components were not expected to pass quality control for actual use in a centrifuge. We estimate, based on interviews with IAEA officials, that in total Iran had in hand enough sets of good components for at least an additional 1,000-2,000 centrifuges, beyond the roughly 800 good centrifuges already assembled at Natanz, for a total of 1,800-2,800. The actual number of centrifuges assembled and in pieces is likely higher than this value. The rest would not be usable in a centrifuge and would essentially be junk.

Since the suspension, Iran is believed to have built many new centrifuge components in addition to assembling centrifuges out of existing and new components. One benchmark is that Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges in the underground halls of Natanz. It also must regularly replace broken centrifuges with new ones. Currently, Iran is reported to be replacing broken centrifuges quickly. This quantity is measured in hundreds of centrifuges per year, however, not thousands.

We estimate that if Iran does not expand Natanz further, maintaining its existing module of 3,000 centrifuges, it could outfit a secret plant of similar size during this year and next. Should it install another module at Natanz, it could still produce enough P-1 centrifuges during 2008 and 2009 for a secret site composed of up to 3,000 centrifuges. To do so, however, Iran would need to produce centrifuges at its maximum estimated rate of production of 200 centrifuges per month.

Rotors: A Clue to Centrifuge Manufacturing

One gauge of centrifuge manufacturing is the rate at which Iran assembles centrifuge rotors at Natanz. A rotor is a thin-walled metal cylinder inside the centrifuge that spins the uranium hexafluoride gas at high speed, separating the lighter uranium-235 isotope from the heaver uranium-238 isotope. The IAEA reported during the suspension, when it still had access to Iran’s centrifuge workshops, that Iran had demonstrated an assembly rate of roughly 100 rotors per month. Some IAEA officials estimated that Iran could double this rate if Iran simply went from one to two work shifts per day. During the roughly 20 months since the suspension ended, Iran could have produced 2,000-4,000 centrifuges. Given that 3,000 centrifuges have been installed in this period, Iran’s actual assembly rate must be more than 100 per month, especially if only 800 good ones had been assembled by the beginning of 2006. In any case, if Iran continued at this rate, it could assemble another 1,500-3,000 centrifuges from now through the end of 2008 and another 1,200-2,400 in 2009.

If Iran needed 3,000 centrifuges for a new module at Natanz and roughly 500 more to replace crashed machines in this and the existing module, then it would have at most 1,300 P-1 centrifuges to install in a secret site through 2008, a modest but significant number. In 2009, Iran could make almost 2,000 more centrifuges for a secret site.

Of course, these projections have many caveats. Iran might have encountered technical problems leading to a slowdown in manufacturing or a high failure rate for the rotors. It is also possible that Iran could have learned how to increase its efficiency and production rates.

In addition to making enough components for a secret site, Iran would also need to carefully choose a new facility at which it could install centrifuge cascades. It would need to install electrical, cooling, control and emergency equipment; feed and withdrawal systems; and other peripheral equipment. It would then need to integrate all these systems, test them, and commission the plant. Final completion would be highly unlikely before the end of 2008.


One way to illustrate this estimate is to consider one of the most difficult centrifuge components to make, the bellows, a specialized Urenco-designed component made from maraging steel, an extremely high strength, malleable alloy. Each P-1 centrifuge is comprised of four short, aluminum rotor tubes connected together by three of these thin-walled cylindrical pieces that act as a type of spring, allowing the rotor to bend ever so slightly and avoid breaking during start-up and shutdown.

In the late 1980s or in the 1990s, Iran had imported sufficient maraging steel to make bellows for about 100,000 P-1 centrifuges. Because of difficulties in making this part, however, Iran decided to buy bellows from the Khan network in the mid-1990s. As part of an order of 500 centrifuges, Khan cynically sent Iran 15,000 used bellows through intermediaries in two shipments in the mid-1990s. Khan told the Iranians that, among this large number, they would be sure to find the 1,500 good bellows needed for the 500 centrifuges. The Iranians naturally rejected this approach, particularly because so many of the used bellows were visually damaged or dirty, and demanded 1,500 new ones. These new bellows arrived in 1997. In recent years, however, Iran took Khan’s advice and began testing each of the used bellows to see if they are of high enough quality for re-use in a new centrifuge. The actual number of good ones remains unknown.

In the early 2000s, Iran finally learned to make its own bellows using imported equipment and materials from Europe and know-how from Khan. During the suspension, Iran had about 22,000 bellows, implying that Iran had made more than 5,000 new ones itself by then.

Many of these bellows are likely defective. To first appearances, 22,000 bellows would be enough for about 7,300 centrifuges. However, this does not take account of the defective ones supplied by Khan and built by Iran. One-half or more are likely to be defective. Khan himself guaranteed that only 1,500 out of 15,000 were good. A rough estimate is that, at the end of the suspension, Iran had enough good bellows for about 3,600 centrifuges either in assembled form or in storage.

To outfit Natanz and a secret site, Iran must make a considerable number of new bellows, up to 7,200 per year, assuming up to 2,400 centrifuges are made per year. This is a rate of 20 good bellows per day, an achievable but possibly high rate for Iran to sustain.


Examined in its totality, with all the caveats and unknowns, Iran’s uranium-enrichment program still has a way to go. It has achieved the appearance of success in some areas by manufacturing and installing 3,000 centrifuges and producing more than 330 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride. Iran’s consumption of uranium hexafluoride, however, remains well below what would be expected if the centrifuges were operating on a continuous basis and at optimum rates of performance. Iran has not yet therefore demonstrated competency at enriching uranium, though it is clearly on the road toward doing so.

Politically, there is great uncertainty about whether Iran will forgo its enrichment program as a result of pressure or an offer of incentives. Iran has not found persuasive the EU’s offer of carrots primarily in the form of advanced light-water reactor technology and other incentives. The sanctions contained in two UN Security Council resolutions have not swayed Iran from its present course. Without a smoking gun beyond what the IAEA has uncovered thus far regarding links between Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and a nuclear weapons program and with sharp memories of the Bush administration’s misuse of information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program, generating support for additional sanctions remains difficult.

It will be critical over the coming period not to lose sight of why, on proliferation grounds, Iran should be discouraged as strongly as possible from maintaining an enrichment program. Iran has a record of violating its IAEA safeguards obligations, adhering to the minimal possible standards of transparency, and failing to address questions about links between its program and the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. Simply put, the history of Iran’s efforts, the current scale of the enrichment program, and Iran’s determination to continue enriching uranium in the face of overwhelming international economic and political opposition, raise serious questions about its intentions.

While holding steadfast to the zero-enrichment objective, policymakers and diplomats should think creatively about how to nudge Iran in that direction, aside from the need for tougher sanctions. Direct negotiations without preconditions among Iran, the EU, and the United States are an obvious starting point. While talks are ongoing, Iran should be urged as a confidence-building measure to blend down its accrued LEU into natural uranium, reducing the threat of breakout. An immediate objective for talks should also be to persuade Iran to open all of its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, including those under construction.

Despite the unknowns, the day when Iran could have the capability to make significant quantities of HEU is firmer and is approaching. What to do about Iran will become a higher priority in 2008 and likely dominate the agenda of the next administration, perhaps as much as Iraq has.

Why A Military Attack is Not An Option

Iran’s determination to build and operate a uranium-enrichment plant poses difficult problems for those concerned about Iran acquiring a nuclear capability that could threaten its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf or Israel. The best approach for arresting Iran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear-weapon state is through a combination of creative diplomacy, sustained international pressure expressed primarily through targeted economic sanctions, and patience.

The threat that Iran could acquire a nuclear weapons capability if it remains on its present course is a serious one, regardless of how many years it might take them. Increasingly central to the debate about what to do is the issue of military force, whether and when it should be used and what it might achieve. An attack against Iran, large or small, is likely to worsen the already dangerous situation in the region and undermine larger U.S. strategic objectives throughout the world. Short of an invasion and occupation of Iran, an option no one is advocating, an attack on Iran is also a false promise because it offers no assurances that an Iranian nuclear weapons program would be substantially or irreversibly set back.

