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"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
EU / NATO

New Iranian President May Prolong Deal Talks

Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi has expressed support for returning Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. sanctions are verifiably lifted. Raisi’s election, however, appears to be responsible for delaying the resumption of talks in Vienna to restore the accord as the president-elect’s advisers are reviewing the progress that negotiators made in the first six rounds of talks. The sixth round concluded June 20, two days after the election, and it is still unclear when the seventh round will commence. Raisi’s position on the nuclear deal is consistent with the position taken...

NATO Highlights Concerns With China, Russia


July/August 2021
By Hollis Rammer

Leaders of the 30 member countries of NATO expressed concerns about China’s expanding influence and emphasized their support for further arms control measures between the United States and Russia during their June 14 summit in Brussels.

U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) talk at a memorial for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States after the June 14 NATO summit in Brussels. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)“All leaders agreed that, in an age of global competition, Europe and North America must stand strong together in NATO to defend our values and our interests, especially at a time when authoritarian regimes like Russia and China challenge the rules-based order,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the conclusion of the meeting.

The 2021 summit communiqué states that “China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an alliance.” Although NATO leaders stopped short of declaring China a rival, their commitment to “engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance” represents a shift from previous statements that did not mention China at all.

The communiqué also condemns “Russia’s aggressive actions [that] constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security” and says NATO “remains clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses.” The document specifically cites concerns about Russia’s arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and deployment of the 9M729, a ground-launched cruise missile that the alliance says is a violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

In addition, NATO leaders reiterated that the alliance has “no intention to deploy land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.” The communiqué repeated NATO’s stance that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a moratorium on missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty is “not credible and not acceptable.” Putin first made the proposal following the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in 2019 and has since expanded it to include mutual verification measures. (See ACT, January/February and November 2020.)

The NATO document also reaffirmed the alliance’s opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, describing it as “inconsistent with the alliance’s nuclear deterrence policy” and “at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture.” In a change from previous statements, however, the communiqué called on partners to “reflect realistically on the ban treaty’s impact on international peace and security,” including on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In addition, the heads of state reinforced NATO’s status as a nuclear alliance, stating that “given the deteriorating security environment in Europe, a credible and united nuclear alliance is essential” and that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”

Prior to the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Stoltenberg to reiterate the U.S. commitment to the alliance, namely Article 5 of the NATO Charter. Article 5 declares that an attack on one member state will be seen as an attack on all and that such an attack will be met with a collective response. This represents a major shift from the rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently referred to the alliance as “obsolete.”

At a summit in Brussels, NATO leaders expressed concern about China’s expanding influence.

 

EU Confident in Iran Deal Restoration

June 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Talks to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal appear to be gaining momentum, as a number of negotiators believe that an understanding is within reach.

Josep Borell, European Union Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and his team report that “an agreement is shaping up” in talks on a U.S. return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and lifting of related sanctions, in conjunction with the resumption of nuclear commitments under the deal by Iran. (Photo:  Thierry Monasse#51SY ED/Getty Images)Enrique Mora, the lead negotiator for the European Union and coordinator of the indirect talks between the United States and Iran, said on May 19 that he is “quite sure there will be a final agreement” that restores the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, he said that the talks are “on the right track.”

The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran in violation of the accord. Beginning the following year, Iran began to take a series of retaliatory steps to breach its commitments under the nuclear deal. The two countries are now engaged in indirect talks to restore the multilateral agreement. The other parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—are also participating in the Vienna talks. 

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on May 19 that significant progress was made and the parties to the deal all believe an agreement is “within reach.” He expressed hope that the next round of talks “will be final.”

Iranian negotiators also struck a positive tone. Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, told Iranian state TV on May 19 that “the framework and structure of the agreement has been defined” but certain clauses are still being discussed. 

Other diplomats struck a less optimistic tone. In a May 19 statement, France, Germany, and the UK said that there are still “very difficult issues ahead” and warned against underestimating those challenges. 

