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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
July/August 2008
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Cover Image: 

U.S. Issues Broad Threat to WMD Accomplices

Wade Boese

Serious consequences await those that aid terrorists in acquiring or using unconventional weapons under a new policy that national security adviser Stephen Hadley has broadcast. The Bush administration, however, is not clarifying whether the punishment could include U.S. nuclear weapons use, an ambiguity that suits some experts but troubles others.

Speaking May 28 to representatives of some 80 governments attending a Washington meeting on curbing the spread of unconventional arms, Hadley noted that the United States for many years has maintained that any state that employs biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, often referred to collectively as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), against the United States, its forces, or friends and allies could face U.S. retaliation with “overwhelming force.” He then continued by saying, “[T]oday, we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.” Hadley first made a nearly identical statement in a Feb. 8 speech at Stanford University in California.

The Hadley statements expand on previous U.S. warnings by extending the threat of retribution beyond those that use unconventional weapons to those who help an attacker along the way. Moreover, the acquisition of or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction is sufficient to precipitate U.S. action. In a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the Department of State emphasized “a key element” of Hadley’s warning is the “focus to include deterring actors that facilitate terrorist acquisition or use” of weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration’s previous declaratory policy was extolled in the December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, which was a public version of the classified September 2002 National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 17. In the public document, the administration warned that the United States would reserve “the right to respond with overwhelming force—including through resort to all of our options—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies” (emphasis added). Leaked portions of the classified statement revealed that the phrase “including through resort to all of our options” was a substitute to the NSPD-17’s original and more explicit threat “including potentially nuclear weapons.” (See ACT, January/February 2003 .)

The implication that the United States might use nuclear weapons to respond to biological or chemical weapons attacks was interpreted by some analysts and foreign governments as conflicting with U.S. negative security assurances given in 1978 and 1995 and reaffirmed in February 2002. Those assurances state that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against countries without such arms unless they attack the United States in association or alliance with a nuclear-armed state. Still, the Bush administration threat was not a statement that biological or chemical weapons attack would definitely engender U.S. nuclear retaliation, and U.S. officials in previous administrations had made comparable vague declarations. (See ACT, May/June 1996.)

Bush administration officials, according to a May 8, 2007, New York Times article, convened in May 2006 to discuss whether they should issue a more overt warning to countries that if their nuclear material or weapons were used in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they would be held “fully responsible.” That meeting reportedly ended inconclusively, but President George W. Bush later warned North Korea after its October 2006 nuclear test that any transfers of nuclear weapons or materials to other states or nonstate actors would pose a “grave threat” to the United States and that it would hold North Korea “fully accountable” for such actions. (See ACT, November 2006 .)

Hadley’s remarks, which expanded the North Korea warning to other states, are opaque as to what exactly would befall an entity complicit in terrorist WMD procurement or use. Although appearing in adjoining sentences, it is not directly stated that the threat of being held “fully accountable” includes possible U.S. use of “overwhelming force,” which at least in NSPD-17 encompassed the potential use of nuclear weapons.

In its June 20 e-mail, the State Department declined to answer whether overwhelming force as recently used by Hadley includes possible resort to nuclear weapons. Instead, the department stated that the United States would “take all factors into account in developing an appropriate response” to a WMD attack. Such a response, according to the department, could include “diplomatic efforts, seizures of funds, military actions, or the use of overwhelming force.” It asserted that past U.S. negative security assurances were still valid.

One former State Department veteran who worked more than 35 years on arms issues agrees that the recent Hadley statements do not contravene historic U.S. assurances. Dean Rust, who retired from the department in 2005, e-mailed Arms Control Today June 23 that the statements are “sufficiently ambiguous as to how [the United States] might hold someone ‘accountable’ for the specified actions.” He added, “[M]oreover, a [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] non-nuclear-weapon state that deliberately aided a terrorist group to acquire or use nuclear weapons would be in violation of at least the spirit if not the letter of the NPT, in which case the negative security assurance would no longer apply.”

Other experts, including former South African arms control negotiator Jean du Preez, see the Hadley statements as the latest Bush administration step eroding U.S. negative security assurances. (See ACT, July/August 2007 .) Du Preez, who contends that the administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy indicates the United States might use nuclear weapons to deal with other states’ biological or chemical weapons programs, wrote in a June 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the Hadley statement constitutes “a clear abrogation” of U.S. negative security assurances.

Du Preez also questioned how credible the new U.S. threats were, asking “what would be the consequences if evidence shows that an al Qaeda cell in Italy or South Africa is responsible for masterminding, or even worse executing, some sort of WMD attack against the United States or its allies and friends?” Another nettlesome scenario some experts raise is one in which a powerful country such as Russia is somehow implicated in a terrorist WMD attack. Aside from the difficulty of determining if Russia’s role was deliberate, there would be the dilemma of how to respond if it was found at fault. (See ACT, October 2006. ) An October 16, 2006, Defense News article on deterring nuclear terrorists quoted an unidentified former U.S. national security official as saying “a declaratory policy you can’t carry out is the worst thing imaginable.”

Rust said that the new U.S. warnings elevate the importance of the United States being able to accurately trace weapons and material back to their original source. Toward this end, the Bush administration in February requested $30 million as part of its fiscal year 2009 budget request to support a nuclear forensics center established in 2006. The House of Representatives June 18 passed an act to expand that center’s work; the Senate has yet to take up the measure. Some experts calculate that robust forensics capabilities might deter states from transferring nuclear weapons or related materials out of the fear that they would not be able to evade blame if those weapons or materials were used in an attack.

 

Serious consequences await those that aid terrorists in acquiring or using unconventional weapons under a new policy that national security adviser Stephen Hadley has broadcast. The Bush administration, however, is not clarifying whether the punishment could include U.S. nuclear weapons use, an ambiguity that suits some experts but troubles others. (Continue)

Shorter-Range Missile Defenses Show Progress

Wade Boese

Despite continuing concerns about the capability and testing of Pentagon efforts to develop and deploy anti-missile systems to protect against long-range ballistic missiles, less controversial programs to counter shorter-range missiles are enjoying some success.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced June 5 that it had conducted the second successful intercept test of a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) Block IV interceptor. Fired from the USS Lake Erie stationed off Hawaii, that missile destroyed a descending target approximately 19 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean.

The Aegis SM-2 Block IV interceptor program differs from the more established Aegis SM-3 project. Both can be fired by the same ships out of the same launching tubes at shorter-range ballistic missiles. But the SM-2 Block IV is designed to counter missiles inside the atmosphere in the final moments of their flight, while the SM-3 is focused on destroying missiles in the exoatmosphere. In addition, the SM-2 Block IV employs a blast-fragmentation warhead that explodes near its target as opposed to the SM-3 interceptor, which releases a kill vehicle that is supposed to seek out and smash its target through a direct collision.

