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Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

Building on the Iran Deal: Steps Toward a Middle Eastern Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

December 2015

By Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, and Frank von Hippel

The July 14 agreement between Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 established a set of important limitations and related transparency measures on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Approved unanimously by the UN Security Council on July 20, the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aims “to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful” and thus to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation. To this end, it imposes limits for a decade or more on Iran’s use of the key technologies required to make highly enriched uranium (HEU) and to separate plutonium, the fissile materials that are the critical ingredients in nuclear weapons.

Other states in the Middle East, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are planning to establish their own nuclear power programs during the period that the Iran deal is expected to be in force. This has led to concerns about how Iran and other countries in the region will act when restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program end. To address such concerns, this article proposes that the P5+1 and the states of the Middle East use the next decade to agree on region-wide restraints based on the key obligations of the Iran deal as steps toward establishing a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone, preferably as part of a regional zone free of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD).1 These measures would ban the separation of plutonium, limit the level of uranium enrichment, place enrichment plants under multinational control, and cap and reduce Israel’s existing stocks of fissile materials available for use in nuclear weapons, in time eliminating its arsenal through a step-by-step process.

These are intermediate steps to a nuclear-weapon-free zone that would establish strong, new technical and political barriers to any future attempts by countries in the region to seek a nuclear weapons capability. Although different Middle Eastern states may favor different sequencing of these and other steps, all of the intermediate steps presented below have nonproliferation and disarmament value in their own right. Individually and in groups, states in the region should be encouraged to adopt these steps as way stations toward the larger goal of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East. They also should be pursued globally as steps toward global nuclear disarmament, especially by the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), who all have nuclear weapons and with Germany make up the P5+1.

As in the Iran deal, verification arrangements will be important. Covert proliferation has a long history in the Middle East, starting with Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s and continuing with the violations by Iraq, Libya, and Syria of their commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and most recently the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. Given this history and the deep mutual suspicions of countries in the region, a robust regional safeguards, monitoring, and verification regime may add to the confidence provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear safeguards system.

Principles and Building Blocks

A nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East was first proposed in the UN General Assembly in 1974 by Iran and Egypt. In 1990, the proposal was broadened by Egypt to include a ban on chemical and biological weapons—that is, to create a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. A 1991 study commissioned by the UN secretary-general proposed that such a zone encompass “all States directly connected to current conflicts in the region, i.e., all States members of the League of Arab States…, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Israel.”2 As of late 2015, all of these countries but two—Israel and Syria—had sent letters to the UN secretary-general confirming their support for declaring the Middle East a region free from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.3

Most of the states expected to join a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone have signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and all but Israel have joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. Many also have signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some are members of the African nuclear-weapon-free zone, created by the Treaty of Pelindaba, which entered into force in 2009 (table 1).

Ban on the separation of plutonium. As part of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed that, for 15 years, it “will not, and does not intend to thereafter” carry out any separation of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, an operation known as reprocessing. Iran also pledged not to build a facility capable of reprocessing or to carry out any research and development activities in that area. In addition, Tehran affirmed its intent to ship out to another country, presumably Russia, all spent nuclear fuel from all present and future power and research reactors.

Israel is the only country in the region that has separated plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Its nuclear arsenal is based on plutonium that was produced by irradiating natural uranium fuel in a reactor that uses heavy water as a neutron moderator. The reactor, which Israel built with French assistance in the 1950s, is located at the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona.4

Israel’s plutonium has been separated from the irradiated uranium in an underground reprocessing plant adjoining the reactor. As its first step toward a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone, Israel could shut down the Dimona reactor and end reprocessing of the accumulated discharged fuel. These steps could be verified with fair confidence at first without access to the site and later under an arrangement that would give IAEA inspectors what is known as managed access, which would allow them to determine that the facilities were indeed shut down while allowing Israel to protect sensitive facility information.

Even if Middle Eastern countries pursue ambitious civilian nuclear power programs, they need not develop reprocessing capabilities. No sound economic or environmental justification exists for separating and stockpiling plutonium.5 Of the 30 countries with operational commercial nuclear power reactors, only six have active civilian reprocessing programs, and five of those six states are nuclear-weapon states. Japan is the only non-nuclear-weapon state with a civilian reprocessing plant, but the plant is not operating and is the subject of extensive debate over its utility, risks, and cost.6

Restrictions on uranium enrichment. Centrifuge enrichment plants pose significant proliferation concerns because they can be quickly reconfigured for HEU production.7 This is why a major part of the nuclear deal focuses on Iran’s gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facilities and activities. Iran agreed that it will keep its operating enrichment capacity limited to one site and to a total of 5,060 first-generation centrifuges for 10 years and limit for 15 years the enrichment of its product to less than 3.67 percent uranium-235 and its stock of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous form that could be fed into the centrifuge cascades for further enrichment, to a very low level (less than 300 kilograms). These limitations would extend the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade HEU for a first nuclear weapon from about two months to about a year.

