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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Iran

Iran Takes Another Step Away from Compliance with the JCPOA, Experts Available

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For Immediate Release: September 5, 2019

Media ContactsKingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Thomas Countryman, board chair, 301-312-3445; Daryl Kimball, executive director, 202-277-3478

Iran is poised to take a third step away from compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in retaliation to the U.S. withdrawal from the deal in May 2018 and phased re-imposition of sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 4 ordered the atomic energy organization of Iran “to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development.” He referred to “expansions in the field of research and development, centrifuges, different types of new centrifuges, and whatever we need for enrichment.”

The atomic energy organization is scheduled to detail the specific steps that will be taken on Saturday, Sept. 7.

Iran earlier this summer announced that it would renege on its commitments to increase the low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium and enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent level.

Iran’s latest step away from the deal comes after the U.S. government apparently rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron to extend Iran a $15 billion line of credit guaranteed by future Iranian oil sales in return for Iran’s return to compliance with the JCPOA and a return to negotiations on regional security and the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

Brian Hook, the State Department coordinator on Iran, told reporters on Sept. 4 that “We can't make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers.”

QUICK QUOTES

“The most responsible path forward is for Iran to exercise restraint and for all parties to return to full compliance with the JCPOA and agree to open follow-on negotiations to address issues of mutual concern.” – Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

“It would be a self-defeating and counterproductive mistake for the Trump administration to reject the plan proposed by President Macron to salvage the JCPOA, retain the strong limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and create the opportunity for further dialogue. The administration’s rejection of this proposal is further confirmation that it is not serious about diplomacy with Iran.” – Thomas Countryman, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and chair of the ACA board of directors

“While Iran’s decision to breach a third JCPOA nuclear limit does not pose a near-term proliferation risk, it is worrisome and could be followed by more serious steps if the United States continues to reject reasonable offers for dialogue and for easing tensions. Iran has indicated that it is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA but is seeking leverage to counter the U.S. maximum pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran the sanctions relief it was promised as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.” – Daryl G. Kimball, executive director 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

EXPERTS AVAILABLE IN WASHINGTON

  • Kingston Reif, ​Director for ​D​​​​isarmamen​​t and ​T​h​​reat ​R​e​​d​​uction​ ​Policy​, ​[email protected], 202-463-8270 ext. 104
  • Thomas Countryman, former​ ​Acting​ ​U​nder ​S​ecret​​ary of ​​S​tate for​ ​Arms​ ​Control and ​International ​S​ecur​​ity, and ​​Chair of the Board for the Arm​​s Control Association, [email protected], 301-312-3445
  • Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, [email protected], 202-277-3478

Or contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext. 110 / 202-213-6856 (mobile) to schedule an interview.

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While Iran’s decision to breach a third JCPOA nuclear limit does not pose a near-term proliferation risk, it is worrisome and could be followed by more serious steps if the United States continues to reject reasonable offers for dialogue and for easing tensions.

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Iran Crosses Nuclear Caps as U.S. Builds Pressure


