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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General
Iran

Trump Sets U.S. Up to Violate Iran Deal

Next steps fall to Congress, as key allies appeal for U.S. to stick with the nuclear accord.


November 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

President Donald Trump directed his administration to work with Congress to address “serious flaws” in the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, but with Tehran and Washington’s negotiating partners rejecting renegotiations, his approach is unlikely to yield results and risks resulting in the United States violating the agreement.

Outlining his Iran policy in an Oct. 13 speech, Trump said he would terminate the accord if Congress and the U.S. negotiating partners in the P5+1 group—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—fail to address areas of concern, such as the expiration of certain nuclear constraints and Iran’s ballistic missile development.

President Donald Trump speaks October 13 at the White House about his decision to deny quarterly certification of the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)Trump also said he was withholding a quarterly certification to Congress tied to the nuclear deal on the grounds that sanctions relief provided to Iran was not proportionate to the restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program. That was an expected step after Trump said in July that he was unlikely to issue the certification. (See ACT, September 2017.)

The certification is a U.S. legal requirement comprised of several determinations. In addition to the determination on sanctions proportionality, the certification includes determinations related to Iran’s compliance with the deal and the national security value of the accord. In the weeks leading up to the certification deadline, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that Iran was meeting its obligations; and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the deal is in the U.S. national security interest, indicators that key advisers in Trump’s cabinet opposed his decision to withhold certification.

Withholding certification does not violate the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump said that the United States intends to remain party to the agreement for now, while he looks to Congress and U.S. allies to "address the deal's many serious flaws."

Despite Trump’s threats to terminate the accord if changes are not made, Washington’s negotiating partners and Iran rejected renegotiating elements of the deal. Shortly after Trump’s Oct. 13 announcement, Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1, said that the deal is working, the EU will continue to implement it, and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is under pressure from regime hardliners, said Iran “will not be the first to withdraw from the deal but, if its rights and interests in the deal are not respected, it will stop implementing all its commitments and will resume its peaceful nuclear program without any restrictions.”

Washington’s actions prove that the United States is “not a reliable negotiating partner,” he said, a statement that could have ramifications for any future talks with Iran, as well as for U.S. efforts to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement Oct. 13 expressing “concern about the possible implications” of Trump’s decision to withhold certification and encouraging him and Congress to consider “the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement.”

Withholding certification allows Congress to introduce legislation within 60 days to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal using an expedited legislative process, but it appears unlikely that Congress will pursue this route, which would clearly violate the agreement.

The current approach espoused by several Senate Republicans would seek to address Trump’s concerns about ballistic missiles and limits that expire under the deal and refrain from reimposing sanctions. Still, if enacted as described, this approach would violate the terms of the accord by seeking to pressure Iran, under threat of sanctions, to abide by limits for a longer duration than required under the deal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released a factsheet Oct. 13 summarizing his legislative approach, titled “Fixing the Iran Deal,” which outlines that U.S. sanctions waived under the deal will be reimposed automatically if Iran takes certain steps, including activities that are permitted under the nuclear deal or will be permitted in the out years of the agreement.

For instance, the factsheet says that U.S. sanctions waived under the deal will snap back automatically if Iran’s nuclear weapons “breakout” time, commonly defined as the time it would take Iran to amass enough weapons-grade fissile material for one bomb, drops to less than one year.

For the first 10 years of the nuclear deal, the combination of limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and stockpile of enriched uranium holds Iran to a 12-month breakout time. By year 15, however, certain limits expire; and Iran could choose to expand its uranium-enrichment capacity, at which point breakout would likely drop below 12 months.

Despite the deal permitting Iran to expand uranium enrichment, U.S. sanctions would be automatically reimposed at that point, which many experts contend violates the agreement. Corker’s factsheet, however, argues that approach is “ridding the JCPOA of sunset provisions as they apply to U.S. sanctions.”

Trump did not specifically mention Corker’s initiative in his speech, but said he supported congressional efforts to “make all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law” and “prevent Iran from developing” an intercontinental ballistic missile.

It seems unlikely that Democrats would support any approach that violates the deal. In the Senate, any such effort to bring legislation altering the terms of the nuclear deal up for a vote would require 60 votes; and key Senate Democrats, including several who opposed the deal in 2015, signaled they do not support abrogating the deal.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the deal in 2015, but denounced Trump’s decision to withholding certification as “reckless” and “without factual or material evidence” to warrant such a move.