Iranian students form a human chain outside the site of the Fordow uranium-enrichment facility near the northern Iranian city of Qom during a demonstration to defend their country’s nuclear program on November 19, 2013. (Photo credit: Chavosh Homavandi/AFP/Getty Images)After the limits expire, however, Iran plans to expand its enrichment capacity by a factor of more than 20 in order to produce at least the 27 metric tons per year of 3.7 percent-enriched uranium required to fuel the Russian-supplied Bushehr power reactor.

Weapons-grade HEU is typically enriched to a U-235 level of 90 percent or greater. For safeguards purposes, however, the IAEA treats uranium enriched above 20 percent as a direct weapons-usable material. Even 20 percent is a much higher level of enrichment than the less-than-5-percent-enriched uranium that is used to fuel commercial nuclear power reactors worldwide today.

The only operating uranium-enrichment plant in the United States is licensed to enrich up to 5 percent U-235.8 France’s Georges Besse II enrichment plant, which began operating in 2009 and supplies enriched uranium for France’s nuclear power plants, is licensed to produce up to 6 percent U-235.9 It also supplies France’s nuclear submarines. Enrichment in a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone therefore could be limited to less than 6 percent and still accommodate states wishing to develop nuclear naval propulsion. Some policymakers and officials in Iran have already expressed such ambitions.10

The United States, the UK, Russia, and India use HEU for naval fuel, unlike France and, it is believed, China. They should be pressed to shift to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel as part of a strengthened global nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Only three countries in the potential Middle Eastern WMD-free zone—Iran, Israel, and Syria—have reactors that use HEU as fuel. These are research reactors, all of which are under IAEA safeguards. Israel’s U.S.-supplied Soreq reactor is scheduled to be shut down in 2018.11The HEU-fueled research reactors in Iran and Syria, supplied by China, contain only about 1 kilogram of HEU each, much less than the 25 kilograms of U-235 that is the figure the IAEA uses as a rough measure of the quantity required for a simple nuclear weapon. China has developed a new fuel for such reactors that could be used to convert them to LEU fuel.

Several other research reactors in Middle Eastern states, including the U.S.-supplied Tehran Research Reactor, use fuel enriched to 19.75 percent. Russia and the United States have enough excess HEU to down-blend and use to supply the fuel needs of these reactors and similar reactors worldwide for many decades. Iran already has agreed to import such uranium as other countries do.

Iran is the only country in the Middle East with plans for a significant commercial uranium-enrichment program. Israel may now have or might have had a small-scale, centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment capability.12 No other state in the region is believed to have this technology. Saudi Arabia, however, has been unwilling to rule out seeking an enrichment capability.

To address the latent proliferation capability of enrichment plants, uranium enrichment in the Middle East and preferably globally should be placed under multinational control.13 One-third of global uranium-enrichment capacity, including the only commercial enrichment plants currently operating in two of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (the UK and the United States), already is operated by Urenco, a company owned jointly by the Netherlands, the UK, and two German utilities, with senior management and an oversight body of government officials drawn from all three countries.14

A multinationally managed and operated enrichment plant, bringing together Iran and regional partners, would undercut incentives for Middle Eastern states to follow Iran and build national enrichment facilities. Senior Iranian officials have indicated that Iran is ready to partner with other countries in the region so that they do not have to build their own enrichment plants and to help set up a system to guarantee the fuel supply of nuclear power plants in the Middle East. A strategy of including as partners one or more members of the P5+1, all of whom already hold centrifuge enrichment technology, could maintain extra transparency with regard to Iran’s enrichment operations, uranium acquisitions, and centrifuge manufacture after the extra transparency established under the nuclear deal expires. As a first step, Iran and the P5+1 could establish a working committee on multilateralization of Iran’s enrichment program. They could invite other partners of the region to join and set a five-year deadline to reach agreement.

Declarations of fissile material stockpiles and step-by-step safeguards. Dealing with Israel’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fissile materials will be a key part of achieving a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone. Israel, the only non-NPT state in the region, keeps the existence of its stockpiles cloaked in secrecy.15

A step toward enabling a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone and nuclear disarmament would be for Israel to declare the size of its stocks of unsafeguarded fissile materials. Israel initially need not disclose what portions reside in its nuclear weapons or any other information about its nuclear weapons program and arsenal. Israel would be called on to reduce and eventually eliminate the quantities of plutonium and HEU that it has available for use in weapons by placing increasing portions under international safeguards for verified disposal.