September 2019
By Barbara Slavin

Iran has begun to breach some limits of the 2015 multilateral agreement to curb its nuclear activities as the United States continues its “maximum pressure” campaign by ratcheting up sanctions, including by restricting U.S. travel for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) meets UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at United Nations headquarters on July 18. In new sanctions, the United States has limited Zarif's travel, but will allow him to attend UN meetings in New York. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)After its 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Washington has sought to curtail Iran’s oil exports, but only after the United States announced that it sought to bring those exports down to zero, did Iran begin to exceed some of the deal’s restrictions. Iran contends that the JCPOA allows it to selectively reduce compliance if Iran does not receive the benefits promised under the deal. Iran has begun to enrich uranium to levels slightly higher than the 3.67 percent called for in the JCPOA and is also exceeding limits on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. As of August 19, Iran had 357 kilograms of enriched uranium, 57 kilograms above the limit. The government has said that it will continue to take steps that breach the accord every 60 days if the current stalemate continues.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced July 31 that it was placing Zarif on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. The unprecedented action against Zarif, who led Iran’s delegation to the two-year JCPOA talks, had been threatened for some time but still surprised many in the nonproliferation community. The sanctions, which could interfere with Zarif’s freedom of movement, appeared to reflect frustration on the part of the Trump administration that Iran has not agreed to new talks while US sanctions remain in full force. A report in The New Yorker by long-time Iran expert Robin Wright said the decision to penalize Zarif came after he rebuffed an invitation to meet President Donald Trump in the Oval Office that had been conveyed to the Iranian in New York in mid-July by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The official announcement designating Zarif made no mention of such an offer. “Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s supreme leader, and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when announcing the July 31 sanction. “At the same time the Iranian regime denies Iranian citizens’ access to social media, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spreads the regime’s propaganda and disinformation around the world.”


 

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Iranian officials rallied around Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani called the U.S. action “childish.” Rouhani has said Iran is willing to have “just and respectful negotiations,” but that the country will not “surrender” to pressure. Iranian officials have told Arms Control Today that they would be willing to meet with the United States but only if the Trump administration first takes steps to allow Iran to export oil and receive compensation as required by the JCPOA. Rouhani repeated this in rejecting an offer relayed by French President Emmanuel Macron, to meet with President Trump.

On Aug. 5, Iran said it would give Europe one more month to activate a non-dollar trading mechanism or it would continue to take unspecified steps to exceed restrictions in the JCPOA. This mechanism, known as INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) suffered another blow when the German diplomat designated to head it pulled out from consideration because of remarks defending Iran’s ballistic missile program.

While eliminating permission for other nations to purchase Iranian oil, the Trump administration has taken a different path with other waivers. On July 31, it extended waivers for the remaining JCPOA parties to continue cooperation with Iran on converting the Arak and Fordow facilities in ways that would make them more proliferation resistant. National Security Advisor John Bolton stressed, however, that the extension was for 90 days only, strongly implying that they would be not be renewed again.

The next opportunity for multilateral talks will come when the UN General Assembly convenes for its annual meeting in late September. Although Rouhani and Zarif are expected to attend, there is concern that Washington will delay issuing the required permission or take other steps that Iran would consider humiliating. Already, the United States has restricted Iranian officials in New York to three locations: their UN mission, the
UN headquarters itself, and the Iranian ambassador’s residence on Fifth Avenue. Such restrictions are clearly meant to interfere with the Iranians’ ability to meet with U.S. scholars, politicians and media.

Iran exceeds limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Impact: Iran Breaches Nuclear Deal

This blog post originally appeared on the U.S. Institute of Peace's " The Iran Primer ," July 8, 2019. Since July 1, Iran has engaged in two breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. On July 1, it increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram limit. On July 8, it increased enrichment from the limit of 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent. Iran had previously complied with the agreement, even after President Trump abandoned it in May 2018. What do Iran’s decisions mean for the future of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) ? Iran’s decision to breach the 300-kilogram limit...

Compliance with Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Norms Is Eroding, New Study Finds

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All nuclear weapons possessor states failed to make progress to reduce their nuclear arsenals; Key states’ records in nine of 10 nonproliferation & disarmament categories have deteriorated.

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—A new, 80-page study published by the Arms Control Association evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states, as well as several states of proliferation concern and finds that respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally-recognized obligations and commitments is eroding.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016-2019," is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition of the Arms Control Association’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Report Card covering the 2013–2016 period.

The study comprehensively evaluates the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possesses nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern, from 2016 through March 2019.

“Each of the states that possess nuclear weapons is taking steps to invest in new delivery systems and several are expanding the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines," noted Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of the report. "These trends increase the risk of nuclear weapons use,” she warned.

