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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
October 2013
Edition Date: 
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Cover Image: 

Iran, U.S. Push Nuclear Diplomacy

Kelsey Davenport

Following a high-level series of diplomatic exchanges and meetings between U.S. and Iranian leaders in late September, both sides say there is a strong basis for a diplomatic resolution to the long-running impasse over Iran’s nuclear program.

In the highest level of contact between the two governments since 1979, President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone about Iran’s nuclear program Sept. 27, Obama told reporters at a White House news conference later that day.

“While there will surely be important obstacles” and success is not guaranteed, “I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution” to the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, Obama said.

“[T]he test will be meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions” by Iran that would “bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions,” he said.

Obama’s conversation with Rouhani followed a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations on Sept. 26 that Kerry described as “constructive.” Zarif’s presentation to six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on the nuclear negotiations had a tone that was different from the one Iran had taken in previous meetings with the group, known as the P5+1, and was “very different in the vision” of possibilities for the future, Kerry said afterwards.

Negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program have been intermittent and largely unproductive for more than a decade. The P5+1 met three times with Iran in 2012 and once each in February and April 2013, but failed to reach an agreement.

The two sides will resume talks in Geneva on Oct. 15-16, a senior State Department official said during a press briefing following the Sept. 26 meeting.

Kerry said that he hoped the negotiations lead to “concrete results that will answer the outstanding questions” about Iran’s nuclear program. Zarif, speaking later that evening at an event organized by the Asia Society in New York, said that he was “optimistic” about negotiations and now the parties need to “match our words with actions.”

In a statement following the Sept. 26 meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the head negotiator for the P5+1, said that the group had put forward a proposal that would remain on the table. (See ACT, May 2013.) Iran can “respond directly” to that proposal or put forward its own at the October meeting, she said.

One-Year Timetable

Zarif said he and Kerry “agreed to jump-start the process” and move to agree “first, on the parameters of the end game.” Iran and the P5+1 will think about the order of steps that need to be implemented to “address the immediate concerns of [the] two sides” and move toward finalizing a deal within a year, Zarif said.

The senior State Department official said that Iran was “urged” to “add some substance” to the ideas presented during the meeting and share some details before talks resume Oct. 15.

The Sept. 26 meeting marked the first set of talks the P5+1 had with Iran under Rouhani, who took office Aug. 3 and is widely seen as more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama said in a Sept. 24 speech at the UN that he made it clear in letters to Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Washington prefers to resolve its concerns over Iran’s nuclear program “peacefully” but remains determined to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. Obama said the United States “respects the right of the Iranian people to access nuclear energy.”

Since his election, Rouhani made several speeches indicating that Tehran was more serious about making a deal. In his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, he said that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and nuclear weapons have “no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine.”

He said it was “imperative” that Iran “remove any and all reasonable concerns” about its nuclear program.

Colin Kahl, a former Defense Department official in the Obama administration, told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 26 e-mail that Rouhani “signaled his willingness to reach some accommodation” and claims to have “sufficient leeway” from Khamenei to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue.

Sanctions Relief Sought

Rouhani told the United Nations that any deal must respect Iran’s right to enrich uranium and provide relief from the “unjust sanctions.”

Iran is subject to UN Security Council sanctions for failing to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities and provide answers to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding activities that could be applicable to developing nuclear weapons. The European Union and the United States and other countries have imposed their own sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed further sanctions against Iran in July that would result in a de facto oil embargo within a year if signed into law. The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee is considering sanctions legislation of its own. That bill had not been publicly released at press time.

Kahl, now with the Center for a New American Security, said that if Iran is motivated to negotiate seriously and work toward a deal, “maintaining the current level of pressure is sufficient for now.”

“Piling on additional sanctions now, prior to testing Rouhani’s will to strike a deal” and his ability to sell it in Iran, could be “highly counterproductive,” Kahl said. New sanctions would “provide ammunition to Iranian hardliners,” allowing them to argue that “Tehran’s new, more conciliatory approach has made circumstances worse, not better,” he said.

Passing new sanctions if Iran “refuses to engage seriously and move toward meaningful concessions” could be a useful tool for diplomacy, Kahl said.

‘Very Constructive’ IAEA Talks

Iran resumed negotiations Sept. 27 with the IAEA over an approach for the agency’s investigations into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) The IAEA negotiations have had little visible progress over the past two years.