Verification Arrangements

Any Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone will need robust verification. The parties to a zone treaty almost certainly would want a regional monitoring regime to buttress IAEA inspections. Such an arrangement exists in Europe in the form of Euratom. In Latin America’s nuclear-weapon-free zone, Argentina and Brazil have a joint organization, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, through which they monitor each other’s nuclear activities.

Measures could go beyond standard IAEA safeguards to include the new transparency obligations accepted by Iran under the July 2015 agreement, such as monitoring of uranium mining and purification, uranium imports, and production of nuclear materials and nuclear-related technology such as centrifuges. Some other elements of a possible verification regime are discussed below.

Additional protocol and transparency measures. Under the July agreement, Tehran is to implement on a provisional basis an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement and to seek ratification of the protocol when the IAEA reaches the conclusion that all of Iran’s nuclear material is in peaceful uses or after eight years, whichever comes first. An additional protocol requires parties to declare all of their nuclear-related activities, including centrifuge manufacture—not just those involving nuclear materials—and to give IAEA inspectors access to check those declarations.16

Thirteen of the 23 countries that could be part of a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone (Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen) have not ratified an additional protocol.17 Like Iran, all of these states could bring an additional protocol into force pending ratification.

The Dimona nuclear reactor in the Israeli Negev Desert is shown in this September 2002 photo. (Photo credit: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)Israel’s safeguards agreement, which has been in force since 1975, covers only the Soreq research reactor. Once this reactor is shut down and the U.S.-origin fuel is returned, no IAEA safeguards of any kind will exist in Israel. As part of the confidence-building process, Israel and the IAEA could negotiate a safeguards agreement that would cover all of Israel’s peaceful nuclear-related activities and fissile material withdrawn from its nuclear weapons stockpile. Israel would not be the first nuclear-armed state to do so. The five NPT nuclear-weapon states and India have signed and ratified additional protocols with the IAEA that are much more limited in coverage than those signed by the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states.

Although full transparency and on-site inspections will be indispensable elements of a successful regional and IAEA verification system, some of the initial steps outlined above for moving toward a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone could be verified initially with fair confidence without direct access to the sites in question. Among the conditions that could be verified with standoff detection methods could be the shutdown of the reactor and reprocessing plant at Dimona, as described below.

Shutdown of the plutonium-production reactor. Satellite or airborne infrared sensors should be able to verify the operational status of Israel’s Dimona plutonium-production reactor by detecting the reduction of the temperatures of the outside of the reactor containment building or the reactor’s cooling towers (fig. 1) once the reactor shuts down. Likewise, the sensors could help detect heat produced by any undeclared reactors in the region.

Shutdown of the reprocessing plant. The absence of reprocessing should be verifiable by off-site monitoring for the gaseous fission product krypton-85, which is released when irradiated nuclear fuel is cut open in the first stage of reprocessing. Because the gas is chemically nonreactive, reprocessing plants have not bothered to try to capture it. An analysis of measurements of krypton-85 at a distance of 60 kilometers from Japan’s Tokai pilot reprocessing plant demonstrated a high detection probability.18 Unless Dimona has installed a highly effective capture system, it should be possible to detect, with sensors placed around the Dimona site, any emissions of krypton-85 against the krypton background from reprocessing activities elsewhere in the world (fig. 2).

Shutdown of enrichment. Uranium enrichment using centrifuges is much more difficult to detect from a distance than reprocessing. There is very little leakage from centrifuge plants, so detecting undeclared uranium hexafluoride production might be a more promising approach.19 The difficulty of detecting clandestine uranium enrichment highlights the potential role and importance of cradle-to-grave approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.20

One immediate opportunity for collaborative efforts to build verification capacity could be for Middle Eastern countries to set up a regional data-sharing, analysis, and technical training process focused on existing or planned CTBT monitoring stations. Of special interest could be the radionuclide monitoring stations that look for radioxenon and other isotopes and particles from nuclear explosive tests. There currently are stations in Kuwait City; Misrata, Libya; and Nouakchott, Mauritania. A station is planned for Tehran. Mobile platforms could look for krypton-85 from reprocessing as part of the verification network for a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

One particularly important aspect of a verified nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East will be to obtain confidence in the completeness of Israel’s fissile material declaration. This total could be checked after Israel had placed all of its declared fissile material under international safeguards. Israel’s historical production of plutonium could be checked using techniques of “nuclear archaeology.” These would include measurements of isotopic changes of certain trace elements in the permanent metal structures supporting the core of the Dimona reactor.21 The measurements would reveal the cumulative flow, or fluence, of neutrons through the core over the lifetime of the reactor, which would provide the basis for an estimate of the total production of plutonium by the reactor. By committing publicly to this goal in advance, Israel could contribute to a regional confidence-building process and help set the basis for a verifiable Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.