Based on Navy demands for an interceptor that could deal with ballistic missiles in their so-called terminal stage, the MDA and Navy agreed in 2006 to cooperate on the SM-2 Block IV project. A similar program, the Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, had been cancelled in December 2001. The MDA is paying for modifications of the Aegis system to enable the firing of the new interceptor, and the Navy is supporting the necessary technical changes to an inventory of approximately 100 SM-2 Block IV missiles so they can perform the required mission.

Meanwhile, the older SM-3 interceptor program has scored 12 hits in 14 intercept tests, including the first-ever experiment last December by a Japanese ship. (See ACT, January/February 2008 .) A second Japanese vessel is expected to conduct another SM-3 intercept test later this year.

Japan is working with the United States to develop a longer-range version of the SM-3 intended to be more capable against long-range ballistic missiles that can travel further than 5,500 kilometers. That system is expected to be available for potential testing in 2014.

By that time, the MDA is hoping to have a fleet of 18 ships capable of launching the SM-3 as well as the SM-2 Block IV. Roughly a dozen ships can currently launch the SM-3, and the MDA is planning to have 38 of those interceptors available for potential use by the end of this year.

The MDA also is pushing ahead with development of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is intended to counter missiles with ranges of less than 5,500 kilometers both inside and outside the atmosphere as they descend. On May 28, the MDA announced that the Army had activated the first unit that will operate the land-mobile THAAD system once it is ready for deployment in 2009 or 2010. Currently undergoing training through 2009, the unit will be responsible for three THAAD launchers and 24 interceptors. Current MDA procurement plans call for 96 total interceptors, but the agency has been pushed by lawmakers and the services to buy more of the interceptors, as well as Aegis SM-3 missiles. (See ACT, June 2008 .)

After failing in six of eight intercept tests between 1995 and 1999, the THAAD system went through an extensive program redesign. Since a 2006 return to intercept testing, THAAD has destroyed five targets in five attempts, including a June 25 test. In that experiment, the THAAD system achieved its first intercept of a separating target; previous tests involved missiles that remained in one piece during their flights.

Despite continuing concerns about the capability and testing of Pentagon efforts to develop and deploy anti-missile systems to protect against long-range ballistic missiles, less controversial programs to counter shorter-range missiles are enjoying some success. (Continue)

News Analysis: Missile Defense Role Questioned

Wade Boese

Is the deployed U.S. anti-missile system capable enough to have a president rely on it to protect American lives if a hostile regime threatened to use long-range ballistic missiles to attack the United States? Some current administration officials say that President George W. Bush already did so during a similar crisis with North Korea in the summer of 2006. Others say such assertions exaggerate the risks faced in that incident and are intended to add luster to the administration’s controversial missile defense system, which was originally deployed in 2004 but remains unproven in the eyes of many, including some government experts.

Revisiting the Summer of 2006

In June 2006, North Korea placed its newest ballistic missile, the Taepo Dong-2, on a launch pad. The missile, which some estimated as capable of reaching the continental United States, never had been flight-tested, and its predecessor had been launched only once in a failed August 1998 attempt to put a small satellite in orbit. (See ACT, August/September 1998 .) Despite its apparent missile launch preparations, North Korea was observing a voluntary moratorium on flight-testing longer-range ballistic missiles that it had instituted in September 1999 and then extended indefinitely in a September 2002 bilateral agreement with Japan.

But Pyongyang also was unhappy with the suspended status of talks with Washington and other capitals on implementing a September 2005 agreement, which offered the Kim Jong Il regime economic and energy assistance in exchange for eliminating its nuclear programs, including any weapons that it might have built. (See ACT, October 2005 .) Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies recently had offered Iran new incentives intended to get it to end some of its nuclear activities, leading some observers to joke that North Korea was developing “Iran envy,” according to a former U.S. government official interviewed June 19 by Arms Control Today.

After weeks of speculation about North Korea’s motivations and whether it would launch the missile, the secretive regime July 4-5 fired six shorter-range missiles and the Taepo Dong-2. All the missiles, including the Taepo Dong-2, which failed approximately 40 seconds into its inaugural flight, landed harmlessly in the Sea of Japan.

Leading up to the tests, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States urged North Korea not to break its moratorium and warned that it would face penalties for defying them. The United States also let it be known that it was activating its ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system from a testing mode to operational readiness. That move put crews at Fort Greely, Alaska, on alert to fire, if ordered, the nine long-range ballistic missile interceptors based there. The Bush administration now deploys more than two dozen total GMD interceptors in Alaska and California.

Assessing the Missile Defense Move

Some Bush administration officials contend the decision to ready the GMD system was significant in freeing the president from having to contemplate trying to destroy the Taepo Dong-2 before it could be launched and escalating the situation.

In a March 11, 2008, briefing to reporters on U.S. anti-missile system efforts, John Rood, the acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, revisited the June 2006 activation decision. He explained that because of the system, “we didn’t have to seriously consider options like pre-emption or overwhelming retaliation. We had a defense, and we were content to use that defense, and it was a way of not contributing to the crisis being larger.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England struck a similar chord during a March 31 speech to attendees of a Washington conference sponsored by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA). He argued that missile defenses “allow our national leadership a choice beyond offensive actions,” noting that the North Korea case “was a prime example.” He said, “[W]e had no idea when [the Taepo Dong-2] was going to be launched and where they intended to fly it. It was possible that it could have reached U.S. territory.”

A month later at an April 30 hearing of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the director of the MDA, used the same episode to describe the capability of the GMD system. He stated that the system “was good enough that when the North Koreans stacked their Taepo Dong-2 in the summer of 2006, the president was relying on [the system] as opposed to taking the advice of some…former senior officials to pre-emptively strike that site.”

The officials in question were former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Ashton Carter, former assistant secretary of defense. They had advocated in the June 22, 2006, Washington Post that the United States destroy the Taepo Dong-2 before it could be launched in order to prevent North Korean technicians from learning from the flight test and using that data to “perfect” an ICBM capability.

Unlike Perry and Carter, however, the more recent Bush administration statements obscure the broad perception at the time that North Korea, aside from seeking diplomatic leverage, might be preparing for a test, not an attack. Bush officials imply that the risk of an attack was sufficient enough that, without the GMD system, the president would have had to consider using military force to prevent the launch. The Department of State, including Rood’s office; the National Security Council; and the MDA did not respond to Arms Control Today questions seeking clarification of the recent statements.

Charles Pritchard, a former envoy to negotiations with North Korea who left the State Department in August 2003, thinks current Bush officials have been “hyping the situation greatly.” In a June 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he wrote there was “no credible evidence or the slightest suggestion that North Korea was about to attack” the United States.