President George W. Bush, while apparently content for now to let diplomacy do its work, may not intend to leave office with Iran’s existing gas-centrifuge program intact and operating. Most recently, he warned that a nuclear Iran could “lead to World War III.” Vice President Dick Cheney stated in an October 22 speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that the United States and other nations are “prepared to impose serious consequences” on Iran if it maintains its present course, adding, “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”[1]

Israel’s recent bombing of an alleged nuclear reactor site under construction in Syria has reminded Washington and Tehran that Israel could attack Iran on its own if it believes that diplomacy has failed and that Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapons capability. The Bush administration, rather than allowing Israel to act on its own and knowing the United States would be subject to retaliation as well, may be pushed to launch an attack itself.

Two options for military attacks are often discussed. One involves air attacks against sites affiliated with Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle, in particular those near Arak, Isfahan, and Natanz. The other involves launching a wider aerial attack across Iran targeting actual and suspected nuclear facilities, as well as military command and control, missile production and storage sites, and retaliatory capabilities. Setting aside the merits, costs, and risks of these approaches from military and political perspectives, it is important to examine the more narrow issue of what impact such strikes would have on Iran’s nuclear program.

Targeted strikes against the sites affiliated with Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle would certainly set back for a number of years Iran’s heavy-water reactor construction project at Arak and its ability to convert large amounts of uranium ore to uranium hexafluoride at Isfahan. They would also likely destroy Iran’s centrifuge plant at Natanz, notwithstanding its hardening against such attacks.

But the survivability of an Iranian nuclear weapons program does not rest entirely on those sites--knowledge and experience are transferable, centrifuges are replicable.  Iran could rapidly reconstitute its gas centrifuge efforts elsewhere at smaller, secret sites if it has not already begun to do so.  More importantly, sites affiliated with the design and manufacture of centrifuges, the brain and heart of any centrifuge program, have been off limits to IAEA inspectors for over a year and may no longer be known to U.S. and Israeli intelligence.

Before the 2003-2005 enrichment suspension, Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing complex was highly dispersed in a variety of Defense Industries Organization facilities, companies owned by the enrichment program, and small private companies contracted to make specific parts. Any of these companies could still be involved, or a whole new set of unknown companies could be engaged in making centrifuge components. Intelligence about this vital part of the program is sparse absent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring of an enrichment suspension agreement and Tehran’s adherence to an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the agency

It should be assumed that Iran would remove key equipment and materials from its known nuclear sites in anticipation of an attack and may already maintain redundant capabilities for key centrifuge components. Iran’s uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan has already produced more than 330 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride, all of which is under IAEA safeguards. Given that fewer than 10 tons of this material is sufficient to produce one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium, Iran needs only to ensure that less than 10 percent of its stock survives any raids in order to have enough material to make three nuclear weapons. In anticipation of military strikes, Iran could quickly move much of its uranium hexafluoride to safe sites, and some could find its way to a covert enrichment facility. Similarly, Iran could quickly evacuate key equipment, any enriched uranium, and components from Natanz.

In short, destroying the facilities without the equipment and materials would not set back the enrichment part of the program significantly. Moreover, rather than possibly delaying or making it impossible for Tehran to carry out a final decision to make nuclear weapons, an attack might force the Iranian leadership’s hand. Iran would almost certainly kick out IAEA inspectors and, freed of any international restraints, might well accelerate any weaponization efforts, launching a Manhattan Project-style undertaking in defense of the homeland. In such a case, the United States would likely be forced to launch and sustain a long, costly war against Iran.

In the case that the United States launched a broader attack, causing far more destruction of Iranian infrastructure and disruption of the leadership’s ability to retaliate, the United States would be faced with the same problem. There would simply be no assurance that Iran’s ability to make nuclear explosive material would be significantly curtailed as long as it possessed covert facilities or the means to build and operate them. Finding them would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

This analysis leaves aside the other obvious, well-discussed downsides to a military attack against Iran, including the human costs, larger issues of its ramifications for U.S. interests in the region and the situation in Iraq, and increased instability throughout the Middle East as Iran retaliates, which it is fully expected to do. In addition, an attack would not only bring an end to the system of IAEA safeguards inspections in Iran but would dramatically reduce their credibility throughout the Middle East.

Not surprisingly, many U.S. military leaders have deep reservations about attacking Iran. Admiral William Fallon, current head of U.S. Central Command, said, “The constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war and that is what we ought to be working for.”[2] Later, in an interview with The New York Times, he said, “We will pursue avenues that might result in some kind of improvement in Iranian behavior,” including “a strategy to demonstrate our resolve.”[3]

At all costs, the false promise of military strikes should be avoided. They could plunge the Middle East and the United States into a far worse war and make an Iranian bomb a certainty.  —David Albright and Jacqueline Shire


1. “Cheney: U.S. Will Not Let Iran Go Nuclear,” Associated Press, October 22, 2007.

2. “No Iran War, Says U.S. Admiral,” Financial Times, September 24, 2007.

3. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “Washington Sees an Opportunity in Iranian’s Defiance,” The New York Times, September 27, 2007.

David Albright, a physicist, is president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, D.C., and a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq. Jacqueline Shire, a senior analyst at ISIS, was a foreign affairs officer at the Department of State between 1990 and 1998.


1. David Sanger and Thom Shanker, “Washington Sees an Opportunity in Iranian’s Defiance,” New York Times, September 27, 2007.

2. “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2004/83, November 15, 2004, para. 86.

3. David Albright, “When Could Iran Get the Bomb?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2006, pp. 26-33.

4. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), U.S. Department of Defense, “Secretary’s Response to Questions Following Shangri-La Security Conference Remarks,” June 2, 2007 (news transcript); Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball, “Israel’s Raid on Syria: Prelude to a Nuke Crisis?” Newsweek, October 1, 2007.

5. “Iran’s Nuclear Chief Explains Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Comments on U.S. Concerns,” Network 2, April 12, 2006, found at www.armscontrolwonk.com/file_download/32 (interview with Gholamreza Aghazadeh).

6. “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2007/48, August 30, 2007 (hereinafter Iranian 2007 safeguards agreement implementation); “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2007/22, May 23, 2007 (hereinafter Iranian 2007 safeguards agreement and resolutions implementation).

7. According to government sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Iran continues to use imported uranium at the Isfahan conversion facility rather than domestically mined uranium, partially because the impurities are significantly less in the imported material. The uranium hexafluoride made from imported uranium still contains impurities that complicate centrifuge operation, but overall the use of this material is not a severe problem.

8. Iranian 2007 safeguards agreement implementation.

9. “Iran’s Nuclear Chief Explains Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Comments on U.S. Concerns.”

10. The LEU is assumed to be 3.5 percent enriched on average and produced using a tails assay of 0.4 percent.

11. During this period, the IAEA reported that Iran fed about 430 kilograms of uranium into the cascades.

12. This estimate assumes that the centrifuges are operating at an annualized output of 2-kilogram uranium separative work units (swu) per year, that the average enrichment level is 3.5 percent, and that the tails assay is 0.4 percent.

13. According to a former Urenco official, the P-1 centrifuge can achieve a realistic maximum output of 3-kilogram uranium swu/year.

14. The above calculations assume a tails assay of 1 percent, and each P-1 centrifuge is assumed to achieve at least 2-kilogram uranium swu per year by the time of a breakout.

15. Iranian 2007 safeguards agreement and resolutions implementation.

16. David Albright and Paul Brannan, “New Tunnel Construction at Mountain Adjacent to the Natanz Enrichment Complex,” July 9, 2007, found at www.isis-online.org/publications/iran/IranNatanzTunnels.pdf.

17. See “Nuclear Iran,” IISS Strategic Comments, Vol. 13, No. 7 (September 2007) (upper estimate); senior IAEA official, interview with authors (lower estimate).

Indian Politics Stall U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal

Wade Boese

Domestic political opposition has compelled India’s government to put off required negotiations with the world’s nuclear monitoring agency, miring in doubt a U.S.-Indian initiative to peel back U.S. and multilateral civil nuclear trade restrictions on India. The two governments maintain they remain committed to the effort.

The U.S.-Indian initiative has fueled impassioned debate in India, but the ruling government has stood by the July 2005 deal it struck and had confidently maintained it would see the agreement through to completion. On Oct. 15, however, a government press release stated that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had informed President George W. Bush in a telephone conversation that “certain difficulties have arisen with respect to the operationalisation of the India-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement.”