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter said in a May 19 press briefing that the fourth round of talks “helped to crystalize choices that may be made by Iran, as well as by the United States,” to return to mutual compliance.

Although the United States and Iran have expressed support for returning to compliance with the nuclear deal, certain technical details have proved challenging.

Iran, for instance, has insisted that all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after the United States withdrew from the deal in May 2018, including the non-nuclear sanctions, be lifted. That is necessary, Iran has argued, for Tehran to receive sanctions benefits envisioned by the deal. Critics of the nuclear deal in the United States have opposed lifting these measures. 

On May 20, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on state television that the “main” sanctions issues “have been wrapped up,” including those affecting the oil, petrochemical, shipping, and banking sectors.

Another challenge has been the future of Iran’s advanced centrifuges. In response to the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of the nuclear deal, Iran has introduced into use hundreds of advanced centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, in excess of the nuclear deal’s limits. 

Advanced centrifuges pose a proliferation risk because they enrich uranium more efficiently. The machines can be dismantled or destroyed to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal’s limits, but Iran has gained knowledge from operating these machines that cannot be reversed. 

Officials did not comment on whether this issue has been resolved.

The E.U. reports an agreement is shaping up to return the U.S. and Iran to their 2015 deal.

Parties Make Progress on Iran Deal Restoration

The United States, Iran, and the other parties to the 2015 nuclear deal expressed varying degrees of optimism over the progress made during recent talks in Vienna on the necessary steps to restore full implementation of the accord. The parties met April 15-20 and are set to return to Vienna next week for further discussions on the steps necessary to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The United States and Iran are still not talking directly, which has slowed the process, but EU political...

Restoring the Nuclear Deal with Iran Benefits U.S. Nonproliferation Priorities

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Volume 13, Issue 1, March 15, 2021

Iran has systematically breached key limits imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in May 2019 that Tehran would reduce compliance with the accord. Iran’s decision to violate the multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a direct response to former President Donald Trump’s decision a year earlier to withdraw from the accord and reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. obligations.

Iran’s nuclear program does not currently pose an immediate proliferation risk and there is no indication from U.S. intelligence that Iran has resumed weaponization-related activities, but its breaches are becoming increasingly more serious and difficult—if not impossible—to fully reverse.

While these breaches are troubling, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has gone to great lengths to keep the door open to restore full implementation of the nuclear deal and reverse Iran’s violations, if the United States lifts sanctions in compliance with its obligations under the accord.

Time is short, however, as both the Biden and Rouhani administrations face considerable domestic pressure opposing restoration of the accord. Neither wants to be perceived as making the first move or making a unilateral concession.

President Joe Biden’s failure to take early action to send a signal of U.S. good faith intentions also appears to have spurred debate in Tehran over whether or not he is serious about his stated approach of “compliance for compliance” to restore the nuclear deal, or if he intends to try and renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

Biden faces pressure from policymakers, particularly opponents of the JCPOA in Congress, to use the Trump administration’s sanctions to leverage additional concessions from Iran on a range of issues. This rhetoric further reinforces doubts in Tehran about Biden’s intentions to restore the deal. However, the idea that the Trump administration’s sanctions have created viable leverage to pressure Iran to make further concessions fails to take into account that U.S. credibility was severely diminished by Trump’s reimposition of sanctions in violation of the deal. There is little support for reimposed U.S. sanctions, which are perceived as jeopardizing an agreement that advanced global nonproliferation interests, and Iran has no interest in new negotiations until the nuclear deal is restored.

If the JCPOA collapses and Iran continues to ratchet up its nuclear activities, some U.S. allies and partners may join a U.S. pressure campaign, but the Biden administration would be hard-pressed to reconstitute the level of international support seen before the negotiations on the JCPOA. Russia and China in particular would be unlikely to support a pressure-based approach after Trump’s treatment of the nuclear deal, barring a clear indication that Iran intended to pursue nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Iran can also ratchet up its nuclear activities far more quickly than the United States could attempt to restore international support for sanctions and diplomatic isolation, giving Tehran its own leverage.