Noting that, in the summer of 2006, North Korea had yet to demonstrate a nuclear weapons capability—something it would later do in October 2006 with a widely condemned nuclear blast—Pritchard contended that “it made no sense technically or politically for North Korea to do something that would have invited massive retaliation.” Adding that he did not recall any reports of North Korea massing its troops at that time, he asked, “What kind of country attacks a superpower with a single missile that contains no [weapons of mass destruction] and has no follow-on plan to deal with the consequences?”

Public statements by Bush administration officials at the time suggest that they too saw the North Korean activities as test preparations. For instance, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a June 22 interview with CNN that the possible launch would be “the first test of this particular [missile] type.” Although stating that the missile’s payload was uncertain, Cheney seemed to downplay the danger by observing that North Korea’s missile capabilities were “fairly rudimentary” and that past North Korean test flights “haven’t been notably successful.”

Congressional sources interviewed by Arms Control Today said they did not recall any sense that a missile attack was likely, but one noted that reading the reclusive Kim Jong Il’s intentions was problematic and might have led to some uncertainty about the situation. Nonetheless, that staffer shared the general perspective of another who June 5 said the Bush administration statements were “a lot of hooey meant to build confidence in the [GMD] interceptors.”

Is the Anti-Missile System Reliable?

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), who chairs the subcommittee before which Obering testified on April 30, declined to comment to Arms Control Today on the nature of any information surrounding the June 2006 North Korean missile activities that “may have been the subject of classified intelligence briefings.” But in a June 11 statement, he observed that “components of the [GMD] system have yet to undergo successful realistic and operational testing such as would warrant full confidence against real-life threats should they be developed anytime soon.”

In the summer of 2006, the model of interceptors deployed in Alaska had not been successfully tested in intercept attempts, although prototypes had achieved five intercepts in eight experiments dating back to 1999. Since the summer of 2006, the interceptors have hit targets in two tests, while a third test was recently cancelled. (See ACT, June 2008 .) Still, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, reported in March that “the tests done to date have been developmental in nature, and do not provide sufficient realism for [the Pentagon’s] test and evaluation director to fully determine whether the [Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS)] is suitable and effective for battle.” The GMD system is the long-range element of the broader BMDS.

Despite the caveats and reservations of the GAO and the Pentagon’s own independent testing evaluator, Obering maintains confidence that the GMD system would protect against a long-range missile fired by Iran or North Korea if they were to acquire such a weapon. That optimism has spread to others. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at an April 1 hearing of the strategic forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that missile defense had evolved “through some highly challenging technological problems to a day when the North Koreans rattle their missiles, we feel confident we can knock it down.”

In an interview aired April 25, 2007, with the ABC News Nightline program, Colonel Ted Hildreth, the commander of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion operating the interceptors in Alaska, said, “I’d bet my family’s life” on the system’s capability to knock out a missile. It is unclear whether the Bush administration was entrusting many families’ lives to the system two years ago or just making a bet that it figured would not be called.

Is the deployed U.S. anti-missile system capable enough to have a president rely on it to protect American lives if a hostile regime threatened to use long-range ballistic missiles to attack the United States? Some current administration officials say that President George W. Bush already did so during a similar crisis with North Korea in the summer of 2006. Others say such assertions exaggerate the risks faced in that incident and are intended to add luster to the administration’s controversial missile defense system, which was originally deployed in 2004 but remains unproven in the eyes of many, including some government experts. (Continue)

States Divest From Businesses Tied to Iran

Brian Radzinsky

Eleven U.S. states have adopted legislation to divest public pension funds from companies with financial ties to Iran’s petroleum, defense, and nuclear sectors in an attempt to persuade Iran to give up its uranium-enrichment program and alleged sponsorship of terrorism. Almost 20 more states are considering similar legislation to supplement existing federal and international sanctions.

This is the first time that state investments have been leveraged for nonproliferation goals. During the 1980s, anti-apartheid activists urged state and local authorities and some universities to divest holdings from companies invested in or doing business with South Africa. During the 1990s, humanitarian activists persuaded Massachusetts to divest from companies “doing business with” Burma (Myanmar). More recently, almost 30 states passed legislation to divest from companies with investments in or engaged in trade with Sudan. The Iran case is unique, however, because divestment legislation explicitly references Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorists and its uranium-enrichment program.

Since the 2003 discovery of Iran’s clandestine uranium-enrichment program, the UN Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions freezing the finances and limiting the travel of prominent members of the nuclear and ballistic missile programs (see page 39). Enriched uranium can fuel nuclear reactors and provide the explosive core for a nuclear weapon.

The effort by U.S. states to divest from Iran mirrors a larger change in the Bush administration’s approach to Iran. For its part, the U.S. government has maintained various sanctions on Iran since 1979. Recently, however, Washington has moved away from advocating sanctions against individuals and organizations and toward a strategy of financial isolation. The Department of the Treasury in 2007 barred Iran’s Bank Saderat, Bank Sepah, and Bank Melli from the U.S. financial system and cut off their ability to conduct transactions with U.S. banks through a third party. (See ACT, March 2007.) In March, the UN Security Council urged member states to “exercise vigilance” about the activities of these banks. (See ACT, April 2008.) Treasury officials have recently discussed sanctioning Iran’s central bank, which is said to have picked up some of the business that used to flow to sanctioned institutions.

Legal Challenges

State divestment efforts also face legal challenges. The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) in 2000 successfully sued Massachusetts over legislation to divest from Myanmar. In that case, NFTC v. Crosby, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Massachusetts’ decision hindered the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy effectively. The NFTC won another legal battle in a U.S. district court over an Illinois law mandating divestment from Sudan.

Lawmakers have taken steps to circumvent subsequent court challenges. Several bills pending at the federal level encourage and authorize state divestments. The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, introduced by Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) in the Senate and a bipartisan group of eight representatives in the House, would publish in the Federal Register the names of companies with $20 million or more invested in Iran’s energy sector and authorize individual states to adopt divestment legislation.

The bill also provides legal safe harbor for fund administrators who might oppose divestment on grounds that doing so would cause their funds to depreciate. To this end, the bill protects mutual fund managers from lawsuits and pension fund managers from charges of fiduciary responsibility. According to Missouri’s treasurer, the Missouri portfolio suffered minimal disruption following divestment and in some years outperformed the original fund.

Divesting From Terrorism

Most divestment legislation adopts the criteria laid out in the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act to identify significant investment in Iran. Formerly the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, it requires the president to sanction those foreign companies with investments of $20 million or more in Iran’s energy sector.