“Our review of actions—and inactions—by these 11 states suggest a worrisome trend away from long-standing, effective arms control and nonproliferation efforts," warned Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report. "By documenting the policies of these states over the last decade, we hope this report will demonstrate that support for critical nonproliferation and disarmament norms is eroding.”  

Several of the key findings include:

  • The United States and Russia: The overall grades for both the United States (C+) and Russia (C+) dropped, due partly to Russia’s violation of a key bilateral arms control treaty and the U.S. decision to withdraw from that treaty in response. Both states also expanded the circumstances under which they would use nuclear weapons and are investing in new, destabilizing delivery systems.
     
  • France and the United Kingdom: These two states received the highest overall grades (B) of the 11 states assessed, but neither country has taken steps during the period covered in this report to make additional nuclear force reductions.
     
  • China, India, and Pakistan: All three of these states are increasing the size of their nuclear arsenals and are investing in new nuclear-capable delivery systems. New missiles being developed and fielded by all three suggest that these countries are now storing warheads mated with certain missiles or moving toward that step, which increases the risk of use. China’s overall grade was a C+; India and Pakistan both scored C.
     
  • North Korea: North Korea scored the worst of the states assessed in this report with an overall grade of F. Pyongyang continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal and is the only state to have tested a nuclear weapon during the timeframe covered. However, North Korea continues to abide by a voluntary nuclear and missile testing moratorium declared in April 2018 and appears willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
     
  • Iran: Through the period covered by this report and until June 2019, Tehran continued to adhere to the restrictions on its nuclear activities put in place by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal over the course of this report, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement last year and its decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments. Iran, however, has transferred ballistic missile components in violation of international norms and Security Council restrictions, causing its overall grade to drop to C-.
     
  • Israel: Israeli actions over the past several years in support of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty earned it a higher grade on the nuclear testing criteria, but its inaction on the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and backsliding on negative security assurances caused its overall grade to drop to a C-.

The report reviews implementation and compliance with existing internationally-recognized obligations and commitments.

“The standards and benchmarks in our report do not necessarily represent our ideal strategy for addressing the nuclear weapons threat,” noted Davenport. “New and more ambitious multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament strategies will be needed to meet to future nuclear challenges,” she remarked.

Last week, the U.S. State Department convened a meeting involving more than three-dozen countries, including the five original nuclear weapon states, to discuss steps to improve the environment for nuclear disarmament.

“We hope this report card can serve as a tool to help hold states accountable to their existing commitments and encourage effective action needed to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. 

“We encourage all states who are serious about strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament enterprise to commit themselves to meet and exceed the existing goals and objectives to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger,” he urged.

The full report can be accessed at www.armscontrol.org/reports

Description: 

A new report details the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. 

Subject Resources:

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

With Further Nuclear Moves, Iran Seeks to Leverage Promised Sanctions Relief | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, July 9, 2019

With Further Nuclear Moves, Iran Seeks to Leverage Promised Sanctions Relief Iran announced July 8 that it has started enriching uranium at levels in excess of the limit of 3.67 percent uranium-235 set by the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The move is the second troubling retaliatory measure in two weeks by Iran to walk back its compliance with the JCPOA. Last week, Iran exceeded the 300-kilogram limit of its stockpile of low enriched uranium set by the JCPOA. Iran’s moves to curtail compliance with the JCPOA have long been expected. Iranian...

Seeing Red in Trump’s Iran Strategy


July/August 2019
By Eric Brewer and Richard Nephew

Since Iran’s May 2019 announcement that it would no longer abide by some nuclear restrictions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Trump administration has sought to push back against these moves by citing the imperative of the JCPOA’s constraints. The JCPOA created limits on Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle that mean Tehran would need a year to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb, and the agreement established enhanced transparency and inspector access throughout the entire fuel cycle.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks to reporters at the White House April 30. Bolton has linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons.  (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. push for Iran to adhere to the deal’s terms has drawn some international incredulity given how the United States withdrew from agreement in May 2018 while noisily alleging many JCPOA flaws. More subtly, the Trump administration has begun to lay the groundwork for what can be described as its first real redline for the nuclear program: that any reduction in Iran’s one-year breakout timeline, the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb, is unacceptable.

