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January 1, 2005
EU / NATO

WEBINAR: "The Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the NPT"

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Thursday, October 1, 2020
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time
via Zoom webinar 

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The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has led Iran to retaliate by exceeding key nuclear limits set by the deal. The U.S. strategy has hobbled but not unraveled the agreement and increased tensions with Iran and the international community. Unless Washington and Teheran return to compliance, however, the deal could collapse entirely creating a serious new nuclear crisis in the region.

In this edition of the “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Arms Control Association, our panelists will review the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the global nonproliferation system and the upcoming 10th Review Conference of Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Panelists:

  • Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association;
  • Ellie Gerenmyah, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; and
  • Emad Kiyaei, Director, Middle East Treaty Organization (METO)

A question and answer session will follow the speakers' presentations.

Future webinars in the Critical NPT Issues series will address steps to fulfill Article VI of the NPT, including the uncertain future of the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

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In this edition of our “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series, we will review the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the upcoming NPT Review Conference.

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Executive director Daryl Kimball, Washington Post interview on Iran and the JCPOA, June 2019The Arms Control Association works to keep the public and the press informed about breaking arms control developments. 

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German Politicians Renew Nuclear Basing Debate


June 2020
By Oliver Meier

A senior member of the German Parliament has revitalized the debate over whether the nation should host U.S. nuclear weapons on German soil. “It is about time that Germany in the future excludes the deployment” of nuclear weapons on its territory, said Rolf Mützenich, the leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the Bundestag, in a May 2 interview with Der Tagesspiegel. The German Social Democrats are coalition partners of the conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU). The SPD leadership backed Mützenich's comments.

A U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft refuels in 2017. Germany is exploring acquiring 45 F-18s from the United States, 30 of which would be nuclear capable. (Photo: Trevor McBride/U.S. Air Force)The discussion followed a mid-April decision by the Defense Ministry to replace Germany’s current fleet of Tornado aircraft, some of which are dual-capable with 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft. Thirty of the F-18s would be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons.

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, NATO allies jointly discuss, plan, and train nuclear missions. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey host up to 150 U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs on their territory. These countries, except Turkey, provide their own aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons in times of war. Details of the arrangements remain shrouded in secrecy, but 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are estimated to be deployed at Büchel air base in western Germany.

The Tornado replacement has been controversial for years. Washington has been lobbying Berlin to follow the example of other host nations and buy U.S. F-35 aircraft as the future nuclear weapons carrier.

France prefers a European approach, and it is jointly developing with Germany and Spain the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a sixth-generation fighter aircraft that will have a nuclear capability in the French Air Force. Germany’s selection of the F-18 was thus a political compromise which Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer presented as a “bridge solution” until the FCAS becomes operational after 2040. Germany plans to retire the Tornado between 2025 and 2030.

Kramp-Karrenbauer may have mishandled the process by not sufficiently consulting with SPD members in the parliament. She has conceded that the Bundestag would not need to make a decision until 2022 at the earliest and said that there would thus be “space for a debate” on the dual-capable aircraft decision in the campaign for the September 2021 parliamentary elections and negotiations on a new coalition government thereafter.

In a May 7 article in Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, Mützenich took up that invitation, saying that he would like “an open and honest debate about the rationale for nuclear sharing.” Social Democrats “are not calling for the immediate denuclearization of NATO,” but want to discuss the need “to spend billions on the procurement and maintenance of U.S. aircraft whose sole purpose is to drop American nuclear bombs,” he wrote.

Katja Keul, spokeswoman on disarmament policy for the Green party, told Arms Control Today in a May 14 interview that the Greens “do not want to put Germany on a path of continued involvement in technical sharing arrangements by committing to the procurement of a new nuclear-capable aircraft now.” Based on current polls, many expect the Greens to be part of Germany’s next government.

Keul, like other proponents of change, separated Germany’s role as a host nation from the continued participation in NATO political bodies associated with nuclear sharing, such as the Nuclear Planning Group. By contrast, those who have argued in favor of preserving the nuclear status quo have often conflated technical and political dimensions of sharing arrangements, equating the end of forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons with a denuclearization of the alliance or even the end of deterrence.

The idea that NATO’s consultative mechanisms provide Berlin with influence on the policies of its nuclear allies has always been a key rationale for German involvement in them.