A quick, complete compliance-for-compliance restoration of the JCPOA remains the best option to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, create the time and space for future negotiations on a range of issues, and restore U.S. credibility.

The EU, as the convenor of the negotiations on the JCPOA, is the logical choice to coordinate steps by both sides to resume full implementation of their JCPOA obligations and appears willing to take on that role. Concrete action by the United States to support its stated preference for returning to the deal may help pave the way for an EU-led approach, but with increasingly serious violations of the JCPOA on the horizon and Iran’s presidential elections in June, time is short. It may behoove the EU to present a proposal of its own detailing the necessary reciprocal steps for the United States and Iran to meet their JCPOA obligations.

Failure to restore the deal risks Tehran taking further steps that increase the risk posed by its nuclear program and igniting a destabilizing nuclear competition in the region, both of which would set back U.S security interests and international nonproliferation priorities.

Maximum Pressure Triggered Nuclear Breaches

Under the JCPOA Iran is subject to stringent limitations on its nuclear program and intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, the P5+1 (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU, and, formerly, the United States) committed to waiving sanctions imposed on Iran. The United Nations Security Council also endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231 (2015), which lifted certain UN sanctions on Iran and levied restrictions on Iranian conventional arms and ballistic missile transfers.

Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018— despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the multilateral agreement and over the objections of key U.S. allies. Trump also ordered the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA, violating U.S. obligations under the accord. From May 2018 until Trump left office in Jan. 2021, the administration continued to aggressively deny Iran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal and actively opposed efforts by the remaining parties to the deal to engage in legitimate trade with Iran and complete cooperative nuclear projects—even those that benefited U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

The failure of the remaining parties to the JCPOA to deliver on sanctions relief in the year after U.S. withdrawal drove Rouhani to announce in May 2019 that Iran would begin violating the JCPOA. He said Iran would continue to ratchet up its nuclear activities until sanctions relief in oil sales, banking transactions, and other areas of commerce were restored.

For nearly a year following Rouhani’s May 2019 announcement, Iran systematically announced new breaches to the JCPOA’s limits on uranium enrichment, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and stockpile size. Those breaches were carefully calibrated, overseen by IAEA inspectors, and were largely reversible, supporting Rouhani’s assertion that all JCPOA violations taken by Iran are about pressuring parties to the deal to deliver on sanctions relief and not intended to collapse the deal or impede a full restoration of the deal’s limits down the road.

In Dec. 2020, the Iranian parliament and Guardian Council approved a bill calling on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to significantly ramp up certain nuclear activities in violation of the deal. That law, hastened by the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, went into effect Dec. 23. The actions required by the nuclear law, some of which have already begun, pose a more serious risk to the JCPOA. The new law, for instance, requires Iran to take significant steps to ratchet up its uranium enrichment program, such as boosting enrichment levels to 20 percent uranium-235—a purity Iran had not reached since 2013 when Tehran agreed to cap enrichment amid JCPOA negotiations. The law also includes new breaches, including suspending more intrusive monitoring activities and beginning the production of uranium metal, which would be more difficult to reverse.

To date, between the breaches announced in 2019 and steps taken in line with the Dec. 2020 legislation Iran has:

  1. Breached stockpile limits of 300 kilograms of uranium gas and 130 metric tons of heavy water;
  2. Enriched uranium above the 3.67 percent uranium-235 limit set by the deal;
  3. Operated advanced centrifuges in excess of the JCPOA’s limits and used certain models to produce enriched uranium in violation of the accord;
  4. Resumed enrichment at the Fordow facility in violation of the deal;
  5. Abandoned operational restrictions on its uranium enrichment program;
  6. Suspended the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement and JCPOA-specific monitoring measures (a special arrangement with the IAEA is in place); and
  7. Produced gram quantities of natural uranium metal and begun work on a uranium metal production plant (the plant is not yet operational).