It is unclear how much reduction the administration would tolerate, what its response would be, and given President Donald Trump’s avowed preference for a deal and to avoid another conflict in the Middle East, whether it would be enforced at all. Yet, National Security Advisor John Bolton in late May linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons, which would suggest that a severe response, perhaps even military force, would be on the table to prevent Iran from a nuclear restart. At the very least, the United States is shifting the traditional definition of what is unacceptable from a weapon or having the ability to produce one quickly to any deviation from JCPOA baseline restrictions.

A renewed nuclear crisis with Iran is now likely. Not only would Iran’s announced steps from May shorten the breakout timeline, only modestly at the start, but Iran has set a deadline that expires in early July for the restart of other nuclear activities that might reduce the timeline considerably faster.

Nevertheless, Iran’s nuclear actions so far do not merit this redline or the military response that could follow, nor do they rise to the level of an unacceptable threat to the United States or its interests. Rather, they are a signal that, although some in the Trump administration believe otherwise, Iran will not consent to being pushed via sanctions without seeking leverage of its own.

To be fair to the Trump administration, there is some utility in setting out a clear marker for Iran as to what constitutes unacceptable nuclear behavior. In fact, one of the biggest concerns over Trump’s Iran policy thus far is that the Iranians have seen little clarity from the White House as to what the United States wants from Iran. U.S. objectives have varied over time and, depending on who is articulating the policy, have involved everything from regime change to a renegotiated JCPOA. It would be valuable to give Iran and the rest of the world a clearer sense of U.S. intentions, expectations, and the seriousness with which the United States would treat certain Iranian nuclear actions. A firm stance now could also potentially head off a more dangerous situation down the road, and for the Trump administration, there is a palpable desire to avoid being identified as the cause of this new nuclear crisis.

Despite these potential benefits, the particular redline that appears to be in the process of being established is profoundly unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous for four reasons.

Iran’s Restart Will Be Gradual

First, establishing the one-year breakout timeline as a redline makes little sense in terms of the nuclear program itself. The JCPOA was designed to give governments at least a year to mount a strategy to react if Iran started to exit its obligations and dash to a weapon. For this reason, the JCPOA built in restrictions on Iran’s centrifuges, its uranium stockpile, and spare parts and materials for the program, as well as intrusive transparency steps that ensure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community would quickly become aware of any deviation from Iran’s agreed steps.

Iran has said it will expand its enrichment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water and will consider additional steps as well, perhaps as soon as July 6. Iran’s decision to restart these nuclear activities will eventually erode the breakout time barrier of a year, but this will occur, at least at the start, relatively slowly and incrementally. The reasons are political and technical. Politically, Iran’s main goal is to regain negotiating leverage and force Europe to provide economic benefits or risk the deal falling apart, not to race to a bomb. As Iran has done in the past, it will likely calibrate the pace and scope of its nuclear activities based in part on how the international community responds.

From a technical standpoint, Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile will probably expand gradually. Iran has said it will exceed the JCPOA’s 300-kilogram limit by June 27, which IAEA reporting suggests would be a major increase in the pace of enrichment operations but not impossible. That said, even at the rate of enrichment that this would suggest, as much as 30 to 50 kilograms per month, it would take many months before Iran would have enough LEU, which would need further enrichment, for a bomb. Of course, enriching uranium further from its current level would be noticed by the IAEA and time consuming.

Iran’s buildup of heavy water is less concerning from a nuclear weapons perspective. Even if Iran fulfills its threat to abandon its JCPOA-mandated requirement to redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium in July, the path to actually completing and starting its old reactor design would be a long and uncertain one.

