"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
September 2008
Edition Date: 
Monday, September 1, 2008
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U.S.-Russian Nuclear Agreement Faces Delay

Miles A. Pomper

Russia's August 2008 military confrontation with U.S. ally Georgia is likely to be the final blow to the Kremlin's hopes of winning U.S. approval of a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement this year.

The agreement, signed by both countries in May and submitted to Congress for approval the same month, was already facing a potential uphill battle. Lawmakers were wary of approving the pact because of Moscow's ongoing nuclear and military cooperation with Iran. Plus, the Bush administration submitted the pact so late in the session that it was unlikely to take advantage of a provision that benefits agreements that follow the guidelines of the 1978 Nuclear Nonproliferation Act.

Under those guidelines, an agreement can enter into force if both chambers of Congress fail to pass a disapproval resolution within 90 legislative days from when it is sent to Capitol Hill. Congress may not be in session for enough time to meet the 90-day requirement for the Russian agreement, unless lawmakers agree to a postelection "lame duck" session. Congress adjourned in early August for five weeks for lawmakers to participate in the political party conventions and campaign for re-election. After reconvening briefly, leaders of the House of Representatives have said that they expect to adjourn for the year later this month. Democratic congressional leaders, believing that they will return next year with enhanced majorities in both houses and a member of their party in the White House, see little value in a session after November's presidential and congressional elections.

Even before the conflict between Russia and Georgia, there was already a significant chance that unless Congress took affirmative action to approve the agreement, it would have to be reconsidered next year. On June 24, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved legislation calling for the agreement to be approved only if a number of conditions were met.

In particular, the measure by panel chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida (R-Fla.) would require the president to certify that Russia was preventing the transfer of nuclear, missile, and other highly sensitive goods to Iran, aside from those involved in the construction of a light-water reactor at Bushehr. The measure would also require that Russia take certain steps to enhance liability protections for any U.S. firms involved in nuclear trade with Russia. Moreover, it would give Congress a vote over any "subsequent arrangements" that the administration agreed on with Russia after the agreement went into effect. Such arrangements, for example, could include permission for Russia to reprocess U.S.-origin spent fuel now in countries such as South Korea.

The conflict between Russia and Georgia, however, appears to further diminish the likelihood that the nuclear cooperation agreement would be approved by Congress this year.

In an Aug. 12 op-ed in the Financial Times, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee, noted that he had co-sponsored legislation supporting the nuclear cooperation agreement (his version came without any conditions). But he wrote, "The fighting in Georgia has erased the possibility of advancing those and other legislative efforts to promote U.S.-Russian partnership in the current Congress. It may derail them permanently if Russia does not reverse course."

Biden's running mate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill), offered an even sterner response in an Aug. 26 statement after Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see page 33). Obama said that Russia's move "makes it impossible for Congress to enact the civil nuclear agreement."

The Senate Finance Committee has also recently approved legislation aimed at Russia that would prohibit the United States from entering into a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country assisting Iran's nuclear program or transferring conventional arms and missiles to Iran. In September 2007, the House of Representatives approved similar legislation (see page 43).

In annual reporting on its major weapons transfers to the United Nations, Russia last reported a shipment to Iran in 2003 of three combat aircraft. Russia more recently allegedly exported to Iran Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles, which are weapons systems not subject to the UN arms trade reporting mechanism.

U.S. Signs European Anti-Missile Deals

Wade Boese

The Bush administration has moved closer toward its goal of establishing long-range anti-missile outposts in Europe, completing basing agreements recently with the Czech Republic and Poland over Russian objections and threats. The earliest that site construction could start is late next year if lawmakers in the United States and the two host countries back the effort.

U.S. talks with the Czech Republic and Poland to host a missile tracking radar and 10 long-range ballistic missile interceptors, respectively, stretch back to at least 2004, although official negotiations began early last year. Concerns about Iran's ballistic missile programs drive the effort, say U.S. officials. Russia, however, sees itself as the target and vigorously denounces the project, warning periodically that the sites, if built, will be in Russia's nuclear crosshairs.

Meeting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the day the U.S.-Polish pact was signed, Polish President Lech Kaczynski Aug. 20 expressed optimism that his country's legislators would approve the project. A few weeks earlier, a similar statement likely would have been seen as wishful thinking given that a majority of Poles reportedly opposed the plan, but Polish public opinion shifted after Russian armor and aircraft pounded Georgia beginning Aug. 7.

Although Polish government officials have not drawn a connection, Russia's show of brute force might have been a factor behind Polish and U.S. negotiators reaching a deal on the anti-missile site Aug. 14 after more than 18 months of talks. In an Aug. 17 interview with Fox News, Rice said Russia's actions had stiffened the attitudes of some of its neighbors, citing as one example "Poland, the fact that we are moving forward on missile defense." She also denied any official linkage, stating Aug. 20 "the timing, of course, is simply the timing of when the agreement was completed."

Yet, Michael Wyganowski, a former Polish diplomat who is now executive director of the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis, told Arms Control Today Aug. 20 that he saw a "direct correlation" between the U.S.-Polish pact's conclusion and the Russian-Georgian conflict. He contended that the Polish government became more willing to make a deal in order to stay in step with its public's changing mood as Russia pressed its attack.

Prior to the Russian-Georgian fighting, Poland was seeking increased U.S. military assistance and weapons supplies, including shorter-range anti-missile systems, as part of a final agreement. The negotiated deal only commits the United States to establish a consultative mechanism with Poland to discuss its military modernization needs and to deploy to Poland a single Patriot battery, which typically consists of five missile launchers. Patriot interceptors are designed to counter aircraft and short- to medium-range ballistic missiles.

A principal negotiator of the pact, John Rood, the acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters in Warsaw Aug. 20 that the deployment of the U.S. Patriot battery was "significant" because it meant that there would be two U.S. sites on Polish territory. Polish officials have been clear that their interest in hosting U.S. missile interceptors has much less to do with protecting against a possible Iranian missile threat than developing a closer relationship with the United States.

The Czech Republic did not make similar demands as Poland in its negotiations with the United States, enabling an accord to be reached much earlier, on April 3. It was formally signed July 8. Unlike the Polish deal, the text of the Czech agreement has been made public.

The Czech agreement grants the United States exclusive control of the base and operation of all missile defense activities, although the Czech Republic is to be informed "promptly" of any "engagements." Washington is to pay the full cost of building, operating, and maintaining the site. The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) estimates that costs for initially getting both the Czech and Polish bases up and running will be as high as $4 billion.

U.S. personnel at the Czech base are not to exceed 250 in number, and the Czech government will maintain an office with a representative and staff there. The agreement requires Prague's approval of all site visits by non-U.S. foreign personnel. Russia had appealed for permanent liaisons at the proposed U.S. anti-missile sites, but the Czech and Polish governments adamantly objected, recalling their past Cold War histories of unwillingly hosting Soviet forces.

The agreement is scheduled to be submitted to the Czech parliament in September, and a Czech diplomatic source told Arms Control Today Aug.19 that a vote could take place the following month. When Polish lawmakers might vote on the U.S.-Polish accord has not been announced. The two basing pacts are legally-binding executive agreements, but both contain withdrawal clauses that can lead to their termination.

Congress has made Czech and Polish parliamentary approval of their respective agreements a condition for funding Pentagon requests to start building the anti-missile sites. Current law also forbids the Pentagon from spending money to acquire or deploy the 10 interceptors designated for Poland until the secretary of defense certifies that the interceptor model can work, following "successful, operationally realistic flight testing." Although some missile defense proponents in Congress are suggesting that the Russian-Georgian conflict justifies relaxing the conditions to accelerate congressional funding for the deployment, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chair of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, released an Aug. 20 statement that "Congress will continue to insist...that the secretary of defense certifies the system is operationally effective before any funds can be used for acquisition or deployment."

The MDA plans to conduct the first flight test of the interceptor in 2009 and then two target intercept attempts in 2010. The interceptor will be a modified version of the approximately two dozen U.S. strategic interceptors currently deployed in Alaska and California. Since 1999, versions of those interceptors have scored seven hits in 12 attempts, but the Pentagon's weapons testing office assessed earlier this year that those tests have not been "sufficient to provide a high level of statistical confidence in [the system's] limited capabilities."

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, has generally said he would support missile defense efforts if they are effective and not too costly. His Republican counterpart,Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), is a strong advocate of missile defense and called the recent U.S.-Polish agreement "an important step."

The Bush administration has moved closer toward its goal of establishing long-range anti-missile outposts in Europe, completing basing agreements recently with the Czech Republic and Poland over Russian objections and threats. The earliest that site construction could start is late next year if lawmakers in the United States and the two host countries back the effort. (Continue)

Georgian Conflict Clouds Future Arms Pacts

Wade Boese

Russia's August military intervention into and diplomatic recognition of two separatist Georgian regions casts doubt not just on their future political status but also that of a pair of already languishing treaties limiting battlefield weapons in Europe.

The fate of the 1999 Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty for several years has been tied to the presence of hundreds of Russian military "peacekeepers" located in the disputed Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the separatist region of Transdniestria in Moldova. NATO members have maintained they will not ratify the arms treaty, preventing it from taking effect, until Russia withdraws its forces as it pledged to do when it joined 29 other countries in signing the adapted agreement.

If brought into force, the adapted accord would introduce fresh limits for those countries on their tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters, replacing similar caps that currently apply from the 1990 CFE Treaty. (See ACT, November 1999. ) Russia last December suspended its participation in the original treaty, faulting NATO members' failure to act on the adapted treaty and their unwillingness to adjust some arms limits to Russia's satisfaction. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

In the aftermath of Russian-Georgian fighting that erupted Aug. 7 and ended with an Aug. 15 ceasefire, it appears that the Russian contingent in the two Georgian enclaves, whose leaders have declared a permanent break from Georgia, will be larger and more heavily armed than before. For example, Russia allegedly is deploying some land-mobile short-range SS-21 ballistic missiles to South Ossetia. Russian forces also seem to be settling into positions in a so-called security zone as well as other checkpoints in Georgia outside the independence-minded regions.

U.S. officials decried Russia's piecemeal and slow military exit. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking to reporters Aug. 18 while en route to a NATO meeting that saw the 26-member alliance suspend its consultative forum with Russia, said, "[I]t is our very strong view that it didn't take that long for Russian forces to get in [to Georgia]; it really shouldn't take that long for them to get out."

Several present and past U.S. and foreign government officials interviewed in August by Arms Control Today said the Georgian situation does not bode well for the Adapted CFE Treaty. Jeffrey McCausland, a former director for defense policy and arms control on the National Security Council, said Aug. 15 that the recent conflict and its aftermath put the accord into a "deep freeze." The other current and ex-officials, many who asked not to be identified, voiced similar or starker assessments.

McCausland argued it will be "difficult" for some time to try and bring the adapted treaty into force because the leaders of NATO in general and the leaders of Georgia and Russia in particular are going to be more reluctant to "make major concessions" or "back down" with no agreed settlement on the contested Georgian territories. The Kremlin's Aug. 26 recognition of the two regions' claimed independence likely will further all sides taking harder lines. Another former senior U.S. official familiar with CFE Treaty matters told Arms Control Today Aug. 14 that it was "unlikely" any countries would soon "go full bore with clever diplomatic solutions" to move ahead on the Adapted CFE Treaty.

During the past several months, NATO had proposed to Russia that some alliance members would begin their national ratification processes of the adapted treaty in parallel with Russian troop withdrawals out of the breakaway regions in Georgia and Moldova, in contrast to conditioning ratification on the completion of the pullouts. (See ACT, May 2008. ) Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have completed ratification of the adapted agreement.

Moscow for many years has pressed NATO capitals to follow suit and bring the revised treaty into force because it imposes more lenient limits on Russia's weaponry deployed in its Caucasus region and contains an accession clause, unlike the original treaty, that enables additional countries to adopt weapons ceilings. Former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are NATO members but are not party to the original CFE Treaty, meaning they have no current arms limits, which Russia says is unacceptable.

The past and current U.S. officials generally agreed that Russia was not thinking about the Adapted CFE Treaty when it ordered its forces into Georgia to respond to what Russia claims were Georgian provocations. Instead, McCausland argued, Moscow's priority was sending a message to Georgia, other Russian neighbors, and NATO about Russia's determination to preserve what it sees as its traditional sphere of influence. Severely criticized by Russia, NATO in April declared its intentions to eventually invite Georgia and Ukraine to become members. (See ACT, May 2008. ) NATO Aug. 19 reaffirmed that goal.

Just as the Adapted CFE Treaty's fate most likely was not at the forefront of Russian concerns when it initiated its military foray, the treaty's future will not be that high on any country's agenda very soon, speculated most of the officials interviewed by Arms Control Today. Michael Wyganowski, a former Polish diplomat who headed his country's delegation to CFE Treaty meetings in 1999, noted Aug. 20 that the accord was being relegated further to the sidelines by a conflict that actually underscored the importance of limiting conventional arms holdings.