Those difficulties stem from rigid opposition to the initiative by India’s Communist parties and its leftist allies, whose support Singh’s Congress Party relies on to help preserve its ruling coalition. Fervently anti-American, the Communist parties and their allies charge the initiative will render India subservient to the United States, particularly in foreign policy. They imply their support for the coalition government will end if it moves any further to bring the deal into effect. Such a revolt would risk national elections that might unseat the coalition.

The Congress Party has convened several meetings, the latest on Oct. 22, to sway the Communists and other leftists to modify their position, but to no avail. Another meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16.

After blasting the dissenters as foes to India’s development, the Congress Party recently softened its tone and appears increasingly resigned to the possibility that the initiative may whither away. Indian media reports widely quoted Singh as saying Oct. 12 that the initiative’s failure “would be a disappointment, but in life one has to live with certain disappointments.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that is the main opposition party, also has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism against the initiative. The BJP claims the agreement will impinge on India’s nuclear weapons program.

In an Oct. 13 BJP statement, L.K. Advani argued that, under the initiative, “there would be no Pokhrans,” referring to the test site of India’s nuclear blasts in 1974 and 1998. In power at the time, the BJP authorized the 1998 tests, which spurred Pakistan for the first time to demonstrate its nuclear capability by carrying out nuclear explosions. (See ACT, May 1998. )

India is one of three countries, Israel and Pakistan being the other two, never to have signed the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which recognizes only five states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) as possessing nuclear arms. The treaty obligates those five to work toward nuclear disarmament.

All of the NPT’s other states-parties forswear nuclear weapons. In return, they gain access to civil nuclear trade. The U.S.-Indian initiative would grant nuclear-armed India similar trade opportunities, which New Delhi claims are necessary to bolster India’s energy production and sustain its economic growth.

The BJP insinuates that the initiative is intended to pressure India toward nuclear abolition. Advani charged that Singh’s government is “jeopardizing India’s national security in the name of illusory energy security” and “assisting the United States to bring India into the NPT regime through the backdoor.”

The United States had led the world in erecting and upholding barriers to India’s participation in the global nuclear fuel and technology market because the device used in India’s 1974 explosion originated in part from Canadian and U.S. exports designated for peaceful purposes. Aiming to draw India closer to the United States, however, the Bush administration turned to ending India’s nuclear isolation.

U.S. lawmakers gave their preliminary approval, albeit with some conditions, to the administration’s new approach last December. (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) In July, the United States and India concluded an agreement specifying the terms of their potential future nuclear trade. The pact is known as a 123 agreement, after the section of the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act requiring such instruments. (See ACT, September 2007. )

The next step in the process involves India concluding a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to cover nuclear facilities and materials that India declares as civilian. Safeguards are measures, such as inspections and remote monitoring, to ensure that civil nuclear programs are not used to make nuclear weapons.

India intends to maintain a military sector for building nuclear bombs that will not be subject to IAEA safeguards. Of its 22 existing or under-construction power reactors, India says eight will be kept outside of safeguards.

New Delhi has declared it wants “India-specific” safeguards without publicly explaining what that concept entails. Indications are that India wants flexibility to suspend safeguards at certain times. The U.S.-Indian 123 agreement commits India to safeguards “in perpetuity,” but it also allows India to take unspecified “corrective measures” in case of any foreign supply disruptions.

The Communist and other leftist parties have said negotiations with the IAEA would trigger their break with Singh’s government. Without an Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement, the U.S.-Indian initiative cannot move forward. Both the voluntary 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and U.S. legislators have made an Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement a prerequisite for exempting India from current nuclear trade prohibitions.

NSG members are scheduled to meet Nov. 14-16 in Vienna, and reportedly the U.S.-Indian initiative is on the agenda for discussion. The United States has circulated to certain states a draft proposal for exempting India from the group’s rule that bars most nuclear trade with countries without safeguards on their entire nuclear enterprise. Washington only has shared its proposal with those governments solidly supporting the effort. Several NSG members are critical or skeptical of the initiative.

A trio of U.S. House members, including the ranking Republican on the foreign affairs committee, introduced a nonbinding resolution Oct. 4 calling on the administration not to support an India exemption at the NSG that does not conform to U.S. law. For instance, they urged any NSG exemption duplicate a U.S. requirement that all cooperation end if India conducts another nuclear test. The resolution, which has been referred to the committee for consideration, states that an “unqualified [NSG] exemption for India” could undermine U.S. nonproliferation policy and commercial interests because India might seek out nuclear trade partners with “less stringent conditions” than the United States.

With the current political deadlock in India preventing negotiations on IAEA safeguards, no action is expected on the U.S.-Indian initiative at the Vienna meeting. Moreover, NSG decisions, which are supposed to be made by consensus, are typically reserved for an annual plenary meeting, the next of which is to be hosted by Germany in the spring. Group members, however, can hold extraordinary meetings for special purposes.

Meanwhile, U.S. legislators are waiting on the NSG to act and on completion of the safeguards agreement. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs who has served as the administration’s lead on the initiative, said earlier this year that he hoped the 123 agreement would be presented to Congress for a final vote before the end of this year.

In light of the current circumstances in India, the Bush administration has revised its timeline for potentially finalizing the initiative to 2008. Department of State spokesperson Tom Casey acknowledged to reporters Oct. 16 that “obviously, a number of things would have to occur for [the initiative] to be ultimately implemented, but it’s a long time between now and the end of 2008 and we’ll see where we are.”

U.S., Russia Swap Arms Ideas

Wade Boese

Senior U.S. officials recently offered proposals to their Russian counterparts to ease escalating bilateral tensions, particularly on U.S. plans to base strategic anti-missile interceptors in Europe. The Kremlin said it would study the offers but indicated they were inadequate. Russia’s government also warned it might leave a bilateral treaty limiting certain classes of missiles if other countries remained free to acquire the proscribed weapons.

In July, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin had agreed to pursue high-level talks on a raft of arms issues dividing their countries. Carrying out that charge, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled Oct. 12 to Moscow to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov.

The discussions yielded no agreements, except that the two sides will meet again in six months at the same high level and work on a “strategic framework” aimed at tackling all of their ongoing arms disputes. Differences include competing U.S. and Russian ideas for a successor arrangement to the expiring 1991 START nuclear reductions accord, Russian opposition to U.S. missile defense plans, and quarrels over a treaty restricting the amount and location of major conventional weapons, such as battle tanks, stationed in Europe.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

At Russia’s urging, the quartet also added to the package the future of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Kremlin claims the accord, which forbids Washington and Moscow from possessing ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, disadvantages Russia vis-à-vis its neighbors, such as China, that lack the same constraints.

Before meeting with Rice and Gates, Putin said Oct. 12 that the INF Treaty should be made “global in scope.” Lavrov further spoke of the “universalization of the INF Treaty.” 

On Oct. 25 at the United Nations General Assembly, Russia and the United States issued a statement reaffirming their support for the INF Treaty and calling upon other governments to renounce and eliminate their ground-launched missiles with ranges banned by the accord. The statement declared U.S. and Russian intentions to “work with all interested countries” and “discuss the possibility of imparting a global character to this important regime.”

Missile Defense

The sharpest clash between Russia and the United States stems in part from missile developments by third countries. The Bush administration asserts its proposed deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic of 10 long-range ballistic missile interceptors and a radar to guide them is intended to counter Iran’s growing missile capabilities. Russia contends it is the system’s true target, asserting a long-range Iranian missile threat is at least 15 years away.

U.S. officials arrived in Moscow with proposals that they said would help relieve Russian angst. General concepts, they said, include stationing U.S. and Russian personnel at each other’s missile defense-related facilities and sites, increasing intelligence sharing, assessing missile threats jointly, and establishing a “joint regional missile defense architecture.” That architecture supposedly would link U.S., Russian, and European missile defense components. Gates later revealed to reporters that the United States also offered to possibly postpone activating the proposed system pending “definitive proof of the threat.” He noted Oct. 23 that “we have not fully developed this proposal.”