But Mützenich argued that this concept of Mitsprache is no more than a “long-held pious hope,” arguing that “non-nuclear powers do not have any influence on the nuclear strategy, let alone when it comes to the deployment options of nuclear powers.” He cited the U.S. withdrawals from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as well as the “reorientation of U.S. nuclear weapons as a means of conducting warfare,” as examples of recent Trump administration decisions that contravene European interests.

Roderich Kiesewetter, CDU spokesman for the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Arms Control Today on May 12 that NATO’s unique nuclear sharing arrangements are important because they “guarantee trust in the extended nuclear umbrella and thus avoid nuclear proliferation in the European theater.” But he added that “it would be naive to believe that a U.S. president would grant Europeans influence on U.S. nuclear strategy or a more general say on the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in conflict.”

By contrast, Richard A. Grenell, U.S. ambassador in Berlin, in a May 14 opinion piece in Die Welt claimed that “Germany’s participation in nuclear share ensures that its voice matters.”

In dozens of commentaries, conservative decision-makers, analysts, and pundits have accused withdrawal proponents of weakening NATO cohesion. In an obvious aside to his party colleague Mützenich, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on May 4 that one-sided steps “weaken our alliances.” Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, in a May 15 tweet suggested that “if Germany wants to diminish nuclear capability and weaken NATO, perhaps Poland—which pays its fair share, understands the risks, and is on NATO’s eastern flank—could house the capabilities.”

In fact, there is broad agreement in Berlin that “it is important to bring this debate to the European level and to discuss it with NATO partners,” Gabriela Heinrich, deputy leader of the SPD Parliamentary Group, told Arms Control Today on May 13.

But different preferences exist on the direction and structure of a discussion with alliance partners. Keul said the Greens want “Germany to push for a new consensus in NATO that would pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. That would be our plan A.” She cautioned that “because such a consensus will be difficult to achieve, our plan B would be to ask for understanding that Germany will end the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory once the Tornado reaches the end of its lifetime.”

Kiesewetter pointed out that “it matters who is the sender of messages on nuclear issues across the Atlantic.” He suggested that, “to avoid the impression of unilateralism, the five nuclear host nations should first among themselves discuss what their position on the future of nuclear sharing is.” Then, Kiesewetter said, “we should also consult with central and eastern European countries what package of non-nuclear defense and deterrence measures might provide complimentary reassurances and can be an effective deterrent to Russia.”

Like others, Keul believes that “the future of nuclear sharing should certainly be on the agenda of the NATO experts group” established by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at end of March. Kiesewetter agrees that “we need an informed debate, including by experts, on the future of nuclear sharing arrangements.” The group, co-chaired by former U.S. diplomat A. Wess Mitchell and former German Defense Minister Lothar de Maizière, is to discuss NATO’s political role. Heinrich suggested that it would also be “useful if the experts include civil society in their deliberations.”

Heinrich said that “there is no pressure to bring the debate on nuclear sharing to a quick conclusion,” predicting that it would be an issue in the next federal election. Another waypoint in the debate might be the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. Mützenich stated that he is opposed to “replacing the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Büchel with new atomic warheads,” referring to U.S. plans to deploy new B61-12 weapons sometime after 2022.

Some leaders question the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on German territory.

Open Skies Treaty Pullout An Irresponsible National Security Misstep, Warn Experts and Former Officials

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For Immediate Release: May 21, 2020

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—The Trump administration reportedly will announce that it intends to pull the United States out of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, a valuable arms control and security agreement intended to reduce risks to the United States and its European allies.

“The Open Skies Treaty has helped preserve the post-Cold War peace. It allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another’s territory. This helps preserve a measure of transparency and trust, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict,” says Thomas Countryman, the former U.S. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and now chair of the board of the Arms Control Association.

“A unilateral U.S. exit from Open Skies would undermine our security and that of our European allies, all of whom strongly support the treaty,” Countryman added. “It has the effect—and perhaps this is the intention—of signaling a diminished U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.”

“U.S. and allied treaty flights over Russia provide valuable information about Russian military activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict in Europe,” says Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association director for disarmament and threat reduction policy. "The treaty has been an especially important tool in responding to Russia's aggression against Ukraine." 

