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– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Missing the Mark on Iran's Missiles

Despite implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the six world powers known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the Iranian missile program remains controversial. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley excoriated Iran for its “destructive and destabilizing role” in the region, with Iran’s missile testing and procurement of missile-related technology featuring prominently in her remarks. Yet as the Trump administration conducts its Iran policy review, it would be wise to consider the facts when...

The UN Report on the Iran Deal Resolution: The Good, the Unclear, and the Troubling

The UN Secretary General’s biannual report on UN Security Council Resolution 2231 affirms Iran’s compliance with nuclear provisions of the 2015 agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), but raises concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activity and compliance with UN restrictions. Resolution 2231 (July 2015) endorsed the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and lifted some UN sanctions, while maintaining the arms embargo on Iran and ballistic missile restrictions. In the recently...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 2017

EU Reiterates Commitment to Nuclear Deal as U.S. Moves Forward with Sanctions EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated the European Union's commitment to the nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a June 13 Oslo Forum press briefing . She said the EU will “guarantee that the deal keeps” and she is confident that the Iran policy review in the United States will lead to "wise decisions” and keep “something that is working.” The Trump administration is conducting an interagency review of U.S. policy toward Iran, which includes examining...

U.S. Waives Sanctions Under Iran Deal

A supporter of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who backed the nuclear deal with world powers, celebrates in Tehran after he won the presidential election on May 20. (Photo credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)The Trump administration renewed sanctions waivers on Iran, meeting requirements under the July 2015 nuclear deal between the United States and its negotiating partners and Iran. The May 17 waivers are the first by President Donald Trump to maintain U.S. compliance with the agreement he has repeatedly denounced. Most sanctions waivers must be renewed every 120 days, and President Barack Obama issued waivers shortly before leaving office in January. If Iran continues to comply, these sanctions could be lifted statutorily by 2023. The waivers follow a certification by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in April that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the deal. The certification to Congress is required by U.S. law.

In the press release announcing the waivers, the State Department said that the Treasury Department was sanctioning additional Iranian entities and a Chinese network for suppling items applicable to ballistic missile development to Iran, which is “inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231.” The resolution, passed in July 2015, endorsed the nuclear deal and lifted some UN sanctions, but called on Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles, arguing that the systems are not designed for nuclear warheads.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

U.S. Waives Sanctions Under Iran Deal

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 2017

Iran's Election and the Nuclear Deal Incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won reelection on May 19, securing a second four-year term. Rouhani took 57 percent of the vote, defeating conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi without a runoff. Two other candidates remained on the ballot on election day, but neither was expected to win. In his victory speech Rouhani did not mention the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated between Iran and six world powers, but said Iran is “ready to develop its relations with the world based on mutual respect and...

Sanctions Waivers Show U.S. Support for Iran Nuclear Deal

The Trump administration's decision to issue sanctions waivers today, as required by the nuclear deal with Iran, is a welcome and necessary step to ensure that the United States meets its commitments under the agreement. Given that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress in April that Iran is complying with its commitments under the deal, it is only logical for Washington to continue to waive sanctions. As the Trump administration continues its Iran policy review, it is critical to remember that implementing the nuclear deal blocks Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and puts in...

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 5

Joint Commission Meets to Review Iran Deal The Joint Commission set up by Iran and the P5+1 to review implementation of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) met April 25 in Vienna. This was the first regularly scheduled quarterly meeting of the group since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. The meeting provided the opportunity to discuss progress on the Arak reactor modernization project, civil nuclear cooperation developments, and sanctions relief, according to the chair’s statement released after the discussion. The statement also said that “...

Senate Considers New Iran Sanctions

May 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

A bipartisan bill to impose additional sanctions on Iran is gaining support in the Senate, but opponents of the legislation warn that it threatens the accomplishments of the nuclear deal that the United States and its negotiating partners reached with Iran in July 2015.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would impose additional sanctions on Tehran for ballistic missile activity, support for terrorism, and violations of the arms embargo on Iran.