Lavrov and Serdyukov welcomed the U.S. proposals and said Russia would consider them. The two governments assigned their experts one immediate task: to devise common criteria for evaluating whether a missile threat exists. Lavrov remarked, “[I]f we succeed in hammering out these criteria, it will become clear that there is no need” for the U.S. system.

The two sides remain in a standoff over what should be the status of the U.S. deployment as they entertain each other’s proposals. Russia demands a halt to the effort, including ongoing U.S. negotiations with the two potential host countries.

Rice and Gates ruled out that possibility, claiming the evolving Iranian threat is dictating the pace of the plan. The Bush administration envisions installing the first missile interceptor as early as 2011, but lawmakers in pending legislation have cut or restricted funding for the project. The Pentagon warns such moves could delay the fielding of the system. U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran might acquire long-range ballistic missiles before 2015.

If Washington pushes ahead with its plan, Moscow warns all cooperation would be jeopardized, including Putin’s earlier proposal to share Russian radar data with the United States to assess Iran’s missile capabilities. (See ACT, July/August 2007. ) Putin stressed this point to Rice and Gates, saying “we could decide some day to put missile defense systems on the moon, but if we concentrate solely on carrying out our own plans, we could end up losing the opportunity for reaching an agreement.”

Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

The disagreement over missile defense garnered most of their attention, but U.S. and Russian officials also touched on the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and START I. The two sides announced no progress on either issue, despite some reported recent U.S. initiatives regarding the conventional arms pact.

Russia is threatening to suspend implementation of the CFE Treaty Dec. 12 unless the United States and its NATO allies remedy several Russian concerns. (See ACT, July/August 2007. ) Moscow’s key grievance is that NATO countries have failed to ratify a 1999 adapted version of the treaty, which would relax some arms limits on Russia and open up the treaty regime to new members. This latter point is important to Moscow because NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia do not belong to the treaty and have no arms restrictions.

Led by the United States, NATO members have maintained they will not ratify the updated treaty until Russia completes military withdrawal commitments from Georgia and Moldova made in conjunction with the adapted treaty. In recent months, the United States reportedly has endorsed a more flexible course of allowing individual NATO members to start some ratification steps, but not complete the process, to show goodwill to Russia.

Washington and other Western capitals also have reaffirmed offers to support replacing Russian forces in Moldova with international peacekeepers. Moscow contends such an approach would be unacceptable to the ethnic Russian population where Russian troops currently reside.

Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, stated Oct. 5 that the United States wanted to “work as fast as possible so that the Russians don’t suspend their obligations.” Although stating that U.S. proposals represented “a step to the right direction,” Lavrov Oct. 12 proclaimed them “insufficient.”


Lavrov further noted that the two governments “haven’t finalized…work” on what will follow START, which is scheduled to expire Dec. 5, 2009. The treaty required Washington and Moscow to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warhead levels from more than 10,000 each to fewer than 6,000 apiece. Neither country supports exercising the treaty’s five-year extension option, but both want to maintain certain treaty elements, such as some inspection and data exchange measures.

Russia favors codifying those provisions in a legally binding accord with new warhead and delivery-vehicle limits. The Bush administration does not, arguing such agreements are no longer needed because the Cold War arms race is in the past. (See ACT, July/August 2007. )

Some lawmakers, including a leading Republican voice on U.S. relations with Russia, are urging the administration to rethink its position. Speaking Oct. 8, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the foreign relations panel, said he was “hopeful the administration will ultimately abandon anxieties about legally binding commitments.” Lugar contended treaties “reduce the chances of misinterpretation, miscalculation, and error.” He added, “[T]he current Russian-American relationship is complicated enough without introducing greater elements of uncertainty into the nuclear relationship.”

U.S. Again Outsells Other Arms Suppliers

Wade Boese

The United States in 2006 continued to lead the world in conventional arms sales agreements and deliveries. The latest installment of an annual report to Congress on global arms sales also found that Washington reclaimed the top spot in arms deals with developing countries. Total global arms sales, however, declined from the previous year.

Released Oct. 1, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006,” revealed that the U.S. government agreed last year to $16.9 billion in arms sales and delivered slightly more than $14 billion worth of weapons abroad. Arms deals can take years to implement, so annual agreement and delivery totals rarely match.

The U.S. 2006 tallies surpassed by a few billion dollars those compiled in 2005 and marked the largest yearly sums for the United States since 2000. That year, the United States contracted almost $21 billion in transactions and carried out almost $15.2 billion in transfers. (Past and cumulative figures are adjusted to 2006 dollars to account for inflation.)

Last year’s U.S. totals significantly exceeded the sums accumulated by other leading arms suppliers. Russia ranked second and the United Kingdom third in the two categories of global arms agreements and deliveries. Moscow posted $8.7 billion in sales and $5.8 billion in exports, while London sealed $3.1 billion in agreements and shipped $3.3 billion in weapons.

The only other country to pass the $1 billion level both in agreements and deliveries was Germany, which signed $1.9 billion worth of deals, all but $100 million of which involved submarine deals with Brazil and Israel. Berlin also transferred $1 billion in arms. As with the top three suppliers, Germany’s 2006 activities marked increases from the preceding year.

China and France, however, experienced downturns, Paris most precipitously. French arms sales dropped from $8.3 billion to $500 million, and deliveries declined from almost $2.3 billion to $400 million. Meanwhile, China, which sells less advanced and cheaper weaponry than Russia and Western countries, agreed to $800 million in sales last year in contrast to $2.6 billion in 2005. Beijing’s delivery total also shrank from $936 million to $700 million.

All told, global arms sales agreements from 2005 to 2006 dipped $6 billion to $40.3 billion. That total, however, is slightly higher than the annual average of the eight-year period covered by the report, at $39.6 billion.

CRS analyst Richard Grimmett, who has authored the report since 1982, attributed the decrease in agreements reached last year to the fact that some key arms buyers slowed procurement in order to integrate previously bought weapons into their militaries. In addition, Grimmett claims rising oil prices have led some states to spend less on weapons, although he indicates the trend also has filled the pockets of some oil-rich arms purchasers, such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Those countries and others in the developing world, according to Grimmett, continue to be a “primary focus” of arms suppliers, accounting for $28.8 billion, or 71 percent, of all agreements last year. The report classifies developing countries as all states except Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, the United States, and European countries.

Washington and Moscow used arms transfers during the Cold War as one means to win allies in what both capitals saw as a global ideological and military struggle. Now, Grimmett contends, arms sales “may be based as much on economic considerations as those of foreign or national security policy.”

In the current era, the United States and Russia remain the dominant suppliers to developing countries, selling them $10.3 billion and $8.1 billion worth of arms in 2006, respectively. But other suppliers, such as China, Israel, and Sweden, are seeking inroads. These emerging dealers tend to offer older weapon systems, niche equipment, or small arms and light weapons rather than the big-ticket items such as combat aircraft and warships.

Still, experts say the availability of inexpensive weaponry, such as those based on the Soviet-origin AK-47 assault rifle, has contributed to countless human casualties in global conflicts. A 2006 deal by Russia to help Venezuela build a factory to produce a derivative of the AK-47, the AK-103, has raised U.S. concerns about the potential spread of these weapons. More generally, the United States has warned that recent Venezuelan arms purchases, totaling $3.1 billion in 2006, might spur arms buildups elsewhere in Latin America.

The United States regularly dismisses similar complaints lodged against its arms transactions. For example, India had protested that U.S. sales of combat aircraft to Pakistan could jeopardize Indian security, but the United States still signed a September 2006 deal to provide Pakistan up to 36 new F-16C/D fighters. (See ACT, November 2006. )

Overall, Pakistan ranked as the top developing-world arms buyer in 2006 with $5.1 billion in new deals. India, traditionally a purchaser of Russian weapons but now being heavily courted by the United States, placed a distant second with agreements valued at $3.5 billion.

Russia in recent years has sought to branch out from its two main clients, China and India, through various sales strategies, such as licensed production arrangements and debt relief. Moscow used the latter method last year with Algeria to conclude an estimated $7.5 billion arms package, which included an assortment of 64 combat aircraft. Grimmett reports that the actual revenue to be recouped by Moscow will be much less than the cost of the arms because “about $4.7 billion…is being paid through forgiveness of Algerian debt to Russia.”