“There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for maintaining U.S. participation in Open Skies,” Reif notes. “The administration’s announcement of withdrawal is a slap in the face to Congress as it violates notification requirements written into law last year.”

The administration told reporters the formal notification of withdrawal would be effective immediately and the withdrawal itself will take effect in six months. However, such action violates Sec. 1234 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the administration to notify Congress 120 days ahead of a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw.

The Trump administration cites Russian noncompliance as a motivating factor for its decision. Disputes have arisen because Russia has imposed a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, refused access to observation flights along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denied planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

However, Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year that was not subjected to the earlier Russian restrictions. In addition, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said March 2 that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.”

As President Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote in October 2019 in the Wall Street Journal: “As with any treaty, implementation disputes arise. Current disagreements are related to underlying territorial and political issues between Russia and some of its neighbors. But these problems can be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

“Today’s announcement is part of a troubling pattern. The Open Skies Treaty is not the first, and may not be the last, nuclear or conflict risk reduction agreement this administration has withdrawn from without a viable strategy for replacement,” observes Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“Failure to take up Russia’s offer to extend by five years the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the administration has threatened to do, would compound the damage and further heighten the risk of unconstrained military and nuclear competition between the United States and Russia at a time when the world can ill afford it,” he warns.

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The treaty allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory, helping preserve a measure of transparency and trust and enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

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European Powers Should Renew Effort to Bring the United States and Iran Back Into Compliance with 2015 Nuclear Deal

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For Immediate Release: Jan. 14, 2020

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom announced Tuesday that they are triggering the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal to respond to Iran’s breaches of key nuclear limits.

We urge the three European governments to redouble their efforts to restore full implementation of the nuclear deal by all parties and to prevent the collapse of this effective nonproliferation agreement.

Triggering the dispute resolution mechanism is the latest consequence of the Trump administration’s reckless Iran policy. Iran’s decision to breach limits on its nuclear program put in place by the deal is an unfortunate but unsurprising response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s irresponsible choice in 2018 to reimpose sanctions on Iran in violation of the agreement and his administration’s aggressive campaign to deny Tehran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the accord.

While Iran’s violations of the accord are serious, they are reversible and they do not suggest, as some have alleged, that Iran is dashing to acquire a nuclear bomb.

It is critical that the remaining parties to the JCPOA use the dispute resolution mechanism to restore rather than undermine confidence in the nuclear deal. The effort spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron to return the United States and Iran to compliance with the accord and commit both sides to negotiations on a range of issues, including a long-term framework to guide Iran’s nuclear program, is a pragmatic and viable option that addresses concerns in both Tehran and Washington.

The dispute resolution mechanism is outlined in the main text of the JCPOA (paragraphs 36-37). Any party to the deal can trigger the dispute resolution mechanism to address an allegation of noncompliance with the accord’s obligations.

By triggering the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism, the three European parties to the nuclear deal increase the risk that UN Security Council sanctions on Iran will be reimposed. Snapping back UN sanctions lifted by the JCPOA would collapse the deal and could lead to an unrestrained Iranian nuclear program subject to far less intrusive monitoring than is required under the nuclear agreement. This would create a new nuclear crisis that undermines international security and further increases the risk of war.

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While Iran’s violations of the accord are serious, they are reversible and they do not suggest, as some have alleged, that Iran is dashing to acquire a nuclear bomb.

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France Seeks Dialogue on Post-INF Treaty Arms Control


January/February 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron has rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a global U.S.-Russian moratorium on deploying intermediate-range missiles, but emphasized that Paris remains open to dialogue with Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after their meeting in Paris in November 2019. Macron has expressed a desire for European nations to become more involved in nuclear arms control.  (Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images)“We did not accept the moratorium offered by Russia, but we considered that we should not just ignore it because it was open for discussion,” Macron said at a Nov. 28 press conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It is in France’s interest, he said, to discuss such matters of security in a dialogue with Russia. NATO previously rejected Putin’s proposal in September, calling it not “credible.” (See ACT, October 2019.)

Macron also argued that Europe must be involved in any potential agreement that might replace the INF Treaty. “We cannot leave our security into the hands of a bilateral treaty to which no European country would be part of,” Macron stated.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Dec. 4 that Moscow supported Macron’s argument that Europe must be involved in the talks for any replacement arms control agreement. A day later, Putin commented in a meeting with defense officials that, apart from Macron, “[t]here is no response from our other partners. This forces us to take measures to counter these threats.”