The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action provides an unprecedented opportunity for an international effort to make progress toward a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone, possibly as part of WMD-free zone in that region. Building on the foundation created by that agreement, the measures proposed here constitute the essential technical steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

Although it is unlikely that such a zone can be established anytime soon, it should be possible to make progress on a number of the building blocks for it. Region-wide commitments to refrain from separating plutonium for any purpose, to limit uranium enrichment to the levels required for power reactors, and to conduct any enrichment activities only as part of a multinational arrangement would be major achievements. International and regional verification of such commitments would provide enhanced confidence against possible proliferation risks.


1.  For a longer discussion, see Frank N. von Hippel et al., “Fissile Material Controls in the Middle East: Steps Toward a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and All Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), 2013.

2.  UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, “Effective and Verifiable Measures Which Would Facilitate the Establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East,” A/45/435, 1991.

3.  UN General Assembly, “Letters Received From Member States Confirming Support for Declaring the Middle East a Region Free From Weapons of Mass Destruction, Including Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Weapons: Note by the Secretary-General,” A/68/781, March 6, 2014.

4.  For a detailed discussion of various estimates of Israel’s plutonium production, see IPFM, “Global Fissile Material Report 2010; Balancing the Books: Production and Stocks,” December 2010, ch. 8, http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr10.pdf.

5.  “Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs: Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing Around the World,” IPFM, July 2015.

6.  Masafumi Takubo and Frank von Hippel, “Ending Reprocessing in Japan: An Alternative Approach to Managing Japan’s Spent Nuclear Fuel and Separated Plutonium,” IPFM, November 2013.

7.  Alexander Glaser, “Characteristics of the Gas Centrifuge for Uranium Enrichment and Their Relevance for Nuclear Weapon Proliferation,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 16, Nos. 1-2 (2008): 1-25.

8.  U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), materials license SNM-2010 issued for the Louisiana Energy Services National Enrichment Facility near Eunice, New Mexico, June 23, 2006, http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0617/ML061780384.pdf.

9.  Areva, “Expanding the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure by Building a New Uranium Enrichment Facility” (presentation at pre-application meeting with the NRC, May 21, 2007), http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0716/ML071650116.pdf.

10.  The deputy head of the Iranian navy said in 2012, “Since we possess peaceful nuclear technology, therefore we can also put on our agenda the construction of propulsion systems for nuclear submarines.” “Iran Plans to Build N-Fueled Submarines,” PressTV, June 12, 2012.

11.  Shlomo Cesana, “Israel’s Soreq Nuclear Reactor to Shut Down in 2018,” Israel Hayom, March 21, 2012.

12.  IPFM, “Global Fissile Material Report 2010,” p. 115.

13.  Mohamed ElBaradei, “Towards a Safer World,” Economist, October 16, 2003; Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, and Frank von Hippel, “After the Iran Deal: Multinational Enrichment,” Science, June 19, 2015.

14.  The centrifuges used in Urenco plants, including the Urenco USA plant, and in Areva’s plant in France are made on a “black-box” basis by the Enrichment Technology Company, which is jointly owned by Urenco and Areva.

15.  Israel is believed to have clandestinely obtained about 300 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium from a U.S. naval fuel fabrication facility during the 1960s. Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson, “Did Israel Steal Bomb-Grade Uranium From the United States?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 2014. See also Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson, “Revisiting the NUMEC Affair,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 66, No. 2 (March 2010).

16 .  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Model Protocol Additional to the Agreement(s) Between State(s) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards,” INFCIRC/540 (Corrected), December 1998.

17.  IAEA, “Status of the Additional Protocol; Status as of 03 July 2015,” November 13, 2015, https://www.iaea.org/safeguards/safeguards-legal-framework/additional-protocol/status-of-additional-protocol.

18.  R. Scott Kemp, “A Performance Estimate for the Detection of Undeclared Nuclear-Fuel Reprocessing by Atmospheric 85Kr,” Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Vol. 99, No. 8 (August 2008): 1341-1348.

19.  R. Scott Kemp and Clemens Schlusser, “Initial Analysis of the Detectability of UO2F2 Aerosols Produced by UF6 Released From Uranium Conversion Plants,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2008): 115-125; R. Scott Kemp, “Source Terms for Routine UF6 Emissions,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2010): 119-125.

20.  Such a cradle-to-grave approach was proposed by Austria in 2009. IAEA “Communication Dated 26 May 2009 Received From the Permanent Mission of Austria to the Agency Enclosing a Working Paper Regarding Multilateralisation of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” INFCIRC/755, June 2, 2009.

21.  Alex Gasner and Alexander Glaser, “Nuclear Archaeology for Heavy-Water-Moderated Plutonium Production Reactors,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 19, No. 3 (2011): 223-233.

Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, and Frank von Hippel are members of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University. Mian is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

The Iran nuclear deal provides an unprecedented opportunity for progress toward a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone over the next decade. 

IAEA Report on Iran's Past Weaponization Activities Unsurprising



Task Now Must Be to Effect Implementation of the Nuclear Deal

For Immediate Release: December 2, 2015

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Timothy Farnsworth, communications director, 202-463-8270 ext. 110.

(Washington, D.C.)—The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released his final assessment today on Iran’s past activities that could be related to nuclear weapons development, the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Yukiya Amano’s Dec. 2 report assessed that Iran conducted a coordinated “range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” prior to the end of 2003 and some of the activities continued after 2003. According to the assessment the “activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.” The report said that the IAEA had no credible indications of these activities continuing after 2009.

The investigation was completed as part of a July 14 agreement between Iran and the IAEA. The agency had laid out its concerns in an annex to a November 2011 report, which covered a range of issues primarily relating to activities pre-dating 2004—from acquisition of materials to explosive testing.

“The IAEA’s assessment that Iran was engaged in activities relevant to the development of a nuclear weapon prior to 2004 is not surprising. That finding is consistent with what U.S. intelligence agencies, and nonproliferation watchdogs—including the Arms Control Association—have long-assumed,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“The agency’s finding that there are ‘no credible indications’ that Tehran continued weaponization activities after 2009, or diverted nuclear material in connection with its past activities, is a strong indication that Iran has abandoned a coordinated nuclear weapons effort,” she added.

"While the director-general’s report is a critical step, it does not, however, ‘normalize’ Iran’s nuclear program in the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency or the international community. Iran’s nuclear activities will remain under a microscope and subject to a multi-layered monitoring and verification regime. The IAEA also will continue to work to reach a ‘broader conclusion’ on Iran’s nuclear program – meaning that there has been no diversion of declared nuclear materials and no indication of undeclared nuclear materials and activities over a period of time. That will provide greater assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful,” Davenport said.

“Iran’s long-overdue cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation is an important and necessary step forward to ensure that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons in the future,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "It opens the way for the the Board of Governors to recognize the director-general’s report and for Iran to take the steps necessary to implement the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers—known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” Kimball said.

“Under the terms of the JCPOA, the IAEA will have more wide-ranging authority to monitor Iran’s ongoing nuclear work and verify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. The IAEA will have increased access to Iran’s nuclear sites, including every element of its fuel supply chain, and the ability to investigate evidence of any alleged illicit nuclear activities at undeclared sites, including military bases. That will provide greater assurance that Iran is not pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program in the future,” Kimball added.

The IAEA Board of Governors will convene for a special meeting on Dec. 15 to discuss the results of the director-general’s report and to determine the appropriate response to the report’s findings.

“Contrary to the assertions of some, the agency does not need to know every detail of Iran’s past work to monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. This is due to the fact that the IAEA’s verification scheme is based on the widely-held assumption that Iran did engage in weapons-related research in the past and that it achieved the capability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material and to weaponize that material some time ago,” said Davenport.

“With the JCPOA, the IAEA will have considerable flexibility to investigate evidence and concerns about any possible future weaponization activities. Without the JCPOA, the agency would have far less access and information to detect and deter illicit nuclear activities in the years ahead. Moving forward, it is critical that Iran and the P5+1 continue to take steps to follow-through on their commitments under the nuclear deal,” Kimball noted.


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.


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Iran, P5+1 Formally Adopt Nuclear Deal

November 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

EU deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid (left) and Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi sit at the head of the table during a meeting in Vienna on October 19. The two officials were representing their delegations at the first meeting of the joint commission established under a July 14 deal on Iran’s nuclear program. [Photo credit: Dieter Nagl/AFP/Getty Images]Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 formally adopted their July 14 nuclear deal last month and began taking steps to implement their respective commitments.

In an Oct. 18 joint statement marking Adoption Day, as the agreement calls it, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and head negotiator for the P5+1, said that “all sides remain strongly committed to ensuring” implementation of the deal and “will make all the necessary preparations.”

The agreement specified that formal adoption was to take place 90 days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution endorsing the deal, which the council did on July 20.               

The 90-day adoption period allowed countries to review the deal internally. The United States completed its congressional review process on Sept. 17 (see ACT, October 2015), and Iran’s parliament passed a bill approving the deal on Oct. 13. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei endorsed the deal on Oct. 21, but said that any new sanctions on Iran would jeopardize Tehran’s participation.

After the Oct. 18 formal adoption, Iran began taking steps to restrict its nuclear program while the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) took initial steps to provide Iran with relief from nuclear-related sanctions.