The former senior U.S. official said that, in the near term, governments will have to think on a strategic level about the new period of relations Europe, Russia, and the United States appear to be entering. The official dismissed the notion that it might be a "return to the Cold War" but also contended that the assumption by many of the past two decades of a "benign European security environment" had to be questioned.

At a tactical level, some government officials of NATO members say the Georgian conflict might lead alliance members to discuss sooner than expected scaling back their implementation of the original CFE Treaty. When Russia started refusing inspections and halting treaty information exchanges and notifications as part of its suspension of the agreement, NATO members said they would continue to fulfill their treaty obligations but warned that they might stop if Russia failed to reverse course. Moscow has yet to revive its participation or give any indication that it plans to do so.

Foreign governments and international monitors are still trying to sort out how many Russian forces took part in the Georgian operation and where they were originally based. If Russia had been implementing the original CFE Treaty at the time, it is unlikely the amount of heavy weapons systems involved would have required treaty notifications on Moscow's behalf because of the presumed temporary nature of the deployments. The adapted treaty, however, includes more rigorous requirements on notifications regarding weapons-levels changes or transit and, if it had been in force, likely would have obligated Russia to share more information on its military movements before and during the Georgian conflict.

Russia's August military intervention into and diplomatic recognition of two separatist Georgian regions casts doubt not just on their future political status...

Verification Dispute Stalls NK Nuclear Talks

Peter Crail

On July 12, the six parties involved in negotiations over North Korea's denuclearization agreed on a vague outline for verifying Pyongyang's nuclear program. Further agreement on the specific verification measures to be taken, however, have proved elusive, with the other five parties unable to win agreement from North Korea on the access inspectors would be granted to various aspects of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons work.

The United States has declared that it will not remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until Pyongyang agrees to a sufficient verification protocol. Meanwhile, North Korea claims that Washington has not followed through on pledges to delist it and has responded by halting work on disabling its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

Verification Outline, Disablement Timeline Agreed

According to the July 12 statement, the inspection mechanism would involve experts from the six parties involved in the talks (China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) and entail "visits to facilities, review of documents, interviews with technical personnel," and other steps as agreed. In recent months, North Korea has provided two sets of initial documentation in the form of operating records for its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and a declaration regarding its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, July/August 2008. )

The statement also appeared to suggest that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would only play a marginal role in the verification process. It indicated that the parties "can welcome" the agency to provide "consultancy and assistance" for the verification measures "when necessary." Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill met with IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei July 25 regarding the agency's role in verification, telling reporters afterward that the agency will continue to have a role but that its involvement will be determined during the six-party verification negotiations.

In the July 12 statement, the six parties tasked a working group on denuclearization with negotiating the specific measures to be taken. The United States tabled a draft protocol regarding these verification procedures in mid-July. Hill told reporters July 22 that the North Korean delegation "indicated some problems" with the draft but that he hoped an agreement could be reached by mid-August.

Laying out the U.S. conditions for an acceptable verification protocol, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated during a July 24 press conference that it "will have to have means for access and it will also have to have means to continue this process as new information becomes available." That same day, Rice met with her North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun, along with the foreign ministers of the other four parties of the talks, during an informal meeting on the sidelines of a conference of southeast Asian states. It was the first time that the foreign ministers of the six parties had held such a meeting since the talks began in 2003.

Chinese, South Korean, and U.S. negotiators continued to hold consultations bilaterally in Beijing and New York regarding their approach to the verification protocol. Diplomatic sources told Arms Control Today in August that part of those discussions entailed determining on which aspects of the protocol they would exhibit the greatest flexibility with North Korea. Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks, met with North Korean officials in New York Aug. 22 regarding the revisions to the draft verification protocol. State Department spokesperson Robert Wood simply described the talks Aug. 25 as "substantive and detailed."

In addition to addressing verification, the statement also laid out a timeline for completing the disablement of North Korea's key facilities at Yongbyon and the provision of energy assistance by the other parties. In an intended assurance to North Korea, the statement declared that these two steps would "be fully implemented in parallel." North Korea has repeatedly complained that the disablement of its nuclear facilities was proceeding faster than the energy assistance it was to receive. Pyongyang began slowing the disablement process earlier this year in response to these delays. (See ACT, March 2008. )

Specifically, the six parties aimed to complete both the disablement measures and the delivery of heavy fuel oil by Russia and the United States by the end of October, while China and South Korea pledged to conclude "binding agreements" with North Korea on their energy assistance by the end of August.

These steps would complete the second phase of a February 2007 agreement in which North Korea committed to disable its nuclear facilities and provide a declaration of its nuclear activities in return for 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or its equivalent. In October 2007, Russia and the United States agreed to provide their energy assistance in the form of heavy fuel oil while China and South Korea pledged to provide fuel oil equivalents. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

Japan maintained that it would not participate in the energy assistance effort until other bilateral concerns with North Korea were resolved.

U.S. Links Terrorism Delisting to Verification Agreement

As the United States and other parties involved in the talks await agreement from North Korea on the verification protocol, U.S. officials have indicated that Washington would not move forward with removing Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Department of State spokesperson Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters Aug. 7 that the United States must have "a strong verification regime before taking action to remove [North Korea] from the list."

In an October 2007 six-party talks agreement, the United States agreed to "advance the process" of lifting certain restrictions against North Korea, including removing it from the terrorism list, once Pyongyang provided a declaration of its nuclear activities. North Korea provided a declaration of its activities at the Yongbyon facilities June 26. (See ACT, July/August 2008. )

 President George W. Bush certified the same day that North Korea satisfied the criteria for removal from the list, thereby starting the clock on a 45-day time period granted to Congress to potentially reject a delisting before the administration can proceed. Congress did not adopt any measures to block the delisting during that time frame, which expired Aug. 11. The executive branch is not legally required to carry out the delisting once this notification period has expired. Wood stated during an Aug. 12 press conference that the 45-day period is a "minimum" rather than a deadline.

The United States placed North Korea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism in January 1988 following the November 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner believed to have been carried out by North Korean agents. In July 31 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hill assured the panel that an interagency judgment concluded that North Korea met the qualifications to be removed from the list, stating that its last known involvement in a terrorist incident was the 1987 bombing.

North Korea issued a strong reaction Aug. 26 to the U.S. decision not to remove it from the terrorism list. It declared in a Foreign Ministry statement that, since Washington did not carry out the delisting "within the fixed date," the United States violated the October 2007 agreement. The statement indicated that, in response to the delisting delay, North Korea halted the disablement activity at Yongbyon Aug. 14, adding that it will "consider soon a step to restore the nuclear facilities in [Yongbyon] to their original state."

Work to disable the Yongbyon facilities is intended to prevent North Korea from restarting their operations for at least a year. Hill told lawmakers July 31 that 8 of the 11 disablement steps had been completed.

The United States called the halting of the disablement work a violation of North Korea's commitments. Wood stated that North Korea's move was "clearly a step backward," but indicated that discussions within the six-party talks would continue "in the coming weeks."

U.S. officials also characterized the disablement freeze as a temporary step. Without specifying a date at which the freeze began, a State Department official told Arms Control Today Aug. 27 that the disablement activities "have been halted temporarily," adding that the U.S. monitors overseeing the disablement "will remain on the ground" at Yongbyon.

Legal Implications of Delisting

Although removal from the terrorism list would lift some level of political stigma from Pyongyang, such an action does not guarantee a significant reversal of many of the U.S. restrictions placed on North Korea. In addition to the comprehensive sanctions applied against North Korea as a result of the terrorism designation, U.S. legislation also authorizes the president to impose punitive measures on Pyongyang for national security, proliferation, human rights, and other reasons.

According to a January 2007 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, restrictions on the provision of arms, foreign aid, Export/Import Bank financing, and other measures apply to North Korea for reasons beyond the terrorism designation.

One area likely to be affected by a delisting is the body of U.S. trade restrictions on sensitive dual-use materials. North Korea's placement on the terrorism list has made it subject to the most restrictive trade controls on national security-controlled items, including computers and software. Once Pyongyang is delisted, it would no longer be subject to the same level of restrictions. However, it is unclear which rules would govern transfers of such items at that point.

CRS foreign policy legislation specialist Dianne Rennack told Arms Control Today Aug. 15 that the Departments of Commerce and State would have to determine new trade rules for such items, taking into account remaining national security restrictions on the country, including proliferation-related sanctions.

Placement on the terrorism list also requires the executive branch to oppose designated states from acquiring financial assistance from international monetary institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Rennack noted that if North Korea is removed from the list, Washington could no longer use the terrorism list as justification for blocking such funds but could still attempt to prohibit such assistance for a variety of other reasons, including human rights, environmental degradation,  and regional security.

Washington holds considerable weight in the decisions of international monetary organizations but cannot unilaterally block a country from receiving international loans. Japan has supported the United States in blocking such assistance, but South Korea has supported North Korea's bids to join the World Bank and IMF.

Tokyo, Pyongyang Agree on Abduction Reinvestigation

Talks on a nuclear verification mechanism are currently at a standstill, but some progress has been made in Japanese-North Korean side negotiations under the six-party talks on the long-stalled issue of North Korea' s abduction of Japanese citizens.

The two countries agreed Aug. 13 on a procedure for investigating North Korea's abduction of about a dozen Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s. One of the working groups of the six-party talks entails negotiations on the normalization of Japanese-North Korean relations. The abduction issue has been a focal point of these discussions for Japan, however, and Pyongyang has been unwilling to address the topic until recently. Japan has pledged, once the countries agree on a normalization process, to provide $5-10 billion in economic assistance to North Korea as compensation for its occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

According to the Aug. 13 agreement, North Korea committed to complete a reinvestigation into the fate of the abducted Japanese nationals by this fall. Pyongyang would then share the results of its investigation with Japan and jointly determine how to deal with any surviving abductees. North Korea also agreed to allow Japan to carry out its own investigation in North Korea, granting access to documents, relevant sites, and interviews with concerned parties.

In return, Japan will lift certain travel restrictions between the two countries once the new investigation begins and will continue to discuss easing a ban on North Korea's access to Japanese ports.

Kyoko Nakayama, Japan's minister for the North Korean abduction issue, told reporters Aug. 13 that "if investigations will be done with the presumption that [the abductees] are alive and not dead, then we will be entering a new phase." Tokyo maintains that it has evidence suggesting that there are abductees that remain alive in North Korea.

The agreement represents a partial reversal of North Korea's position regarding the abduction issue. Following negotiations in 2004 that led to the return of five children of abducted couples and the alleged remains of two abductees, Pyongyang declared that no other abductees remained alive and that the issue was closed. North Korea walked out of subsequent talks on the issue.

Satisfactory progress in the issue may also open the door for Japan's participation in other efforts under the six-party talks. Japan has maintained that it would not participate in providing energy assistance to North Korea or aid in the disablement and dismantlement of that country' s nuclear facilities until the abduction issue was resolved. According to the July 12 statement on verification, Japan indicated that it would be willing to take part in any economic and energy assistance to North Korea "as soon as possible when the environment is in place."

In addition, progress may also ease some concerns regarding the U.S. removal of North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The United States has come under fire from Japan for agreeing to remove North Korea from the list before the abduction issue was resolved. (See ACT, December 2007. ) Members of Congress have also raised the issue of relations with Japan in regard to the delisting. North Korea's efforts to address the issue now may be aimed at helping to pave the way for this delisting.

U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal Reaches NSG Brink

Wade Boese

After piloting a controversial nuclear trade initiative for more than three years through sometimes stormy domestic political processes that threatened to sink it, the United States and India in August brought the proposal before other governments for their approval. Several demurred, compelling New Delhi and Washington to work again to salvage it.

John Rood, acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters Aug. 22 that he was "optimistic" about the pact's prospects despite the failed initial attempt to move it through the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Rood led the U.S. delegation to the Aug. 21-22 Vienna meeting of the voluntary group, which was convened specifically to review the U.S.-Indian measure. The group operates by consensus to try and coordinate all members' nuclear trade policies, and it tentatively plans to meet again Sept. 4-5 to attempt to reach a common position on the U.S.-Indian initiative.

India has called for the group to allow it to trade with NSG members without any conditions. That now appears unlikely, raising questions about whether India ultimately might abandon the effort. Pranab Mukherjee, India's external affairs minister, was quoted in the Aug. 23 Hindustan Times as declaring, "[W]e cannot accept prescriptive conditionalities." Indian officials have most vehemently argued against measures that would end nuclear trade if India conducts another nuclear test. India last tested nuclear weapons in May 1998, leading rival Pakistan to carry out its first nuclear blasts. Neither state has forsworn additional tests although they have declared voluntary moratoriums.