At the end of the NATO leaders meeting Dec. 4 in London, the heads of state issued a declaration stating, “We are addressing and will continue to address in a measured and responsible way Russia’s deployment of new intermediate-range missiles, which brought about the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and which pose significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.”—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

France Seeks Dialogue on Post-INF Treaty Arms Control

Assessing the Risk Posed by Iran’s Violations of the Nuclear Deal

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Volume 11, Issue 9
Updated January 29, 2020

(This issue brief was originally published December 17, 2019. It was updated to reflect Iran's fifth breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.)

Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in May 2019 that Tehran would reduce compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has breached limits imposed by the agreement every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

Under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (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. United Nations Security Council also endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231 (2015), which lifted UN sanctions on Iran and levied restrictions on Iranian conventional arms and ballistic missile transfers.

Despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the multilateral agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. A White House press release issued May 8, 2018, condemned the Iran deal and cited Iran’s “malign behavior” and its support for regional proxies as an impetus for the U.S. withdrawal. Trump also ordered the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA, violating U.S. obligations under the accord. Since May 2018, the Trump administration continues to aggressively deny Iran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal and is pressing the P4+1 to join Washington’s pressure campaign.

The P4+1 continues to support the JCPOA and engage in efforts to maintain legitimate trade with Iran, but the extraterritorial nature of the U.S. sanctions eliminated most of the benefits to Tehran envisioned by the deal. The P4+1’s failure to deliver on sanctions relief in the year after Trump’s announcement drove Rouhani to announce that Iran would begin violating the JCPOA, and would continue to breach limits every 60 days, until oil sales, banking transactions, and other areas of commerce were restored.

Since Rouhani’s announcement in May 2019, Iran has breached JCPOA limits on uranium enrichment, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and stockpile size. When announcing the fifth breach in January 2020, Iran stated that its uranium enrichment program no longer faced any restrictions. To date, the actions Iran has taken in violation of the JCPOA appear to be calculated steps designed to increase pressure on the P4+1 to deliver on sanctions relief and are not indicative of a dash to a nuclear bomb. While concerning, the breaches do not pose a near-term risk and are quickly reversible, supporting Rouhani’s assertion that Iran will return to compliance with the JCPOA if its conditions are met. Iran’s continued implementation of the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms put in place by the JCPOA further support the assessment that Iran is seeking leverage in negotiations with the P4+1 and is willing to return to compliance if its demands are met, not dashing for a bomb.

1) Breaching the Stockpile Limits on Enriched Uranium and Heavy Water

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared in a May 8 speech that Tehran would no longer observe JCPOA restrictions on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpile. Rouhani said the decision was a reaction to the U.S. reimposition of sanctions and that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation.”

The JCPOA caps Iran’s stockpile at “under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” 300 kilograms of UF6 equates to 202.8 kilograms of uranium (Annex I, Section A, para. 7).

On July 1, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, announced that Iran exceeded that limit. A report released by the IAEA on the same day verified that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 205.0 kilograms, constituting Tehran’s first breach of the JCPOA.

Iran has continued to grow its stockpile since first breaching the limit in July. Most recently, the IAEA reported in November that Iran’s stockpile had reached 372.3 kilograms of uranium enriched to less than 4.5 percent.

At present, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to pose a relatively low proliferation risk, and its breach of the JCPOA stockpile limits has only marginally shortened the one-year nuclear breakout time established by the deal. To manufacture one nuclear bomb, Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (under five percent uranium-235) and would then need to further enrich this material to weapons-grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235).

However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Salehi, has indicated that Iran intends to produce close to five kilograms of enriched uranium per day. If true, Iran’s stockpile could hit 1,050 kilograms in less than four months. The breakout time would be longer, however, as additional time would be needed to enrich the material to weapons-grade. The time it would take to reach weapons-grade would depend on how many centrifuges are use and the efficiency of the machines.