In that vein, legislation signed in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Michigan directs state pension administrators to divest from companies that meet this standard and companies with financial ties to Iranian “terrorist organizations” identified by the U.S. government. Also anathema are companies that facilitate Iran’s acquisition of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons technology or military equipment.

Missouri and New Jersey have adopted explicitly “terror-free” investment policies. Terror-free investing, part of a larger initiative endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Center for Security Policy, and a number of other groups, encourages U.S. states to divest from companies “reasonably known to be operating directly with the government or a government-controlled agency in U.S.-sanctioned nations, or that are engaged in the sponsorship of terrorism.” Known as the Divest Terror movement, proponents argue that investing in such blacklisted countries as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria poses not just a threat to national security, but to the health of the investments themselves.

Of these countries, Iran stands the most to lose from widespread divestment from its economy. Iran’s gross domestic product is greater than that of Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria combined—around $600 billion, according to most sources.

The movement has gained several prominent adherents, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). In a June 2 speech at AIPAC’s national convention, McCain called for a “worldwide divestment campaign” in order to pressure Iran’s “radical elite.”

The target of state divestments, both in practice and as a part of a broader strategy to pressure Iran financially, is to hurt companies with significant ties to Iran’s energy sector. Companies potentially affected by divestments include such European giants as Spain’s Repsol, France’s Alcatel and Total, and Royal Dutch Shell. Some states’ pension funds are too small to conceivably have an impact. On the other hand, California’s Public Employees and State Teachers Retirement Systems invest a combined $400 billion in U.S. and international companies. An estimated $2 billion of those funds are tied up in Iran’s oil sector.

Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department official in the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and director of the Stein Counterterrorism Center at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, concedes that divestment alone will probably not force Iran to adhere to international demands. “The real issue is not divestment [by itself],” he says, “but the totality of the various [coercive] measures. Together they have a very good chance of forcing Iran to rethink its policies.”

 

Eleven U.S. states have adopted legislation to divest public pension funds from companies with financial ties to Iran’s petroleum, defense, and nuclear sectors in an attempt to persuade Iran to give up its uranium-enrichment program and alleged sponsorship of terrorism. Almost 20 more states are considering similar legislation to supplement existing federal and international sanctions. (Continue)

Candidates Differ on Iran, Agree on Sanctions

Peter Crail

Over the past month, the issue of how the United States will address Iran’s nuclear program has become one of the centerpieces of the foreign policy debate between the two presumptive major-party presidential candidates. The candidates differ in particular on their perceptions of the usefulness of direct dialogue with Iran, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) indicating that he would drop U.S. preconditions for meeting with Iran and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declaring that such an approach would only strengthen the ruling regime in Tehran.

The Bush administration maintains that it will not hold discussions with Iran on the nuclear issue until Iran complies with UN Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment-related activities and halt the construction of its heavy-water reactor. The Security Council has adopted four resolutions reiterating these requirements.

Obama, however, has affirmed that he would be willing to engage in direct talks with Iran without these preconditions. During a Nov. 11, 2007, Meet the Press interview, Obama characterized such preconditions as meaning that “we won’t meet with people unless they’ve already agreed to the very things that we expect to be meeting with them about.”

He stated in a June 4 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that he would present Iran with a “clear choice” between cooperation or increased pressure and argued that, should Iran fail to cooperate, such a diplomatic overture would “strengthen our hand with Russia and China as we insist on stronger sanctions in the Security Council.”

Obama has also suggested the possibility of a summit-level meeting with Iran but has cautioned that such a meeting may not involve Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He told reporters May 27 that there is no reason to meet with Ahmadinejad “before we know he [is] actually in power,” adding “he’s not the most powerful person in Iran.” Iran will hold its presidential elections in mid-2009. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the highest political authority in Iran.

On several occasions, McCain has criticized Obama’s willingness to hold direct talks with Iranian leaders without preconditions, suggesting that such an approach would only strengthen the regime in Tehran. In a June 2 speech to AIPAC, McCain claimed that a meeting between the U.S. president and the Iranian president or supreme leader would “harm Iranian moderates and dissidents” and grant the hard-line elements of the regime “the appearance of respectability.”

During a May 19 campaign speech, however, McCain stated that the United States should “communicate with Iran our concerns about their behavior” at an “appropriate” diplomatic level.

Public support appears to favor direct talks with Iran’s leadership. According to a May 19-21 Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans support holding direct talks with the president of Iran.

Aside from their split over the value of direct negotiations, the candidates hold markedly similar positions on ways in which the United States can increase pressure on Iran.

Each maintains that no options should be “taken off the table”—a reference to the potential use of military action—and stress the need for more robust multilateral sanctions against Iranian financial institutions and its energy sector. In particular, the candidates advocate going beyond Security Council sanctions to apply financial and political pressure on Iran.

McCain said June 2 that, should the Security Council “delay in [its] responsibility” to impose harsher sanctions against Tehran, Washington must lead “like-minded countries” to do so. Obama echoed this suggestion during his June 4 speech, stating that the United States should “find every avenue outside the United Nations to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Among the measures both candidates have cited as necessary to increase pressure on Iran are sanctions to limit Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum and encouraging a private divestment campaign modeled on the international divestment effort against the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1980s.

McCain and Obama have also supported legislation that would mandate U.S. sanctions on foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. firms that do business with Iran and that call for listing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

The IRGC is a military organization, comprised of about 150,000 individuals, that oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program and elements of its nuclear program. It also controls an array of commercial enterprises.

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Over the past month, the issue of how the United States will address Iran’s nuclear program has become one of the centerpieces of the foreign policy debate between the two presumptive major-party presidential candidates. The candidates differ in particular on their perceptions of the usefulness of direct dialogue with Iran, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) indicating that he would drop U.S. preconditions for meeting with Iran and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declaring that such an approach would only strengthen the ruling regime in Tehran. (Continue)

EU Levies Sanctions on Iran

Peter Crail

The European Union agreed June 23 to impose a new set of sanctions against Iranian individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The new sanctions go beyond the measures contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1803, adopted in March, applying restrictions to persons and entities not designated by the resolution. Last year, the EU similarly adopted stricter measures than those required by two earlier council resolutions.

Resolution 1803 required all states to undertake efforts to prevent Iran from financing or procuring technology for its nuclear and missile programs. (See ACT, April 2008. )

Chief among the new sanctions was an assets freeze on Iran’s largest bank, Bank Melli, which will be required to close its offices in Hamburg, London, and Paris. Under the EU legislation, the 27-country group sanctioned Bank Melli for “providing or attempting to provide” support for firms associated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Resolution 1803 called on but did not require states to “exercise vigilance” regarding their business with Iranian banks, in particular Bank Melli and Bank Saderat.