Russian efforts to expand its customer base has yielded “mixed results,” according to Grimmett, who also assesses that Moscow’s lagging investment in new weapons research and development could hurt its future sales. Still, he predicts that China and India “should provide” Russia with “sustained business throughout this decade.”

Of all the major arms sellers, the United States has cultivated the largest client base and, in Grimmett’s analysis, “appears likely to hold its position as the principal supplier to key developing world nations, especially those able to afford major new weapons.” Even if those clients do not procure fresh arms, they regularly seek upgrades, replacement parts, and service support for previously acquired weapons, helping ensure steady U.S. business and preeminence in the global arms market.

Time to Rethink U.S. Strategy on Iran

By Daryl G. Kimball

Since Iran’s leaders two years ago rejected a multilateral package of incentives to halt their uranium-enrichment program, the United States and Europe have adopted a strategy of targeted sanctions. But this effort has failed to slow progress on Iran’s most worrisome nuclear projects.

Rather than engage Iran in a broad-based dialogue, the Bush administration has said it will only negotiate if Iran complies with UN Security Council calls to suspend its nuclear program. At the same time, the president and vice president have suggested that they may be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from “acquiring the knowledge to make nuclear weapons.”

That is a recipe for failure. Although divided on tactics, Iran’s leaders are now more determined than ever to pursue uranium enrichment and build heavy-water reactors. Tehran claims that these facilities are solely for energy and medical isotope production, but they can also create bomb-grade fissile material. Iran’s leaders should recognize their defiance undermines their prestige and the possibility of a rapprochement with other countries.

A more effective approach is needed and soon. As the United States and other key Security Council members seek to impose still tougher sanctions targeted at Iran’s leaders, its military and energy interests, and foreign investment, they must also engage in a comprehensive and sustained direct dialogue with Iran’s leaders.

Even though European-led efforts faltered in 2005, a new and fortified U.S.-backed package that increases the benefits of restraint and creates the possibility of removing tough international sanctions could still succeed in limiting the scope of Iran’s enrichment capabilities. U.S. and European leaders could open the talks by offering to halt further sanctions so long as Iran halts its sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle work and expands cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Moscow’s earlier offer to provide nuclear fuel services and joint research opportunities at facilities in Russia should be put back into play. U.S. officials and presidential wannabes should bite their tongues about military strikes, which would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, cause a wider war in the Middle East, and tilt Iranian opinion in favor of building nuclear weapons.

Instead, U.S. diplomats should dangle the possibility of guarantees against pre-emptive attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities or leadership targets, so long as Iran refrains from full-scale enrichment, allows greater IAEA access, and fully answers outstanding questions about its once-secret nuclear experiments.

Key nonaligned states, including India and South Africa, also have a responsibility to help restrain Iran’s program, rather than reinforce the false notion that nuclear technology enhances prestige and that Iran has the “right” to pursue enrichment capabilities. Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), non-nuclear-weapon states may make “use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” but only if they abide by their NPT safeguards commitments, which Iran has not done.

Such a strategy offers no guarantee of success, yet it appears to be the only approach that might avert a U.S.-Iranian military conflict, a nuclear-armed Iran, or both. U.S. and European diplomats may win support from the UN Security Council for tougher sanctions, but Iran’s nuclear program is moving faster than the effort to halt it. One year ago, Iran had 300 gas centrifuge machines in place; today it has nearly 3,000.

As Iran deploys more uranium-enrichment centrifuges, its leverage increases and the value of a “suspension” is diminished. If Iran moves from research to a production-level enrichment capacity or further to nuclear weapons, several other Middle Eastern states might feel compelled to follow suit.

Still, there is time to test whether a negotiated resolution to the crisis is possible, but only if a more serious initiative is pursued. Iran’s enrichment capability is still limited. The IAEA estimates that Iran might have enough material to produce a bomb in three to eight years if it decides to do so.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spurned earlier diplomatic openings out of fear that direct talks would bestow legitimacy on Iran and achieve nothing. As President George W. Bush put it on Oct. 4, “Negotiations just for the sake of negotiations often times send wrong signals. Negotiations to achieve consequences are worth doing.”

Certainly. But as Bush himself has pointed out, the administration engaged in six-party talks with North Korea, even as Pyongyang operated a reactor and a facility to reprocess plutonium for weapons. The strategy yielded an imperfect yet vital deal that has verifiably shut down North Korea’s major facilities and could lead to the dismantlement of its nuclear program.

If a certain policy fails to produce favorable results, most politicians and diplomats have the good sense to make adjustments rather than advocate more of the same. Leaders in Washington, Tehran, and elsewhere must rethink their current strategy and have the courage to take the first step toward a solution.

Since Iran’s leaders two years ago rejected a multilateral package of incentives to halt their uranium-enrichment program, the United States and Europe have adopted a strategy of targeted sanctions. But this effort has failed to slow progress on Iran’s most worrisome nuclear projects.

Rather than engage Iran in a broad-based dialogue, the Bush administration has said it will only negotiate if Iran complies with UN Security Council calls to suspend its nuclear program. At the same time, the president and vice president have suggested that they may be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from “acquiring the knowledge to make nuclear weapons.” (Continue)

Clues Emerge Surrounding Airstrike in Syria

Peter Crail

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.

After nearly a month of denials or silence regarding the Israeli incursion into Syrian airspace, officials in Syria and Israel have acknowledged that Israel struck a target in northern Syria.

Syrian officials originally denied that Israel successfully bombed any targets during the raid. (See ACT, October 2007.) On Oct. 1, however, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the BBC that Israel attacked a building “related to the military” that was still under construction. A day later, Israel provided its first official admission that an attack was conducted in Syrian territory. Israel Army Radio reported Oct. 2, “Israeli air force planes attacked a military target deep inside Syria on Sept. 6, the military censor allowed for publication today.” Israel has not provided any further details regarding the target of the attack.

The New York Times reported Oct. 14 that U.S. and Israeli intelligence analysts assessed that the suspected site of the attack was a nuclear reactor in the early phases of construction. Citing unnamed sources, the Times reported that the site resembles North Korea’s five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, which was used to produce the plutonium for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

A subsequent assessment of commercial satellite images by the nongovernmental Institute for Science and International Security also suggested that the structure could house a reactor similar to the Yongbyon reactor. However, the early level of construction prevented any definitive comparisons. Satellite photography taken since the attack has shown that Syria rapidly dismantled the remains of the facility and covered its foundations. Satellite images released from Sept. 2003 also demonstrate that the structure is at least four years old.

If Syria was constructing a reactor, it would still need to develop a plutonium reprocessing capability to separate the plutonium for weapons from the reactor’s spent fuel.

Requests for Briefings to Congress

In an Oct. 20 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, criticized the Bush administration for its secrecy regarding the strike. Noting that they were among the few members of Congress that were briefed on this issue, they argued that all members of Congress should receive information on the incident.

The lawmakers discussed the airstrike and reports of suspected Syrian nuclear cooperation from North Korea, Iran, or other rogue states in the context of current efforts in the six-party talks to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see page 26). Noting that Congress will be asked to provide funds for energy assistance to North Korea as part of the agreements brokered in the six-party talks, Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen assert that “until Congress is fully briefed, it would be imprudent for the administration to move forward with agreements with state proliferators.”

On Sept. 25, Ros-Lehtinen introduced the North Korean Counterterrorism and Nonproliferation Act, which would apply conditions to the provision of nonhumanitarian assistance to North Korea or to Pyongyang’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. One such condition would require the president to certify that North Korea is not engaged in the proliferation of nuclear or missile technology.

The administration has maintained that concerns regarding North Korean proliferation must be addressed within the six-party talks. (See ACT, October 2007.)

IAEA Inquiries Into the Nuclear Angle

The IAEA issued a press release Oct. 15 indicating that the agency did not have any information regarding an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility and that the IAEA is in contact with Syrian authorities to verify the veracity of reports regarding such a facility. The release also stated that “the IAEA Secretariat expects any country having information about nuclear-related activities in another country to provide that information to the IAEA.”

In an Oct. 22 interview with Le Monde newspaper, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the agency’s request for information states might have regarding nuclear activities in Syria. He also expressed hope that states would attempt to address any such nuclear concerns through the IAEA prior to taking military action, stating, “Frankly, I venture to hope that before people decide to bombard and use force, they will come and see us to convey their concerns.”