(For more information on the status of Iran’s violations of the JCPOA see “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action At A Glance.”)

Heightened but Manageable Proliferation Risk—For Now

In total, Iran’s violations have increased the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s activities to ratchet up its uranium enrichment capacity have reduced the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for one bomb from about 12 months (when the nuclear deal is fully implemented) to about three months, as of Feb. 2021. That breakout time will continue to shorten if Iran installs and brings online advanced centrifuges, as required by the 2020 nuclear law, and its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20 percent continues to grow.

The Dec. 2020 nuclear law requirements stipulating that Iran stockpile uranium enriched to 20 percent and install and operate advanced centrifuges, in particular, accelerate the decrease in breakout. Iran’s advanced machines are much more efficient than the IR-1s to which Iran is limited to using under the JCPOA. The IR-2m centrifuge is estimated to be about three to four times more efficient than the IR-1 and the IR-6 an estimated seven to eight times more efficient. In total, if Iran operates 1,000 IR-2s (about half of which are already enriching) and 1,000 IR-6s (as required by the end of 2021 under the law), in addition to the 6,104 IR-1s already enriching uranium, Iran’s enrichment capacity will increase by about threefold.

Enriching to 20 percent also increases proliferation risk, as that level constitutes about 90 percent of the work necessary to enrich to weapons-grade (above 90 percent uranium-235). Once Iran has accumulated enough 20 percent enriched gas for a bomb, about 250 kilograms (or about 170 kilograms by weight), it could likely produce what is known as a significant quantity of nuclear material (one bomb’s worth, or 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to greater than 90 percent) in less than two months given its current enrichment capacity. As of mid-February, Iran had about 17 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent (by weight) and it intends to produce 120 kilograms (by weight) during 2021, suggesting that Iran will not reach a bomb’s worth of 20 percent material before the end of the year at the current pace.

The decrease in breakout time is a concern. But even if Iran decided to pursue nuclear weapons, it is unlikely that Iran would withdraw from the JCPOA and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce just one bomb, particularly given that Tehran has never tested a nuclear device. Any such move would be met by swift international condemnation and the reimposition of sanctions. Iran has uranium enriched to less than 5 percent that, when enriched to weapons-grade, would be enough for a second bomb, but it would take another two to three months. Then Iran would need to covert and weaponize the material—a process that could take another year to 18 months.

The 12-month breakout time can be restored relatively quickly by reversing Iran’s breaches of the uranium enrichment limits—a process that could itself likely be accomplished in under three months with significant political will. Enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram stockpile limit can be quickly shipped out or blended down to natural levels, excess machines dismantled and stored, enrichment halted at Fordow, and enrichment levels dialed back to 3.67 percent uranium-235. Knowledge gained by operating advanced centrifuges is not reversible, but the excess machines themselves will be dismantled and stored under IAEA seal, so Iran will not be able to access them without inspectors knowing. Furthermore, the efficiency of the advanced machines can be taken into account in calculating and determining an acceptable breakout time in follow-up negotiations.

Work on uranium metal is more problematic. The JCPOA bans uranium metal production for 15 years because of its applicability to weapons development. While Iran claims it is pursuing uranium metal for reactor fuel, the knowledge gained would still be relevant to weaponization processes.