Two days before the NSG meeting, Phil Goff, New Zealand's disarmament and arms control minister, told The Times of India that his country was exploring conditions that would terminate trade in the event of a future Indian test. Similarly, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) wrote an Aug. 5 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging that an NSG decision link trade and testing, as Congress did in its December 2006 legislation stipulating the circumstances under which the United States can engage in nuclear trade with India. (See ACT, January/February 2007. )

In general, Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has pressed the administration to ensure that an NSG outcome be consistent with the U.S. law, known as the Hyde Act in honor of a former panel chairman. Berman warned in his letter that discrepancies between the NSG result and the Hyde Act would "jeopardize congressional support for nuclear cooperation with India." If the NSG clears India for nuclear trade, Congress would still need to approve a July 2007 bilateral U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement before any U.S. nuclear items could legally flow to India. (See ACT, September 2007. )

Some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern that, under such a scenario, entities in other states such as France and Russia might get a jump start on cutting deals with India. Because of the abbreviated congressional schedule due to the November general elections, Congress is only expected to be in session Sept. 8-26 before ending this year's work. However, the Hyde Act calls for the bilateral agreement to sit for 30 continuous days before Congress can take a vote.

Consequently, if the NSG cleared India for nuclear trade this September or later this fall, foreign firms would most likely be free to pursue sales while U.S. companies would lack the domestic authority to do the same. Indeed, Russia already has negotiated an agreement to build four more reactors in India in the event that the NSG gives the green light to nuclear exports to India. Berman wrote the administration that it should not rush an NSG decision that "would give other countries an unacceptable head-start."

The sweeping effort to expand nuclear commerce with India by rescinding roughly three decades of U.S. and NSG constraints began with a July 2005 agreement between President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The swath of restrictions were erected incrementally in response to India refusing to join the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), exploding its first nuclear device in 1974 using Canadian and U.S. imports designated for peaceful purposes, and denying international oversight of its full nuclear complex.

Bush, seeking to bolster U.S. ties to the rising Asian power, pledged that the United States would work to roll back the trade constraints if India took certain steps to align its nuclear behavior more closely with that of other states. Above all, India was supposed to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to India's nuclear operations.

India and the IAEA

Singh in March 2006 vowed to eventually put 14 Indian thermal power reactors under the IAEA safeguards network, while leaving another eight unsupervised. He also elected to withhold from safeguards two fast breeder reactors, which yield more nuclear material suited for bomb-making than they consume as fuel. (See ACT, April 2006. ) Safeguards measures, such as inspections and remote monitoring, are supposed to deter and detect misuses of civilian nuclear facilities and materials to build nuclear weapons.

Indian negotiators in March 2008 completed talks on a draft IAEA safeguards agreement, but Indian Communist parties and their allies objected to finalizing it because of their general opposition to improving relations with the United States. Singh for months unsuccessfully attempted to win over the leftist parties, who had been crucial in helping his coalition government maintain power against its chief opposition, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Meanwhile, BJP politicians railed against the U.S.-Indian deal as potentially crippling to India's nuclear weapons program and hindering its freedom to conduct future nuclear tests.

With the Bush administration pressing him to act or risk time running out on it being around to drive the deal through the NSG, Singh ignored leftist parties' protests and sent the draft safeguards agreement to the IAEA for approval by its 35-member Board of Governors. The move triggered a legislative debate and confidence vote on the Singh government that also was seen as a referendum on the U.S.-Indian initiative. Winning over the previously hostile Samajwadi party, Singh prevailed 275-256, with 10 abstentions, in an unruly July 22 vote marred by bribery allegations and the release of six lawmakers from jail to cast their ballots.

Preceding and during the debate, the BJP contended that the Singh government was "purveying untruths" about its draft IAEA safeguards agreement. Government officials described it as "India specific," suggesting that it was distinct from standard agreements. A key aspect touted by government officials included India's right to take "corrective actions" if foreign supplies of fuel ended. Anil Kakodkar, chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, and other Indian officials stressed that India had agreed to "permanent safeguards" on the basis of "permanent supplies," suggesting that if supplies stopped, so did safeguards.

The corrective actions referred to by the Singh government, however, were not defined in the agreement and appear only in its preamble and not the operative section. An IAEA source July 14 told Arms Control Today that a preamble contains "no rights or obligations." The source also said India would not be able to terminate safeguards on its own, pointing out that the agreement states that withdrawing a facility from safeguards requires a joint Indian and IAEA determination that it is no longer safeguards "relevant," meaning that nuclear material is no longer there or is unusable.

The IAEA source also said safeguards are "not time bound." Similarly, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Aug. 1 that the agency safeguards are of "indefinite duration" and can only be terminated in accordance with the specific terms contained in the agreement. Still, the Indian government and the IAEA never publicly stated a common position on the duration of safeguards or their potential termination, leaving open the possibility for future misunderstandings.

The Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement is unique in that it is the first so-called umbrella agreement. When safeguarding facilities in the three non-NPT states-parties (India, Israel, and Pakistan), the IAEA typically negotiates one INFCIRC/66 agreement per facility, but this new arrangement will apply to as many facilities as India chooses to add incrementally over time. In addition, New Delhi can agree to have the terms of the new agreement apply to the six thermal power reactors that are already under safeguards from earlier arrangements. The Pakistani government complained in a July 15 letter to ElBaradei that the Board of Governors was being asked to approve a safeguards agreement unaware of the facilities it covered.

India 10 days later circulated a list of facilities that it claimed would be put under safeguards by 2014. In its safeguards preamble, India indicates it will only subject facilities to safeguards after negotiating agreements for "reliable, uninterrupted and continuous access to fuel supplies from companies in several nations."

Moreover, India reiterated its intent to build up a "strategic reserve of nuclear fuel" to ensure that its reactors could operate for their lifetimes if outside supplies ever ceased. The Bush administration pledged to help India acquire fuel reserves, but U.S. lawmakers through language in the Hyde Act supported only assisting India in procuring sufficient fuel for "reasonable reactor operating requirements." Critics fear a large reserve of fuel might lead India to calculate that it could risk nuclear tests and escape serious penalties.

Despite concerns raised by Pakistan and other states, the IAEA board Aug. 1 approved the Indian safeguards measure by consensus. The safeguards agreement will not enter into force, however, until India specifically notifies the agency that it is ready to bring the agreement into effect. New Delhi is not expected to do so until it secures what it considers to be a satisfactory NSG decision and negotiates contracts to lock in fuel supplies and develop its strategic reserve.

The NSG's Turn

Abiding by India's pleas for a "clean" NSG approval, the United States submitted a proposal Aug. 6 to the group that would not set any conditions for India to engage in nuclear trade. New Zealand's prime minister, Helen Clark, indicated just days before the meeting's Aug. 21 start that such a stripped-down approach was not going to be readily accepted, saying that her country was looking at "conditionalities" and speaking with "like-minded countries."

Meanwhile, some Democratic U.S. lawmakers also weighed in. In his Aug. 5 letter to Rice, Berman noted that an unconditional NSG approval "would be inconsistent with U.S. law, place American firms at a severe competitive disadvantage, and undermine critical U.S. nonproliferation objectives." In an Aug. 20 op-ed in The New York Times, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, argued that the NSG "would vote itself out of existence if it allowed India to have nuclear technology with no strings attached." Their underlying concern is that India's import of nuclear fuel would enable it to devote more of its own domestic resources to building nuclear arms, spurring Pakistan to ratchet up its weapons programs.

NSG meetings are supposed to be confidential, but reports leaked that more than 50 proposed amendments were offered by several countries on the conclave's first day. Austria, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland reportedly joined New Zealand in raising the most serious challenges to the proposal; but other countries, such as Canada and Japan, also reportedly supported possible amendments.

Proposals other than those pertaining to nuclear testing reportedly focused on requiring India to negotiate an additional protocol with the IAEA to give the agency greater inspection authority inside India. There also was support for prohibiting exports to India of enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which can be used to produce nuclear fuel as well as nuclear bombs. Another approach called for periodically reviewing India's compliance with certain standards of nonproliferation behavior in order to maintain its eligibility for trade.

At the close of the two-day meeting, the group issued a one-sentence description that participants "exchanged views in a constructive manner." The United States is expected to prepare a revised proposal for the group to consider at its upcoming meeting.

National Fuel Stockpiles: An Alternative to a Proliferation of National Enrichment Plants?

Frank N. von Hippel

Iran's national uranium-enrichment program has provoked international concern, evidenced by UN Security Council sanctions and even threats of possible military attack, because it provides the means to make highly enriched uranium and thereby a fast route to nuclear weapons. Iran's program is also the current focus of the continuing international debate over the spread of national enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

If it were possible to persuade Iran to give up its national enrichment program, the movement to satisfy the world's needs for enrichment services without constructing new national facilities would be strengthened.

Iran is not the only non-nuclear-weapon state with an enrichment capability. Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and South Africa also have enrichment capabilities[1] that currently are of less proliferation concern for various reasons. Germany and the Netherlands are integrated into Europe and deeply opposed to nuclear weapons. Japan has had huge quantities of separated plutonium as well as enrichment capabilities for decades but has made no move to develop nuclear weapons. Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa all renounced their nuclear-weapon ambitions in 1991.

Iran, by contrast, is a nation with a long history both as an independent regional power and a target for outside attack and intrigue. Even though Iran's leadership has convincingly argued that its acquisition of nuclear weapons would generate more dangers than security, there probably are, as in other countries, voices arguing that a nuclear deterrent would bolster the nation's independence.

Iranian government officials make a number of arguments for their country's uranium-enrichment program that have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Among them:

  • Iran needs nuclear power to free more oil and natural gas for export and to prepare for the day when its fossil fuel resources are depleted.
  • Peaceful use of nuclear technology is an inalienable right of non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and, if Iran allows itself to be pressured into giving up that right, the United States will simply go to the next item on its list of demands for policy changes that cumulatively amount to regime change.
  • The cutting-edge technical demands of enrichment technology are good for Iran's high-technology sector.
  • Keeping and developing that technology further has become a national cause for the Iranian people.

There are, of course, rebuttals to each of these arguments.

  • The capital costs of natural gas-fired power plants are much less than those of nuclear power plants, Iranian reserves of natural gas are huge, and, as of 2003, Iran was still wastefully flaring by-product gas from its oil production.[2]
  • The next issues on the U.S. list of demands, Iran's support of Hezbollah and Hamas, do not carry the same weight as the widely shared concern that Iran is developing at least a nuclear weapons option, a perception that may be pushing some of its neighbors to seek their own nuclear weapon options.
  • The technical demands of a centrifuge-enrichment program are relatively specialized and, as illustrated by a comparison of Pakistan with South Korea, nowhere near as economy transforming as other technologies, such as automobile or semiconductor production.
  • Iran's government has promoted and orchestrated the broad domestic support for its insistence on Iran's inalienable right to enrichment technology. If it concludes that Iran has been offered something better in exchange, specifically, a guarantee against attack and an end to the broad technology, investment, and financial-service embargoes to which Iran is currently subject, then it could probably similarly persuade the Iranian public to embrace such a deal as a victory.

The Economic Argument for a National Enrichment Plant

What remains, therefore, is the original and fundamental economic argument for Iran's need for enrichment technology, that it is going to build a large nuclear power capacity (20,000 megawatts electric [MWe], the rough equivalent of 20 large nuclear-power plants, in the next 20 years)[3] and that it has learned that it cannot depend on other countries for its nuclear fuel supply.[4] This same argument has been made for the Brazilian and Japanese enrichment programs and could be made by other countries, including some of the 20 or so that recently have expressed an interest in acquiring their first nuclear-power plants.

Given the huge capital costs of nuclear power plants, it is reasonable to want to insure against a lack of fuel to operate. If Iran's nuclear fuel supply were cut off, it would lose a return on its investment of at least $200 million per year for each idled reactor.[5]

Alternatives to National Enrichment Plants

Thus far, the focus of international efforts has been to try to develop a system of credible guarantees and fuel banks to assure Iran and other states that do not yet have fully functioning enrichment plants that they will have a reliable fuel supply, conditioned only on International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certification that they are in compliance with the NPT. Such guarantees, however, can never be entirely convincing to countries that are not strongly allied politically to the national host of at least one enrichment supplier. Iranian officials complain, for example, that Iran has been subject to endless investigations by the IAEA for what they consider minor infractions and, more recently, what they decry as fabricated documents in the case of alleged nuclear weapons design activities.[6] Tehran could easily argue that such controversies could delay indefinitely the IAEA's delivery of the requisite clean bill of health and subsequent guaranteed supply of low-enriched uranium (LEU).