On Oct. 18, the agency also began to examine commercial satellite images of the suspected site of the Israeli airstrike. The IAEA has not yet been able to determine whether the building in question was a nuclear facility, although it is continuing this examination.

Syria has a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA and, according to a February 1992 decision of the IAEA Board of Governors, Syria is required to provide the agency with design information on any nuclear facilities “well before construction actually begins.”

Syria is prohibited from receiving nearly any nuclear technology from North Korea due to the obligations imposed by Security Council Resolution 1718. Adopted Oct. 14, 2006, in response to North Korea’s nuclear test, Resolution 1718 requires that all states prevent North Korean nationals from exporting or providing technical training, advice, services, or assistance related to items on the trigger list of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG is a group of 45 states that comprise the world’s primary suppliers of nuclear technology and that are required to provide notification prior to transferring any of the items on a list of nuclear-related technologies. North Korea is also obligated not to transfer or provide any assistance regarding items on the trigger list.

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor. (Continue)

Panel Questions Warhead Concept Plausibility

Wade Boese

The jury is still out on whether the United States can develop a new nuclear warhead without using a test explosion to verify its performance, a leading scientific panel has concluded, urging further study. Meanwhile, two key congressional protagonists in the debate surrounding the controversial initiative announced they will not seek re-election next year.

Lawmakers last year requested a review of the feasibility of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program by JASON, an advisory group of scientists that the U.S. government often commissions to conduct studies. Launched in 2004, the program aims to develop a warhead that is supposed to be less susceptible to accidents or misuse and easier and safer to build and maintain than existing warheads. The design is supposed to be validated without nuclear testing, which the United States ceased in 1992.

In an unclassified executive summary of its report dated Aug. 29, JASON concluded that it remains unknown if such a warhead can be produced and guaranteed to work. The scientists stated, “[C]ertification is not yet assured.” They added, “[T]he certification plan presented needs further development.”

The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the RRW program and the full nuclear weapons complex, portrayed the study as affirming the agency’s approach. In a Sept. 28 press release, Thomas D’Agostino, the NNSA director, said he was “pleased” the group “feels that we are on the right track.”

Others interpreted the study differently. Representatives Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio) issued a Sept. 27 statement declaring, “Once again, independent sources have raised serious questions that must be addressed before proceeding with the RRW [program].” The two legislators are the top members of the House appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, which earlier this year zeroed out the NNSA’s nearly $89 million fiscal year 2008 budget request for the RRW program. The full Congress has yet to agree on a final funding level.

The JASON report summary specified elements of the NNSA process requiring improvement and areas where uncertainties cast doubt on the program’s future.

In general, JASON urged the NNSA to grant peer review a “larger role” than the agency had planned. The scientists said a concerted effort should be made to “assure the nation that all expertise available has been applied to a rigorous evaluation of the new design.”

One aspect of the new design meriting greater scrutiny, according to JASON, is the effort to make the warhead more impervious to unintended or unauthorized detonation. “Substantial work remains on the physical understanding of the surety mechanisms,” the report noted.

JASON also suggested the NNSA delve more into pinpointing potential “failure modes” of the new design, which is based in part on previously tested systems. The scientists called for the NNSA to supplement its current certification plan with “additional experiments and analyses” to assess what might cause the design to fail. In particular, the study said the agency should investigate how proposed new manufacturing processes for an RRW device might affect performance.

Since enacting its nuclear test moratorium, the U.S. government has maintained confidence in the capability of its nuclear weapons through extensive surveillance, life extension, and computer simulation and modeling activities under the Stockpile Stewardship Program. The simulation and modeling work is based partially on data gleaned from previous nuclear tests of the nine basic warhead types currently making up the roughly 10,000 warhead stockpile, which is slated to be cut almost in half by 2012 under an initiative announced in June 2004 by the Bush administration. (See ACT, July/August 2004. )

RRW advocates contend that the new warhead design under development will be simpler than existing warheads and should be certifiable, given growing simulation and modeling capabilities. The JASON report, however, cautioned that “it is not yet possible to quantify how well excursions from a tested design can be modeled and predicted.”

A rationale advanced by the administration for embarking on the RRW initiative is that the small changes made to existing warheads through current life-extension activities will gradually move the warheads away from their original composition, raising questions about the possible performance of the warheads. Still, current warheads have been judged annually by the stewardship program as safe and reliable. JASON noted that it was not tasked with comparing “the merits of the RRW program relative to other options, such as life-extension programs.”

Using the stewardship program, the NNSA for the first time recently completed certification of a rebuilt warhead pit, which is the core component of a warhead that triggers the start of the nuclear explosion. The effort to rebuild and validate the W88 warhead pit took more than a decade. In a Sept. 27 press release, the NNSA declared that “certification was possible because of NNSA’s powerful experimental tools, supercomputers, and improved computer models.”

Whether the stewardship program is sufficient for maintaining the stockpile or the RRW program is needed has been sharply debated in Congress. To date, skeptics of the RRW effort have prevailed in trimming funding and capping research on the project, and they are poised to do so again this year in the current crop of congressional bills. (See ACT, July/August 2007. ) The Pentagon, however, sent an Oct. 10 letter to key members of Congress appealing proposed RRW funding cuts in the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill.

One lawmaker the Pentagon and the nuclear complex have generally relied on to strongly promote their causes will be departing Congress at the end of next year. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who has served 35 years, announced Oct. 4 that he will not seek re-election because of health reasons. New Mexico is home to two national nuclear laboratories, and Domenici has pressed hard for the RRW program, calling for it to be expanded beyond the initial version to a second design as well.

One of Domenici’s foremost opponents on nuclear weapons funding the past several years has been Hobson, who announced Oct. 14 that he also will not run again. Hobson, who is serving his ninth term in the House, has railed against what he sees as an obsolete, excessive, and wasteful nuclear complex and contends that the United States needs to rethink its nuclear policies before developing new nuclear warheads, such as the RRW.

One congressional staffer noted to Arms Control Today Oct. 16 that the two lawmakers occupy opposite ends of the spectrum but that the differences dividing them are not going to disappear with their departures. Those issues, the staffer said, will persist in “serious and profound ways.”

U.S. Nuke Dismantlement Tops Goal for Year

Wade Boese

The agency in charge of the U.S. nuclear complex declared Oct. 1 that over the past year it had nearly tripled its projected pace for dismantling retired nuclear warheads.

The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced it had achieved a 146 percent increase in dismantled warheads from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30. In June, the agency had declared it was operating at a 50 percent higher rate. (See ACT, October 2007. )

An NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 18 that the faster pace reflected greater windfalls than expected from investments over the past few years to “hire additional technicians, purchase more equipment and tools, and develop better safety and security procedures.” He added, “[Y]ou can always find new efficiencies once a process is started.”

Actual figures of dismantled warheads are secret. The United States used to release such information but stopped after 1999, contending the data might benefit U.S. foes.

Nonetheless, U.S. warhead dismantlement apparently has proceeded more slowly during the past several years than in the previous decade. Except for 1997 and 1999, the United States annually took apart more than 1,000 warheads. The Washington Post, citing anonymous congressional and administration sources, reported last year that the yearly dismantled sum had dropped below 100 warheads in recent years.

The current NNSA plan is to complete all scheduled dismantlements by 2023. This includes warheads slated for retirement under the Bush administration’s June 2004 initiative to cut the approximately 10,000-warhead stockpile almost in half by 2012.

The NNSA spokesperson said the accelerated dismantlement pace “has the potential to allow NNSA to complete scheduled dismantlements ahead of schedule.” Congressional and former government officials familiar with the process say timelines can change because some warheads are simply more difficult than others to take apart.

The jury is still out on whether the United States can develop a new nuclear warhead without using a test explosion to verify its performance, a leading scientific panel has concluded, urging further study. Meanwhile, two key congressional protagonists in the debate surrounding the controversial initiative announced they will not seek re-election next year. (Continue)

UN Iran Sanctions Decision Awaits

Peter Crail

On Sept. 28, the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, as well as the high representative of the European Union, adopted a joint statement indicating they intended to move forward on a third UN sanctions resolution unless Iran shows progress on two tracks. Meanwhile, the United States has sought to tighten the economic pressure on Iran by reducing Iran’s access to the international financial system.