A medium-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016. The United States says the test is contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran not to develop or test ballistic missiles that are “designed to be nuclear capable.” Credit: Mahmood HosseinI/AFP/Getty ImagesIn a March 23 press release, Corker said the legislation would hold “Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions,” and Menendez said that the legislation was “carefully crafted not to impede” Washington’s ability to “live up to its commitments” in the Iran nuclear deal.

According to that agreement, the United States cannot reimpose nuclear-related sanctions lifted by the deal, but the United States is not prevented from imposing sanctions on Iran for other activities, including ballistic missile activities and support for terrorism.

The bill itself does not mention the nuclear deal, but experts assess that certain provisions run contrary to U.S. commitments in the agreement to delist certain sanctioned entities in the future and not to impede Iran’s access to sanctions relief granted by the agreement. A group of former Obama administration officials, in a March 31 piece in Foreign Policy, said that the bill would do “more harm than good.” The authors included Antony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state; Avril Haines, former deputy national security adviser; and Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Future Delisting

One provision would require that the president issue a certification that entities sanctioned under an executive order for engaging in illicit activity related to Iran’s ballistic missile program had not been involved in ballistic missile activities for three months prior to being removed from the sanctions designation list.

This could prevent the United States from fulfilling future obligations under the nuclear deal. According to the agreement, Washington will remove a set of entities from the sanctions designation list on the so-called transition day, when provisionally lifted sanctions are removed permanently and Iran seeks ratification of a document that makes more intrusive inspections of its nuclear program permanent. Transition day will occur in 2023 at the latest and could occur sooner if International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors reach what is known as the broader conclusion on Iran’s nuclear program. The broader conclusion is a finding that a country’s nuclear activities are entirely peaceful and that there is no indication of diversion of nuclear materials for illicit purposes.

Although the nuclear deal did not cover Iran’s ballistic missile program, several of the entities that are set to be delisted were involved in illicit activities that could have contributed to ballistic missile development in Iran, according to information from the U.S. Treasury Department. If the president cannot certify that these entities are no longer involved in ballistic missile activity and delist them, it will violate U.S. commitments under the deal.

The group of former Obama administration officials said this section is “problematic because gratuitously adding new conditions could be read by Iran as unilaterally altering the terms of the deal, casting doubt on our future compliance.” They also said they supported continued designations on entities supporting terrorism and ballistic missile activities “without putting at risk” the nuclear deal.

New Ballistic Missile Sanctions

The legislation also would impose mandatory sanctions on entities whose activity “materially contributed, or poses a risk of materially contributing,” to Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Since the Iran deal came into effect, the United States has continued to sanction individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program under an executive order and existing law.

An official from a European Union country told Arms Control Today April 10 that additional sanctions legislation with vague provisions would “further discourage business dealings with Iran” and sends a message that “Washington is not fully supportive of legitimate business” with Tehran. The official also said that the United States committed in the agreement to “prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifted” and that the ambiguities in this deal run contrary to that commitment.

As of the April recess, the bill had an additional 30 co-sponsors, 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Corker has not laid out a schedule for moving forward on the bill, but said he does not intend to move the legislation until after the May 19 Iranian presidential election, in part because of the election and over “concerns over how the European Union might react” to sections of the bill.

Some Democrats are urging action. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) was quoted in an April 10 Weekly Standard article saying that members of Congress should be “mindful of the potential impact” of the bill on Iranian domestic politics but that he would like to see the legislation move forward.

Senate Considers New Iran Sanctions

IAEA Provides More Detail on Iran

April 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provided greater detail about Iran’s nuclear activities in its most recent report, drawing praise from the United States and criticism from Iran.

The IAEA is tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities under the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and reporting quarterly to the agency’s Board of Governors. The agency issued its most recent report on Feb. 24 ahead of the March 6-10 quarterly board meeting.

Officials gathered for the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting March 6 in Vienna. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA)For the first time since the agreement was fully implemented in January 2016, the IAEA reported on the size of Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent. The IAEA said Iran had 101.7 kilograms in several different forms. Under the deal, Iran can keep up to 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent, a level suitable for fueling nuclear power reactors but far below the enrichment level necessary to fuel a nuclear weapon.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that the report provides more information on Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium because of “clarifications” agreed by the Joint Commission. The commission, comprised of representatives from the P5+1 countries, Iran, and the European Union, oversees implementation of the deal and resolves technical and compliance issues.