An alternative approach, originally suggested by Richard Garwin,[7] would be to allow Iran to stockpile several years or more of imported fresh fuel. According to current estimates, Iran has very limited uranium resources. Its "reasonably assured" and "inferred" resources of uranium amount only to about 2,000 tons, enough to provide about 10 annual reloads for a 1,000 MWe reactor. Less certain "prognosticated" and "speculative" resources are estimated at about 16,000 tons, enough to fuel Iran's planned 20,000 MWe of capacity for only five years.[8] If Iran follows through on its nuclear energy expansion plans, it would in any case have to import natural uranium to supply an indigenous enrichment plant.

Cost of a Stockpile of Fresh Fuel

Stockpiling fresh fuel costs more money than buying it on a just-in-time basis. The extra cost is associated with having money tied up in the fuel instead of earning interest or having to pay interest on a loan used to buy the fuel in advance. U.S. utilities typically do not stockpile more than one year of fresh fuel. Switzerland's nuclear utilities, however, have less trust in the reliability of the market and have a general policy of stockpiling three to five years of fresh fuel.[9]

A one-year supply of fuel for a 1,000 MWe reactor costs about 1.5 percent of the capital cost of the reactor, or about $60 million (see box). A five-year fuel supply would cost $300 million, or about 8 percent of the capital cost of the reactor. Assuming a 5 percent interest rate, the extra interest cost would be $15 million per year. This is about 0.2 cents per kilowatt-hour or about 2 percent of the generation cost of electricity from a new nuclear power plant.[10]

As shown below, within large uncertainties, this cost is comparable to the extra cost of building a small national enrichment plant instead of buying enrichment services on the international market.

Cost of a Small National Enrichment Plant

Domestic enrichment of uranium for a few reactors, as proposed by Brazil and Iran, can also be more costly than buying fuel on the international market because small enrichment plants do not fully exploit economies of scale. For example, the same staff could operate a much larger enrichment plant capable of fueling tens of large power reactors.[11]

The cost disadvantage of a small plant is even larger if it does not have access to advanced centrifuges of proven reliability. Today, only Russia and Urenco have such centrifuges. Consequently, France has decided to base its enrichment programs on Urenco centrifuges, as have two of the three companies that are establishing new centrifuge enrichment plants in the United States. Similarly, China decided to use Russian centrifuges rather than its own in its enrichment plants.

Brazil has made public its past and planned investments in commercial enrichment, and Cabrera-Palmer and Rothwell have used those numbers to estimate the production costs for Brazil's enrichment plant.[12] Brazil expects to have spent about $304 million by the time that the capacity of its enrichment plant has reached about 0.203 million separative work units (SWUs) per year in 2015, enough to supply about 1,500 MWe of nuclear capacity. That capital cost of $1,500 per SWU per year production capacity, however, will still be three times the average capital cost of the large, new, multimillion-SWU plants based on Urenco technology that are being built in France and the United States.

Cabrera-Palmer and Rothwell estimate that Brazil's production cost after the expansion would be $147 per SWU, approximately today's market price. If this price does not fall, Brazil would expect to break even while the new U.S. and French enrichment plants, with their lower costs, should earn a handsome return on their investments.[13] If the international price of enrichment falls back to historic levels, Brazil will be losing money on its national enrichment program.

Brazil's enrichment program might be a money loser for another reason as well. In 1998, at a time when the world price of enrichment was about $85 per SWU, the cost of SWUs from Japan's new 1.05 million SWU enrichment plant were reportedly $150 per SWU.[14] Since that time, however, nearly all Japan's centrifuges have failed.[15] As a result, their capital cost will have to be written off over approximately 10 years instead of the 30 years assumed in the analysis of the Brazilian program. Assuming that most of the investment cost is in centrifuges, if this happened to Brazil, its costs would be increased by $10-20 million per year.

Fuel Stockpiles Versus National Enrichment Plants

Thus, within large uncertainties, the stockpile strategy of Switzerland's utilities and Brazil's national enrichment plant have comparable costs. The incremental cost of a fabricated fuel stockpile would likely be lower for Iran than for Switzerland if Iran would have to stockpile natural uranium for its national enrichment program in any case. The cost of Iran's enrichment program is likely higher than Brazil's because Iran has had to harden its enrichment program against the possibility of bombing. Iranian planners could argue, however, that they are making an investment for the future when their nation will have a large nuclear power program where economies of scale can be realized.

From a nonproliferation perspective, a national stockpile is far superior to a national enrichment plant. In any case, a 2 percent increase in the cost of nuclear power from a multiyear fuel stockpile pales into insignificance in comparison to even a modest probability that Iran's enrichment program will provoke another trillion-dollar war in the Persian Gulf region.

U.S. Policy Toward an Iranian Fuel Stockpile

Currently, it appears to be a U.S. policy objective to block Iran from acquiring a stockpile of LEU in any form. At the United States' request, Russia's fuel supply contract with Iran reportedly provides for just-in-time deliveries of fresh fuel.[16] This arrangement probably reflects a U.S. concern that Iran could use some of the LEU in a fuel stockpile to provide feedstock for its enrichment plant. Fed with LEU instead of natural uranium as feed, the potential production rate of weapon-grade uranium from an enrichment plant could be increased more than threefold.[17]

The U.S. November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, concluded, however, that "[w]e judge with moderate confidence that Iran probably would use covert facilities-rather than its declared nuclear sites-for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon." This conclusion is plausible because conversion of Iran's overt Natanz enrichment facility to the production of highly enriched uranium would be immediately detected by the IAEA, which would be obliged to inform the UN Security Council, with military action being a possible result. The same would be true if Iran suddenly withdrew fresh fuel from IAEA safeguards.

If one accepts this logic, the key objective should be to establish arrangements to minimize the chance of Iran developing a covert enrichment program. Such arrangements would include, as a high priority, persuading Iran to ratify its additional protocol, which would give the IAEA authority to visit all of Iran's nuclear-related sites.

The standard pre-additional protocol safeguard agreement that Iran accepted when it joined the NPT only requires IAEA access to sites where nuclear material is present. It therefore does not include inspections of the sites where Iran fabricates centrifuges or their key components. If subject only to these safeguards, Iran could fabricate centrifuges for a covert site as well as for Natanz without much risk of detection.

Iran voluntarily complied with the additional protocol from mid-July 2003 until February 2006. The IAEA used this access to take environmental samples and successfully detected activities that Iran had tried to conceal, such as its enrichment experiments at the Kalaye Electric Company.[18] It also monitored Iran's production and storage of centrifuges and components.[19] Iran suspended this access, however, after the IAEA Board of Governors referred the issue of Iran's enrichment activities to the UN Security Council.

In addition, it would be critical for Iran to allow the IAEA to interview personnel the IAEA believed are involved in enrichment-related activities. Such access was provided during the joint IAEA-Iran effort during 2007 to clarify the history of Iran's enrichment activities.

Not a Silver Bullet

Allowing Iran a fuel stockpile is unlikely to be the silver bullet that will solve the current impasse over Iran's enrichment program. It is difficult to believe that some important political faction in Iran is not insisting on keeping the enrichment program because the nuclear weapons option it provides acts as a virtual nuclear deterrent to U.S. attack. The deterrent threat is that, unless the U.S. military is willing to occupy Iran indefinitely, which is unthinkable after the debacle in Iraq, Iran could respond to U.S. or Israeli bombing of its known enrichment infrastructure by quickly launching a covert nuclear weapons program.[20]

Even if the United States reverses its policy and agrees to allow Iran to stockpile fresh fuel, therefore, it most likely will have to accept at least a small continuing Iranian enrichment program until its relationship with Iran improves to the point where a U.S. attack became unthinkable. With a national fuel stockpile in the mix, however, Iran could opt more easily for a smaller enrichment program. More importantly, if the United States accepted a small Iranian enrichment program, it might be possible to get transparency arrangements with Iran that would reduce concerns about the possibility of a parallel clandestine enrichment program.[21]

Other countries that do not feel the need for even a virtual nuclear deterrent but, like Switzerland's utilities, do not fully trust the international nuclear fuel market may, however, find a national fuel stockpile an adequate alternative to a national enrichment plant.

The Cost of Nuclear Fuel

The cost of a kilogram of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in fabricated fuel is the sum of the costs of the original natural uranium, the separative work required to enrich the chain-reacting isotope uranium-235 (U-235), the cost of conversion from uranium oxide to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for enrichment and back, and, finally, the cost of fuel fabrication.

Uranium. Natural uranium contains about 0.7 percent U-235. Of this, about 0.45 percent typically is separated into LEU, leaving behind 0.25 percent U-235 in the depleted uranium that is the waste product from enrichment. About 10 kilograms of natural uranium would therefore be required to yield enough U-235 for one kilogram of LEU containing about 4.5 percent U-235. The cost of natural uranium has been quite volatile of late.[1] Assuming a cost of $100-200 per kilogram, this would contribute $1,000-2,000 per kilogram to the price of producing low-enriched fuel.

Enrichment work. Enrichment work is purchased in separative work units (SWUs). If the amount of U-235 in the depleted uranium is fixed at 0.25 percent, about seven SWU are required to produce a kilogram of 4.5 percent enriched uranium.[2] The cost of SWUs has almost doubled since 2000, to $150 per SWU.[3] It may fall again as more enrichment is brought online. Assuming enrichment prices of $100-150 per SWU, enrichment would contribute another $700-1,400 to the price of producing a kilogram of low-enriched fuel.

Conversion. Uranium is first extracted from ore as "yellowcake" (U3O8). To be enriched, it must be converted to uranium hexafluoride, which becomes a gas at the low pressures inside centrifuges. When it is discharged from an enrichment plant in the form of LEU, it must be converted again to uranium oxide, this time UO2 powder, which is subsequently fabricated into the cylindrical ceramic pellets that are put into zirconium tubes to make up the fuel rods used in water-cooled reactors. The cost of conversion is currently about $11 per kilogram of uranium.[4] The contribution of the conversion of 10 kilograms of unenriched uranium to UF6 and the conversion of the kilogram of enriched uranium back to UO2 therefore add about $120 to the cost of a kilogram of fuel.

Fabrication. As of April 2006, the cost of fuel fabrication contributed about $240 to the cost of a kilogram of LEU fuel.[5] An assumed cost of $300 per kilogram is used here.

With these assumptions, the cost of fabricated fuel containing a kilogram of LEU would be $2,120-3,820. A 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant requires about 20,000 kilograms of LEU fuel per year. At about $3,000 per kilogram, the cost of this fuel would be about $60 million, or about 1.5 percent the cost of the nuclear-power plant.


1. The average price paid by U.S. utilities between 1990 and 2005 ranged between $26-37 per kilogram of uranium. In 2007 the average increased to $85 per kilogram and spot prices increased to $230 per kilogram, "Uranium Purchased by Owners and Operators of U.S. Civilian Nuclear Power Plants," Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, May 19, 2008. In 2008, the spot market fell to $160 per kilogram as of August 11, 2008, Uranium Intelligence Weekly, "Uranium Price Panel: $62.70/lb U3O8," August 11, 2008, p. 1.

2. If the price of uranium increased, it would make sense to pull more U-235 out of the natural uranium, but this would require more enrichment capacity. Going down to 0.2 percent U-235 in the depleted uranium, for example, would reduce requirements for natural uranium by 10 percent but increase requirements for SWUs by about 10 percent per kilogram of LEU.

3. The "restricted" SWU price shown by the Ux Consulting Company in early 2008 was $150 per SWU. See www.uxc.com/review/uxc_g_swu-price.html. The price charged by Russia was approximately $20 less per SWU until 2006, after which it is no longer shown.

4. The price doubled since 2002. See www.uxc.com/review/uxc_g_conv-price.html.

5. World Nuclear Association, "Nuclear Fuel Cycle," April 2006, www.world-nuclear.org/education/nfc.htm.

Frank N. von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security.


1. Brazil and Japan have national enrichment programs based on gas centrifuge technology. Germany and the Netherlands host Urenco enrichment facilities. Argentina is considering development for commercial application gas-diffusion enrichment technology that was part of its nuclear weapons program. South Africa has decommissioned plants that used a vortex-tube enrichment process to produce highly enriched uranium for its weapons program and low-enriched uranium for its nuclear power reactors.

2. T.W. Wood et al., "The Economics of Energy Independence for Iran," Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 14, No. 1 (March 2007), p. 89.

3. "It is important to note that the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran approved an Act which obligates the government to install and commission 20,000 MWe of nuclear power plant capacity over the next 20 years." Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Uranium 2007: Resources, Production and Demand (OECD, 2008), p. 221.

4. Always cited is the shah's 1974 loan of $1 billion to the French-led Eurodif uranium-enrichment consortium in exchange for the right to purchase 10 percent of the LEU produced and France's refusal to deliver after the shah was overthrown in 1979.