Cardin said that “we will not buy into the false premise that it is Congress’ role to legislate solutions to problems of [Trump’s] own making” and that it is “up to Congress to show the world that there is bipartisan support for the United States to uphold its commitments, including the JCPOA.”

An official from a European country that participated in the negotiations told Arms Control Today on Oct. 23 that the “deal is done” and that “any efforts to unilaterally change its terms” jeopardizes the agreement.

He said Mogherini was very clear at the United Nations in September that there is “no interest in or need to renegotiate or reopen the accord.” Concerns outside of the deal, such as ballistic missiles, can be addressed separately from implementation of the agreement, he added.

May, Macron, and Merkel made a similar statement in their Oct. 13 letter, saying that they “stand ready to take further appropriate measures to address” issues such as ballistic missile development “at the same time as we work to preserve the JCPOA.”

Corker’s factsheet does not explicitly mention ballistic missiles, but in interviews following Trump’s speech, he has said his approach may reimpose sanctions automatically in response to certain ballistic missile activities conducted by Iran.

The nuclear deal does not prohibit Iran from developing ballistic missiles, but the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal “called upon” Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and regulates Iran’s purchases of materials and technology relevant to developing ballistic missiles.

The United States, as permitted by the accord, continues to sanction individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile activities.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, October 20, 2017

Trump’s “Decertification” Decision Sets Washington Up to Violate the Nuclear Deal As expected, President Donald Trump announced Oct. 13 he would not issue a certification to Congress required by U.S. law that is tied to the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While withholding certification does not, by itself, violate the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal and Trump said the United States is staying in the agreement for now, his proposed policy toward the deal sets the United States on a course to violate the accord, further isolate Washington from...

Trump’s Stance on Iran Nuclear Deal Risks Proliferation Crisis

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Arms Control Experts Say Efforts to Pressure Iran to Renegotiate Terms of 2015 Agreement Are Irresponsible and Dangerous

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Arms Control Experts Say Efforts to Pressure Iran to Renegotiate Terms of 2015 Agreement Are Irresponsible and Dangerous

For Immediate Release: October 13, 2017

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.)—Experts from the Washington-based Arms Control Association denounced President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to withhold a certification to Congress tied to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The President’s gambit is irresponsible and dangerous. Any attempt by the White House or Congress to unilaterally change the terms of the highly-successful nuclear deal with Iran risks setting Washington on a course to violate the deal.” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Trump signaled that he will withhold certification because he believes the sanctions relief granted to Iran is not proportional to the restrictions Iran is abiding by under the agreement. He further said he would push for Congress to pass legislation requiring sanctions to snap back into place if Iran does not meet additional limits that are not currently mandated in the JCPOA.

“It is critical that Congress refrain from any actions that would effectively seek to renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA. Any steps seeking to dictate an extension of the JCPOA restrictions or add additional requirements through U.S. legislation will create a major schism with U.S. allies and could push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities restricted under the deal,” Kimball said.

“Trump’s plan to unilaterally extend the limits of the current deal by holding Iran hostage to the threat of reimposing U.S. sanctions is a fantasy that jeopardizes an agreement that is verifiably blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

“Trump’s pressure-centric approach only risks undercutting Iranian incentives to remain in compliance with the accord and isolating the United States from its negotiating partners, all of whom reject reopening the agreement. With the looming threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, the United States cannot afford to manufacture a second nuclear crisis,” she added.

"If the Trump administration is truly concerned about the future of Iran’s nuclear program, Washington should meet its obligations under the deal, vigorously enforce the accord, and seek global support to build on the innovative nonproliferation elements of the agreement.” Davenport said.

“Trump’s reckless actions have consequences beyond threatening the nuclear deal with Iran. He risks triggering a spiral of proliferation and destabilizing nuclear competition in the region, and beyond,” Kimball added.

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

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Iran Nuclear Deal 'Sunset' Gets Scrutiny

U.S. officials make misleading statements critical of the accord's duration.


October 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

Europeans leaders are seeking to shore up support for the Iran nuclear deal amid criticism from the United States over the duration of provisions that deny Iran the capability to make nuclear weapons or avoid detection if attempting to do so secretly.