Iran did not breach the 130 metric ton heavy water limit until November. The IAEA reported Nov. 17 that Iran’s stockpile measured 131.5 metric tons. Heavy water, which contains the isotope deuterium, is used as a coolant in some types of reactors, including the Arak heavy water reactor currently under construction. Heavy water itself does not pose a proliferation risk. However, heavy water reactors are generally considered a proliferation-sensitive technology because they typically produce higher amounts of weapons-grade plutonium-239 in the spent fuel.

Both of the stockpile breaches are quickly reversible. Iran could easily blend down or ship out excess low-enriched uranium and sell or store overseas the excess heavy water.

If the 40-megawatt Arak reactor had been completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs on an annual basis. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to collaborate on rebuilding and modifying the Arak heavy water reactor to mitigate the proliferation risk. (Annex I, Section B) Under the modified design, the 20-megawatt reactor will run on low-enriched uranium, resulting in the production of about a quarter of the plutonium-239 necessary to produce a nuclear weapon on an annual basis. Tehran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years.

In January 2016 the IAEA verified that Iran had removed and cemented the original reactor core and has subsequently reported that Tehran has not resumed construction on the reactor based on its original design. Iran threatened in July 2019 to resume activities at the heavy water reactor based on the original design, but given that work modifying the reactor continues, there is no proliferation risk posed by Iran’s breaching of the heavy water stockpile limit at this time.

If the United States ends sanctions waivers allowing cooperative work on the Arak reactor to continue, Iran may follow through on its threat to abandon modifications and resume construction on the original design. If so, it would still take years for the reactor to become operational.

2) Breaching the Limit on Uranium Enrichment

Behrouz Kamalvandi, Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced July 7 that Iran would exceed the 3.67 percent uranium-235 enrichment level imposed by the JCPOA for 15 years. (Annex I, Section F, para. 28). On July 8, Kamalvandi told reporters that Iran began enriching uranium to about 4.5 percent uranium-235.

The IAEA verified that Iran was enriching uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) to greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235 at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant July 8, according to an agency report released that day.

The IAEA’s Nov. 11 report indicates that Iran’s enriched uranium remains at or below a 4.5 percent uranium-235 enrichment level, and that of Iran’s 372.3-kilogram low-enriched uranium stockpile, about 159.7 kilograms have exceeded the JCPOA-designated 3.67 percent enrichment limit.

The extent to which this modest increase in the enrichment level poses a proliferation risk is dependent upon how many centrifuges are used for higher-level enrichment and how much material is stockpiled.

Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope that occurs in only 0.07 percent of naturally occurring uranium. Uranium enrichment is a process through which natural uranium, which is 99.3 percent uranium-238, after conversion into gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6), is enriched to increase the concentrations of uranium-235. Uranium enriched to less than five percent is typically used to fuel nuclear power reactors.

A sophisticated uranium-based nuclear bomb requires approximately 12 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium (greater than 90 percent uranium-235). The IAEA uses 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium as the threshold for a “significant quantity,” and given that Tehran has never produced HEU for a bomb, this higher threshold is likely a more accurate estimate of what Iran might need if it chose to pursue a nuclear weapon.

A large stockpile of low-enriched uranium, once amassed, would shorten the time needed to enrich up to weapons-grade. The quantity that Iran has produced to date is not considered a near-term proliferation risk. Though provocative, this breach is easily reversible and did not substantially shorten the one-year window of time that it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

3) Abandoning Limits on Advanced Centrifuges

On Sept. 5 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that “all of our commitments for research and development under the JCPOA will be completely removed by Friday.”

Under the nuclear deal, for 10 years, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is limited to output from 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. The deal allows for Iran to continue research and development (R&D) on a limited number of advanced machines for the first 10 years, so long as such activities do not contribute to an accumulation of enriched uranium.

Specifically, for 10 years after implementation (or until the year 2025), Iran is permitted to conduct R&D on a specified number of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 model centrifuges. R&D on cascades of up to 30 IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges is only permitted 8.5 years after the deal’s implementation (Section G, para. 35-37).

The IAEA verified on Sept. 7 that Iran had installed or was in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, 30 IR-6 centrifuges, and three IR-6s centrifuges. On Sept. 8, Iran alerted the Agency of its intention to install piping to accommodate two cascades: one of 164 Ir-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges.