5. Assumptions include a "real" (after correction for inflation) rate of return of 5 percent on the government investment in the reactor. Belkis Cabrera-Palmer and Geoffrey Rothwell, "Why Is Brazil Enriching Uranium?" Energy Policy (2008). This payback would be a component in the nuclear utility's price for the electric power that it produces. The current average capital cost for a new 1,000 MWe reactor is about $4 billion. Jim Harding, "Economics of Nuclear Power and Proliferation Risks in a Carbon-Constrained World," The Electricity Journal, Vol. 20, No. 10 (December 2007), p. 65.

6. See "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors," February 22, 2008, paras. 35-42.

7. Richard Garwin, communication with author, February 24, 2005.

8. OECD NEA and IAEA, Uranium 2007, pp. 221-223. Fueling a 1,000 MWe light-water reactor requires the enrichment of approximately 200 metric tons of natural uranium per year. "Reasonably assured" resources are in known deposits that have been well explored and can be recovered at less than a specified cost, in Iran's case, less than $130 per kilogram. "Inferred" resources are extensions of such deposits whose existence has been established but whose exact characteristics are not sufficiently delineated to classify as reasonably assured. "Prognosticated" resources are expected to occur in well-defined geological trends with known deposits but have not been explored. "Speculative" resources are expected somewhere within a given region or geological trend.

9. Kevin Alldred, communications with author, August 2008.

10. Nuclear Energy Institute, "The Cost of New Generating Capacity in Perspective," August 2008.

11. Pat Upson, Enrichment Technology Company Ltd, personal communication with author, October 31, 2005.

12. Cabrera-Palmer and Rothwell, "Why Is Brazil Enriching Uranium?"

13. In 2007, Urenco earned a profit of 34 percent before taxes (23% after taxes), Urenco, "Urenco Group-Full Year 2007 Audited Financial Results," April 2, 2008.

14. Mark Hibbs, "Utilities Mulling JNFL's Installation of Centrifuge Rated Around 50 SWU/Y," Nuclearfuel, May 4, 1998.

15. Citizen's Nuclear Information Center, "Rokkasho Uranium Enrichment Plant Down to a Single Line," Nuke Info Tokyo, March/April 2008.

16. Miles Pomper, "Bush Sends Russia Nuclear Energy Pact to Hill," Arms Control Today, June 2008, pp. 32-34.

17. Alex Glaser, "Characteristics of the Gas Centrifuge for Uranium Enrichment and Their Relevance for Nuclear Weapon Proliferation," Science & Global Security (forthcoming).

18. "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report of the Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors," November 10, 2003, Annex 1, para. 21.

19. "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report of the Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors," February 24, 2004, paras. 37-42, 61-62; November 15, 2004, para. 134.

20. David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Jacqueline Shire, "Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran's Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not," Institute for Science and International Security, August 7, 2008.

21. For a comprehensive discussion of possible measures that could be used to strengthen international confidence that Iran is not producing HEU for nuclear weapons, see James Acton and Joanna Little, The Use of Voluntary Safeguards to Build Trust in States' Nuclear Programmes: The Case of Iran (London: Vertic) 2007.

Iran's national uranium-enrichment program has provoked international concern, evidenced by UN Security Council sanctions and even threats of possible military attack, because it provides the means to make highly enriched uranium and thereby a fast route to nuclear weapons. Iran's program is also the current focus of the continuing international debate over the spread of national enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. (Continue)

Reforming the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Time Is Running Out

Fiona Simpson

Revelations earlier this decade about Iran's clandestine nuclear activities reignited global concerns that the spread of such sensitive fuel-cycle technology would lead to nuclear weapons proliferation. In a 2003 Economist op-ed, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei proposed that the time was right to re-examine multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.[1]

Similar studies had already been undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s but had not produced concrete results.[2] Nonetheless, states responded with a plethora of proposals aimed at thwarting the unchecked spread of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technologies, for example, by suggesting means of assuring nuclear fuel supplies and establishing international nuclear fuel-cycle centers.

In June 2007, ElBaradei catalogued these proposals in the report "Possible New Framework for the Utilization of Nuclear Energy," delivered to the agency's Board of Governors. The report, which remains restricted, was designed to be of help to the board in considering the issue at a subsequent meeting, and ElBaradei later indicated that he was turning over the responsibility for leading the discussion to the IAEA's member states.[3] Subsequently, the Board of Governors has apparently not formally discussed any of the proposals, although about a half dozen of them have been refined during the year that followed. ElBaradei himself sees attaining credible assurance of supply as part of an ambitious multilateral effort that would culminate in all new, and then all existing, enrichment and reprocessing facilities being placed under multilateral control.

The next six months are likely to prove critical in determining whether any of these proposals becomes a genuine blueprint for a new approach to this issue or whether, like similar efforts three decades ago, they simply gather dust.

A Dozen Proposals

Twelve proposals were put forward by the time of the 2007 IAEA board report. They have been summarized elsewhere, including in a list extracted from the board report,[4] and are recapped briefly below before turning to focus on those proposals that have been developed further. In addition, another possible new framework is noted that attempts to include, or to lend itself to incorporation by, many of the existing proposals.

As they stood in June 2007, the proposals varied widely. They included plans to establish a fuel bank, a fuel cycle center, or fuel services program; to initiate a mechanism providing different levels of supply assurances, a concept that also, in practice, incorporated the fuel bank idea; or to support these other proposals.

The creation of an independent fuel bank not linked to any particular fuel-cycle center option or other assurance of supply mechanism characterized two of the proposals, one made by the United States and the other by the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). The U.S. proposal, as announced in September 2005, committed the United States to downblend 17.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU), which would be made available to qualifying countries, i.e., those not presently pursuing indigenous enrichment or reprocessing technologies.[5] The NTI proposal, put forward a year later, comprised an offer of $50 million to allow the IAEA to create an LEU stockpile, which would be owned and managed by the agency. The release of the NTI funds would occur providing that, within two years, i.e., by the end of September 2008, the IAEA had taken the necessary steps to establish the reserve and an additional $100 million had been provided by member states, whether in funds or in an equivalent value of LEU.

A slightly different interpretation of the nuclear fuel bank idea was contained in the proposal by Austria in May 2007, which was more conceptual in nature and less of a "fuel reserve" than those envisioned by the NTI and the United States. Rather than establishing a bank simply as a storage site for a reserve of fuel, Austria suggested a two-track mechanism. The first would see states declare, to the IAEA and to each other, all existing nuclear programs, development plans, and activities and all transfers of nuclear material, equipment, and related technologies. The second track would place all nuclear fuel transactions and, eventually, enrichment and reprocessing facilities and nuclear fuel supply under the auspices of a Nuclear Fuel Bank.[6] ElBaradei himself has long believed and frequently stated that credible assurances of fuel supply should be the first step of an ambitious multilateralization effort, which would culminate in all enrichment and reprocessing being placed under multilateral control.

Broader efforts to establish a fuel cycle center or a consortium for fuel services lay at the heart of a U.S. proposal for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP); a Russian plan for a system of international enrichment centers, the first example being the International Uranium Enrichment Center at Angarsk; and a German proposal for a Multilateral Enrichment Sanctuary Project (MESP).

The GNEP idea was perhaps the most ambitious. As initially proposed, it contained both domestic and international components and technological as well as policy dimensions. Internationally, the program focused on the provision of reliable fuel services, especially the possibility of fuel leasing, where providers would be responsible for dealing with spent fuel. Technologically, the program emphasized the development and deployment of more advanced nuclear power reactors and, more controversially, the use of new spent fuel reprocessing technologies said to be more "proliferation resistant" than current methods because they would not produce pure separated plutonium.[7]

The Angarsk concept, like GNEP, was already well on the way to being realized by the time of the June 2007 board report. The proposal itself existed in two parts: a fuel cycle (enrichment) center and a fuel bank. By the time of the 2007 report, the Russian Duma had already approved enabling legislation that would grant participating countries the right to partake financially in the facility. In addition, Russia was also exploring a means through which a separate LEU stockpile could be set aside under IAEA safeguards and for the use of IAEA member states.

The German proposal favored the creation of a multilateral enrichment center under IAEA control and supervision and on a site that had been granted extraterritorial status. Under the MESP framework, the center would be a new entrant into the enrichment services market and could be established by a group of interested states.

The tiered approach to multilateralizing the fuel cycle characterized the ideas put forward by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the industry trade group, and the Concept for a Multilateral Mechanism for Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel, often known as the RANF proposal or the Six-Country Concept.[8] Both proposals envisioned the first, or "basic," assurance of supply mechanism as being the existing and normally operating market. The WNA proposal suggested that a second level of assurance could be provided by "collective guarantees by enrichers, supported by governmental and IAEA commitments."[9] Similarly, the RANF mechanism envisioned a second layer of assurance being offered by suppliers of enriched uranium agreeing to substitute for each other to cover certain supply interruptions.[10] A final, third layer of assurance in both proposals incorporated the fuel bank concept by suggesting governmental creation of enriched uranium stocks, either virtual or physical.

Finally, several of the proposals were intended to be supplementary to other efforts. The British proposal for an enrichment bond suggested a means of assuring states that if they met certain IAEA-determined criteria, they would be guaranteed enrichment services by national providers and would be provided with prior consent for export assurances.[11] The Japanese proposed increased transparency by way of an database, managed and dispersed by the IAEA and comprising information voluntarily provided by states on capacities for uranium ore, reserves, conversion, enrichment, and fuel fabrication.[12] In addition, the European Union submitted a nonpaper to the IAEA Secretariat and the 2007 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting.[13] Its inclusion among the other proposals is something of a misnomer, however, because rather than proposing a stand-alone mechanism, the nonpaper instead offered a list of criteria by which such mechanisms could be evaluated.

Refining the Proposals

Several of the proposals have undergone substantial further development since the June 2007 ElBaradei report. U.S. contractors have begun downblending the 17.4 tons of former military HEU, which Washington had pledged. This process is expected to yield 290 tons of LEU by the time the effort is completed in 2010. In addition, the potential consumer base for the fuel has been broadened, with U.S. companies also being permitted to buy fuel in the event of supply disruption, rather than it only being available internationally and to countries that are not pursuing enrichment or reprocessing. The United States would make the fuel available at the prevailing market price.[14]

The NTI offer of $50 million to establish an LEU reserve under IAEA auspices has made some notable progress over the past year. Although the required full amount of $100 million has not yet been raised, Congress pledged one-half ($50 million) to be allotted to this fuel bank and, as of August 4, 2008, had issued a letter officially donating the funds.[15] In addition, Norway has made a $5 million contribution, and it was recently announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had pledged a further $10 million.[16] This leaves $35 million dollars still to be raised in order to meet the first of the NTI's conditions and, in turn, leaves the IAEA not yet able to meet the second condition and take the steps necessary to establish the reserve. ElBaradei has decided not to approach the IAEA Board of Governors for a decision until all funding has been pledged.[17] At that point and given that the NTI has indicated that it expects the IAEA to agree on a set of release criteria for the material, the fuel bank would become part of a broader and yet more complicated discussion in the board on terms and conditions for use.

The NTI proposal is the only one made in the context of an official deadline, originally requiring that both conditions be met by the end of September 2008. At the request of the IAEA director-general and with the consent of the NTI, the deadline has now been extended to September 2009, which provides something of a cushion. Still, it is difficult to imagine that the money would be indefinitely earmarked, either by the NTI or by donor states, in the absence of other funds being raised, and thus some pressure would need to be brought to bear on other states to contribute funds toward the bank as soon as possible.

The GNEP proposal has also forged ahead, although not without setbacks and changes. GNEP was to be a consortium of nations with advanced nuclear technologies that would establish supply arrangements to provide nuclear fuel to and take back spent fuel from other participants. The GNEP International Partnership was established in September 2007, and GNEP countries soon thereafter established a steering group. That group then established two working groups, one of which was tasked with exploring reliable nuclear fuel services and making recommendations on practical measures in this regard.[18] The first meeting of this working group took place in April 2008. The proposed measures and the summary of work undertaken were to be summarized in a report to the GNEP Steering Group in May 2008 and to the partnership's ministerial-level Executive Committee in October 2008.

However, GNEP has encountered difficulties internationally and domestically. Internationally, the United States shelved initial plans to require countries that joined the partnership to forswear enrichment and reprocessing. Instead, the United States has chosen to rely on a set of other bilateral incentives, such as help with financing, infrastructure, and workforce issues, as levers to convince countries to sign a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) pledging to rely on the global nuclear fuel market instead of developing sensitive technology. For example, during the first half of 2008, three of the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) signed MOUs with the United States. A draft MOU between the United States and Qatar, presumably with a similar undertaking on the part of Qatar, is currently under consideration. Although U.S. officials express hope that other suppliers, such as France, will follow their lead, Paris has made no explicit commitment to do so.