Herman Nackaerts, deputy director-general of the IAEA, and Reza Najafi, Iran’s new ambassador to the IAEA, struck a positive tone in comments to reporters.

Speaking before the meeting, Najafi said that the parties would “exchange views” on how to “continue cooperation to resolve these issues.”

Nackaerts said after the meeting that the sides agreed to meet again on Oct. 28.

Following a high-level series of diplomatic exchanges and meetings between U.S. and Iranian leaders in late September, both sides say there is a strong basis for a diplomatic resolution...

IAEA Members Reject Israel Resolution

Kelsey Davenport

A resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program, revived after a two-year hiatus, failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month.

The nonbinding resolution, sponsored by a group of 18 Arab states, would have called on Israel to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state and put all of its nuclear sites under comprehensive IAEA safeguards. The measure, referred to as “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” on the IAEA agenda, failed by a vote of 43-51 on Sept. 20, the last day of the conference.

Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, an Egyptian official and head of the Arab League’s mission to the IAEA, told Reuters on Sept. 20 that the world needs to know about Israel’s nuclear capabilities and that its nuclear arsenal is “not playing a constructive role.”

Israel does not publicly admit to possessing nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have an arsenal of approximately 80 warheads. Israel has not joined the NPT, but is a member of the IAEA, and its nuclear research activities are subject to IAEA monitoring and verification.

In a Sept. 18 statement at the conference, Shaul Chorev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said that introducing the resolution “inflicts a serious blow to any attempt to embark on a regional security dialogue.” He called on states to “condemn the Arab initiative” and “decisively defeat this motion.”

The United States voted against the resolution. In a statement delivered after the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Joseph Macmanus said that the United States regretted that the resolution had been brought to a vote or even discussed at the IAEA.

A diplomat who attended the conference told Arms Control Today on Sept. 26 that about 30 European countries also voted against the resolution, as did Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

China, Russia, and South Africa were among the countries that voted with the Arab League. More than 60 IAEA members abstained or were absent during the vote.

A similar resolution passed the IAEA conference for the first time in 2009, after being voted down for several years. An attempt the next year failed. The Arab states refrained from putting the measure on the agenda in 2011 and 2012, saying they hoped that Israel would be more likely to attend a regional meeting on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East if it did not feel singled out for condemnation in the region.

As part of an accord that was crucial to reaching consensus on the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the treaty parties agreed to hold a meeting on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East by the end of 2012. The meeting was set for Helsinki last December, but the conveners, which included Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, announced that the conference would be postponed because some states from the region had not yet agreed to attend and because there were disagreements over the agenda for the meeting. (See ACT, December 2012.)

At the time of postponement, Israel was the only country not to have publicly committed to attending a meeting.

A June 12 memorandum and letter submitted by Oman’s ambassador to the IAEA, Badr bin Mohamed Al Hinai, on behalf of 18 Arab states and the Palestinian territories asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda of the IAEA conference. According to the memorandum, the “recent course of events” failed to meet the expectations of the Arab states, motivating them to pursue passage of the resolution.

In his Sept. 20 statement, Macmanus said that the United States would continue to work toward “constructive dialogue” on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and called on “all concerned states” to “engage directly and on the basis of consensus and mutual respect” to establish the zone.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference, member states voted down a resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program.

 

Israel Tests New Ballistic Missile Target

Eric Auner

Israel on Sept. 3 conducted the first flight test of a new missile defense target designed to improve Israeli defenses against longer-range ballistic missiles. The unannounced launch of the target, designed to simulate medium-range ballistic missiles like those possessed by Iran, was detected by Russian radar and reported in Russian media.

Israel, which initially claimed that it was unaware of a missile launch over the Mediterranean Sea after it was reported in the Russian media, said the test of the Silver Sparrow ballistic missile defense target was long planned. The Israeli Ministry of Defense issued a statement on its Facebook page saying that the missile defense radar successfully detected and tracked the launch and transferred flight data to the battle management system.

The test comes as Israel is gearing up to field a new interceptor, the Arrow-3, to protect against longer-range ballistic missiles, mainly those fielded by Iran. The Arrow-3 has been flight-tested, but has not yet intercepted a target. Silver Sparrow would be the target used in a future Arrow-3 intercept test.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, which frequently collaborates with Israel on missile defense tests, provided “technical assistance and support” for the test, according to a Sept. 3 statement from Pentagon spokesman George Little.