Though it is widely suspected that Iran experimented with uranium metal as part of its pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, it does not appear to have significant experience with large-scale production and much of the experimentation appears to have been done with surrogate metals. Restoring the JCPOA’s limits before Iran gains that valuable and irreversible expertise with metal production would benefit long-term U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

The risk posed by these breaches is further amplified by Iran’s decision to suspend the more intrusive monitoring mechanisms required by the JCPOA, including the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. Inspectors will still be in place and have access to sites where Iran produces and stores its nuclear material as part of Iran’s legally required safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

However, the suspension of the more intrusive measures could create gaps in the IAEA’s understanding of Iran’s nuclear program, as the additional protocol gives inspectors regular access to all facilities that support the nuclear program and complimentary access to follow up on concerns about undeclared nuclear activities. Decreased access will make it more difficult to monitor Iran’s breaches of the deal and likely increase speculation about illicit nuclear activities.

Iran and the IAEA did agree to a special three-month technical arrangement Feb. 21—two days before Iran’s suspension of the measures—that will allow certain agency monitoring beyond Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement. Iran also committed to collect certain information relevant to the additional protocol—including tapes of continuous surveillance activities—and hand that information over to the IAEA upon sanctions relief.

Ideally, the hand-over of information will allow for inspectors to reconstruct Iran’s nuclear program during the three-month period and will mitigate any speculation of illicit activities in the absence of stringent IAEA oversight. However, the special arrangement is not a viable solution in the long term, particularly if any concerns emerge about illicit activities and materials, but it does manage the risk and buy time for diplomatic action to restore the JCPOA.

Restoring Mutual Compliance with the 2015 Nuclear Deal

Although Iran’s systematic breaches of JCPOA limits constitute serious violations of the agreement, the deal itself has proven to be an effective, verifiable arrangement when it is fully implemented. It is possible to restore the deal’s nonproliferation benefits—but only if the parties to the deal act swiftly to fully implement the JCPOA’s obligations.

There is no indication at this point that Iran is pursuing or intends to pursue nuclear weapons, but the violations have increased speculation about illicit nuclear activities and worn the patience of the European members of the deal. E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) frustration was manifest in a recent gratuitous attempt to censure Iran for its suspension of the additional protocol during the March meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. While the E3 concern about the decrease in monitoring is warranted, pursuing the resolution risked the special technical arrangement and the space for Iran, the United States, and the parties to the JCPOA to meet to discuss restoring the accord.

Returning to full implementation of the deal will require coordination by the United States and Iran. Unsurprisingly, while both U.S. President Joe Biden and Rouhani support a restoration of the JCPOA and a mutual return to full compliance, neither wants to be perceived as acting first or unilaterally. Both appear interested in partaking in discussions facilitated by the EU, which the EU appears eager to do, but creating the necessary political conditions for all sides to accept an invitation remains a challenge.

Given that the Trump administration triggered this crisis—namely by reimposing sanctions in violation of the deal— and provoked Iran’s violations of the accord, further signaling by the Biden administration of U.S. good faith could promote an environment conducive to coordinating restoration of the nuclear deal. Biden’s failure to act early upon taking office in Jan. 2021 prompted concern in Tehran that the new U.S. president was not serious about restoring the deal as is, and that he might try to renegotiate it—a position unacceptable to Tehran.

To date, the Biden administration has insisted that it will not grant sanctions relief before talks on restoring full compliance with the deal. But the White House could take steps to signal good faith, such as reinstating waivers for JCPOA-required nonproliferation projects that would help facilitate Iran’s eventual return to compliance and more definitive action in support of humanitarian efforts. Such steps could help restore confidence in Tehran that Biden is serious about restoring the JCPOA and demonstrate that the United States acknowledges Rouhani’s efforts to keep the window open for diplomacy.

Failure to act swiftly risks the JCPOA collapsing. A collapsed JCPOA would have severe implications for regional stability and international security, as Iran’s program would be unrestrained and subject to far less monitoring at a time when the United States faces a significant credibility deficit.

Even in the absence of the accord, it is highly unlikely that Iran would make the decision to pursue nuclear weapons, but restricted IAEA monitoring and no limits on uranium enrichment would raise speculation over covert Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions. This could spur other states in the region to match Iran’s perceived nuclear capabilities or attempt a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities—an act that would only set back the program and be more likely to spur Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons to deter future attacks. Dissolution of the JCPOA would also significantly compromise the likelihood of Iran engaging in future nuclear nonproliferation agreements.