In an Oct. 18 statement marking the adoption of the deal, U.S. President Barack Obama called the day “an important milestone toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and said he had directed the government to begin preparations to provide relief from the sanctions.

The European Union also issued a statement on Oct. 18 noting that it adopted the legislative framework to lift its nuclear-related sanctions on the deal’s Implementation Day.

Under the terms of the deal, Implementation Day is to occur when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Iran has taken certain steps to restrict its nuclear program and put in place increased monitoring. That determination brings U.S. waivers into effect and triggers the lifting of EU and UN sanctions.

The steps that Iran must take include reducing the number of installed centrifuges from more than 19,000 to 6,104 first-generation machines, reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium to no more than 300 kilograms, removing and disabling the core of the Arak reactor to prevent it from producing weapons-grade plutonium, and allowing additional monitoring and transparency measures on its nuclear program. (See ACT, September 2015.)

Next Steps

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told reporters on Oct. 17 that the exact timing of Implementation Day is unknown at this point but that Iran can complete its commitments by the end of the year.

Richard Nephew, a former State Department official who was part of the team that negotiated with Iran, said in an Oct. 19 e-mail that he thinks “the careful removal, decontamination and storage” of Iran’s excess centrifuges will be the most difficult task.

Iran currently has more than 19,000 centrifuges installed at two facilities, Natanz and Fordow, of which about 10,200 are currently enriching uranium to reactor-grade levels, or about 3.67 percent uranium-235, according to Iran and the IAEA.

Under the deal, Iran must cut its number of centrifuges to 6,104, of which 5,060 will enrich uranium to reactor-grade levels for the first 10 years of the deal at the Natanz site. The remaining 1,044 machines will be at Fordow, which is to be repurposed for isotope research.

On the question of the time that will be required to complete the removal and storage of the centrifuges, Nephew, now at Columbia University, said that he cannot conceive “of a careful effort that takes less than four months,” given the “physical dimensions of the spaces” where the centrifuges are installed, the size and sensitivity of the machines, and the number that must be removed.

He said it is possible to do the job more quickly “but that will require reckless maneuvers with the centrifuges” that would be surprising for the AEOI. The AEOI oversees Iran’s nuclear facilities and will be responsible for implementing many of the steps under the deal.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Oct. 19 that Iran would begin removing centrifuges when President Hassan Rouhani issued an order to the AEOI to implement its nuclear commitments.

Araqchi also said that Iran, the United States, and China worked together on a plan for the modernization of the Arak reactor.

Under the terms of the deal, the core of the unfinished reactor must be removed and destroyed before Iran receives any sanctions relief. The reactor will be modified to produce much smaller amounts of plutonium in its spent fuel. If the reactor had been completed as designed, it would have been able to produce enough plutonium for about two weapons a year.

Chinese officials have said they will work with Iran at the Arak site to modify the reactor.

Joint Commission Meeting

Araqchi spoke to reporters in Vienna after the first meeting of the joint commission set up by the nuclear deal to oversee the accord’s implementation and resolve any disputes between the parties.

In a press briefing two days before the Oct. 19 meeting, a senior U.S. official said setting up the working groups for the commission was on the meeting agenda.

The text of the deal calls for the joint commission to set up several working groups, including ones to monitor the modification of the Arak reactor and Iran’s procurement of any materials and equipment that could be used for its nuclear program.

The United States was represented at the meeting by Thomas Shannon, State Department counselor, and Stephen Mull, a former ambassador to Poland. Mull was appointed lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation on Sept. 17 by Secretary of State John Kerry.

IAEA Completes Probe

The IAEA announced on Oct. 15 that Iran had complied with its obligations under a separate July 14 agreement between Tehran and the agency, which laid out a schedule for completing the IAEA’s investigation of Tehran’s past activities allegedly related to developing a nuclear weapon.

The agency’s Oct. 15 statement said that all of the activities specified in its agreement with Iran were completed on schedule and that the IAEA would provide its board of governors by Dec. 15 with a report assessing Iran’s past activities.

The IAEA listed its concerns that Iran was pursuing activities related to nuclear weapons development in an annex to the November 2011 quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program. (See ACT, December 2011.)

According to the agreement with the P5+1, Tehran needed to comply with the IAEA probe before the deal could be formally adopted.

In an Oct. 19 speech in Tehran, Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, called on the IAEA to respect the confidentiality of its communications with Iran.

Larijani said that if the IAEA reveals Iran’s “secrets,” then Tehran will “change the quality” of its cooperation with the agency.

Iran Tests New Missile

Iran tested a new ballistic missile last month, apparently violating a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting such launches.

Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan told reporters on Oct. 10 that the test earlier that day was a success and the missile is “capable of hitting and destroying targets with high precision.”