In addition to Washington’s effort to pursue sanctions on Iran, the White House has recently stepped up its rhetoric regarding the consequences of failing to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons. During an Oct. 17 press conference, President George W. Bush suggested that Iran must be prevented from acquiring the knowledge necessary for building nuclear weapons in order to avoid “World War III.” Days later, at an Oct. 21 speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Vice President Richard Cheney insisted that “[t]he Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.”

U.S. Seeking Greater Economic Pressure on Tehran

Iran has refused to comply with Security Council demands to suspend its uranium-enrichment-related and plutonium reprocessing activities. Both processes can be used for peaceful purposes or to produce material for nuclear weapons. These demands were first imposed by Security Council Resolution 1737, adopted in December 2006, and reiterated by Resolution 1747, adopted March 24. The deadline for Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities under Resolution 1747 was May 24.

Since Iran failed to meet this deadline, the United States, joined by several European countries, has sought to impose an additional set of sanctions. (See ACT, June 2007.) The push for new sanctions has met strong resistance from Russia and China, which want to wait to see if progress would be made in Iran’s discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to resolve outstanding questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA and Iran agreed Aug. 21 on a timetable to answer these questions. According to the Russian News and Information Agency, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently reiterated Russia’s hesitation, stating, “Until the IAEA reports on what is going on in Iran, until we receive these answers, it would be irresponsible to make any radical movements.”

The seven countries agreed in the Sept. 28 joint statement that action on a resolution will await reports to be provided by EU High Representative Javier Solana regarding his negotiations with Iran on a package of incentives in return for Tehran’s suspension of sensitive nuclear activities and by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran’s cooperation with his agency.

In the meantime, the United States has continued to pursue punitive measures against Iran outside the Security Council. On Oct. 25, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson announced wide-ranging sanctions against 23 Iranian entities and individuals. Twenty-one entities and individuals were designated as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction under Executive Order 13382, which provides the authority to freeze the assets of designees and prohibits any transactions between them and U.S. persons. The designations included two state-owned banks, Melli and Mellat, and elements of the Iranian armed forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.

The IRGC is comprised of approximately 150,000 individuals and oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as elements of its nuclear program. The IRGC also controls an array of commercial enterprises.

In addition to these proliferation-focused sanctions, two entities, Bank Saderat and the Qods Force, a subdivision of the IRGC, were sanctioned under Executive Order 13224, which authorize financial restrictions for entities and individuals designated as supporting terrorist organizations. Bank Saderat was previously cut off from the U.S. financial system in September 2006.

These new sanctions follow a year of U.S. efforts to enhance financial restrictions on Iran and Iranian entities. In an Oct. 2 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey stated that last year the Department of the Treasury “launched a world-wide effort to inform the public, government partners and private-sector leaders about the danger Iran’s financial deception poses to the international financial system.”

Part of this initiative to expand participation in financial sanctions on Iran has been conducted through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a grouping of 34 states established in 1989 to address illicit financial activities such as money laundering and, more recently, terrorism and proliferation financing. On Oct. 12, FATF adopted guidelines for its members on implementing the financial sanctions on Iran related to Resolution 1737. These guidelines followed a statement issued Oct. 11 that advised the financial institutions of FATF members to take into account the risks related to Iran’s lack of money-laundering and terrorism-financing controls.

Following these steps by FATF, the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of Seven (G-7) major industrialized states issued a statement Oct. 19 that praised the intergovernmental body for taking steps against illicit financial activities by Iran. Highlighting the issue of proliferation concerns regarding Iran, the G-7 stated, “[I]n the wake of two unanimous UN Security Council Resolutions addressing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and the FATF’s actions identifying the risks of illicit finance associated with Iran, financial institutions are advised to take into account these risks.”

Over the last year, several major financial institutions have reduced or halted their investment in Iran. (See ACT, October 2007.) Speaking in regard to the foreign banks that have cut off their financial relations with Iran during a Sept. 25 press conference, Iranian Central Bank chief Tahmasb Mazaheri said, “Such a decision is unacceptable. It is a political decision and we told them that we will not forget and we will give an adequate response…when these banks want to come back to Iran.”

Due to the lack of private financing, major energy firms have curtailed or discontinued development projects. Although such actions have primarily been limited to Western energy firms, the Russian oil firm Lukoil recently canceled its development of one of Iran’s oil fields. Lukoil Vice President Leonid Fedun said Oct. 22, “We opened the largest field in Iran, but we can’t work there because the U.S. State Department has banned third countries from investing more than $20 million.” U.S. law requires the president to impose at least two out of a set of six sanctions on any firm investing more than $20 million into Iran’s energy sector, although the White House has routinely taken advantage of the statute’s waiver provision.

In response to its decreasing access to capital for developing its energy sector, Iran has sought investment from non-Western states, such as China, India, and Turkey. Chinese firms have entered into a number of oil and gas deals with Iran over the last year, and Ankara is considering self-financing a $3.5 billion Iranian gas project after failing to find foreign financing.

Putin in the Spotlight on Iran

On Oct. 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Tehran for the second Caspian Sea summit to meet with the leaders of the four other states bordering the sea—Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. It was the first time Moscow’s head of state has visited Tehran since Joseph Stalin attended the Tehran Conference in 1943.

Although the summit focused on legal and economic issues related to the Caspian Sea region, the 25-point declaration issued by the five leaders included two points largely related to concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The declaration recognized that all nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatories have the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and agreed that “under no circumstances will they allow the use of their territories by other countries to launch aggression or other military action against any of the member states” of the region.

In addition to attending the summit discussions on Caspian Sea issues, Putin met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to the Fars news agency, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani indicated Oct. 17 that “Putin put forward a special suggestion during his meeting with the supreme leader,” adding that part of the proposal addressed Iran’s nuclear program. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Khamenei telling Putin that “we will ponder your words and proposal.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, told the reporters Oct. 18, “There was no nuclear proposal. Rather, he had brought the message of friendship and all-out cooperation.”

One of the key bilateral issues between Moscow and Tehran has been the construction of Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr. As recently as last year, completion of the reactor was scheduled for this fall, but construction has been consistently delayed. Russian subcontractors recently indicated that completion is not likely before the fall of 2008. (See ACT, September 2007.)

In an interview with IRNA, Putin indicated that the contractual arrangements between the state-owned Russian construction firm and Iran must be amended due to the failure of partners in other states, including South Korea, to deliver equipment in line with their contractual obligations. In order to speed up the work, he explained, “we need to understand clearly what to do about the fact that we have old equipment alongside the new technology that the Russian subcontractors are using today.”

Putin also assured Iran that Russia intended to fulfill its commitments to construct and deliver fuel for the reactor.

Iran, IAEA Discuss Iran’s Centrifuge Program

The IAEA held two rounds of talks in Tehran, on Oct. 9-11 and beginning Oct. 20, with Iranian nuclear officials as part of the Aug. 21 action plan for resolving verification questions. These talks were aimed at clarifying Iran’s efforts to acquire and the scope of its work with P-1 and P-2 centrifuges. IRNA reported Oct. 11 Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaeedi, as stating, “In these long talks, the Iranian side presented an additional explanation about its P-1 and P-2 centrifuges to remove remaining ambiguities and questions.”

According to the work plan, the target date for resolving the questions related to Iran’s P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programs is November 2007.

The centrifuges that Iran has installed at its uranium-enrichment plant are based on the P-1 design, which Iran acquired through the Abdul Qadeer Khan network. Iran also acquired the more-advanced P-2 centrifuge design from the Khan network, which can enrich uranium about twice as fast as the P-1.

Since the IAEA began its investigation into Iran’s nuclear program in 2003, Iran has provided some accounting of its acquisition of P-1 centrifuge technology through documentation and access to individuals involved in discussions with the Khan network. (See ACT, December 2005.) However, according to reports by the IAEA director-general, Iran has not provided an explanation of discrepancies between its assertion that no contacts were made with the network between 1987 and mid-1993 and the contrary statements made by “key members of the network.” The IAEA has also sought clarification regarding Iran’s acquisition of 500 sets of P-1 centrifuge components in the mid-1990s. Iran previously indicated that it was unable to provide information or documentation about its acquisition efforts for these components.