It is critical that the Biden administration not miss this window to restore the nonproliferation benefits of the JCPOA and use it as a platform for future diplomatic engagement.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

 

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Iran has breached key limits of the JCPOA since May 2019, gradually increasing the proliferation risk posed by its civilian nuclear program. Taken together, Iran's systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal. 

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E3 Put JCPOA at Risk, Luckily Cooler Heads in Vienna Prevailed

An exercise of restraint at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Board of Governors meeting may have preserved the space for diplomatic efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, in part due to efforts by the United States and others to sway Britain, France, and Germany from pursuing a gratuitous resolution censuring Tehran. The resolution risked jeopardizing the IAEA’s access to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities, as well as the already uncertain path toward restoration of the accord. The European members of the deal circulated a draft resolution ahead of the quarterly IAEA...

Iran, IAEA Stave Off Monitoring Crisis

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached a temporary agreement to mitigate the effects of Tehran’s decision to suspend certain monitoring provisions required by the 2015 nuclear deal. After a visit to Tehran Feb. 21, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced that Iran and the agency reached a “temporary bilateral technical understanding” that will allow the agency to “continue with its necessary verification and monitoring activities” for three months. Grossi described the technical arrangement as a “reasonable result” that will “stabilize” an unstable...

Nonproliferation Experts Call for Faster Action to Restore U.S. and Iranian Compliance with 2015 Nuclear Deal

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For Immediate Release: Feb 22, 2021

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 103; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Nonproliferation experts are calling on the European Union, the United States, and Iran to immediately begin technical talks on the steps necessary to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"We support European Union efforts to immediately convene discussions involving the current parties of the agreement, plus the United States, on the sequencing of the actions that the U.S. and Iranian sides will each need to take to properly implement and restore compliance with the nuclear deal,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

"The EU should make clear that these talks are about coordinating the sequencing of the return to compliance and addressing any technical issues that might need to be resolved—such as the future of Iran’s advanced centrifuges not mentioned in the JCPOA—and that this not a renegotiation of the original agreement," she suggested.

"We urge Iran and the other JCPOA parties to respond positively to EU-brokered discussions,” Davenport added.

In a Feb. 1 interview with CNN, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggested that Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign policy official, could “synchronize” or “choreograph” the moves that the U.S. and Iranian sides will each need to implement to restore compliance with the JCPOA.

The State Department announced Feb. 18 that "the United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward."

But Daryl Kimball, executive director at the Arms Control Association, cautioned that “the IAEA-Iran temporary arrangement on nuclear monitoring keeps open the diplomatic window of opportunity to salvage the nuclear deal, but the opportunity will not last."

“To accelerate progress and signal his intentions, we also urge President Biden to state clearly that the United States will remove the sanctions reimposed by former president Donald Trump in violation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA when the IAEA verifies Iran is reversing its breaches of JCPOA limits,” Kimball suggested.

“It is also in the United States interest to immediately waive sanctions on multilateral nonproliferation activities mandated by the JCPOA to convert Iran Arak heavy water reactor. This move would further signal the Biden administration’s intentions to meet U.S. commitments under the JCPOA,” he added.

"A return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal by both sides would provide a solid foundation for potential follow-on negotiations on a longer-term framework to address Iran's nuclear program as well as on new, win-win solutions on other areas of concern, such as regional tensions and the ballistic missile programs of Iran and other states in the Middle East,” Kimball said.

Additional Resources

To help explain what is at stake and what needs to happen to restore compliance with the JCPOA and create conditions for follow-on talks, the ACA policy staff has produced three new factsheets:

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Nonproliferation experts are calling on the European Union, the United States, and Iran to begin talks on restoring compliance with the JCPOA

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Disputes Continue at UN First Committee


December 2020
By Anna Kim

The 75th session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on disarmament and international security, held remotely this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed growing global concern over the decline of arms control and rising tensions between nations, particularly those armed with nuclear weapons.