On Sept. 25, the IAEA observed that three cascades: one of 20 IR-4 centrifuges, one of 10 IR-6 centrifuges, and one of 20 IR-6 centrifuges “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium.” The IAEA also reported that the installation of 164 IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing. The IAEA later verified in November that operational cascades of 164 IR-2m and 164 IR-4 centrifuges were accumulating enriched uranium.

In October, Iran alerted the IAEA of its intention to install additional advanced machines, including new IR-7, IR-8, IR-9, and IR-s model centrifuges. Iran is permitted under the JCPOA to develop new machines using computer modeling but requires approval from the body set up by the accord to oversee its implementation before testing. Iran does not appear to have obtained that permission. Tehran indicated that these new machines, once installed, would be used to further accumulate enriched uranium.

Taken together, Iran’s actions breached both the R&D testing limitations and the prohibition on accumulating enriched uranium from advanced machines imposed by the JCPOA.

With advanced machines, Iran can enrich uranium faster and more efficiently. However, Iran’s initial introduction of a limited number of advanced machines for research and for low-enriched uranium production did not, by itself, constitute a near-term proliferation risk. Similar to Iran’s earlier steps to breach the accord, this action is also quickly reversible, should Iran choose to return to compliance with the accord. Iran will have gained knowledge about advanced centrifuge performance that cannot be reversed, but the advanced machines can be quickly dismantled and put in storage under IAEA seal.

Whether enrichment using advanced machines will pose a long-term proliferation risk is dependent upon the number of machines used and their efficiency, the level of enrichment, and the amount of enriched uranium accumulated. It appears that Iran intends to continue installing and operating advanced machines, but the efficiency of the advanced models is not reported by the IAEA.

The introduction of additional advanced centrifuges, coupled with enrichment to levels higher than 4.5 percent uranium-235 or resulting in a substantial accumulation of low-enriched uranium, would pose a heightened proliferation risk. At present, however, due to the relatively small size of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile and the small number of operating advanced centrifuges, enrichment using these models does not significantly shorten the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

4) Resuming Enrichment at Fordow

Rouhani announced Nov. 5 that Iranian technicians would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into centrifuges at the Fordow facility. Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran would enrich uranium using 696 of the IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow and use the remaining 348 for the production of stable isotopes. Iran requested that the IAEA monitor the resumption of enrichment.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct uranium enrichment only at the Natanz Enrichment Facility. Fordow, where Iran once enriched uranium up to 20 percent uranium-235, is to be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center in accordance with the deal (Annex I, Section H). The deal requires the P5+1 to assist Iran with the conversion and the Russian nuclear energy company, Rosatom, was working with Tehran on stable isotope production.

According to a Nov. 11 IAEA report, a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) was transferred from Natanz to Fordow Nov. 6. On Nov. 9, the Agency verified that Iran had fed UF6 into two cascades of IR-1 centrifuges and commenced uranium enrichment at Fordow.

The IAEA reported that Iran continues to comply with intrusive agency inspection and verification practices. If Iran increases uranium enrichment at Fordow or begins enrichment to levels greater than 4.5 percent, inspectors will quickly detect the deviations.

Enrichment at Fordow contributes to Iran’s growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the slowly decreasing window of time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. But similar to the earlier steps, it is quickly reversible.

While the increased enrichment capacity at Fordow does not pose a near-term risk, the international community considers the Fordow facility to pose a greater proliferation risk than Natanz because Fordow is nestled deep within a mountainous range and its location renders it relatively invulnerable to a military strike. While military action would only set Iran’s program back several years and would likely encourage Tehran to openly pursue nuclear weapons, U.S. presidents have repeatedly stated that the military option is on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

While Iran has stated its intention to continue isotope production at Fordow, it is unclear if that work will go forward. After the breach, the U.S. Treasury terminated a sanctions waiver that allowed Rosatom to work with Iran on the Fordow facility conversion. On Dec. 9, Rosatom formally suspended nuclear cooperation with Iran, citing technical issues impeding collocated stable isotope production and uranium enrichment.

5) Abandoning Operational Restrictions

Iran announced Jan. 5 that its nuclear program will no longer be subject to “any operational restrictions” put in place by the JCPOA and that going forward Iran’s activities will be based on its “technical needs.” Zarif, however, specified that Iran will continue to fully cooperate with the IAEA, indicating that Tehran intends to abide by the additional monitoring and verification requirements put in place by the JCPOA. Zarif also said that, like the prior four breaches, the Jan. 5 measures are reversible if its demands on sanctions relief are met.