Domestically, since the Democrats gained control of Congress in 2007, the program has seen its funding cut on Capitol Hill and its effort limited to research. At the end of June, the House Appropriations Committee expressed its skepticism of GNEP in a very visible fashion, by "zeroing out" international fiscal year 2009 funding for the program and sharply curtailing funding for domestic research. In its report, the panel stated that the "initiative to reprocess spent nuclear fuel...undermines our Nation's nuclear non-proliferation policy."[19] With the Bush administration only months away from leaving office and the future of GNEP under a new administration by no means assured, GNEP is, as one recent article has observed, in "limbo."[20]

Nonetheless and almost contradictorily, efforts at expanding GNEP are continuing, with invitations soon to be extended to 25 countries to join the partnership. To be sure, joining GNEP merely requires a state to sign the partnership's Statement of Principles, which is not legally binding. Nor are any sort of financial "dues" required to join the club, so a simple expansion of the membership is less indicative of GNEP's health than it might otherwise appear.

Russia's proposed international enrichment center at Angarsk was legally established in September 2007 as a joint stock company. By the time shares were issued in November 2007, a deal had already been signed with Kazakhstan, which purchased 10 percent of the shares. At that time, Armenia indicated its interest in joining, a step that was taken through an exchange of notes in February 2008. In order to address concerns regarding the spread of technology, the International Uranium Enrichment Center (IUEC) will be structured ("black-boxed") in such a way that no access to enrichment technology or classified knowledge will be accessible to the foreign participants. Traditionally, black-boxed technology has been in place in cases where the host state is to be prevented from accessing the technology. Russia, for instance, constructed a black-box centrifuge plant for China in 1995. In such cases, the obvious concern stems from a possible takeover of the facility by the host state. The fact that the host state is, in this case, also the technology holder allows this concern to be assuaged, although it still remains to ensure that physical access to the technology and know-how is nonetheless restricted and that the black box is indeed opaque. Any IAEA member state that also meets "the established nonproliferation criteria" is eligible to participate in the IUEC, although it has previously been indicated that members should also not be "envisaging the development of indigenous sensitive nuclear technology."[21]

In December 2007, the Russian government took the decision to include the nuclear material in the enrichment center in the list of facilities it is willing to submit to IAEA safeguards. Safeguards are also to be applied to the 120-ton LEU stockpile that is to be set aside, separately, as a fuel bank in the event of a supply disruption for political reasons unrelated to nonproliferation. Although an agreement between the IAEA and Russia on the safeguards arrangements was originally expected to be concluded in the first half of 2008,[22] such an agreement has not yet been finalized and appears likely to be held up for at least another few months. It is therefore likely to land on the board's plate while the future of the NTI proposal and GNEP are likewise coming to a head.

The German proposal for a multilateral enrichment center is also being actively pursued. Such efforts followed an initial delay, which was apparently the consequence of internal disagreements. Germany made a presentation at the IAEA in February 2008, which gave further details regarding the proposal, and the German government also initiated and ultimately co-hosted a conference in Berlin in April 2008 with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom on nuclear fuel assurances. At that time, it was noted that the three states also stood ready to undertake further development of the enrichment bond concept.

The proposal, as developed thus far, has recommended that the host country for such a center should not already possess enrichment capabilities. Although the IAEA would have responsibility for oversight of such a center, the MESP idea also wisely confers responsibility for day-to-day management and operation of the center to a private firm rather than to an international organization. The IAEA also would not have any other means of access to sensitive technology or know-how.

One of the most difficult aspects of the MESP idea is finding a host country. In addition to requiring that the country is not already a current supplier of enrichment services, the MESP proposal also notes the need for the host country to have a suitable infrastructure and political stability, adhere to safeguards agreement, and be in good standing with the NPT. It is not yet clear how difficult it will be to find a willing host and, once found, how acceptable that host country will be to possible participants in the center.

Of all the proposals made, however, the MESP concept is perhaps the most explicitly welcoming to all interested parties, including those who might wish to develop an indigenous enrichment technology, by noting that they would "remain free" to do so if they so chose "and circumstances require."[23] This inclusiveness is sure to increase the appeal of the MESP idea, particularly to states who have long been concerned that participation in multilateral ventures was dependent on not pursuing indigenous enrichment and reprocessing activities. It remains unclear, however, whether the "circumstances required" for states to explore their own capabilities while participating in the center will be identified or formalized in any way. If so, this might be viewed as limiting the MESP's apparent inclusiveness. If not, such inclusiveness might then come at the expense of the proposal's nonproliferation value.

A working paper, providing still more detail on the MESP idea and suggesting next steps for this and other proposals, may be presented by Germany to ElBaradei in September 2008. This would serve to provide an interesting backdrop to the NTI-GNEP-Angarsk developments.

Another Possible Framework

Finally, another framework that makes use of the three-layer approach contained in the WNA proposal and Six-Country Concept has been noted. Like the others, the first level of such a mechanism is simply the current market and its existing supply arrangements. The second level, again much like that suggested by the WNA and in the Six-Country Concept, would be based on the existence of backup commitments that would be undertaken by suppliers and the relevant governments of enrichment services and of fuel fabrication. In the event of any failure in the current market and assuming that the IAEA director-general considered that certain predetermined criteria were met, this second layer of assurance would be enacted. As a final guarantee, a third level consisting of a physical or, more likely, a virtual LEU fuel bank could be created. Under this framework, which would be open to all IAEA member states, the LEU reserve would be stored "in one or several separate locations and made available to consumer states through a set of arrangements and agreements, involving the IAEA and supplier states and companies."[24]

Selected Remaining Issues

Several of the proposals made on fuel assurances foresee the IAEA's involvement in deciding when services may be supplied or fuel from a fuel bank released. It is often assumed that criteria would be agreed on in advance by the Board of Governors and that the director-general would therefore, at the time of the request, need only to approve it on the basis of whether it met or failed to meet these criteria. This would seem to be the only way that potential recipients could have confidence that the supply they require would be timely and would not be waylaid by debate in the board. It follows that, as ElBaradei has stated, such criteria would have to be "non-political" and "applied in a consistent and objective manner."[25] This would allow the director-general to check the request against the list of conditions for release, which would proceed as a last-resort supply in the event of denial of services for political reasons not related to proliferation concerns.

Conditions agreed to in advance would likely require that the consumer state be in good standing with its IAEA safeguards obligations, as indicated in the agency's Safeguards Implementation Report. Whether the state would have to have been in good standing for only the most recent year or for a predetermined number of previous years would also need to be agreed. Naturally, safeguards would be applied to the material supplied.

Those safeguards, however, would almost certainly not include the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which provides further legal authority beyond the required NPT safeguards agreement, allowing the IAEA to draw conclusions regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities. After all, the additional protocol remains voluntary, and until the Board of Governors takes a decision to the contrary, many states feel strongly that the protocol should not be required as a criterion for supply. This does not sit well with some other states, who not only support the universalization of the protocol, but who may have domestic legislation in place requiring a recipient state to have an additional protocol in place as a condition of bilateral supply. Whatever conditions are proposed, perhaps the only sure conclusion is that the agreement of nonpolitical advance criteria in a forum that has become increasingly political over the past few years will be a difficult task.

Such politicization has been reflected in the concerns and suspicions regarding eligibility criteria. The questions of which states are able to participate and what, if anything, those states would have to give up in order to do so have been a running theme in the discussions. As initially introduced, several of the proposals, such as the Six-Country Concept and GNEP, were understood to place requirements on potential consumers not to pursue indigenous enrichment or reprocessing activities. This triggered fears that the current supplier countries were attempting in effect to establish a cartel, despite the fact that, as stated by South Africa, some nonsupplier states "might choose to pursue sensitive fuel cycle activities in a limited way or only for research activities."[26] Although efforts have been taken by the supplier states to assuage these concerns, many other states, some of whom, Brazil and Japan, for instance, have expressed interest in eventually being suppliers themselves, retain their misgivings and continue to be concerned that multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle might serve to curtail their Article IV rights under the NPT to the research, development, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It remains to be seen whether this skepticism can be overcome.

The ability of fuel assurance mechanisms to address the back end of the fuel cycle and, in particular, to resolve the issue of spent fuel is also a cause for concern. The return of spent fuel is traditionally a controversial idea, being politically and often legally difficult. Accordingly, the establishment of regional or international spent fuel storage or disposal facilities has proved to be a tough sell. A mechanism that provides for a take-back of spent fuel, however, would certainly hold greater appeal to states whose nuclear power programs are in their early stages. It would also provide greater nonproliferation assurance against the possibility of reprocessing the spent fuel for plutonium. The taking back of spent fuel to the country of origin is actually envisioned under GNEP, and unsurprisingly, this aspect of the proposal has proven to be one of its more controversial elements among such GNEP members as Australia and Canada, its nonproliferation benefits notwithstanding.


More than a year has now passed since the report to the Board of Governors. Although the likelihood of successfully implementing a multilateral approach to the nuclear fuel cycle is by no means assured, recent events have indicated that greater progress to this end has already been made than was possible during the 1970s and 1980s. In terms of assurance of supply, however, it appears that the remaining months of 2008 will be indicative of how much the proposed mechanisms will be able to accomplish in practice.

The ultimate goal of the exercise envisioned by the director-general, of all enrichment and reprocessing activities being under multilateral control one day, seems a longer-term prospect to say the least and remains deeply unpalatable to many states for the time being. Although the complementarity of the proposals is often noted, the MESP and NTI ideas (and supported by the enrichment bond principle), hold a vision of an IAEA-administered fuel-cycle center or fuel bank that, of all the proposals that have been refined over the past year, is perhaps the most in keeping with the spirit ElBaradei's long-term vision. If attained, they would serve as an important departure from the traditional approach to enrichment and reprocessing.

Nonetheless, several significant hurdles remain. The sponsors of these proposals currently appear to have the necessary political will to push them forward, although this will be not be sufficient without the concomitant political will on the part of other IAEA member states. The momentum that has been generated on fuel assurances and on multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle cannot be sustained indefinitely. The recent UAE contribution of $10 million to the NTI fuel bank is an encouraging sign, as is the extension of the deadline. The safeguards approach to Angarsk is apparently soon to be agreed, albeit nearly a year later than originally expected. There are indications that the MESP proposal may soon be put forward for formal discussion.

Still, GNEP is suffering from funding difficulties. The director-general who revived and argued in favor of the new fuel-cycle arrangements will soon head into the final year of his tenure. More than a year has now passed since the June 2007 report to the Board of Governors identified the board as the appropriate forum for the next considerations of the issue. If the board does not take up the discussion soon, whether because sufficient funding has been raised for the fuel bank or on the basis of draft agreements or release criteria suggested by member states, it seems increasingly possible that the project will go the way of those that preceded it, 30 or so years ago.

Fiona Simpson is a research associate at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. Previously she worked at the Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. From 2003 to 2005, she served at the International Atomic Energy Agency in the Office of External Relations and Policy Coordination.


1. Mohamed ElBaradei, "Towards a Safer World," The Economist, October 16, 2003.

2. For an overview of past efforts, see Tariq Rauf and Fiona Simpson, "The Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Is It Time for a Multilateral Approach?" Arms Control Today, December 2004, pp. 17-21.

3. Mohamed ElBaradei, "Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors," IAEA, March 3, 2008. In March 2008, the director-general stated that he expected the authors of the proposals to initiate the related discussions in the board, much as he himself would undertake to seek board consideration of an IAEA fuel bank when the necessary funds became available.

4. Tariq Rauf and Zoryana Vovchok, "Fuel for Thought," IAEA Bulletin, Vol. 49, No .2 (March 2008).

5. IAEA, "Communication Dated 28 September 2005 From the Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the Agency," INFCIRC/659, September 2005; National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Department of Energy, "NNSA Awards Contract for Reliable Fuel Supply Program," June 29, 2007 (press release).

6. IAEA, "Communication Received From the Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria With Regards to the Austrian Proposal on the Multilateralization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle," INFCIRC/706, May 31, 2007.

7. For a discussion, see Edwin Lyman and Frank von Hippel, "Reprocessing Revisited: The International Dimensions of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership," Arms Control Today, April 2008, pp. 6-14.

8. The six countries for which the proposal was named are those six states primarily involved in the supply of enrichment services: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

9. World Nuclear Association, "Ensuring Security of Supply in the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle," May 2006.

10. See "Concept for a Multilateral Mechanism for Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel," June 2006.

11. IAEA, "Communication Dated 30 May 2007 From the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the IAEA Concerning Enrichment Bonds," INFCIRC/707, May 30, 2007.

12. IAEA, "Communication Received on 12 September 2006 From the Permanent Mission of Japan to the Agency Concerning Arrangements for the Assurance of Nuclear Fuel Supply," INFCIRC/683, September 12, 2006.

13. "Multilateralization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Guarantees of Access to the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy," NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.61, May 9, 2007 (EU working paper).