In early 2016, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had removed the core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Restoring the reactor to maximize its plutonium-production capability would be a lengthy process.  (Photo: President of the Islamic Republic of Iran)More worrying would be if Iran acts on its threat to increase enrichment levels as early as July. Depending on how high Iran goes, such as resuming enrichment to near 20 percent uranium-235, this could have a seriously adverse affect on Iran’s breakout timeline as this material accumulates. A U.S. decision to end sanctions waivers that allow Iran to import 20 percent-enriched fuel for its research reactor would make
it easy for Tehran publicly to justify higher enrichment.

Some of these steps are more concerning than others, but none would indicate a breakout, and they do not suggest that the world is facing an imminent Iranian nuclear weapons threat. Indeed, unless Iran starts to curb IAEA access, which in and of itself would be a major concern, all of these measures will be done in full view of inspectors, which is exactly how Iran wants it. There is time to resolve the crisis diplomatically before using military force. A year was judged to be a reasonable but not necessarily minimum amount of time to do so. Indeed, prior to the JCPOA, Iran only needed a few months to produce a bomb’s worth of material. Even then, the United States determined that it could stop an Iranian breakout with the use of force if necessary.

An Ambiguous Redline

Second, for this redline to work, Iran would have to know when it is nearing that threshold so that if it wants, it can refrain from doing so. Because Iran possessed a large LEU stockpile, not to mention its near 20 percent-enriched uranium, for many years prior to the JCPOA, Iran may not perceive its renewed possession of this material as now representing a casus belli for Washington. In fact, Israel even set a redline for Iran’s enrichment program that could be interpreted to permit up to 200 kilograms of near 20 percent-enriched uranium, suggesting that what Iran is presently doing is far below the Israeli threshold for action.

Moreover, breakout timelines are based on a range of assumptions, and even among U.S. allies, there was some ambiguity about those timelines as the JCPOA was negotiated. It is therefore unlikely that Iran and the United States would have a common definition of where that tipping point occurs. This presents a high risk of miscalculation.

Advocates of Trump’s redline approach may believe that this works to the U.S. advantage: by laying out extreme positions, Iran can be deterred from undertaking any nuclear expansion. This view, however, ignores two facts. First, Iran will judge what is tolerable to the West based on past experience, and higher levels and amounts of uranium may not be seen as such. Second, Iran’s perspectives on U.S. deterrence are informed by the full range of U.S. responses to Iranian behavior. With North Korea and Iran, Trump has a history of issuing grand yet vague threats and then not following through on them, a practice that is likely to undermine U.S. credibility on this redline. In addition, Trump’s own attempt to walk back his administration’s hawkish stance toward Iran in late April and early May with respect to the deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf has likely confused the Iranians. Offers to restart negotiations on a more limited slate of issues than U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “12 demands”—a list he laid out in May 2018 for Iran to fulfill, including elimination of its nuclear fuel cycle, severe restrictions on its missile program, and the end of its relationships with Hezbollah and other proxies—probably have done likewise. It certainly has led Iran to try to convince Trump that he is being manipulated into conflict via the “B team,” a term Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has used to describe those he says are war advocates, including Bolton, Emirati Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayad, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even in the likely event that this ploy fails, the dynamic means that Iran is unsure as to where the president stands in all of this. In such an atmosphere of confusion and ambiguity, dangerous mistakes can be made by both sides.

Fewer Peaceful Options

Of course, Trump administration officials and their advocates may stress that no one has mentioned the word “force” in any official capacity and that this is a conclusion being inappropriately drawn. Yet, the third problem with the redline approach being articulated is that Trump administration actions have reduced the scope of nonmilitary responses. Most options short of war have already been expended by this administration and arguably are why this predicament exists in the first place. This includes walking out of the JCPOA and reimposing and expanding sanctions.