The extent to which this fifth violation increases the proliferation risk posed by the Iran’s nuclear program depends on how Iran operationalizes the announcement. Unlike prior breaches, Tehran did not provide specific details as to what steps it planned to take that would violate JCPOA limits. The Jan. 5 statement referenced the cap on operating centrifuges as the “last key component” of the nuclear deal’s restrictions that Iran was adhering to, suggesting that Tehran will breach the limit on installed IR-1 machines enriching uranium.

Under the JCPOA, Iran’s uranium enrichment is limited to 5,060 first generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz facility (Section A, para. 1-7). The nuclear deal also permitted Iran to keep 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow for isotope research and production. The IAEA confirmed in November that Tehran was still abiding by these limits on installed IR-1 centrifuges (as noted above Iran is enriching uranium at Fordow using some of the machines at that site in violation of the 15 year prohibition set by the deal, but the IAEA has not reported that Iran installed any machines in excess of the permitted 1,044 IR-1s).

Prior to the JCPOA, Iran had installed about 18,000 IR-1 centrifuges, of which about 10,200 were enriching uranium, and about 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges, none of which were operational. Fordow housed about 2,700 of the IR-1 machines, of which 700 were enriching uranium. The remaining machines, including the IR-2s, were installed at Natanz. The JCPOA required Iran to dismantle excess machines and store them at Natanz under IAEA monitoring.

Iran’s statement that its nuclear program will now be guided by “technical needs” provides little insight into how many additional centrifuges Tehran may choose to install and operate in violation of the JCPOA’s limits, or if Iran will take other steps to further violate restrictions breached in 2019. Iran has no need for enriched uranium at this time; its nuclear power reactor at Bushehr is fueled by Russia and the JCPOA ensures that Iran will have access to 20 percent enriched uranium fuel for its research reactor. The Trump administration has continued to waive sanctions allowing the transfer of reactor fuels.

The ambiguity of Iran’s announcement gives Tehran considerable flexibility in calibrating its response. Slowly installing and bringing online additional IR-1 centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to less than five percent would keep Iran on its current trajectory of transparently chipping away at the 12 month breakout established by the JCPOA. This action would also be quickly reversible as Tehran could shut down excess machines in a relatively short time and then dismantle them to return to compliance with the agreement.

If Iran wants to ratchet up pressure more quickly, Tehran could further increase its enrichment level beyond 4.5 percent uranium-235, or more rapidly accumulate a large amount of low-enriched uranium. These steps would decrease more rapidly the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon and increase the proliferation threat.

The E3’s Decision to Trigger the Dispute Resolution Mechanism

The remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the EU) responded to Iran’s first four violations by condemning Tehran’s actions, but continuing to express support for the JCPOA. After the fifth violation, however, the E3 triggered the dispute resolution mechanism laid out in the JCPOA to address issues of noncompliance.

According to the process laid out in the JCPOA,

  • The Joint Commission, which is set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation and is comprised of the parties to the deal, will have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus. (It appears that the parties have already agreed to extend the time period, as the dispute resolution mechanism was triggered in January and the Joint Commission is not set to meet until mid-February.)
  • If the Joint Commission fails to address the issue, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the participating states have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus.
  • Instead of, or in parallel to the Ministerial Review, an advisory board can be appointed to provide a non-binding opinion on how to address the allegation of noncompliance. The board will be comprised of three members, one appointed by each side of the dispute and a third independent member. The advisory panel has 15 days to deliver an opinion and the Joint Commission then has five days to consider it.
  • If, at the end of the process, the dispute is not resolved, the complaining party can notify the UN Security Council. The Security Council then has 30 days to adopt a resolution to continue lifting the UN sanctions. Failure to pass such a resolution snaps UN sanctions back into place.

The E3 have made clear that their intention is to resolve the dispute and preserve the JCPOA, so it is unlikely that they intend to refer the matter to the Security Council. Referral to the Security Council is almost certain to snapback of UN sanctions, which would collapse the deal.