With Iran judged to be in compliance, President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have focused their criticism of the July 2015 nuclear accord on Iranian activities not barred by it, such as developing missiles and stoking conflicts in the Mideast, and on the deal’s provisions phasing out of some nuclear constraints imposed on Iran. Trump’s hints at abandoning the deal have alarmed key European allies, who have sought to reassure him with the uncertain prospect of addressing issues outside the agreement, while continuing the current deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly Sept. 20. The nuclear deal “constitutes a recognized multilateral agreement, and any failure on the part of the United States in implementing it would constitute an international wrongful act and would be objected to by the international community,” he said.  (Photo credit: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)As with most arms control agreements, the nuclear deal negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran contains measures that expire over time. Other aspects that create barriers to building nuclear weapons remain in place indefinitely. European and Russian officials have pointed to the permanent provisions, said that the deal is contributing to regional and international security, and urged continued implementation of the agreement.

After a ministerial meeting of the P5+1 and Iran at the United Nations, Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and chair of the P5+1 group, said on Sept. 20 that all parties agreed there were “no violations” of the accord. Further, Mogherini said that there was no discussion at the meeting of reopening the agreement, signaling the kind of opposition Trump can expect from European allies.

The international community “cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working,” and “as Europeans, we will make sure that the agreement stays,” she said.

Trump has signaled he will take steps this month that could lead to the unraveling of the nuclear deal. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump denounced the deal as an “embarrassment” and said that Washington cannot abide by an agreement if it “provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” Given that the nuclear deal allows Iran to maintain a limited nuclear program for peaceful purposes, it is likely Trump was referring to a nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spelled out the concern about expiration dates more clearly in remarks to the press Sept. 20. Tillerson said “the sunset clause” is a “very concerning shortcoming” of the deal. “One can almost set the countdown clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons programs, its nuclear activities,” he said at a press conference, “and that’s something that the president simply finds unacceptable.”

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called into question the duration of the nuclear deal in his Sept. 19 speech, saying it is necessary to “fix it or nix it,” adding that fixing the deal included “getting rid of the sunset clause.”

Both Tillerson and Netanyahu were misleading in giving the impression that the deal expires with a single sunset clause, when the duration terms are complex and some provisions are intended to restrict Iranian actions permanently.

Several of the key limitations on uranium-enrichment activities phase out between 10 and 15 years after implementation of the accord, which occurred in January 2016. For instance, starting in January 2026, Iran is free to enrich uranium using advanced centrifuges and install and operate a greater number of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Currently, Iran is restricted to using 5,060 IR-1 machines to enrich uranium. In January 2031, the 300-kilogram limit on Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will expire, and Iran will be permitted to enrich uranium to levels greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235.

The expiration of these limits will shorten Iran’s potential breakout time, the time it would take to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, to less than the current 12 months. Yet, additional barriers remain in place—some will expire subsequently, others are permanent—that are intended to prevent or deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

For instance, continuous monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production manufacturing sites and uranium mines and mills by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors continue for an additional five and 10 years, respectively, providing intelligence on Iran’s actions. Other restrictions, such as the specific prohibition on “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device,” remain in place in perpetuity. This commitment prevents Iran from pursing activities in the future relevant to building a nuclear weapon but claiming the purpose was for conventional military applications.

Iran also may be permanently subject to the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms permitted under the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement. The additional protocol gives the IAEA more information about and access to nuclear-related facilities in Iran.

Currently, Iran is implementing its additional protocol on a voluntary basis. Under the nuclear deal, Iran must seek ratification of the additional protocol within eight years of the deal’s adoption, by October 2023. Once
ratified, the additional protocol is permanent. At the IAEA annual general conference in Vienna, the European Union said on Sept. 18 that “early ratification by Iran” of the additional protocol is “essential.”

Iran also committed under the nuclear deal to implement the modified Code 3.1 safeguards provisions, which require a state to report on a new nuclear-related facility as soon as the construction decision is made. Implementation of this measure will give the IAEA early notice of construction affecting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Taken together, these additional restrictions and transparency measures provide the international community with a powerful set of tools to detect and deter an Iranian attempt to pursue nuclear weapons development well beyond the initial 15-year period now at issue. Further, Mogherini noted that the text of the deal “reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

European members of the P5+1 and Iran, while clearly stating that the current nuclear deal must remain in place, have not dismissed future negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programs or other activities in the region. Iran has made clear that any future negotiations would require reciprocal concessions.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he agreed with Trump that the deal is “not sufficient,” but said that stopping the deal would be a bad option. He said the best way to address concerns is to sustain the nuclear deal and work to build on the existing deal.