The EU has not taken similar steps against Bank Saderat, Iran’s second largest bank. A British diplomat explained to Arms Control Today June 27 that Resolution 1803 listed Bank Saderat for its financial connections to terrorist organizations, but the EU action was aimed only at entities engaged in proliferation, which include Bank Melli. The United States imposed financial restrictions on both banks in October 2007. (See ACT, November 2007. )

In addition to Bank Melli, the EU placed similar restrictions on 12 other entities, nearly all of which are Iranian defense firms. The EU also placed assets freezes and travel bans on 14 senior Iranian officials holding leadership positions in key military organizations and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which oversees Iran’s nuclear program.

A German diplomat told Arms Control Today June 19 that the EU had been waiting on the delivery of a revised proposal for negotiations by the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany before adopting new sanctions (see page 37). The six countries have characterized the incentives offer and the UN sanctions as a “dual-track strategy” in which sanctions place pressure on Iran to comply with international demands while benefits are offered as part of a comprehensive package to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The diplomat further noted that, given the poor prospect of winning new support from China and Russia for additional UN sanctions on Iran in the near future, Western states will focus on ensuring the effective implementation of the three resolutions already adopted by the council, citing the lack of capacity of many states to control the export of the types of technologies listed under the sanctions.

The EU sanctions follow a visit to several European countries by President George W. Bush during which the trans-Atlantic strategy on Iran was a major topic for discussion. Following a June 10 U.S.-EU summit, the participants issued a declaration agreeing “to take steps to ensure Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism.”

Iran has been wary of the increasing Western pressure on its financial institutions. According to the Iranian weekly Shahrvand-e Emrooz June 16, Tehran has moved about $75 billion worth of financial assets out of European banks in an effort to mitigate the economic impact of strengthened financial sanctions by the West.

Iranian officials appeared to have confirmed this financial shift recently. Mohsen Talaei, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, told reporters June 11 that Iran’s foreign exchange assets were in a “secure position now, ” adding that “part of Iran’s assets in European banks have been converted to gold and shares and another part has been transferred to Asian banks.”

 

The European Union agreed June 23 to impose a new set of sanctions against Iranian individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The new sanctions go beyond the measures contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1803, adopted in March, applying restrictions to persons and entities not designated by the resolution. Last year, the EU similarly adopted stricter measures than those required by two earlier council resolutions. (Continue)

Iran Presented With Revamped Incentives

Peter Crail

On June 14, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany formally presented Iran with a revised proposal for comprehensive negotiations aimed at resolving concerns over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The incentives package builds on an offer made by the six-country group in 2006 and includes a potential face-saving understanding that would allow talks to begin with Iran if it agreed to halt its controversial uranium-enrichment activities shortly thereafter. Overall, however, the proposal maintains the original offer’s basic framework of providing political and economic benefits to Iran in return for shutting down the country’s sensitive nuclear activities.

The six-country offer follows a vague Iranian proposal for a negotiated settlement delivered to the group in May. (See ACT, June 2008. )

Meanwhile, Iran has continued to rebuff international demands to halt its uranium-enrichment-related activities and the construction of its heavy-water reactor, missing a June 3 deadline established by Security Council Resolution 1803 to do so. (See ACT, April 2008. ) Not only has Iran proceeded with both activities, but, according to a May 26 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, Iran’s proficiency in running its uranium-enrichment program has increased substantially since last year.

A uranium-enrichment program can be used to enrich uranium to low levels for use in nuclear power reactors or high levels for use in nuclear weapons. A heavy-water reactor can produce plutonium, which also can be used for peaceful or military purposes.

Minor Changes but More Fanfare

The six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—agreed in January to revise the 2006 offer as part of a compromise between the Western countries and China and Russia. Beijing and Moscow insisted on such a repackaging in return for their support for Resolution 1803, adopted in March. Resolution 1803 imposed a third round of sanctions on Iran. (See ACT, April 2008. )

The repackaging effort was primarily aimed at clarifying some of the provisions in the 2006 offer and demonstrating to the Iranian general public the benefits Iran would receive if Tehran complied with international demands. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters May 22 that the modified offer “will make clear that there are substantial benefits for the Iranian people” if Iran complies with its international obligations. Likewise, officials from some of the six countries explained to Arms Control Today in March that the revised proposal was geared toward selling the proposed incentives to the Iranian populace rather than providing further concessions to entice the regime in Tehran. (See ACT, April 2008. )

As part of this effort to raise the profile of the incentives package to the Iranian public, the political directors of the six-country group, with the exception of the United States, joined EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana to present the offer to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki June 14. U.S. officials have indicated that Washington would not send a representative to Tehran unless Iran complied with its Security Council obligations. (See ACT, June 2008. )

Solana and representatives of the five countries included with the offer a letter signed by the foreign ministers of the six countries, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. European diplomats told Arms Control Today in June that there were difficulties in getting approval from the United States for Rice to sign the letter, as Washington was still uncomfortable with some of the terms included in the offer.

In their presentation of the negotiations proposal to Iran, Solana and the accompanying political directors sought to clarify how such negotiations would proceed, including an initial six-week period in which Iran committed not to expand its enrichment program while the six countries agreed not to pursue additional Security Council sanctions. Under this “freeze-for-freeze” process, Iran would only be required to suspend new enrichment activities right away while the parties discussed the logistical details of who would carry out the negotiations, what their schedule would be, and other parameters.

A British diplomat told Arms Control Today June 18 that although the time frame for this freeze is subject to some discussion, a clear time limit would need to be established in order for Iran to implement its suspension and to allow actual negotiations to proceed. The letter accompanying the proposal stated that “formal negotiations can start as soon as Iran’s enrichment-related and reprocessing activities are suspended.”

A number of experts, including IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, have promoted the prospect of such a freeze-for-freeze agreement since the Security Council first began to impose sanctions on Iran in December 2006. ElBaradei told reporters June 14, 2007, that because there was no need for Iran to expand its enrichment capacity, “it would be a good confidence-building measure if Iran has a self-imposed moratorium…on the number of centrifuges being built.”

European diplomats told Arms Control Today in June that there was always an implicit understanding that such preliminary negotiations would have to take place but that this was the first time that such terms were explicitly relayed to Iran. The diplomats also noted that the freeze-for-freeze proposal offered a face-saving way for Iran to accept the terms of the negotiations.

The repackaged letter outlined several areas of potential cooperation between some or all of the six countries and Iran, including in the fields of nuclear energy, regional security, civil aviation, economic infrastructure development, and humanitarian issues. Although many of the proposed avenues for cooperation were identical with the 2006 offer, the June package included a number of new provisions.