14. Miles A. Pomper, "Congress Alters Bush's Fuel Cycle Plans," Arms Control Today, January/February 2008, pp. 40-41.

15. NNSA, "U.S. Donates $50 Million for the IAEA International Fuel Bank," August 4, 2008 (press release).

16. "UAE Commits $10 Million to Nuclear Fuel Reserve Proposal; September Deadline Extended for Matching Donations," IAEA, August 7, 2008.

17. IAEA, "Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors," March 3, 2008, www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Statements/2008/ebsp2008n003.html.

18. GNEP, "GNEP Working Group on Reliable Fuel Services: Terms of Reference," December 12, 2007. The other GNEP international working group was tasked with examining infrastructure development.

19. U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, "Summary: 2009 Energy and Water Appropriations," p. 3, http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/EWFY09FCSummary06-08.pdf.

20. Leonor Tomero, "The Future of GNEP: The International Partners," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: The Bulletin Online, July 31, 2008.

21. S.V. Ruchkin and V.Y. Loginov, "Securing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: What Next?" IAEA Bulletin, Vol.48, No.1, September 2006, p.25.

22. "IAEA May Consider in 1H08 Russia's Nuclear Fuel Plans" Ria Novosti, September 18, 2007.

23. "To Ensure Access to Nuclear Fuel Supply and Services: Multilateral Enrichment Sanctuary Project," NPT Working Paper, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.32, May 6, 2008.

24. Rauf and Vovchok, "Fuel for Thought."

25. Mohamed ElBaradei, "Nuclear Energy: The Need for a New Framework," Statement at the International Conference on Nuclear Fuel Supply: Challenges and Opportunities, Berlin, April 17, 2008.

26. Oliver Meier, "News Analysis: The Growing Nuclear Fuel Cycle Debate," Arms Control Today, November 2006, pp. 40-44.

Revelations earlier this decade about Iran's clandestine nuclear activities reignited global concerns that the spread of such sensitive fuel-cycle technology would lead to nuclear weapons proliferation. In a 2003 Economist op-ed, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei proposed that the time was right to re-examine multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle. (Continue)

The Middle East and Nonproliferation: An Interview with Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s Ambassador to the United States

Interviewed by Peter Crail and Miles A. Pomper

Ambassador Nabil Fahmy has served in Egypt's Foreign Ministry for 30 years and has focused particularly on disarmament and regional security issues. Most recently, he acted as Cairo's ambassador to Washington from October 1999 to August 2008. On July 21, Arms Control Today spoke with Ambassador Fahmy on a variety of issues, including Egypt's perspective on the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, and concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program.

ACT: We recently marked the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT]. Many have characterized the treaty as under stress from a variety of factors. As someone who has worked for many years on arms control issues, what is your opinion of the state of the NPT, and what should be done to address the challenges it faces?

Fahmy: To say that the NPT is under stress is an understatement. If you read the preamble to the NPT, it talks about trying to achieve nuclear disarmament and ultimately working toward general and complete disarmament. Forty years later, we actually have more nuclear-weapon states than we had at the beginning,[1] and you continue to have nonproliferation problems and compliance problems.

Over the last 18 months, we have had not only the North Korean issue, [but] people are talking about Iran and the Middle East; we still have Israel as a nonparty to the NPT with an unsafeguarded nuclear program. That does not mean that the NPT itself as originally adopted was a bad agreement, if it was implemented in the spirit in which it was approved. It was meant to be a step where the nuclear-weapon states commit to nuclear disarmament and negotiations and the non-nuclear-weapon states commit to nonacquisition as part of a process where these parallel lines ultimately reach a point of contact.

The problem with the NPT is while it was meant to be an active, even a proactive, agreement, it has become a static agreement. Any agreement that remains static and reflective of the environment of 40 years ago will be under stress. The real problem of the stress is that we have not dealt with the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation problems head-on and have preferred to push them down the road.

Nevertheless, if its parties acted in a manner that is consistent with the principles and the spirit of the treaty-and took that as the kernel of the nonproliferation regime that we are trying to establish-not as a status quo agreement, the NPT will remain relevant. If they don't, I am not sure we will be able to witness too many anniversaries again without seeing more problems.

ACT: In the 1995 NPT review conference, there was a resolution calling for the Middle East to work toward the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.[2] This goal has been reiterated for many years, including during a Mediterranean summit just a few weeks ago.[3] How do you view the pledge by the summit participants to work toward a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East?

Fahmy: The 1995 extension conference was important for several reasons. One, in extending something indefinitely, it brought forth a lot of the prominent issues. It brought forward also the whole issue of how we pursue nuclear disarmament or not, and that is why you saw a lot of principles and points adopted at that conference.

Among the regions that were considered to be most critical was the Middle East, and that is why the only region where the conference actually adopted a specific resolution was the Middle East. So the conference took a political statement saying the Middle East is a particular concern.

Now, since 1995, very few steps have been taken to bring that resolution to fruition. It is illogical and politically untenable for the NPT party states to adopt one regional resolution over a decade ago and to this day do nothing to implement that. Or that their cooperation with nonparty states in the region in the nuclear domain is actually larger and more extensive than with members of the NPT itself.

ACT: Besides pressure from the NPT member states on these nonparties-obviously Israel-are there other practical steps that can be taken by the countries in the region to achieve such a zone?

Fahmy: Sure, to achieve a zone agreement, it will have to entail negotiations between the parties themselves. NPT parties have an obligation to promote and pursue that. We, nevertheless, know that the negotiations will be regional. And therefore we have proposed-not only all the way back in 1974, but even in the '90s again, in the ACRS [Arms Control and Regional Security] context of the Middle East peace process-we proposed discussing how to achieve the creation of such a zone.[4] In terms of concrete steps, I suggest that the members of the region actually negotiate all of the details and technicalities of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, learning from different experiences of different regions and different case studies.

I would negotiate all these details irrespective of the fact that we may differ as to when it can actually come into force. And even if we differ about when it comes into force, the mere negotiation of this agreement gives a seriousness of purpose, indicates intentions, and, I think, greatly enhances the sense of security vis-à-vis the outcome.

ACT: In addition to the issue of nuclear weapons, some states of the region have been reluctant to ban chemical weapons and join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Over the last several years, a majority of the states in the Arab League have decided that they would no longer tie their accession to the CWC to Israel becoming an NPT state-party, and now these countries are party to the CWC.[5] What is the prospect of Egypt reversing its stance as well and joining the CWC?

Fahmy: Very little, if any. Not because we are against the CWC. Quite the contrary, we were the first to make proposals to pursue the prohibition of chemical weapons. If, on the other hand, we saw some movement on the Israeli side regarding the NPT or the zonal agreements, we would review our position quite quickly. We do not have a commitment to chemical weapons. We have a commitment to equal standards for all in the Middle East, and we don't believe that this commitment has been respected by others.

ACT: Egypt is a country that has spoken out against efforts by the United States and others to limit the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. At the same time, some states in the region have agreed as part of their nuclear cooperation agreements or at least certain framework agreements with the United States to voluntarily forgo enrichment and reprocessing technologies in return for incentives, such as nuclear fuel guarantees and technical capacity building. Do you view the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies as a valid concern?

Fahmy: What we've spoken out against are any attempts to limit the right of state-parties to the NPT to the full fuel cycle. Not the motivation. If state-parties feel that their requirements are being met without pursuing the full fuel cycle, that is their right. That is not an issue for us. What we do not agree on is limiting even further the scope of the NPT. The scope of the NPT does not only regard nonproliferation and disarmament, there is also a commitment to cooperate on peaceful uses and to ensure full access to peaceful uses. There is a fundamental difference here between "Do I have the right to buy or to acquire this technology?" and "Do I decide that it's the right thing for me to do?" If I am assured assurances of supply, and I am assured that the same criteria apply to all, the capital costs may not make it logical for me to go down that line [of acquiring fuel cycle technology].

A fundamental criterion that we have applied to ourselves and insist on applying to others is that one standard applies to everyone in our region. We would like it to apply to everybody in the world, but we are pragmatic and realistic and look at our own region. If the existence of reprocessing and enrichment facilities is a danger or a problem in states-parties to the NPT who have full-scope safeguard agreements, then it is even more of a danger in states not party to the NPT who have unsafeguarded facilities.[6] We have no ambitious program to pursue anything that increases proliferation problems around the world, but double standards create insecurity.

ACT: Leaving the issue of rights to such technologies aside, is the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies a valid concern?

Fahmy: It is a valid concern if they are unsafeguarded. The technology will spread anyway. The issue is if you have these facilities around the world, and you don't have safeguarded transparent programs, then needless to say the potential for problems increases. If, on the other hand, they're safeguarded and transparent programs, then yes, while the existence of increased number[s] may create a problem, they are less of a problem.

ACT: Would this apply to Iran? Iran is an NPT state-party, and there is certainly concern about Iran.

Fahmy: Yeah, but I chose my words very carefully. I said the probability that they would be of concern is much less. For every Iran, there are 150 other countries who are compliant, have not been violating their agreements, and don't forget, by the way, you [the United States] are the guys who gave Iran the nuclear program.[7] So, we'll see what, exactly, the Iranian program is. But ultimately, there will be exceptional cases that will be in violation of the NPT, but the majority of states [party] to the NPT have been compliant and have transparent programs.

If you want to move the extra mile and say "even you guys need to do more," well, that is fine, provided you get others who are outside the treaty to do more. I am not against dealing with the technical realities that have led to the emergence of more problems. I am against ignoring the real problems and focusing on the tangential problems.

ACT: Given what you said earlier about rights, if there were sufficient nuclear fuel guarantees and other incentives, would Egypt consider forgoing enrichment and reprocessing for a period of time? Or for some kind of agreement, like those that the United Arab Emirates and others have signed with the United States?

Fahmy: We are not ready to talk about our rights. In other words, if you want to get into a debate about our rights to pursue any component of a peaceful nuclear program while we are fully compliant and transparent, we will oppose it. Whether we decide to pursue enrichment or not is a different issue completely. I mean, the debate about our rights, I won't get into. It's a waste of my time. We will not get into a discussion about our rights to pursue enrichment technology.

Now, whether we decide to enrich depends on what the offers are. There are two components to this. If we are looking at enrichment by way of peaceful nuclear programs, then needless to say it is a matter of assurances of sustained supply, depoliticizing the supply process, and all that. If we're looking at enrichment by way of a proliferation issue, then you bring a lot more components in, you bring in other factors, such as what are other states doing, who has it, who does not. We are a fully compliant NPT member. We have full-scope safeguards agreements, and we will continue to pursue our peaceful nuclear technology program with nonproliferation higher on our priorities. We are not belittling potential threats. How we are responding to them is where we differ. Not that we are denying that there may be a threat.

ACT: The United States has been pushing for Egypt to join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.[8] Why has Egypt so far declined to join?

Fahmy: It has not dealt with non-states-parties enough. We will continue to listen to the proponents of the partnership and make our decisions down the line.

ACT: How would you have them deal with non-states-parties? It is more about the partnership among the countries rather than the NPT as a whole.

Fahmy: It does not deal with our problems. We will continue to listen to the proponents of the initiative and take our decisions down the line. We have not rejected the initiative. We just have not agreed to it yet, or at least agreed to participate in it.

ACT: One of the key challenges regarding the nuclear fuel cycle is the concern about Iran's nuclear activities. What is your opinion about the recent proposals that have been offered by Iran and by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) in order to resolve the issue?[9]

Fahmy: It is clear that, at a certain point in time, Iran was not fully compliant with its safeguards commitments to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. That is registered, and there is no question about that. Secondly, it is also clear that it took them a very long time to start responding to the IAEA's questions and concerns, and that raised suspicions as to their intentions and motivations behind them. Because of those two points, serious concerns were raised about Iran's intentions and its nuclear program. Now, our position has been [that] we are concerned about the emergence of any proliferation programs in the Middle East, and therefore we are concerned about the Iranian one.

Given the fact that Iran is an NPT member, it is obliged, legally, to accept the parameters of the NPT and the constraints of the NPT to its program, but going beyond that is something it may or may not do unilaterally and voluntarily. It would be very useful if Iran could take confidence-building measures to respond to the concerns and suspicions raised by its tardiness in responding to the IAEA and accept to put a cap or a limitation on its enrichment process in exchange for assurances of supply. That should be the first step.

I would add, however, that the issue of proliferation, if you look at the history of the Middle East since the late 1960s, if not, even going before our 1974 proposal, if you do not deal with the core issues and establish a zone free of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East, you will have the emergence of these problems, and they will be repeated again at a more dangerous level. So I would like to see Iran respond positively to the IAEA. I would applaud an agreement they could possibly reach with the P5+1. But ultimately, once that occurs, you will not put this issue to rest unless you establish a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

ACT: If the situation with Iran continued in the same vein that it is now and ultimately Iran develops what is seen at least by some as a latent nuclear weapons capability in the form of an industrial-scale enrichment facility, what do you see is a likely response in the region and by Egypt in particular?