The deal does not preclude negotiating an extension to the limits or a deal on other measures that would provide disincentives to the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran in the future. “Different issues can be discussed in different formats,” said Mogherini.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New York Times on Sept. 21 that if “you want to have an addendum, there has to be an addendum on everything.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Listen to our European Partners: Sustain the Nuclear Deal with Iran

Before taking action to undermine or violate the nuclear deal with Iran, President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress would be wise to heed the words of Washington’s European partners in the deal, namely that the agreement is working and renegotiation is futile. Ambassador David O’Sullivan of the European Union, Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, and Ambassador Kim Darroch of the United Kingdom, joined forces to deliver these messages at the Atlantic Council Sept. 25 , just three weeks ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline for Trump to issue or withhold a...

Grasping at Straws

The Trump Administration and its supporters outside of the U.S. government are laboring mightily to convince the international community that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a bad deal for the United States. Unfortunately for them, Iranian compliance keeps getting in the way. We can see this in the way in which senior U.S. government officials speak to issues of Iranian compliance. During press availability on the margins of the UN General Assembly, Secretary of State Tillerson was careful to note that Iran is in “ technical ” compliance with the JCPOA, but argued that this...

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

EU Affirms Iran Deal Compliance, Rejects Renegotiation EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated unequivocally after a ministerial meeting between the P5+1 (China, France Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran that all parties agreed that the nuclear deal is being fully implemented and there are no violations. She said that the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is delivering on its purpose, and there is “no need to renegotiate parts of the agreement.” Mogherini said that issues outside the scope of the deal should be “...

Trump's UN Address a  Failure of Nuclear Leadership

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Statement from Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

For Immediate Release: September 19, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270, ext. 102; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

Since 1945, U.S. presidents have sought to rally global support and action toward practical solutions curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing the dangerous likelihood of their use. 

US President Donald Trump waits after addressing the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, in New York on September 19, 2017. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)Sadly, President Donald J. Trump, in his first, fiery address before the UN General Assembly has demonstrated that he is not up to this most important of U.S. presidential responsibilities. 
 
Instead, Trump threatened to unravel the widely-supported, hard-won 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers that verifiably blocks Iran’s path to a bomb. Allies and security and nonproliferation experts agree that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments under the deal. Any further steps by the Trump administration to undermine the Iran nuclear deal will isolate the United States, make it harder to confront Iran’s misbehavior in the region, and worst of all, potentially lead to the undoing of the agreement, thereby increasing the threat of war and a spiral of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and beyond.
 
On the growing tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile program, Trump likewise failed to appeal to the international community to better implement existing sanctions and to support efforts for a realistic, negotiated solution, instead recklessly threatening to destroy North Korea. It is naive to think that sanctions pressure and bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack can force North Korea to change course.

As President John F. Kennedy said following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”
 
Trump missed an opportunity to outline a coherent approach on how the United States, Russia, and other nuclear-weapon states could responsibly reduce nuclear tensions and work together to prevent nuclear conflict. At this point in his first term as president, Barack Obama had convened a special meeting of the UN Security Council and won the adoption of a comprehensive strategy (UNSC 1887) to reduce nuclear risks worldwide.
 
Trump’s address is yet another sign that we are entering a dark and difficult phase in the long-running effort to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

In the long run, the United States will continue to play an essential and useful role in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons. But in the near term, other responsible U.S. and world leaders must step forward to provide the nuclear leadership that Mr. Trump is failing to demonstrate.

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More Than 80 Nuclear Nonproliferation Experts Reaffirm Support for the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Experts urge the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to continue to fulfill Washington’s commitments under the multilateral accord.

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Urge the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to continue to fulfill Washington’s commitments under the multilateral accord.

For Immediate Release: Sept. 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, 202-463-8270 x102.

(Washington, D.C.)—More than 80 of the world's leading nuclear nonproliferation specialists issued a joint statement Wednesday on why the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between six world powers and Iran “has proven to be an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”

Centrifuges enriching uranium (illustrative photo: US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)“Since the nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016, the JCPOA has dramatically reduced the risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and mandated unprecedented monitoring and transparency measures that make it very likely that any possible future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly,” the statement notes.

The statement is endorsed by former U.S. nuclear negotiators, former senior U.S. nonproliferation and intelligence officials, a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on Iran, and leading nuclear specialists from the United States and around the globe.

“We firmly support vigorous efforts to monitor and enforce compliance with the JCPOA,” the experts say, “ but we are concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the administration must certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is fully implementing the nuclear deal. Failure to issue the certification would open the door for Congress, under expedited procedures, to introduce legislation to reimpose nuclear sanctions that were lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that block its pathways to a bomb. The next certification deadline arrives in mid-October.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities,” they warn.