In December 2016 and January 2017, the commission publicly released decisions it had made over the past year. The January document included an agreement on how to account for enriched uranium that remained in process lines at a plant used by Iran to convert uranium gas into powder. According to the document, Iran could take certain steps under IAEA verification to render the material “unrecoverable,” so it does not count against the 300 kilogram stockpile limit.

Andrew Schofer, a senior official at the U.S. Mission to the International Organizations in Vienna, said in a statement during the IAEA board meeting that the United States welcomes the “inclusion of the additional level of detail, and expects it will continue in the future.” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, disagreed and requested that the IAEA produce future reports that are “as concise as possible.” He said that Tehran opposes the “inclusion of confidential safeguard information under the pretext of transparency.”

The report also noted that Iran’s stockpile of heavy water was 124 metric tons, less than the limit of 130 metric tons established by the deal. Iran is permitted to produce heavy water, which is used to moderate certain types of reactors such as the IR-40 reactor Iran is constructing at Arak, and can sell any excess material on the open market. The quantity is capped based on an assessment of Iran’s needs.

The previous IAEA report, issued in November 2016, said that Iran slightly exceeded the limit and possessed 130.1 metric tons. The Feb. 24 report said that the IAEA verified that 11 metric tons were shipped out of Iran on Nov. 19. The agency verified Dec. 6 that all of the heavy water reached its destination and is in storage in another country.

Najafi contested the necessity of this step during the board meeting and said that nothing requires Iran to ship out heavy water in excess of 130 metric tons if Tehran has not found a buyer. Schofer responded by saying that the deal clearly states that Iran cannot accumulate heavy water in excess of 130 metric tons.

The IAEA report also said that Iran began feeding natural uranium gas into a single IR-8 centrifuge Jan. 21. The IAEA said in its report that this activity is within the limits defined by the deal, which allows testing on a single IR-8 machine in a way that precludes Iran from withdrawing enriched or depleted uranium and under agency monitoring.

Iran is only permitted to produce uranium enriched to 3.67 percent using 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its Natanz facility. The IAEA report said that Iran is abiding by that restriction. Iran’s state-owned Press TV cited a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on Feb. 14 saying that the new domestically manufactured IR-8 centrifuge is 20 times more productive than the IR-1. Iran anticipates mass producing IR-8s as international restrictions are eased starting eight years after the implementation of the nuclear deal, said spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.

The Feb. 24 IAEA report said that Iran continues to allow inspectors access to nuclear facilities and sites in Iran, but did not specify if any of the locations inspected are facilities other than Tehran’s declared nuclear sites. 

Report covers low-enriched uranium stockpile and testing of a new centrifuge.

ZTE Fined for Sanctions Evasion

Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. agreed to pay U.S. civil and criminal penalties totaling $1.2 billion for illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea, the largest fine and forfeiture penalty ever imposed in a U.S. export control case. ZTE pleaded guilty to violating U.S. export and sanctions regulations and obstructing justice with “false and misleading” statements during the investigation of its activities, the U.S. Commerce Department said in a March 7 statement. The regulations control the sale of sensitive U.S.-origin technologies.

ZTE “conspired to evade” the U.S. embargo on Iran between 2010 and 2016 in order to “supply, build, operate and/or service large scale telecommunications networks in Iran” using U.S.-origin equipment and software, the Commerce Department said. “As a result of the conspiracy, ZTE was able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with and sales from such Iranian entities.” ZTE also made 283 shipments of items to North Korea, including items controlled for national security purposes, such as routers, microprocessors, and servers, according to the statement. ZTE engaged in evasive conduct designed to prevent the U.S. government from detecting its violations, the Commerce Department said. 

ZTE Chairman and CEO Zhao Xianming said in a March 7 statement that the company acknowledged “the mistakes it made” and is instituting new “compliance-focused” procedures. Under the settlement, ZTE will be subject to audits and additional compliance requirements. The terms specify that $300 million of the penalty will be suspended if ZTE abides by all regulations during a seven-year probationary period. 

Chinese telecom giant ZTE agreed to pay U.S. penalties of $1.2 billion for shipping equipment to Iran and North Korea.


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