South Korean Amb. Cho Hyun speaks to the UN Security Council in 2019. At this year's meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee, he expressed hopes that a peace process with North Korea could progress. (Photo: Evan Schneider/United Nations)The European Union, Russia, and South Korea noted the challenges COVID-19 posed to nuclear disarmament, including the postponement of treaty-related meetings such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’s pending review conference, now deferred again from an already rescheduled early 2021 date. They also encouraged commitment to collective action and multilateralism. Others noted that the pandemic should raise awareness of biological threats and drive action at next year’s Biological Weapons Convention review conference.

Tension between nuclear-armed powers was highlighted by separate, unsuccessful U.S.-Russian talks on an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). In the First Committee, Russia reiterated that Moscow stands ready to extend the pact without preconditions, a move that would “buy us time to consider future approaches to arms control.” The United States responded by reaffirming its pursuit of an agreement that “addresses all nuclear warheads” and expressing concern with Russia’s investment in “novel nuclear delivery systems and nuclear weapons that are not constrained by New START.” The impasse suggests that the two sides will not resolve the matter before the end of the Trump administration in January 2021.

Multiple states continued to express concern over the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 arms control agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran’s subsequent buildup of low-enriched uranium exceeding treaty limits.

EU nations said they “deeply regret” the U.S. decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions on Iran and “strongly urge Iran to refrain from any further actions that are inconsistent with its JCPOA commitments and return to full JCPOA implementation without delay.”

Unlike in 2019, Iran did not mention its enrichment activities or their reversibility. The United States refrained from commenting on the JCPOA at all during its general debate remarks.

Opinions were divided on how to address North Korea’s nuclear program and security on the Korean peninsula. China blamed the United States for “the deadlock of the [U.S.-North Korean] dialogue regarding the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula” and asserted its opposition to “unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction beyond the mandates” of UN Security Council resolutions.

The EU and some European countries, in contrast, expressed concern over North Korea’s missile launches and repeated their support for denuclearization. Poland called North Korean denuclearization “an absolute imperative and priority for the entire international community.” South Korea took a more optimistic tone in its statement. Cho Hyun, South Korean ambassador to the United Nations, said that “[his] government’s resolve to advance the peace process remains unwavering and [South Korean leaders] sincerely hope that [North Korea] will return to the negotiating table.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also received significant attention during general debate in the wake of the August 2020 poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, with a Novichok nerve agent. Russia has denied responsibility for the attack.

Absent verifiable attribution of the attack to Russia by the OPCW, the United States called on Moscow to “fulfill its obligations under the [CWC] by completely declaring and destroying its chemical weapons program under international verification.” The EU said that Russia should “fully cooperate” with the OPCW to ensure an “impartial international investigation.”

The use of chemical weapons in Syria also drew attention, with Germany urging that “all those who continue to support the Assad regime and to provide cover for its crimes—in particular the Russian Federation—[should] finally live up to their responsibility.”

Russia did not respond directly to criticism for the Navalny incident, instead introducing a resolution to update the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (SGM). This was met with significant resistance by other states, which accused Russia of attempting to undermine the SGM’s authority.

The 2020 First Committee session approved 72 draft resolutions and decisions, but rejected two: Russia’s resolution on the SGM and one on the 2021 Disarmament Commission session. The votes revealed continuing disunity between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, with all nine nuclear-armed states voting against a resolution on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) even as the treaty reached the 50 accessions needed to enter into force in January 2021.

The United States cast one of two votes, along with North Korea, against the resolution on the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), citing unproven claims that Russia and China continue to conduct nuclear weapons test explosions. This was the first time the United States did not abstain from the vote, which fueled concerns that the Trump administration could be planning to resume nuclear weapons testing, as The Washington Post first reported in May. The United States was also the sole vote against the resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty for the second year in a row. President Donald Trump announced in April 2019 that Washington would drop out of the treaty.