Thus far, reporting from the U.S. intelligence community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the other parties to the agreement make it clear that Iran is meeting its many JCPOA commitments. These include long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran's sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities, many of which will last for 10 years, some for 15 years, some for 25 years, with enhanced IAEA monitoring under Iran's additional protocol agreement with the IAEA and modified code 3.1 safeguards provisions lasting indefinitely.

“[U]nilateral action by the United States, especially on the basis of unsupported contentions of Iranian cheating, would isolate the United States. In doing so, the United States would discourage Iran and others—including Washington’s EU3+3 partners—from supporting any U.S. proposal for negotiations on a new agreement while simultaneously damaging the agreement in place,” the experts say.

The statement concludes: “we urge the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to continue to fulfill Washington’s commitments under the accord and to refrain from actions that undermine U.S. obligations in the agreement.”

“Given that we are already struggling to contain the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis, it would be extremely unwise for the president to initiate steps that could unravel the highly successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which could create a second major nonproliferation crisis,” said Kelsey Davenport, nonproliferation policy director for the Arms Control Association, which organized the statement.

The full text of the statement is below and available in a PDF version.


Statement from Nuclear Nonproliferation Specialists on the Iran Nuclear Deal

September 2017

More than two years after the conclusion of negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by the United States, its international negotiating partners (EU, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), and Iran, the agreement has proven to be an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

The JCPOA is also considered an important success of multilateral diplomacy, the full implementation of which is critical to international peace and security.

Since the nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016, the JCPOA has dramatically reduced the risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and mandated unprecedented monitoring and transparency measures that make it very likely that any possible future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly. By blocking Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons, the JCPOA has also decreased the likelihood of destabilizing nuclear competition in the region.

To meet its JCPOA obligations, Iran dismantled more than 13,000 centrifuges, placed them in monitored storage, and shipped out more than 11 tons of low-enriched uranium. Since implementation day, Iran has met its commitments to enrich uranium only up to 3.67 percent uranium-235, retain no more than the equivalent of 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent in its stockpile, and enrich using only 5,060 first generation, IR-1 centrifuges.

Taken together these restrictions ensure that Iran’s capability to produce enough bomb-grade uranium sufficient for one weapon would be approximately 12 months for a decade or more. This conclusion was underscored by Daniel Coats, Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, who stated in the May 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment, that the JCPOA has “enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities” and “extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year.” Prior to commencing negotiations with Iran in 2013, that timeline would have been 2-3 months.

The JCPOA has effectively eliminated Iran’s ability to produce and separate plutonium for a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years. Iran removed the vessel that would hold the core of the Arak reactor, filled it with cement, and is working with the EU3+3 on new core reactor design in which plutonium production would be reduced ten-fold. Iran also committed not to research how to reprocess spent fuel, much less engage in it, which would delay even more significantly Iran’s ability to ever extract plutonium from any nuclear fuel it possesses. Additionally, Iran agreed to ship its spent fuel out of the country for 15 years.

Since implementation day in January 2016, Iran’s compliance with its obligations has been effectively verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through an intrusive, multilayered monitoring regime that spans Iran’s nuclear supply chain. The JCPOA mandates continuous surveillance of key activities, such as uranium mining and centrifuge production, and application of Iran’s Additional Protocol, which gives inspectors additional information about, and access to, Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran’s enrichment levels are also monitored in real time.

Taken together, these rigorous limits and transparency measures will make it very likely that any future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly, providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The JCPOA has proven flexible and responsive to implementation problems that emerge. When Iran’s supply of heavy water twice marginally exceeded the limit set by the JCPOA, the IAEA noted the excess and Iran promptly rectified the situation, which never posed a proliferation risk. While exceeding the limit by any amount is unhelpful, the way it and other definitional disagreements have been promptly rectified demonstrates the effectiveness of mechanisms established by the deal to resolve technical concerns. As of August, no international organization or national government has made any allegations of Iranian violations.

We firmly support vigorous efforts to monitor and enforce compliance with the JCPOA, but we are concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.

Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges. These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.

Furthermore, unilateral action by the United States, especially on the basis of unsupported contentions of Iranian cheating, would isolate the United States. In doing so, the United States would discourage Iran and others—including Washington’s EU3+3 partners—from supporting any U.S. proposal for negotiations on a new agreement while simultaneously damaging the agreement in place. Such an approach would also impede the United States’ ability to seek future nonproliferation agreements, both with Iran and in the broader international community.