A Russian early-warning radar outside Armavir in southern Russia detected the launch of two ballistic objects before the test had been officially announced, according to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. The news agency later reported that Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told journalists that Israel should not “play with fire” by conducting such tests.

The test had “nothing to do with United States consideration of military action” in Syria, Little said in the statement.

On Sept. 4, Antonov met with the U.S. and Israeli defense attachés to discuss the test, according to a Russian-language article posted by the Russian Ministry of Defense press office on its website.

The trajectory of the test was “oriented to the east,” and “under certain conditions,” a “prolonged trajectory” could reach Russian borders, the article said. According to the article, Antonov told the U.S. representative that the United States should have notified Russia of the launch under the terms of a 1988 U.S.-Russian agreement that requires each country to notify the other of its missile launches. The article cited Antonov as saying the Mediterranean is “not the most suitable region” for testing missile defenses.

The United States has moved several naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean to prepare for a potential strike on Syria in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons Aug. 21. This deployment included guided missile destroyers capable of firing anti-missile interceptors. Russia has long opposed the deployment of U.S. land- and sea-based missile defenses in the region.

The Sept. 3 test is the latest step in Israel’s ambitious plans to deploy layered defenses against ballistic and cruise missiles of various ranges, as well as short-range rockets. Israeli missile defense efforts began in response to attacks by Iraqi conventionally armed ballistic missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Israeli air and missile defense efforts have taken on a new urgency with the proliferation of short-range rockets in the region, especially the rocket arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the growth in Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities.

Israel has invested considerable effort and resources in developing and fielding systems to counter rocket and missile threats from surrounding states and militant groups, with significant U.S. technical and financial support.

Israel possesses three systems designed to intercept ballistic missiles.

The Arrow-2 has been in service for the longest period of time and is designed to intercept ballistic missiles within the atmosphere using a high-explosive warhead. The hit-to-kill Arrow-3 interceptor has a longer range and underwent its initial flight test in February. Hit-to-kill interceptors carry no explosive and rely purely on kinetic energy to destroy an incoming warhead.

Another system, called David’s Sling, is a hit-to-kill system intended to intercept shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as heavy rockets. Israel completed a successful intercept test of the David’s Sling system for the first time in January.

Israel’s Iron Dome system, which defends against short-range rockets rather than ballistic missiles, is part of the layered Israeli approach to air and missile defense. With the exception of Iron Dome, these systems have not been tested in combat.

The United States has appropriated between $200 million and $500 million each year since fiscal year 2010 to fund the Israeli systems, with the majority of the funds assisting Israel in producing additional Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.

The three targets in the Sparrow series, produced by the Israeli government-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., are designed to simulate Scud-series or Shahab-series ballistic missiles, which Syria and Iran, respectively, possess. Sparrow targets are launched from aircraft and can mimic the maneuvers of a ballistic missile during part of their flight.

Israeli missile defense systems may be used if Israel is involved in a conflict with Syria, which possesses a large arsenal of ballistic missiles and rockets. The government of Syria already has used these weapons, including rockets armed with chemical weapons, against rebel groups and civilians within the country, according to the U.S. government and others.

Israel on Sept. 3 conducted the first flight test of a new missile defense target designed to improve Israeli defenses against longer-range ballistic missiles.

U.S. Signs Arms Trade Treaty

Tom Z. Collina

The United States and 17 other countries signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on Sept. 25, pushing the number of signatories to the pact, which was opened for signature June 3, to 107.

Calling it a significant step toward controlling the illicit trade in conventional weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on behalf of the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, in a ceremony at the United Nations. “This is about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors,” Kerry said.

“It’s significant that the United States, which [accounts] for about 80 percent of the world’s export in arms, has signed,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a news conference. In 2012, states engaged in arms transfers totaling more than $85 billion, not including black market transfers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The ATT breaks new ground by establishing common international standards that must be met before states may authorize transfers of conventional weapons or may export ammunition and weapons parts and components. The pact also prohibits transfers that would lead to war crimes and attacks on civilians and requires states to report annually on all authorized arms exports.

The result of seven years of negotiations, the treaty was approved by the 193-member UN General Assembly on April 2 by a vote of 154-3, with 23 abstentions. The three votes against the treaty came from Iran, North Korea, and Syria, while major arms traders China, India, and Russia were among the abstentions. Entry into force requires ratification by 50 states; so far, only seven have ratified the treaty.