One potentially key new provision was a “reaffirmation of the obligations under the UN Charter to refrain...from the threat or use of force.” Although this language echoes an obligation that all UN members have agreed to follow, it is also suggestive of a security guarantee to Iran. A German diplomat told Arms Control Today June 19 that the language was a compromise largely between the United States, which felt that it could not offer a formal security guarantee to Iran, and Russia and China, which argued that such a guarantee would provide a major incentive for Iran to comply with international demands and negotiate over its nuclear program.

Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters May 14 that the six countries should “give Iran security guarantees” as part of its revised proposal. Washington rejected such a proposition the same day, with White House Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe stating, “Security guarantees are not something we are looking at [at] the moment.”

The proposal also goes into more detail regarding some of the political and economic benefits Iran would receive. Such details include the development of Iran’s transportation infrastructure, improvements in Iran’s agricultural sector through “cooperation in modern technology,” and support for educational opportunities for Iranians in the areas of civil engineering, agriculture, and environmental science.

Iran provided mixed reactions to the six-country proposal. Iranian officials initially reiterated Tehran’s refusal to consider a proposal that requires Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities. Iranian government spokesperson Gholam Hossein Elham told a June 14 press conference that “if the package includes suspension, it is not debatable at all.”

Other officials appeared more receptive and indicated that Tehran was studying the offer. Mottaki explained to reporters June 19 that the package “is currently under consideration and, at the appropriate time, Tehran will give its reactions.”

Iran Moving Up Its Enrichment Learning Curve

In defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, Iran continues to expand the number of centrifuges at its commercial-scale enrichment plant at Natanz and improve its capability to operate them.

According to a May 26 IAEA report, Iran is currently operating a module of 3,000 centrifuges that are based on Pakistan’s P-1 centrifuge design. In addition, Iran has begun running an additional 328 centrifuges and has installed another 164 at a second module, which will also house a total of 3,000 machines.

Previous IAEA reports indicated that Iran was operating the centrifuges installed in its first module “well below [their] declared design capacity.” (See ACT, March 2008. ) Between February and December 2007, Iran fed about 1,670 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride into its centrifuges. Uranium hexafluoride is the feedstock used in gas centrifuges to produce enriched uranium.

In the five-month period between December 2007 and May 2008, however, Iran exceeded the amount fed during the previous 11-month period by feeding about 2,300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride into its operating centrifuges. Although this increase only represents about one-half the stated design capacity of the P-1 centrifuges, it represents an increase from far lower capacity levels exhibited throughout 2007. Part of this difference is also due to the fact that Iran was installing its first set of 3,000 centrifuges between February and November 2007 and was therefore operating fewer centrifuges throughout the year.

The report also indicates that Iran installed a third generation of centrifuge, called the IR-3, at its pilot-scale enrichment facility in April. Like the IR-2 centrifuge design Iran began installing at the pilot plant in January, the IR-3 is based on the P-2 centrifuge design Iran acquired from Pakistan. The P-2 centrifuge can enrich uranium about 150 percent faster than the P-1. (See ACT, November 2007. )

On June 14, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany formally presented Iran with a revised proposal for comprehensive negotiations aimed at resolving concerns over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The incentives package builds on an offer made by the six-country group in 2006 and includes a potential face-saving understanding that would allow talks to begin with Iran if it agreed to halt its controversial uranium-enrichment activities shortly thereafter. Overall, however, the proposal maintains the original offer’s basic framework of providing political and economic benefits to Iran in return for shutting down the country’s sensitive nuclear activities. (Continue)

High-Level Panel Calls for Stronger IAEA

Kyle Fishman

In a May report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, a panel of prominent international leaders recommends that the agency assume additional responsibilities and perhaps double its budget by 2020 in order to ensure a substantial expansion in nuclear power while preventing nuclear weapons proliferation.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei established the commission in the fall of 2007 with the purpose of addressing future challenges to the agency. The 18-member group, composed of ministers, academics, politicians, scientists, and business leaders, was chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and included other notable figures such as former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

The enhanced role for the IAEA, the commission argues, will require concrete changes within the agency. Administrators must work to modernize infrastructure, focusing on overlooked areas and making safeguards, research and development, and other activities more efficient. The report also reveals that sweeping staffing reforms are necessary, as one-half of the agency’s top management and senior inspectors will be forced to retire within the next five years. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reached similar conclusions about IAEA inspectors in a November 2005 report. (See ACT, December 2005. )

Improving efficiency and attracting personnel are only part of what is necessary to equip the IAEA to meet existing and proposed obligations; that ultimate goal will require considerable increases in investment. The commission calls for a one-time budget increase of approximately $120 million and consistent annual increases estimated at $75 million for several years afterward to deal with the increased workload. It also advocates a more reliable system of funding than the one in place now, which is essentially voluntary.

The commission seeks to reformulate the IAEA’s mission and resources at a time when the agency is challenged by renewed global interest in nuclear energy production and growing concerns that states or nonstate actors may divert nuclear materials to nuclear weapons purposes. The report notes that the amount of nuclear material in the world is increasing at a tremendous rate, having multiplied tenfold from 1984 to 2007, implying increased commensurate safeguard responsibilities. IAEA safeguards are meant to ensure that civil nuclear fuel and facilities are not diverted to weapons purposes.

In recent years, safeguard responsibility has increased in depth as well as in breadth. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol strengthens IAEA safeguards by improving the agency’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities, allowing inspectors to visit any suspected sites within states-parties. The commission recommends that future nuclear cooperation be contingent on compliance not only with an additional protocol, but with an “Additional Protocol Plus.” Such an agreement would allow inspectors unfettered access to information, sites, and individuals related to nuclear activities, all of which might be necessary to ensure the peacefulness of states’ nuclear programs.

To date, 117 states have signed additional protocols with the IAEA. However, some key non-nuclear-weapon states, notably Brazil and Egypt, have refused to sign, arguing that they should not be asked to take on additional responsibilities while nuclear-weapon states have failed to fulfill their nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) commitment to disarmament.

In addition, the panel suggests that the IAEA’s current authorities be interpreted as giving it the responsibility to inspect for indicators of nuclear weaponization activities and recommends that the agency establish a small team of specialists for that purpose. Traditionally, the agency has only sought to ensure that nuclear materials are not diverted from peaceful purposes.

The report also calls for the IAEA to improve the security of nuclear materials in an effort to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. It says that ensuring the protection of nuclear materials includes fulfilling obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1540, intended to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, for which the IAEA can help establish and verify binding security standards against a minimum level of threat. More focused efforts against proliferation, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, also play a role in this process, according to the report.

Citing economic development needs and environmental concerns, the commission argues that the IAEA should continue to be active in safely and securely expanding the nonmilitary use of nuclear power. It supports the creation of a global nuclear safety network composed of states, firms, and organizations that would promote the exchange of knowledge and experience and provide training on IAEA safety standards.