As long as Iran continues to fully implement the JCPOA, the nuclear deal advances the security interests of the United States, its EU3+3 partners, states in the region, and the entire international community. Abandoning the deal would also increase the likelihood of wider conflict in the Middle East and could trigger a destabilizing nuclear competition in region.

We strongly urge all parties to the JCPOA to meet their respective obligations under the terms of the agreement and to refrain from actions and statements that undermine its continued and effective implementation.

Furthermore, we urge the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to continue to fulfill Washington’s commitments under the accord and to refrain from actions that undermine U.S. obligations in the agreement.

Sincerely,

Amb. Nobuyasu Abe, Commissioner of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission,* former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and former Director-General for Arms Control and Science Affairs of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

James Acton, Co-Director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*

Amb. Sergey Batsanov, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and former Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Conference on Disarmament (1989-1993)

Amb. Brooke D. Anderson, former Chief of Staff and Counselor for the National Security Council

Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy, Director Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Bruce Blair, Research Scholar, Princeton University; U.S. Secretary of State's International Security Advisory Board Member (2011-17)

Barry M. Blechman, Co-Founder, Stimson Center*

Hans Blix, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Hon. Avis Bohlen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control

Des Browne, Lord Browne of Ladyton, former Secretary of State for Defense of the UK, Chair of the European Leadership Network (ELN) and Vice Chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)

Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and former adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Susan F. Burk, former Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation and former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State

John Carlson, Counselor, Nuclear Threat Initiative, former Director General, Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Joseph Cirincione, President, Ploughshares Fund

Avner Cohen, Ph.D., Professor and Senior Fellow, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Tom Collina, Director of Policy, Ploughshares Fund

Thomas Countryman, former Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation

Philip E. Coyle, III, former Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association

Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs

Professor Shen Dingli, Associate Dean at the Institute of International Studies and Director of the Program on Arms Control and Regional Security Studies at Fudan University

Amb. Sergio Duarte, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs

Robert J. Einhorn, former U.S Department of State Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control (2009-2013)

Dina Esfandiary, MacArthur Fellow, Centre for Science and Security Studies, Department of War Studies, Kings College London

Marc Finaud, Arms Proliferation Cluster Leader, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Trevor Findlay, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

Jon Finer, former U.S. State Department Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning

Ellie Geranmayeh, Senior Policy Fellow, Middle East & Africa Programme, European Council on Foreign Relations

Alexander Glaser, Associate Professor, Co-Director, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

Ilan Goldberg, Director of Middle East Security Program, Center for a New American Security, former Iran Team Chief, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense

Lisbeth Gronlund, Co-Director, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Morton H. Halperin, former Director of Policy Planning Staff, U.S Department of State

Amb. Laura S. H. Holgate, former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency

Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, Joint Fellow, Brookings Institution* and University of Pennsylvania Perry World House,* and former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs at the U.S. Department of State

Colin H. Kahl, former Deputy Assistant to President Obama and National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden

Mary Kaszynski, Deputy Director of Policy, Ploughshares Fund

Togzhan Kassenova, Fellow, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*

Catherine Kelleher, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia

R. Scott Kemp, Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, former science advisor to the U.S. Department of State's Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control

Amb. (ret.) Laura E. Kennedy, former U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Michael Krepon, Co-Founder, Stimson Center

Ulrich Kühn, Nonresident Scholar, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Ellen Laipson, President Emeritus, Stimson Center and former Vice Chair, National Intelligence Council

Jeffrey Lewis, Adjunct Professor, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*

Rebecca Lissner, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations*

Jan M. Lodal, former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense

Robert Malley, former Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North African and Gulf Region

Jessica Matthews, former Director, National Security Council Office of Global Issues

Fred McGoldrick, former Director of the Office of Nonproliferation and Export Policy, U.S. Department of State

Brian McKeon, former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, U.S. Department of Defense

Oliver Meier, Deputy Head, International Security Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)*

Zia Mian, Co-Director, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

Nicholas Miller, Assistant Professor, Dartmouth College

Adam Mount, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress*

Richard Nephew, Senior Research Scholar, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University, former Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the U.S. Department of State, and Director for Iran on the National Security Staff

Götz Neuneck, Professor of Physics and Acting Co-Director of the Institute of Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) *

George Perkovich, Ken Olivier And Angela Nomellini Chair, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*

Amb. Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Russian Federation, India, Israel, and Jordan

Amb. (ret.) Steven Pifer, Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution*

Paul R. Pillar, former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia

Valerie Plame, former CIA covert operations officer

Joshua Pollack, Senior Research Associate, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*