Resolutions in support of the implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions passed with no votes against, representing continued widespread support for those initiatives. The resolution on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East also passed 169–2–1, with only the United States and Israel voting against it.

As in previous years, First Committee member states were unable to reach consensus on a legal approach to regulating arms in outer space. Five resolutions were introduced on the topic, which reflected highly varied perspectives on disarmament. The United States, Russia, and China each accused others of having intentions to weaponize space while emphasizing their own commitment to developing a legal infrastructure. The First Committee also discussed cybersecurity and emerging technologies.

Russia Fails to Weaken UN Chemical Weapons Investigations

A Russian effort to undermine the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of the Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (SGM) was rejected by the UN General Assembly First Committee on Nov. 4. Moscow had offered the resolution and called for a review of SGM guidelines ahead of the First Committee vote, arguing that the guidelines had not been updated since the late 1990s.

The mechanism grants the secretary-general authority to launch an independent investigation into alleged incidents of chemical or biological weapons use on request by a UN member state. For example, the SGM investigated the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013, prior to Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s UN representative, said the SGM has “clearly become obsolete.”

The European Union criticized Russia’s efforts as misguided and politically driven. Speaking on behalf of the group, Germany recalled an attempt by Russia in December 2019 to criticize further strengthening of the mechanism, arguing that doing so would create a de facto legally binding verification regime for the Biological Weapons Convention. “Against this background,” Germany’s representative told the First Committee on Nov. 4, “it seems unlikely that the motive behind this resolution is to strengthen [the SGM].”

“It is not immediately clear why there would be an urgency to review the guidelines and principles again,” he added, noting that Russia’s proposed resolution threatened the SGM’s independence by subordinating it to the UN Security Council. The resolution proposed that the Security Council play a greater role in the mechanism’s work, specifically with respect to investigating incidents of biological weapons use.

The resolution failed to pass the First Committee with 31 votes in favor, 63 against, and 67 abstentions.—JULIA MASTERSON

The annual UN session on disarmament and international security reflected the full range of arms control disputes.

NATO Completes Annual Nuclear Exercise


December 2020

The Netherlands hosted NATO’s annual nuclear exercise in October, which included the German Air Force practicing delivery of U.S. nuclear bombs believed to be stored at Büchel Air Base, according to reports.

A German Eurofighter taxis at Nörvenich Air Base in 2013. The base was used as a site for this year's NATO exercise Steadfast Noon. (Photo: Neuwieser/Flickr)“Today’s exercise shows that allies are determined to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg while visiting Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands for the exercise on Oct. 16. “The purpose of NATO’s nuclear deterrent is not to provoke a conflict but to preserve peace, deter aggression, and prevent coercion.”

This year, the training flights took place over parts of western Europe and the North Sea.

The annual exercise, known as Steadfast Noon, is designed to practice and assess NATO’s nuclear capabilities deployed in Europe. It is planned far in advance and involves more than 50 aircraft from several allied air forces. The aircraft do not carry live bombs during the exercise flights.

The United States deploys an estimated 20 B61 tactical bombs each at Büchel and Volkel air bases, according to the Federation of American Scientists. About 100 U.S. tactical bombs are believed to be deployed at bases in Belgium, Italy, and Turkey.

German reports said that this year’s nuclear exercise involved the Nörvenich Air Base, which is an alternative site for the nuclear bombs stored at Büchel.

The Russian Defense Ministry released a statement on Oct. 23 criticizing the exercise. “Such actions lead to a lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, provoke a further increase in tension along the Russia-NATO contact line, and negatively affect the level of trust in Europe,” said the ministry.—SHANNON BUGOS

NATO Completes Annual Nuclear Exercise

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