Some additional sanctions could be imposed against Iran. Recent actions, such as designations of Iranian petrochemical companies and sectoral sanctions targeting other activities, such as Iran’s metal sector, may help U.S. sanctioners build momentum against Iran. Their value as a deterrent to Iran increasing its nuclear activities, however, is limited because the administration is already aggressively seeking to eliminate Iranian oil exports and has implemented widespread financial sanctions, which are far more damaging measures. If history is a guide, more pressure will likely cause Iran to accelerate its program if there is no realistic diplomatic off-ramp. At this point, Iran’s apparent calculus is that there is little more that Washington can do to punish Tehran from pushing back against the United States by rolling back its JCPOA commitments, at least in part and in stages. Iran sees very little difference between the sanctions pressure Washington is applying now and what more it could generate if Iran builds up its nuclear program. Without this perception, Iran would not have broken a year’s worth of restraint to act now.

The absence of specific and discrete response options for enforcing the redline runs the risk of creating a hollow commitment on the part of the United States. As the United States has learned to its chagrin in recent years, unenforced redlines carry risks and consequences. In this case, it would make it more difficult for the United States to deter Iranian nuclear threats that really do matter in the future. The United States would be ill advised to issue such pronouncements and fail to make good on the promises inherent within them. This is why setting appropriate, sober, and well-considered redlines, if redlines are set at all, is so imperative.

A Bigger Risk Ignored

Finally, although what Iran is doing to retaliate for the U.S. pressure campaign may ultimately create some breakout risk, a redline focused on protecting a one-year breakout timeline focuses on the wrong part of the problem. Iran’s most plausible and likely weapons development scenario would involve a covert program rather than relying exclusively on its known facilities and materials. Iran knows that IAEA oversight, enhanced by the JCPOA, enables rapid detection of any major steps toward breakout. Even if Iran is able to erode breakout time to the two-to-three-month range that predates the JCPOA, this is still sufficient time for the United States to detect and respond militarily, and Iran knows it.

For these reasons, the most important step the United States can take to prevent moves toward a nuclear weapon using the very facilities and materials about which Bolton is now concerned would be to ensure the transparency and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program that the JCPOA provides. These same transparency and monitoring tools that help detect a breakout can give confidence that Iran is not presently in possession of covert facilities and that they would be detected long before they can deliver a nuclear weapon.

A Better Approach

The United States does need to demonstrate its readiness to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. For this reason, showing a willingness to use all the means of U.S. power, including diplomacy, to prevent such an eventuality is reasonable and prudent. Indeed, diplomacy is the only means that the United States has employed in the last two decades that has proven capable of limiting Iran’s nuclear program to a significant degree and for a sustained period of time.

Trump has repeatedly said that he wants a better deal than the JCPOA. It is an ambition that people across the political spectrum can endorse, but it seems unlikely that a significantly better deal is available in the current climate. A better deal will not come from issuing ill-founded redlines that increase the risk of miscalculation while targeting the wrong threats. Rather, the Trump administration should invest itself in developing a realistic negotiating agenda and getting back to the table with Iran to avoid this crisis while it still can.
 


Eric Brewer is a fellow and deputy director of the Project on Nuclear Issues with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He served a decade in the U.S. intelligence community, including as deputy national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction with the National Intelligence Council. Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar with the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. He has held positions at the Department of Energy and Department of State and on the National Security Council.

The Trump administration’s apparent redline with Iran is unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous.

Iran Moves Toward Breaching Nuclear Limits


July/August 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran is moving closer to the limits on its nuclear program set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal after threatening in May to breach certain caps, but Tehran has not yet crossed those thresholds. The United States, however, has already accused Iran of violating the accord, an assertion disputed by other parties to the agreement.

Iranian workers smile at the nation’s newly opened heavy water production plant in Arak in 2006. Iran has moved closer to storing more heavy water than allowed by the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)Iran announced on May 8 that it would no longer adhere to stockpile limits for low-enriched uranium and heavy water set by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The announcement was a response to the U.S. decision in May 2018 to reimpose sanctions and withdraw from the agreement. (See ACT, June 2019.)