Dr. William C. Potter, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*

Edward Price, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Obama

Professor Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary General of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and Professor of Mathematical Physics, Universita' degli Studi di Milano

Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency

Laura Rockwood, Executive Director, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Nickolas Roth, Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center, Harvard University

Dr. Randy Rydell, former Senior Political Affairs Officer (retired), UN Office for Disarmament Affairs

Andrew K. Semmel, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation (2003-2007), U.S. Department of State

Thomas E. Shea, Ph.D., Senior Adjunct Fellow, Federation of American Scientists, former International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards official, and former Sector Head of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Programs, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Jacqueline Shire, former Member of UN Panel of Experts (Iran) established under Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010)

Leonard Spector, Executive Director, Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies,* and former Assistant Deputy Administrator for Arms Control and Nonproliferation at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration

Sharon Squassoni, Director, Proliferation Prevention Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies*

Ariane M. Tabatabai, Director of Curriculum, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University

Greg Thielmann, former Director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State

John Tierney, Executive Director, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, former Member of Congress (1997-2015)

Dr. Ali Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst, International Crisis Group

Frank N. von Hippel, former Assistant Director for National Security, White House Office of Science and Global Security

David Wade, Chief of Staff to U.S. Department of State (2013-2015)

Dr. James Walsh, Senior Research Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program

Anthony Wier, Legislative Secretary for Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Jon Wolfsthal, former Special Assistant to the President for National Security and Senior Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the National Security Council

David Wright, Co-Director, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

*institution listed for identification purposes only

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Trump Signals Iran Deal Showdown

Trump Signals Iran Deal Showdown


By Kelsey Davenport
September 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump has set the stage for actions, starting as early as next month, that could unravel the Iran nuclear deal, a development that would jolt U.S. relations not only with Tehran but also with Russia, China, and major allies in Europe who helped negotiate the deal.

Activists take part in a rally near the White House July 14 in support of the nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images) Trump signaled that he might not issue a certification to Congress tied to the nuclear deal at the next 90-day deadline, irrespective of Tehran’s compliance with the accord. In a July 25 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he would be “surprised” if he could issue the certification to Congress at that deadline in mid-October. “If it was up to me, I should have had [Iran] noncompliant 180 days ago,” he said.

Failure to issue the certification triggers a process that allows Congress to reimpose on an expedited schedule sanctions waived under the nuclear accord. Such moves, absent strong evidence of Iran’s failure to comply, would violate U.S. commitments and could enable Iran to cite the U.S. breach as justification for restarting currently prohibited nuclear activities. Further, European allies are unlikely to support U.S. sanctions if Trump is seen as acting in bad faith, reducing the economic impact on Iran while adding a new source of transatlantic tensions.

The 90-day certification requirement, as well as the expedited process for reimposing sanctions, are laid out in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which allowed Congress the option to vote to approve or disapprove the nuclear deal after it was finalized in 2015. (See ACT, November 2015.) It is not a requirement of the multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated between Iran and P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

The certification, however, is broader in scope than the nuclear deal. In addition to determinations that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal and has not taken steps to advance a nuclear weapons program, it includes more subjective assessments, such as certifying that continued implementation of the agreement is in the U.S. national security interest and that the sanctions relief Iran is receiving is proportional to the limits on the country’s nuclear activities.

As a result, Trump could withhold the certification even if Iran is meeting all of its commitments under the JCPOA.

At the last certification deadline, on July 17, Trump was reportedly persuaded to issue the certification by members of his cabinet, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The State Department’s statement on July 18 on the certification said that Iran’s “continued malign activities outside of the nuclear issue undermine the positive contributions to regional and international peace and security that the deal was supposed to provide.”

It is unclear from Trump’s remarks in his interview with The Wall Street Journal whether his threat to withhold certification at the next deadline would be based on an allegation that Iran is not complying with its commitments or a determination that the nuclear deal is no longer in U.S. national security interest.

Unless circumstances around Iran’s implementation change prior to Oct. 15, it would be difficult for the Trump administration to make a compelling case that Iran is failing to meet its nuclear deal commitments. In July, the U.S. intelligence community and Washington’s P5+1 partners assessed that Iran was meeting its commitments.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 18 that “based on the evidence that’s been presented to the intelligence community, it appears that Iran is in compliance with the rules that were laid out in the JCPOA.” Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1, said on July 14 that six reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirm that Iran is meeting its commitments.