 State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in an Oct. 13 press briefing that the test “appears to violate” a 2010 UN Security Council resolution and that the United States would raise the issue at the Security Council, which it did on Oct. 21.

Under Resolution 1929, Iran “shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Nuclear-capable ballistic missiles are generally understood to be missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of 300 kilometers.

The Emad, the missile that Iran launched, is a liquid-fueled, medium-range ballistic missile that is estimated to carry a 750-kilogram payload and has a range of 1,700 kilometers. It is a more precise variant of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile that Iran first deployed in 2003.

In a 2013 report, a panel of experts set up by the Security Council to monitor compliance with sanctions on Iran found that Tehran had violated the resolution by testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Iranian officials have said they do not consider themselves obligated to follow the restrictions in Resolution 1929, which they view as illegal and based on manufactured evidence that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons.

Resolution 1929 was put in place to continue pressuring Iran to negotiate a resolution to the controversy over its nuclear program.

Under the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on July 14, Resolution 1929 and other Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to limit its nuclear program will be replaced by Resolution 2231.

The Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2231, which endorses the July 14 nuclear deal, on July 20. It will come into effect when the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has taken key steps to limit its nuclear program and put in place greater transparency measures.

Resolution 2231 calls on Iran not to develop or test ballistic missiles that are “designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear warheads.

The July 14 nuclear deal does not restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Dehqan said that Iran does not “ask for anyone’s permission for boosting our defense and missile power” and that Tehran would continue its ballistic missile development.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    Iran and six world powers formally adopted their July 14 nuclear deal last month and began taking steps to implement the agreement.

    Sea Trials Progress for Indian Sub

    November 2015

    By Kelsey Davenport

    The Nirbhay, India’s long-range cruise missile, lifts off during a test launch in the Indian state of Odisha on October 17, 2014. [Photo credit: Defence Research & Development Organisation of India]Sea trials of India’s first indigenously built ballistic missile submarine are going well and may include the first test launch of a nuclear-capable missile this month, an Indian official said last month.

    In an Oct. 15 e-mail, the official confirmed reports in several Indian newspapers that the next steps for the sea trials of the INS Arihant include test launches of a cruise missile and a ballistic missile and that these tests could take place within the next month.

    India, whose submarine program dates back to 1984, started work on the Arihant in 2009. The submarine’s nuclear-powered reactor went critical in August 2013, and it began sea trials in December 2014.

    Indian officials have said that they plan to conduct test launches of the submarine’s missiles before the Arihant is ready to go on patrol. Currently, New Delhi says the Arihant will be handed over to the navy to begin service in 2016, ideally before the International Fleet Review, an international naval exhibition, in February. But the deployment of the Arihant has been delayed in the past.

    The plan to test a cruise missile from the submarine may have suffered a setback after a land-based test of the missile was aborted last month.

    In an Oct. 16 press release, India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) said that, to “ensure coastal safety,” a test of the Nirbhay long-range cruise missile was “terminated” midway through its flight after “deviations were observed from its intended course.” The release said that the Oct. 16 test still met basic mission objectives successfully.

    The Nirbhay is likely a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers, although India has not confirmed its nuclear mission. India has tested the missile several times, including in March 2013 and October 2014. The March 2013 test was terminated when the missile veered off course. The October 2014 test was deemed a partial success by a DRDO official.

    The other missile suitable for the Arihant-class submarine is the K-15, a two-stage ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead an estimated 700 kilometers.

    The submarine is designed to carry 12 K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

    India has tested the K-15 missile multiple times, including from a submerged pontoon in 2013, but not from the Arihant.

    The DRDO also is developing a longer-range SLBM, the K-4, which will have an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers with a nuclear payload. That range puts Pakistan and most of China within range if India launches the K-4 from the northern Indian Ocean.

    India first tested the K-4 missile in March 2014. Each Arihant-class submarine could carry up to four K-4s.

    Once the Arihant is on patrol, India will have a complete nuclear triad, which also includes the ability to deliver warheads via land-based missiles and bombers. Currently, only China, Russia, and the United States deploy nuclear warheads across all three delivery systems.

    India will also join China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as the only countries with a sea-based nuclear deterrent.

    India has two submarines similar to the Arihant at various stages of construction. 

    An Indian official said sea trials of its ballistic missile submarine are going well and may include missile tests this month.

    Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Resuming Talks with North Korea

    International relations with North Korea have been marked by provocations, off-and-on diplomatic engagement, and the threat of military conflict for decades. The threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs came back into the spotlight this fall with talk from North Korea that it would soon conduct a fourth satellite launch, which has not been delivered upon to date, the highly anticipated military parade in honor of the Korean Workers’ Party 70 th anniversary, and reports that Pyongyang is making preparations for a fourth nuclear test explosion. It is Pyongyang itself that...