Fahmy: I have very often heard the question, "Well, if they go nuclear, will you go nuclear?" I find the question rather silly, one, because it is so obvious, and two, because it is so simplistic. Any country in the world, the United States included, has an obligation to defend its national security. So if it feels threatened, it is legally obliged to pursue measures to ensure its national security. Now, that is the first point. Of course, we will react. Any country in the world would react, and they should react. But I also find the question simplistic because it immediately implies that, "Well if they do this, then we're going to pursue a nuclear weapons program." Pursuing a nuclear weapons program is not that simple. You do not decide, "Well ok, you did it, so I'm going to turn mine on." Secondly, it is not the only option. You can pursue your national security by taking measures politically, to deal with this problem. You can pursue your national security concerns by balancing with other weapons systems. And you can pursue your national security concerns by limiting your commitments to agreements, as well as dealing with the states involved by trying to get them to redress their actions. Finally, of course, you can pursue your national security concerns by trying to have a symmetrical response. So it would have very serious ramifications on security in the region, negative ones, yes, of course, because it creates more insecurity.

Look at the region over the last 20 to 25 years. There is an Israeli program that is unsafeguarded, and you have seen an arms race throughout the Middle East. You have had the tensions between Iraq and Iran, and you saw their weapons systems increase. At a certain point in time, Iraq was in violation of its NPT agreements. Now you have a proliferation concern raised about Iran, and people are talking about how do you ensure security by getting engaged in agreements with larger countries and alliances, and so on and so forth. So there will be a response. But the knee-jerk reaction is, "Well, if they do it, would you go nuclear?" I find this rather simplistic.

ACT: There has been some talk among some countries that security guarantees[10] should be more formal, that a guarantee should be extended by the United States and other powers to countries in the region as a way of protecting against the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Fahmy: That is a very valid point. Again when the NPT was adopted, there was a serious effort to have negative security assurances given to the states-parties that were non-nuclear and legalizing them by adopting them in the Security Council in a codified format. Now, they were adopted or accepted as a concept, but they have not been codified legally. You can also look at- and I am not a proponent of this-but you can also look at positive assurances.

ACT: But you are not a proponent of that for Egypt?

Fahmy: I think what you should do at this point is, at the very least, codify the negative assurances and make them consistent with each other. They are not all exactly the same. But again, it is not necessarily only negative assurances that we've been dealing with traditionally. Others have talked about entering into alliances. There are many different formats for dealing with the emergence of further nuclear-weapon states in the region. They're all worse than establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Because they all are based on a more aggressive military posture rather than dealing with the core of the issue.

ACT: Egypt has said it wants to develop a nuclear energy program as many other countries in the region are. Some have suggested that some kind of agreement, like there is between India and Pakistan not to attack each other's civilian nuclear facilities, might make sense in the Middle East. Is that something that you think or Egypt thinks would make sense as the region is developing this kind of nuclear power?

Fahmy: Interesting question. Possibly. It is important that you do not limit it to peaceful nuclear reactors by establishing an exclusion clause for nonpeaceful facilities. I can see some constructive attributes to it, but I also can see some concerns in what you do by default, if you want. But it is an interesting thing to look at.

ACT: You've been serving as ambassador in Washington for quite some time, and much of that time has been while the Bush administration has been in office. We are going to see a new administration next year. How do you think the next U.S. administration can best address some of the issues we addressed today, particularly as they relate to the Middle East?

Fahmy: To deal with arms control and disarmament issues generally, but particularly regarding weapons of mass destruction, meaning nuclear, chemical, [and] biological [weapons], and their means of delivery, you need to have international momentum and a regional focus. If you were to argue that the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain-and then we'll just leave aside for a second India, Pakistan, and possibly Israel-these guys were increasing their procurement of weapons of mass destruction, which they're not, but if they were to do that, it would be very difficult to convince states in particular regions to join a nonproliferation initiative or to apply restrictions to themselves, or to motivate them. Why aren't you limiting your access voluntarily so you don't create a potential problem in the future? On the other hand, if you see a disarmament process reducing warheads and missiles and, if you want, detargeting, and you have a strong disarmament momentum internationally, then there is much more credibility to proposals that "you on a regional level need to take certain steps, do not make this problem worse by creating a problem here, and we will catch up with you."

I think that if you are looking at nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, the first thing is the nuclear-weapon states have to lead in making this issue a prominent issue for them. Secondly, if you are talking about our region in the Middle East, you have to look [at] the security concerns in the Middle East itself. You cannot come and say, "What we did in Latin America is what applies to you." It may or may not apply. The security concerns will involve the hard security concerns regarding armaments and the soft ones regarding the political tensions that exist.

I would greatly encourage the next American president to take arms control or disarmament, which I prefer to use, [and] to make that a priority issue for the U.S. government and allow the United States to lead the way on this because it would have a trickle-down effect, that this is very useful in our region. And then you can look at different security paradigms applicable to a new world at the point. And I would love to see him embrace the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East as a short-term objective.

ACT: Thank you.

For a complete transcript of the interview, please visit www.armscontrol.org.


1. At the time the NPT opened for signature in 1968, five states (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States) were known to possess nuclear weapons and were recognized by the treaty as nuclear-weapon states. Three additional states (India, North Korea, and Pakistan) have carried out nuclear weapons tests since that time. Israel is also widely believed to possess an arsenal of nuclear weapons. However, South Africa gave up its small nuclear arsenal and acceded to the NPT in 1991. In 1992, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons they inherited following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

2. The 1995 Resolution on the Middle East was one element of a three-part package agreement leading to the indefinite extension of the NPT during a review and extension conference held that year.

3. The leaders of 43 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa participated in the first Mediterranean summit on July 13, 2008. A declaration adopted by the 43 leaders called for the creation of "a verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction."

4. The Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) process was a working group of the Arab-Israeli peace process established during the 1991 Madrid peace conference. It was intended to foster regional confidence-building measures that would eventually lead to formal arms control agreements. However, due to continuing disagreements over the purpose of the process and the subject of the discussions, the dialogue collapsed in 1995.

5. Of the 22 Arab League members, 17 have joined the CWC. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, and Syria have not signed the treaty.

6. Safeguards agreements are concluded between states and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the purpose of ensuring that nuclear technology is only used for nonmilitary purposes. NPT members are required to conclude safeguards with the agency.

7. Iran initiated its civilian nuclear efforts under the U.S. Atoms for Peace program during the 1950s in which it received nuclear technology assistance from Washington, including the Tehran Nuclear Research Reactor. During the 1970s, the United States held discussions with Iran regarding the provision of uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology, but those plans never came to fruition. In 1975, Iran contracted with a German firm to construct its first nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, but this project was abandoned following the 1979 Iranian revolution. By the mid-1980s, Iran turned to different suppliers for its nuclear technology, including the black market.

8. The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is a U.S.-led initiative intended to develop new nuclear energy technologies and nuclear fuel arrangements in order to address the anticipated growth in the use of nuclear energy. Egypt is an observer to the 21-member group.

9. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), along with Germany, have been engaged in a diplomatic process with Iran since 2006 to try to resolve the nuclear issue. In June, the six countries provided Iran with a revised version of a 2006 proposal offering incentives in return for Iran halting its sensitive nuclear activities.

10. A negative security assurance is a declaration by a nuclear-weapon state not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state. A positive security assurance is a pledge to aid a non-nuclear-weapon state if it is the victim of a nuclear attack. The United States has pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), except if attacked by a state associated or allied with a nuclear-armed state. At the same time, successive U.S. administrations have maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity by refusing to rule out nuclear weapons use in response to biological or chemical weapons attacks. In 1995, UN Security Council Resolution 984 acknowledged negative security pledges by the five NPT nuclear-weapon states. At the 1995 NPT review and extension conference, these negative security assurances were incorporated in its final document's "Principles and Objectives for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament," which was seen as vital to securing indefinite extension of the NPT.

Ambassador Nabil Fahmy has served in Egypt's Foreign Ministry for 30 years and has focused particularly on disarmament and regional security issues. Most recently, he acted as Cairo's ambassador to Washington from October 1999 to August 2008. On July 21, Arms Control Today spoke with Ambassador Fahmy on a variety of issues, including Egypt's perspective on the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, and concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program. (Continue)

Averting a Nonproliferation Disaster

Daryl G. Kimball

Decision time has arrived on the controversial proposal to roll back three decades of nuclear trade restrictions on India, which violated peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements by detonating its first nuclear bomb in 1974.

As early as Sept. 4-5, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will reconvene to consider a revised U.S. proposal to permit nuclear trade with India. At a special meeting of the 45-member group last month, the Bush administration proposed an India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines, which currently require full-scope IAEA safeguards as a condition of supply. Bowing to Indian demands, the Bush team called for a “clean” and “unconditional” waiver that would have allowed unrestricted nuclear trade with India at the discretion of each NSG member state.

To their credit, more than 20 states essentially said “no thanks” and proposed more than 50 amendments and modifications that would establish some basic but vitally important restrictions and conditions on nuclear trade with India. Many of these amendments track with the restrictions and conditions established in 2006 U.S. legislation regulating U.S. nuclear trade with India, which include the termination of nuclear trade if India resumes testing and a ban on the transfer of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technology.

Incredibly, U.S. officials are resisting even these most basic measures. As the Department of State’s Richard Boucher said in an Aug. 19 interview, “[S]ome would like to see all the provisions of the Hyde Act legislated in some international fashion. We don’t think that is the right way.”

Although acknowledging India’s legitimate interest in diversifying its energy options, like-minded countries, including Austria, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, correctly recognize that the Bush approach is deeply flawed and would effectively end the NSG as a meaningful entity. It is vital that these and other responsible states stand their ground.

Why? Any India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines would erode the credibility of NSG efforts to ensure that access to peaceful nuclear trade and technology is available only to those states that meet global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament standards.

Contrary to the Orwellian claims of its proponents, the deal would not bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream. Unlike 179 other countries, India has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It continues to produce fissile material and expand its nuclear arsenal. As one of only three states never to have signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), it has not made a legally binding commitment to achieve nuclear disarmament.

In order to maintain its option to resume nuclear testing, India is seeking bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements that help provide it with strategic fuel reserves and lifetime fuel guarantees. This flatly contradicts a provision in U.S. law championed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) that stipulates that fuel supplies be limited to reasonable reactor operating requirements.

Given India’s demands, the revised U.S. proposal will likely only pay lip service to the other NSG states’ concerns. Any such proposal should be flatly rejected as unsound and irresponsible. To be effective, NSG guidelines must establish clear and unambiguous terms and conditions for the initiation of nuclear trade and possible termination of nuclear trade.

If NSG states agree under pressure from an outgoing U.S. administration to blow a hole in NSG guidelines in order to allow a few states to profit from nuclear trade with India, they should at a minimum:

  • establish a policy that if India resumes nuclear testing or violates its safeguards agreements, trade involving nuclear items with India shall be terminated and unused fuel supplies returned;
  • expressly prohibit any transfer of reprocessing, enrichment, or heavy-water production items or technology, which can be used to make bomb material;
  • regularly review India’s compliance with its nonproliferation obligations and commitments; and
  • call on India to join with four of the five original nuclear-weapon states in declaring that it has stopped fissile material production and call on India to transform its nuclear test moratorium pledge into a legally binding commitment.

Some Indian officials have threatened they may walk away from the deal if the NSG establishes even these most basic requirements. If that occurs, so be it.

The Indian nuclear deal would be a nonproliferation disaster, especially now. The current U.S. proposal threatens to further undermine the NPT, the nuclear safeguards system, and efforts to prevent the proliferation of sensitive fuel-cycle technologies. Absent curbs on Indian nuclear testing and fissile material production, it would also indirectly contribute to the expansion of India’s nuclear arsenal with adverse consequences for the nuclear arms race in Asia.

For those world leaders who are serious about advancing nuclear disarmament, holding all states to their international commitments, and strengthening the NPT, it is time to stand up and be counted.

Decision time has arrived on the controversial proposal to roll back three decades of nuclear trade restrictions on India, which violated peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements by detonating its first nuclear bomb in 1974.

As early as Sept. 4-5, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will reconvene to consider a revised U.S. proposal to permit nuclear trade with India. At a special meeting of the 45-member group last month, the Bush administration proposed an India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines, which currently require full-scope IAEA safeguards as a condition of supply. Bowing to Indian demands, the Bush team called for a “clean” and “unconditional” waiver that would have allowed unrestricted nuclear trade with India at the discretion of each NSG member state. (Continue)


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