Regardless of whether Trump chooses to withhold certification over allegations of Iranian noncompliance or on U.S. national security grounds, a 60-day window would begin for Congress to introduce legislation reimposing sanctions on Iran that were waived under the nuclear deal.

Separately, Congress in July passed new sanctions that include measures targeting Iran for its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, and human rights violations. The sanctions legislation, which Trump signed into law Aug. 2, does not violate the nuclear deal, although Iran characterized the measures as a violation of the “spirit” of the agreement.

Yet, if Congress were to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions waived as part of the nuclear deal, Iran is likely to accuse the United States of violating the agreement and could take its own steps to modify or abandon the constraints on its nuclear program. The text of the deal states that Iran will treat such a reintroduction or reimposition of the sanctions waived as “grounds to cease preforming its commitments” in whole or in part.

Iranian officials have stated that Tehran will continue implementing the agreement regardless of U.S. actions. But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that if U.S. officials want to “return” to the negotiating table for a new deal, as Trump has advocated, within “hours and days,” Iran will “return to a much more advanced situation” than at the time negotiations on the nuclear deal began.

Iran passed legislation in 2015 that could require Tehran to resume enrichment of uranium up to 20 percent uranium-235, which is closer to weapons grade than the 3.67 percent limit under the nuclear deal, if another party violates the agreement. Iran produced uranium enriched to 20 percent prior to the conclusion of the nuclear deal. The interim agreement reached in November 2014 halted enrichment to that level of any additional amounts and neutralized Iran’s existing stock of 20 percent enriched uranium.

Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reiterated on Aug. 22 that Iran has options to resume nuclear activities if the United States leaves the deal. He said Iran could start enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235 in four to five days.

Given the benefits of the deal and the speed at which Iran could resume some of its nuclear activities, an official from one of the European countries that participated in the negotiations said in an Aug. 21 interview with Arms Control Today that it would be “foolhardy” for the United States to withhold certification for any reason other than in the case of a significant act of nonperformance by Iran. Even then, the nuclear deal has a mechanism for resolving disputes and implementation issues, the Joint Commission, which has “demonstrated its ability to address concerns,” he said.

The Joint Commission is comprised of the P5+1 countries that negotiated the nuclear deal, the EU, and Iran. Any of the parties can raise a compliance concern and use the dispute resolution mechanism to seek to resolve the issue. If the Trump administration has compliance concerns, the Joint Commission should try and resolve the issue “before a rush by Congress to reimpose sanctions,” the European official said.

The official also said that Washington should not assume that the European Union will “go along with putting the sanctions back” and may even take steps to protect European businesses from any reimposed measures that would threaten contracts and future business opportunities with Iran.

Iran Tests Simorgh Rocket 

Iran marked the opening of its Imam Khomeini National Space Center on July 27 with the first launch of its Simorgh satellite-carrying rocket. Iranian state media claimed the launch was successful, while U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that it was a failure and the Iranian success claims were propaganda.

The Simorgh rocket lifts off at Iran’s Imam Khomeini National Space Center on July 27. (Photo credit: Tasnim News Agency)France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States condemned the launch as “a threatening and provocative step” in a joint letter to the United Nations on Aug. 2. Further, the four nations asserted that the launch was “inconsistent” with a UN Security Council resolution intended to curtail Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The launch does not violate the terms of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, which focused on curtailing Iran’s nuclear activities. After negotiators reached that agreement in July 2015, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2231 backing up the accord with the international imprimatur of the UN.

The resolution included additional matters, with language that “called” on Iran to refrain from activity involving ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” That softened restrictions imposed in 2010 by Security Council Resolution 1929, which states that Iran “shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”

The United States and its allies deemed the Simorgh launch “inconsistent” with Resolution 2231 due to long-held concerns with the overlap between Iran’s satellite launch and ballistic missile programs. “The technologies necessary for the conception, the fabrication and the launch of space-launch vehicles are closely related to those of ballistic missiles, in particular to those of an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM],” they wrote.

U.S. intelligence has warned that the Simorgh could provide a foundation for the development of ICBM technologies, but multiple challenges would complicate repurposing the Simorgh as an ICBM. Additional development and testing would be needed to improve accuracy and ensure a warhead could survive re-entry into the atmosphere. Further, although U.S. intelligence previously warned that “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015,” the evidence suggests Tehran instead has been focused on improving the quality of its existing missiles.

In its letter to the UN, the United States and its allies called on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities. Washington went one step further, imposing sanctions on six entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, responding on Twitter, maintained that Iran’s missiles were not designed to deliver nuclear weapons.—TYLER RODGERS

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