The report also echoes ElBaradei’s advocacy for multilateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle, with the possibility of an IAEA fuel inventory of last resort. (See ACT, November 2003. ) The commission indicates that “such comprehensive services could be made so attractive that few states would want to follow any other approach,” easing concerns over states’ attempts to privately complete the fuel cycle, which many see as the first step in weapons development.

Finally, the report maintains that the IAEA’s independent and definitive verification of the nuclear disarmament process is vital to sustaining the nonproliferation regime, calling on states not party to the NPT to join new partnerships for disarmament. It also sees the agency working to reduce demand for nuclear weapons through their devaluation on the part of nuclear-weapon states, encouraging the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, and more generally working to mitigate international conflict.

Swiss Destroy Key A.Q. Khan Evidence

Peter Crail

Swiss President Pascal Couchepin announced May 23 that his government destroyed files associated with a case against Swiss nationals suspected of involvement in the illicit nuclear trafficking network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The destruction of the documents, collected by Swiss authorities in 2004 as evidence against Urs Tinner as well as his brother Marco and their father Friedrich, might harm the criminal prosecution of their suspected activities. The documents included digital copies of a design for an advanced nuclear weapon believed to be of Pakistani origin. This design may have been shared with other members of the Khan network or with Khan’s suspected customers, such as Iran and North Korea.

Swiss authorities allege that the Tinners were involved in the establishment and operation of a machining facility in Malaysia that produced centrifuge components for a planned secret Libyan uranium-enrichment facility.

Libya intended to use the facility to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons but publicly abandoned this goal in December 2003. In October 2003, Western intelligence agencies intercepted a shipment of centrifuge components bound for Libya and said to be manufactured by the Malaysian machining facility. (See ACT, July/August 2004. )

In addition to Libya, the Khan network allegedly provided nuclear assistance to Iran and North Korea.

According to Couchepin, the Swiss cabinet decided Nov. 14, 2007, to destroy the documents, including paper and digital files, for security purposes to prevent them from falling “into the hands of a terrorist organization.” He indicated that the documents included nuclear weapons designs, blueprints for gas centrifuges for enriching uranium, and plans for “guided missile delivery systems.” The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversaw the destruction of the files at Bern’s request.

A diplomatic source familiar with the investigation questioned the rationale provided by the Swiss government for destroying the files, telling Arms Control Today June 19, “If the Swiss can safeguard billions in hundreds of thousands of numbered accounts, they can guard a few CDs.” The diplomat suspected that the destruction of the documents was intended to “erase evidence of Tinner collusion” with Western intelligence agencies.

Indeed, in August 2007 the Swiss government blocked an investigation into potential espionage collaboration between the Tinners and a foreign government. Couchepin stated May 23 that Bern canceled an investigation against the Tinners for “illegal actions for a foreign country” and “illegal intelligence work against a foreign country.” This statement appears to confirm suspicions that the Tinners assisted the CIA in its work to prevent Libya from fully developing its uranium-enrichment program.

As a result of such suspicions, some Swiss lawmakers have requested an investigation into the destruction of the files. The Swiss Green party, one of the largest opposition parties represented in the Swiss National Council, has called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to carry out such an investigation.

The impact of the destruction of the documents related to the Tinner case is unclear. A Swiss federal criminal court denied bail to Urs and Marco Tinner May 30 while the investigation continued due to a potential flight risk. Swiss authorities released Friedrich Tinner in 2006.

Meanwhile, Khan, who remains under house arrest in Pakistan, is seeking to benefit from the destruction of the documents.

Kyodo News quoted Khan May 28 as stating that the documents the Swiss destroyed would have gone “a long way” to proving that he is innocent of claims that he sold nuclear technology to countries such as Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Khan claimed that Western suppliers were actually behind the proliferation.

Khan confessed to engaging in such illicit activities in 2004 but now claims that his confession was coerced by the Pakistani government. The Guardian quoted Khan May 30 as stating that his 2004 confession “was not of [his] own free will.”

Pakistan continues to refuse the IAEA access to Khan. The agency has carried out investigations into the Khan network following Libya’s admission of nuclear inspectors in 2003.

Advanced Warhead Design Among Documents

A June 16 report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) alleged that the documents the Swiss destroyed included designs for a Pakistani nuclear weapon. The design was in electronic form and was reportedly also found on computers associated with the Khan network in Bangkok and “several other cities around the world.”

The design is not the first that was said to be discovered during investigations into the Khan networks operations. In 2003 the IAEA discovered a 1960s-pedigree, Chinese-origin nuclear weapons design in Libya after that country agreed to give up its nuclear program and submit to international inspections.

The new design, however, is reportedly more advanced, using a more powerful but more compact design. Such a design would be valuable to a state seeking the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon via ballistic missile and might considerably shorten the time to develop such a warhead.

Although countries such as Iran and North Korea, which may be seeking just such a capability, received assistance from the Khan network, it is uncertain whether they received the advanced weapons design.

Responding to questions about the design, national security adviser Stephen Hadley stated June 15 that, in regard to the Khan network, Washington was concerned with the possibility that the network shared both enrichment- and weapons-related technology with its clients. He added that such concern was one of the reasons the United States “rolled up the network” several years ago.

Islamabad denied claims that the Tinners had access to Pakistani nuclear weapons designs. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued a press release June 20 stating “no foreigner has any access to Pakistan’s nuclear designs.” It added that it already shared “all relevant information” regarding the Khan case with the IAEA.

David Albright, former UN weapons inspector and president of ISIS, warned that Khan may be released before these proliferation concerns are resolved. Albright told CNN June 16 that it is “imperative” that the United States and the IAEA interview Khan.

Swiss President Pascal Couchepin announced May 23 that his government destroyed files associated with a case against Swiss nationals suspected of involvement in the illicit nuclear trafficking network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The destruction of the documents, collected by Swiss authorities in 2004 as evidence against Urs Tinner as well as his brother Marco and their father Friedrich, might harm the criminal prosecution of their suspected activities. The documents included digital copies of a design for an advanced nuclear weapon believed to be of Pakistani origin. This design may have been shared with other members of the Khan network or with Khan’s suspected customers, such as Iran and North Korea. (Continue)

Interdiction Initiative Successes Assessed

Wade Boese

Commandos rappelling down ropes from a helicopter to a ship deck or navy forces boarding a vessel at sea are images often associated with a Bush administration initiative to intercept unconventional weapons or related cargo in transit. Actual interdictions tend to be less dramatic. Recently disclosed incidents involved export control and customs officials denying export licenses and transfers, as well as air traffic authorities refusing overflight rights to planes allegedly transporting suspicious goods.