According to a May 31 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran moved closer to the caps on enriched uranium and heavy water set by the deal, but did not exceed them.

The agency reported that as of May 20, Iran had stockpiled 174 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235, which is less than the 202 kilograms permitted by the JCPOA. In its previous report in February, the IAEA reported that the stockpile was 168 kilograms.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on June 17 that Iran was quadrupling its uranium-enrichment capacity and would breach the limit set by the deal within 10 days.

Exceeding the limit of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent U-235 would reduce the so-called breakout time, or the time it takes Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon, but it does not pose an immediate risk. Currently, due to restrictions put in place by the nuclear deal, the United States estimates that timeline at 12 months.

Any reduction in the 12-month timeline will depend on how quickly Iran continues to enrich and stockpile uranium. Tehran would need to produce about 1,050 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 3.67 percent U-235 to produce enough weapons-grade material (more than 90 percent-enriched U-235) for one bomb.

Kamalvandi also said that Iran was increasing its production of heavy water and would exceed the JCPOA’s 130-metric-ton cap in two-and-a-half months. According to the IAEA, Iran had 125 metric tons as of May 26.

Heavy water is used to moderate the reactions that occur in certain types of reactors, including Iran’s unfinished reactor at Arak.

The IAEA also reported that Iran had installed 33 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, of which 10 are being tested with uranium, at its Natanz plant. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in April that Iran would install 20 additional IR-6 machines at the facility.

Past IAEA reports have not indicated the specific number of IR-6 centrifuges installed at the facility, but stated that Iran was conducting its research and development (R&D) activities using advanced centrifuges in accordance with a confidential plan submitted to the agency.

That language did not appear in the May report, which stated that technical discussions on the IR-6 centrifuges are “ongoing.”

Citing the number of installed IR-6 centrifuges, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said on June 11 that Iran “is now reported to be in clear violation of the deal.” Other countries still party to the agreement argue that Iran’s actions fall into a gray area not explicitly covered by the accord.

According to the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct mechanical testing on up to two IR-6 centrifuges and can test with uranium using “single centrifuge machines and its intermediate cascades.” Iran cannot withdraw any enriched material from the centrifuges.

The deal does not specify what constitutes an intermediate cascade, but states that, after eight-and-a-half years, or beginning in July 2024, Iran can “commence testing” of up to 30 IR-6 centrifuges.

Additional detail is likely found in the confidential R&D plan that Iran submitted to the IAEA. Alleged copies of the plan leaked in 2016 suggest that Iran can test about 10 IR-6 centrifuges for the first four years of the deal and then move to a cascade of 20 machines until year eight and a half, when it is permitted to test up to 30.

It does not appear to be clear in either the nuclear deal or leaked copies of the R&D plan how far ahead of those time frames Iran is permitted to install the additional IR-6 machines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 6 that inspectors have not found “a single violation” of Iran’s nuclear commitments.

An official from a country party to the JCPOA told Arms Control Today on June 13 that Tehran is “pushing the limits” of the deal but the IR-6 installation is not likely a violation. The official said that it is for the JCPOA Joint Commission to “resolve any ambiguities or compliance questions” and it is premature for states to make judgments on the IR-6 dispute before the commission can consider the issue.

The commission was set up to oversee implementation of the deal and resolve any compliance issues. It is comprised of the parties to the deal, so the United States is no longer a participant. The next commission meeting is scheduled for June 28.

Wolcott said the commission is “treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.”

 

Iran Rejects Trump Outreach

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rebuffed a message from U.S. President Donald Trump in June, saying he would not send a response because Trump is not “deserving to exchange messages with.”

Trump’s message was delivered to Khamenei by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Tehran on June 12-13. The content of the message has not been disclosed, but Khamenei told Abe that Iran believes that its “problems will not be solved by negotiating” with the United States and that there is no sense in talking with Washington after the United States has “thrown away everything that was agreed upon,” referring to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal in
May 2018.