In regard to P-2 centrifuge technology, Tehran originally explained that its intermediaries had only supplied drawings of P-2 centrifuge components and that it had not conducted work on the more-advanced centrifuges between 1995 and 2002. As in the case of its P-1 centrifuge acquisition efforts, the agency received conflicting information from a source within the Khan network who suggested that Iran received P-2 centrifuges components during this time frame. The IAEA has also sought clarification regarding work Iran conducted with P-2 centrifuges after 2002, as well as additional information on its efforts to procure magnets for its P-2 centrifuge program between 2002 and 2003.

Iranian Head Nuclear Negotiator Resigns

Iran’s government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham announced Oct. 20 that Larijani had resigned his position as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Larijani was replaced by Saeed Jalili, the deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs. Elham asserted that, in spite of Larijani’s resignation, “Iran’s nuclear policies are stabilized and unchangeable. Managerial change won’t bring any changes in [those] policies.” The spokesman also indicated that previous resignation attempts by Larijani were not accepted by Ahmadinejad.

In reference to disagreements between Larijani and Ahmadinejad, former vice president and vocal critic of the current president Mohammed Hashemi stated Oct. 23, “It is very disappointing that the government does not tolerate even views of a person like Mr. Larijani and eliminates him in such a manner.” Iran’s Jaam-e Jam newspaper reported Oct. 23 that, in response to Larijani’s resignation, 183 members of the Iranian parliament signed a letter praising his efforts as lead nuclear negotiator.

Despite Larijani’s resignation, he accompanied Jalili to a pre-scheduled meeting with Javier Solana in Rome Oct. 23. Larijani remains a member of the Supreme National Security Council as a representative of Khamenei.

Congress Takes Aim at Iran

Peter Crail

On Sept. 25, the House of Representatives adopted a controversial bill that would expand the reach of U.S. sanctions against entities that do business in Iran. Although the bill has received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, the administration has criticized the legislation for limiting its ability to garner support from other states for multilateral sanctions against Iran.

Similar legislation was filed in the Senate by Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) as an amendment to the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill but was not voted on. The defense authorization bill, which was adopted Oct. 1 by a vote of 93-2, includes two amendments pertaining to Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

House Targets Businesses

The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), passed by a vote of 397-16. Key provisions of the bill consist of a number of additional sanctions on entities, persons, and governments dealing with Iran and amendments to the current law, which requires the president to sanction any firm investing more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector.

The bill would extend sanctions to U.S. firms whose foreign-owned subsidiaries abrogate U.S. sanctions on Iran. This measure would not apply to contracts concluded prior to May 22, 2007.

In recent years, U.S. companies have come under fire for trade and investment deals between their foreign-owned subsidiaries and Iran. On April 30, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade, and Tourism held a hearing with Halliburton Co. Vice President and Corporate Secretary Sherry Williams regarding the work conducted in Iran by a foreign-owned subsidiary of the U.S.-based energy giant. She indicated that “we believe it to be well established that owned or controlled foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies are not subject to the U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.”

The bill would also prohibit the United States from entering into a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country assisting Iran’s nuclear program or transferring conventional arms or missiles to Tehran. The prohibition would include restrictions on exporting nuclear technology and components to such countries. The sole country explicitly recognized in the bill as applicable for such restrictions is Russia. In July, President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin initialed such an agreement, but diplomats said that its progress is likely tied to Russia’s policies toward Iran. Moreover, Moscow is currently constructing Iran’s first nuclear power reactor at Bushehr and has provided Iran with conventional weapons systems, including the transfer of 29 Tor-M1 anti-aircraft systems in January.

The bill would amend current law by removing the president’s waiver authority and making the prohibition of U.S. government procurement from a sanctioned entity a mandatory sanction. Current law allows the executive branch to choose two from a menu of six possible sanctions as well as to exercise waiver authority under certain circumstances. Since a version of the law first went into effect in 1996, the United States has refrained from placing sanctions on European firms due to the European Union’s nonproliferation and counterterrorism cooperation vis-à-vis Iran.

Administration officials have criticized the Lantos bill for targeting the business interests of states on which the United States depends to place multilateral pressure on Iran. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee March 6, “If the focus of the United States’ effort is to sanction our allies and not sanction Iran, that may not be the best way to maintain this very broad international coalition that we have built up since March of 2005.” The administration did, however, promulgate sanctions Oct. 25 that rely in part on restricting third-country financing of certain Iranian entities.

Senate Chimes In

Two of the amendments adopted along with the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill are related to recommendations for U.S. policy in response to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The first amendment, approved by a vote of 90-5 July 12, recommends that the United States develop and deploy a missile defense system to counter the threat from Iranian ballistic missiles as soon as technologically possible. The amendment urges that this action should provide protection for “the United States, its friends, and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.”

The United States is currently considering fielding a strategic missile defense system in eastern Europe, with elements of the system based in Poland and the Czech Republic. At present, Iran’s ballistic missile capability can reach portions of eastern and southeastern Europe, but it may be possible for Iran to develop a missile that can reach western Europe by the end of the decade. (See ACT, October 2007.)

By a vote of 76-22, the Senate Sept. 26 passed an amendment introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that recommends that the United States designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. The amendment also encourages the Department of the Treasury to “act with all possible expediency” to implement sanctions against all of the entities listed under UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747.

According to the latest U.S. report to the UN committee created to oversee the implementation of the resolutions, the United States has placed restrictions on only 14 of the 50 entities listed in the resolutions. The Oct. 25 sanctions included eight additional individuals listed under the resolutions.

On Sept. 25, the House of Representatives adopted a controversial bill that would expand the reach of U.S. sanctions against entities that do business in Iran. Although the bill has received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, the administration has criticized the legislation for limiting its ability to garner support from other states for multilateral sanctions against Iran. (Continue)

Editor's Note

Miles A. Pomper

Few would disagree that if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would represent an extraordinarily destabilizing development in an already shaky region. So how close is Iran to obtaining such arms, and what can be done to prevent it from doing so?

David Albright and Jacqueline Shire attempt to answer these questions in this month’s cover story. They conclude that Iran could have the “breakout capability” to produce weapons-grade nuclear material by late spring 2008. Nonetheless, they oppose bombing Iranian nuclear facilities, saying this might do little but spur Iran to take the final steps for making a nuclear weapon. Instead, they argue for tightening sanctions and engaging in direct diplomacy.

The Bush administration has cited Iran’s nuclear weapons potential as its justification for building a missile defense system in Europe. But as Richard Speier notes, the United States and other members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) have not done enough to mesh such systems with the MTCR. In particular, Speier argues that the MTCR should be broadened to prevent exports of countermeasures that might help countries such as Iran penetrate ballistic missile defenses. He also urges that exports of large missile defense interceptors, such as those proposed for Europe, be kept under a unified command-and-control system.

The United States and other countries also are worried that terrorists might acquire nuclear and other highly dangerous weapons. That concern led to the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 in 2004, mandating that countries work against this threat and report on what they have done to a special UN committee. This issue features an interview with that committee’s head, Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia.

Our news section this month includes an article by Peter Crail on an agreement to disable North Korea’s plutonium-production facilities and declare all of its nuclear programs. It also contains an analysis by Jeff Abramson of small arms and light weapons trade declarations submitted to the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

In our “Looking Back,” Trevor Findlay examines the past and future development of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards 10 years after the negotiation of the Model Additional Protocol. Findlay says that the current questions about Iran, for example, show both the progress that has been made and the limitations that remain in ensuring that peaceful nuclear programs are not diverted to military purposes.

Finally, we mourn the loss of someone who truly understood the value of peaceful research in nuclear physics and the horrific dangers of nuclear weapons. Wolfgang “Pief” Panofsky was a frequent contributor to Arms Control Today and a friend of the Arms Control Association. He will be missed.

Few would disagree that if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would represent an extraordinarily destabilizing development in an already shaky region. So how close is Iran to obtaining such arms, and what can be done to prevent it from doing so? (Continue)


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