The Obama administration has not indicated when it might send the treaty to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle for approval. Opponents inside and outside the Senate say the treaty would restrict U.S. domestic gun rights. In a Sept. 25 statement, the National Rifle Association vowed to block U.S. ratification, calling the ATT an attack on “the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American.”

Responding directly to such concerns, Kerry said in his Sept. 25 remarks that “the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes.” He said that the administration would not support a treaty that was inconsistent with the ability of Americans to “exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution.”

In a Sept. 24 letter to President Barack Obama, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote that “[t]he Senate has not yet provided its advice and consent, and may not provide such consent. As a result, the Executive Branch is not authorized to take any steps to implement the treaty.”

The United States and 17 other countries signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on Sept. 25, pushing the number of signatories to the pact, which was opened for signature June 3, to 107.

Syria Plan Is Difficult but Doable

Daryl G. Kimball

The large-scale use of chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on Aug. 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again in Syria or elsewhere.

The UN chemical weapons inspection team found evidence of extensive use of the nerve agent sarin, determined the type of rockets used in the attacks, and calculated the direction from which the rockets were fired. These findings and others all point to use by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In the wake of these horrible attacks, which killed more than 1,000 men, women, and children, U.S. and Russian leaders now have an opportunity to establish international control of and to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal.

After days of intensive talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached a landmark agreement Sept. 14 for the expeditious accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria’s deadly arsenal under the auspices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Under the terms of the plan, which was approved by the OPCW and UN Security Council, Syria is required to declare its arsenal and allow initial inspections in November. By mid-2014, the entire stockpile, including chemical agents, production facilities, and delivery systems, is to be safely eliminated or, if necessary, removed from the country.

The plan is difficult but doable. Moscow and Washington bear a tremendous responsibility for its success. Making the plan work depends heavily on the ability of Moscow to maintain pressure on its client, Assad, to fully cooperate with the process of eliminating his chemical stockpile on schedule.

The United States and Russia will also have to continue to work together to overcome the serious security, technical, and financial challenges that lie ahead. Assad’s forces are believed to possess about 1,000 tons of blister agents, including mustard gas, and nerve agents, including sarin and VX, at dozens of sites. Most of this stockpile consists of precursor chemicals and bulk agent with relatively little already weaponized.

The OPCW will need additional experienced personnel to verify the accuracy of Syria’s declaration and to oversee stockpile elimination. Currently, the organization only has about 125 inspectors with ongoing responsibilities worldwide. The United States, Russia, and other donor states will need to provide additional financing, technical experts, and equipment for the task ahead.

Moscow and Washington agree that the most important first steps are to secure the chemical sites and begin destroying the equipment needed to mix chemicals and arm delivery systems. That will reduce the threat posed to Syria’s people and its neighbors as soon as possible.

With Syria’s stockpile largely in bulk and precursor form, it can be more easily incinerated and neutralized in semi-mobile units, which will facilitate the accelerated destruction schedule. Munitions can be destroyed in closed, steel-canister systems, making destruction in nine to 12 months feasible.

President Barack Obama’s call for holding Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons, combined with the credible threat of punitive U.S. cruise missile strikes, already has transformed Syria’s chemical arsenal into an enormous liability for the Syrian government. These weapons no longer can be used. Assad must verifiably eliminate them to avoid U.S. military action.

Although Russia will continue to object to the possible use of force against Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now invested in the success of the plan, something that was difficult to imagine before the August chemical attacks.

Nevertheless, in the coming weeks, Assad could try to hide some of his chemical weapons stockpile. It will be up to Russia, Assad’s main arms supplier and political supporter, to ensure he fully cooperates and avoids a possible U.S. military attack.

Contrary to the statements of some critics, the plan does not “absolve” Assad from the war crime of using chemical weapons. The UN Security Council can refer such war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC) even if the persons responsible are citizens of a state that has not ratified the ICC statute.

The U.S.-Russian framework for the control and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is not intended to resolve the ongoing, brutal conflict in Syria. But it does provide the most effective way of denying Assad the option to use some of his most dangerous weapons against unprotected civilians and rebel forces.

The U.S.-Russian plan can provide much-needed energy for negotiations that could lead to a political settlement for ending the conflict. The plan should spur Egypt, Israel, and other Chemical Weapons Convention holdouts to join the treaty and take other, overdue steps needed to move the Middle East closer to becoming a zone free of all types of weapons of mass destruction.

 

The large-scale use of chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on Aug. 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again in Syria or elsewhere.

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