During a May 27 visit to Tokyo, Trump supported Abe’s decision to travel to Tehran and said he is “not looking to hurt Iran at all” and that he thinks “we’ll make a deal.”

On June 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “prepared to engage in a conversation [with Iran] with no preconditions.”

Since then, tensions between the United States and Iran have increased. The United States accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. Iran denied that it was behind the attack, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggested that a foreign country might have conducted the attack and is trying to blame Iran.

Iranian officials did publicly acknowledge shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone on June 20. Iran claimed that the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace, but the United States argued that the drone was in international airspace.

Trump sent mixed messages in response to Iran shooting down the drone. He tweeted on June 20 that “Iran made a very big mistake!” Later in the day, Trump said that he found it “hard to believe” that Iran’s action was intentional. The Trump administration discussed a possible retaliatory strike, but Trump said on June 21 that he did not give final approval for military action.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also visited Tehran recently. In a June 9 press conference with Zarif, Maas said that Germany remains committed to finding solutions that provide Iran with the economic benefits envisioned by the nuclear deal, but admitted that “we can’t perform miracles.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in May that Iran will return to compliance with the nuclear deal and refrain from further actions to breach the accord, currently planned for early July, if Europe, Russia, and China can facilitate oil and banking transactions.

Maas’s delegation included representatives from INSTEX, the mechanism set up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to bypass U.S. sanctions and facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX has yet to conduct a transaction, but a statement from the three countries after the visit said they are working to complete the first transaction “as quickly as possible.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran is increasing its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water, nearing the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. and Iranian Actions Put Nuclear Deal in Jeopardy

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Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 27, 2019

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

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. reimposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

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An increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the JCPOA-mandated limits does not in itself pose a near-term proliferation risk, and it is critical that the Trump administration does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

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Pro-Diplomacy Organizations Call for Vote On Udall Amendment to Prevent an Unauthorized War with Iran

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A joint statement from Americans for Peace Now, Arms Control Association, Council for a Livable World, Foreign Policy for America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Indivisible, J Street, MoveOn, NIAC Action, Ploughshares Fund, VoteVets and Win Without War.

June 20, 2019

As pro-diplomacy organizations that oppose unauthorized war with Iran, we call on Senators to support the bipartisan Udall amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and insist that it be put to a vote.

Having violated and abandoned the agreement restraining Iran's nuclear activities and engaged in a series of escalations with Iran, the Trump Administration is now poised to subvert Congress' constitutional prerogative to decide when the United States will and will not go to war. While Iranian misbehavior has increased in recent weeks, the Trump Administration's provocations and saber rattling have made conflict, not negotiations, more likely.

The question of whether American forces should be put in harm's way to strike a country nearly four times the size of Iraq and with more than twice the population is one of the utmost gravity. It must not - and constitutionally cannot - be left to any administration alone, especially one that has acted with gross recklessness and profoundly weakened key alliances and multilateral partnerships essential to addressing threats from Iran. Any unilateral escalation risks both further alienation and getting mired in another disastrous war in the Middle East.

We therefore urge Senators to support and further insist that the bipartisan Udall amendment - which would prohibit appropriated funds from being used for military action against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress - receive a vote in the Senate's present consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Trump Administration's current Iran policy has proven a disaster. Launching an unnecessary and unauthorized war would do a disservice to our troops and all Americans. If the Senate fails to consider the Udall amendment while legislating on defense authorization, at the very moment the administration is barrelling toward an unauthorized and costly war of choice, it would be an historic abdication of constitutional responsibility.

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A joint statement from Americans for Peace Now, Arms Control Association, Council for a Livable World, Foreign Policy for America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Indivisible, J Street, MoveOn, NIAC Action, Ploughshares Fund, VoteVets and Win Without War.

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