The E3 calculus could change, however, if Iran reduces compliance with inspections or takes steps that significantly increase the proliferation risk posed by the nuclear program, such as resuming enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235 and stockpiling that material. These actions would increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and further negate the security benefits that the deal provides to Europe.

Iran threatened to pull out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the E3 refer Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA to the Security Council. This step would be a significant escalation that would only isolate Iran and subject the country to international pressure. Even states such as China and Russia, which opposed the E3’s decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism and the U.S. pressure campaign, would likely join efforts to pressure Iran back into the NPT.

Implications Going Forward

While any breach of the JCPOA is concerning, Iran’s current nuclear activities do not pose a near-term proliferation risk. Though the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon is slowly decreasing, the JCPOA imposes a permanent prohibition on weaponization activities. Tehran also continues to comply with the IAEA’s intrusive monitoring and verification safeguards, including the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, allowing the agency to ensure with a high degree of confidence that fissile materials are not being diverted for weapons production and giving inspectors access to any site to investigate evidence of illicit activity.

While Iran’s systematic breaches of the JCPOA limitations are serious violations of the agreement, the objectives of the deal itself remain uncompromised. Iran’s nuclear program is, at present, exclusively peaceful, and poses far less of a proliferation risk than it did in 2013 when Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas was more than 7,000 kilograms and it would have taken just 2-3 months for Tehran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb. This gives the remaining parties to the deal time to continue working with Tehran to bring Iran back into compliance with the deal.

However, taken together and placed in the context of Tehran’s mounting dissatisfaction with the P4+1’s failure to offer relief promised under the JCPOA, a growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium, increased output from advanced centrifuges, and additional, fortified, enrichment facilities are cause for concern. Having already breached many of the explicit limitations and restrictions designated by the JCPOA, Iran’s next step to breach the deal in early January will likely compound the severity of its violations and jeopardize the future of the deal.

A collapsed JCPOA would have severe implications for regional stability and international security. Dissolution of the JCPOA would significantly compromise the likelihood of Iran engaging in future nuclear nonproliferation agreements and could also spur other states in the region to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Without the deal, the international community could be faced with a similar crisis to that which prompted JCPOA negotiations. It is critical that the remaining parties to the JCPOA continue efforts to deliver on sanctions relief envisioned by the deal and press Iran and the United States to return to compliance with their obligations.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

 

 

Description: 

Since May 2019, Iran has breached limits imposed by the JCPOA every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

Country Resources:

Abandonment of Open Skies Treaty Would Undermine U.S. and European Security

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For Immediate Release: October 9, 2019

Media ContactsKingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from yet another key arms control treaty: the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. If President Trump decides to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty, it would undermine the security of the United States and European allies, including Ukraine, say leading arms control and national security experts.

The Open Skies Treaty entered into force in 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. The treaty allows for information-sharing that increases transparency about military forces among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.

The treaty allows aerial imaging through short-notice, unarmed observation flights over each other's entire territory. The flights allow observing parties to identify significant military equipment, such as artillery, fighter aircraft, and armored combat vehicles. Open Skies aircraft can only be equipped with cameras verifiably limited to a resolution below state-of-the-art technology, and the treaty disallows the collection of any other electromagnetic signals. The 34 states-parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the collected information available to all treaty parties.

Since entering into force, the United States has conducted almost 200 flights over Russian territory. Russia has carried out more than 70 flights over U.S. territory. U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection.

National security officials, members of Congress, and arms control experts are warning the Trump administration that withdrawal would be "reckless" and would reduce the ability of the United States and European allies to monitor and counter Russian aggression against Ukraine.


QUICK QUOTES

"The Open Skies Treaty provides information about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies and provides the Russians with insight on our capabilities. Such transparency reduces uncertainty and the risk of conflict and miscalculations due to worst-case assumptions."
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

"U.S. flights over Ukraine and western Russia have yielded valuable data, easily shared between allies. The flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners."
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


RESOURCES


EXPERTS AVAILABLE IN WASHINGTON

To schedule an interview with or appearance by an expert on U.S-Russian arms control agreements, please contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, (202) 463-8270 ext 110.

  • Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

  • Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Department of State, and member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (571) 264-7053

  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], 202-277-3478
Description: 

The treaty provides transparency about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners, note arms control experts.

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