U.S. officials detailed those interdictions as part of a Washington conference marking the five-year anniversary of the May 31, 2003, unveiling of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). (See ACT, July/August 2003 .) Initially comprised of 11 countries, the voluntary initiative has grown to more than 90 participants who have committed to intercept items of proliferation concern at sea, on land, and in the air before they reach their final destination.

Representatives of more than 80 countries attended the May 28-29 conference, the second day of which focused on expanding participation in the initiative. Officials from 21 nonparticipants, including China, India, and Pakistan, were present at the meeting. Those three countries, as well as others, have questioned the legality of interdictions and the initiative itself despite assurances from participants that all activities are consistent with international law. 

Assessing the PSI’s results has been difficult. Governments have been reticent to discuss specific interdictions publicly, claiming that to do so might imperil future operations by exposing intelligence sources and methods relied on to get useful information. In a June 6 briefing to nongovernmental groups, U.S. officials said even they are unaware of all PSI activities because participants keep some operations secret from each other.

Current and former U.S. officials periodically have issued vague claims of success. For instance, one U.S. official at the June briefing said there have been “several instances” in which suspect planes have been prevented from completing their flights due to governments refusing to let the aircraft fly over their territories.

In a May 28 op-ed in The Washington Times, Robert Joseph, a PSI architect and former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Brendan Melley, a former National Security Council official from 2001 to 2005, reported that “dozens of interdictions have taken place slowing nuclear and missile programs in Asia and the Middle East.”

The two former Bush administration officials implied a specific PSI triumph was the October 2003 confiscation of centrifuge technology bound for Libya aboard a ship, the BBC China. But foreign government officials familiar with that interdiction and John Wolf, the assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation at the time, have disputed that it was a PSI operation, asserting that the cargo seizure stemmed from activities preceding the initiative. (See ACT, July/August 2005. )

The discrepancy stems in part from the fact that the PSI, which participants describe as “an activity, not an organization,” is more of a call to action than a program with dedicated budgets, staff, and capabilities. A second U.S. government official at the June briefing noted, “[T]here are not any capabilities that are exclusively PSI.”

Instead, the initiative is based on encouraging countries to increase their cooperation and information sharing to counter proliferation. They also are supposed to make better use of and build on their pre-existing national capabilities and legal authorities to intercept suspicious or deadly cargo. As these capabilities expand, U.S. officials contend the channels through which proliferators can operate freely will shrink and their costs of doing business will increase.

Those of the opinion that the BBC China incident constitutes a PSI success seemingly classify all activities by participants since the initiative’s inception to halt questionable transactions as falling under the PSI. Indeed, a third U.S. official at the June briefing defined a PSI success as when “you stop anything from going to a proliferation destination.”

On the Washington conference’s second day, the U.S. government described five of those instances. Three of the cases involved missile- and nuclear-related cargo destined for Iran, while Syria was the intended recipient of missile-related goods in the other two examples. (See box.)

A trio of the interdictions entailed states stopping shipments that allegedly violated separate UN Security Council resolutions restricting certain missile and nuclear transfers to Iran or from North Korea. Another of the reported successes resulted from a government refusing an export license for a transfer because it contravened that state’s export controls. Given that those four transactions were inconsistent with national or international law, it is unknowable whether states would have worked together to halt them without the PSI.

In two of the cases, the exports in question never left the potential supplier’s territory, while the intercepted transfers in the other three incidents, including some U.S.-manufactured equipment, were returned to the state of origin. The third U.S. official at the June briefing pointed out that most of the goods in proliferation transactions are legal but recipients of concern pursue the items for arms programs through illegal methods, such as using front companies or fake manifests.

The first U.S. official added that “the end user is paramount” in identifying unacceptable trade and triggering action. Washington has been clear that it sees the PSI as a tool to impede trade involving Iran, North Korea, and Syria, but not U.S. allies and friends such as India and Pakistan, which developed covert nuclear procurement networks. (See ACT, December 2003 .) 

Despite the allure of interdictions, U.S. officials at the June briefing downplayed counting such operations as an accurate yardstick of the PSI’s value. They said the initiative’s worth is measured in what they claim are the growing individual and collective capabilities of participants to curb proliferation.

Examples frequently highlighted by U.S. officials are the eight bilateral shipboarding agreements that the United States has negotiated with other governments, Mongolia being the most recent in October 2007. The arrangements establish expedited procedures to allow searches of suspicious ships under those states’ legal authorities. U.S. officials say that 35 interdiction exercises, which have involved more than 70 countries, also demonstrate increasing capabilities.

Exercises and other PSI operational aspects are determined by the Operational Experts Group. The group is comprised of 20 states, including the United States and the other 10 original participants (Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom). It generally meets three to four times annually, and its next meeting will occur Sept. 24-26 in Paris.

 

Recently Claimed Proliferation Security Initiative Successes

As part of a May 29 briefing for foreign government officials attending a Proliferation Security Initiative conference in Washington, the U.S. government provided five examples of purported PSI interdictions. The Department of State later distributed that briefing paper June 17 to some nongovernmental entities, including Arms Control Today. Below are brief descriptions of the five incidents.

February 2005: The United States tipped off a European government that one of its national entities was preparing to ship coolers to Iran that could be used in that country’s heavy-water reactor program. Heavy-water reactors have served as a key source of plutonium in the nuclear bomb efforts of India, Israel, and Pakistan. The European government investigated the claim and denied an export license for the coolers in accordance with a national law controlling such exports to Iran.

November 2006: The transfer of chromium-nickel steel plates to Iran by an Asian company was stopped in a third country. The steel plates, which reportedly could be used in missile components, were returned to the original supplier country. The interdicting state acted in accordance with UN Security Resolution 1696, which calls on states to prevent transfers of items to Iran that could contribute to its ballistic missile programs.

February 2007: Unspecified sources alerted port authorities in an unidentified state to a shipment destined for Syria of U.S.-origin equipment that could be employed for testing ballistic missile components. Those authorities conducted an inspection, seized the equipment, and returned it to the United States. A foreign firm had served as the intermediary for the attempted Syrian purchase of eight vibration test systems and eight humidity chambers.

April 2007: A shipment of sodium perchlorate to Iran from an unspecified source was detoured to an Asian port, whose government then sent the shipment back to the country of origin. The sodium perchlorate, which can be used in making solid rocket propellant for ballistic missiles, was intended for an Iranian entity barred from receiving certain missile technologies by UN Security Council Resolution 1737.

June 2007: An unidentified country denied overflight rights to a Syrian plane scheduled to make a round-trip flight to North Korea. The denial stemmed from the United States sharing suspicions that the intended cargo was related to ballistic missiles. UN Security Council Resolution 1718 obligates countries to cooperate in preventing transfers of ballistic missiles and related technologies from North Korea. The Syrian flight did not occur.

 

 

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