    The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, October 15

    Countdown to Adoption Day Iran completed its formal review process of the July 14 nuclear deal yesterday, after parliament voted on a bill to approve the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Guardian Council ratified the parliament’s bill. Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, held two votes on the agreement. On Sunday, Oct. 11, they held a preliminary vote on the first reading of the bill, which passed 139-100. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, were present to answer questions from...

    North Korea’s Nuclear ICBM?

    With the 70 th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea approaching on Oct. 10, the director of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) lauded his country’s “shining achievements” in space development in an interview with the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 14 and raised the possibility of another satellite launch in the near future. The unnamed director reported that North Korea is at a “final phase” in the development of a new earth observation satellite, a “peaceful project” pursuant to improving the people of North Korea’s...

    Building on the Iran Deal

    October 2015

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    The historic nuclear nonproliferation agreement struck on July 14 between Iran and six world powers is moving forward.

    Now the task is to implement the deal and reinforce it. Leading states in and outside the Middle East should build on the deal by jointly exploring additional barriers against further nuclear proliferation in the region and beyond. 

    The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, will severely curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities for at least 15 years and put in place a multilayered verification and monitoring regime. By blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb, the agreement also helps head off nuclear competition in the unstable Middle East.

    The agreement contains innovative but time-limited provisions that go beyond the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and standard International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. These and other measures could be applied indefinitely if pursued on a regional and even global basis by the United States and other leading countries. Among the options are the following:

    Expand application of additional protocols. Region-wide adoption of and adherence to additional protocols, which will provide the IAEA with enhanced monitoring and inspection authority in Iran under the agreement, would help to guard against illicit military nuclear activity elsewhere. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are among the states that have not concluded an additional protocol with the IAEA.

    One approach would be to update the law governing U.S. civil nuclear cooperation to require cooperating states to adopt an additional protocol and early-notification procedures. Another would be for the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to agree not to engage in any civilian nuclear cooperation with a state in the Middle East unless it has taken those steps.

    Ban production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. In the agreement, Iran agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent uranium-235 for a period of at least 15 years. Iran has indicated a willingness to extend that restriction if other countries in the region follow suit. A goal of U.S. policy should be to secure a region-wide commitment to establishing a ceiling of 5 percent U-235 for uranium enrichment.

    A related strategy would be to accelerate the phaseout of reactor fuel with an enrichment level greater than 5 percent for any purposes by any country and to provide technical support to convert reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium to low-enriched fuel.

    Iran also committed not to separate plutonium from spent fuel in its reactors for at least 15 years. A permanent region-wide ban on reprocessing could also be adopted.

    If additional countries chose to pursue enrichment in the Middle East or elsewhere, they should be encouraged to allow the same continuous IAEA monitoring at key nuclear facilities to which Iran is subject under this agreement.

    Encourage lifetime fuel-supply and fuel take-back guarantees. To help obviate Iran’s justification for increasing its enrichment capacity beyond the agreement’s limit of 5,060 of its first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1, any country that supplies additional power reactors to Iran could provide fuel supply guarantees for the lifespan of the reactor and agree to take back the spent fuel to deny Iran access to the plutonium in the fuel. Russia already has such an arrangement with Iran. The United States should strongly encourage lifetime fuel-supply arrangements for any country in the region seeking nuclear reactors.

    Forgo nuclear weapons-related experiments. In the deal, Iran agreed to a ban on all nuclear weapons-related experiments, even though some ostensibly have civilian applications. By encouraging other states in the region and elsewhere to voluntarily declare or reach a memorandum of understanding with the IAEA that such experiments, if conducted, would constitute a violation of their safeguards agreements, confidence in the NPT would be strengthened.

    Encourage region-wide adherence to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nuclear test explosions enable states to prove new warhead designs, particularly smaller, lighter warheads for delivery on ballistic missiles. The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all such tests. Currently, three states in the Middle East—Egypt, Iran, and Israel—must ratify the CTBT to facilitate its entry into force. Iran and Israel have signed the treaty, and their current leaders have expressed general support for the treaty.

    To reinforce Iran’s commitment to a future without nuclear weapons and increase security in the region, all CTBT states-parties should actively encourage states in the Middle East that have not signed and ratified the CTBT, including Saudi Arabia, to do so and to fully support the CTBT International Monitoring System, as well the development of the on-site inspection capabilities that will be available after the treaty enters into force.

    The Iran deal is a major step forward. The United States and other leading governments can strengthen it further by advancing additional nonproliferation initiatives in the years ahead.

    The historic nuclear nonproliferation agreement struck on July 14 between Iran and six world powers is moving forward.


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