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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Iran

EU Options May Fall Short for Iran Deal


May 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

As U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to break from the Iran nuclear deal, European officials are considering options to try to sustain the international agreement, an effort that some concede is unlikely to succeed.

Trump threatened in January to withhold waivers necessary to continue the sanctions relief granted under the deal unless France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, known collectively as the E3, reach an agreement with the U.S. administration to address what the president calls “flaws” in the nuclear accord by the May 12 waiver deadline. (See ACT, March 2018.)

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump watch a military review at the White House on April 24. During his three-day state visit, Macron pressed Trump to maintain the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)Since the January ultimatum, the E3 has been negotiating with the United States to reach an agreement that would satisfy Trump but not violate the deal. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during separate visits to Washington in late April, each urged Trump to remain in the deal. Macron said there is no “plan B” alternative and Washington should remain in the agreement.

Despite Macron’s comments, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said the European Union is considering what steps can be taken to maintain the nuclear accord if the United States reimposes sanctions or pulls out of the deal. Mogherini headed the P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the United States) that negotiated with Iran.

It is not clear whether the EU will be able to agree on measures to protect its banks and businesses from any reimposed U.S. sanctions. Even if the EU pursues these options, it is not clear they will provide enough economic incentives for Iran to stay in the deal.

The waivers that expire May 12 are tied to provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 that require countries purchasing oil from Iran to significantly reduce purchases every 180 days or face U.S. sanctions, which include cutting off from the U.S. financial system banks processing such transactions. Even if Trump takes the position that the United States will not immediately enforce the sanctions, countries such as China, India, Japan, and South Korea will have to begin planning to purchase less Iranian oil in anticipation of when the United States does begin to enforce the measures.

The EU is also a major purchaser of Iranian oil, and despite its commitment to stand by the deal, the measures available are unlikely to give European businesses and banks confidence that they can conduct legitimate transactions with Iran without the risk of being cut off from the U.S. financial system.

The EU can issue a blocking regulation, which would shield EU companies from U.S. extraterritorial measures, or try and set up dedicated channels to do business with Iran that are insulated from the U.S. financial system. The EU has used the blocking regulation in the past to protect against U.S. sanctions but in conjunction with a commitment from the United States not to pursue penalties against European businesses. Given Trump’s track record of trying to persuade entities to refrain from business with Iran, it is unlikely that such a guarantee would be issued.

Implementing the blocking regulation would also require consensus approval by the 28 EU states, some of which currently oppose the move because it is unlikely to be successful and risks aggravating the economic rift between the United States and the EU.

An official from one of the E3 states told Arms Control Today on April 18 that no company or bank will want to be the “first test case” and risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system. He said the best chance to sustain the deal is to reach an arrangement that addresses Trump’s concerns without violating the agreement, but he said he is increasingly pessimistic that the E3 and Iran can reach an arrangement by May 12 that Trump will accept.

U.S. and E3 officials met in Washington on April 11 to continue negotiations. Although progress was made on some areas of U.S. concern, such as ballistic missiles, “unreasonable demands” from the United States are complicating any compromise language on the timing for phasing out certain nuclear-related restrictions, the European official said. He added that European countries “cannot and will not commit to automatically reimposing sanctions” if Iran resumes permissible nuclear activities after limits expire.

Additionally, the official said European countries are still seeking commitments from the Trump administration that Washington will meet its obligations down the road and will refrain from making further demands. Even if an agreement is reached between E3 and U.S. officials, Trump’s unpredictability and his record of animosity toward the nuclear accord cast doubt on whether he will support it.

Further, Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, and his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have called for U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. Unlike their predecessors, who argued against breaking the deal, Bolton’s and Pompeo’s past comments suggest they are unlikely to urge Trump to accept what the E3 may offer.

If Trump refuses to waive sanctions, Iran may respond to the U.S. violation by breaching the deal’s constraints. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS News’ Face the Nation broadcast April 22 that if the “benefits of the deal for Iran start to diminish, then there is no reason for Iran to remain in the deal.”

The “world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken,” Zarif said. Without going into the details of any specific steps, he said Iran’s options include “resuming at much greater speed our nuclear activities.”

One of those options is resuming levels of uranium enrichment now barred by the accord. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on April 21 that if a decision were made to resume enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235, it would only take Iran four days to begin doing so.

Under the accord, Iran is limited to enrichment levels below 3.67 percent U-235, suitable for fueling electric power reactors. Uranium enriched to 20 percent is not suitable for nuclear weapons, but would put Tehran significantly closer to the 90 percent-enriched U-235 necessary for a bomb.

Iran’s uranium enrichment to 20 percent and stockpiling of the material accelerated negotiations that led to the 2015 agreement curtailing Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iran threatens to resume activities barred under the nuclear accord if Trump moves to reimpose sanctions.

Trump's Threat To Violate The Iran Nuclear Deal And How To Respond

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Volume 10, Issue 5, April 30, 2018

President Donald Trump’s unrealistic demands that Congress and Washington’s European partners “fix” the effective 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran is setting the United States up to violate the deal, jeopardize its future, and undermine U.S. credibility and leverage in the region.

Despite the success of the nuclear deal in verifiably blocking Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, Trump has threatened not to renew U.S. sanctions waivers May 12, as required by the nuclear deal, if the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) and Washington do not conclude a supplemental agreement designed to address what he terms are “flaws” in the accord.

Although E3 and U.S. negotiators have been meeting since Trump issued his ultimatum in January, it looks increasingly likely that Trump will choose not to renew sanctions waivers May 12, putting the United States in violation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

While there has been progress in areas outside of the nuclear deal that Trump wants to address, such as on ballistic missiles, his demand that an agreement changing the so-called "sunsets"—those provisions of the deal that expire over time—has proven contentious and may prevent the E3 and the United States from finalizing an arrangement. Trump’s claim—that the deal paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon in 10 years—is based on a flawed analysis that discounts the value that the permanent monitoring mechanisms and prohibitions put in place by the deal have as a bulwark against nuclear weapons development.

Trump also disregards the fact that his solution, making permanent some of the limitations that expire in 10-25 years under the threat to reimposing sanctions, would violate the accord. Congress and the E3 have rightly resisted agreeing to make demands that would abrogate, or otherwise recast, the terms of the JCPOA. These fundamental differences make an arrangement between the E3 and the United States that addresses Trump’s areas of concerns without violating the agreement difficult to negotiate.

Additionally, given Trump’s record of hostility toward the accord, his campaign pledge to tear up the deal, and his unpredictability, there is no guarantee that even if an agreement on a supplemental arrangement is reached, Trump will accept it or abide by it.

After meeting with Trump and floating the idea of a new agreement that keeps the 2015 nuclear deal in place and, in separate arrangements, addresses regional issues, ballistic missiles, and options for how to address Iran’s nuclear program after the deal expires, French President Emmanuel Macron predicted April 26 that Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.”

While it behooves the E3 to continue pursuing negotiations with the Trump administration on an arrangement that satisfies Trump without violating the deal, the E3, Russia, China, Iran, and the U.S. Congress should now prepare to pursue “plan B”–implementation of the JCPOA without the United States. That must include denouncing Trump’s failure to renew sanctions for what is a clear violation of the deal —and taking steps to sustain the nuclear accord.

For as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated in October, the nuclear agreement is multilateral and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

A Clear Violation of the Deal

Reimposing sanctions is a twofold abrogation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and it is critical that members of Congress and Washington’s P5+1 partners recognize it as such. Not only did the United States commit not to reimpose sanctions, Washington also committed not to interfere with the full realization of sanctions relief.

To the first point, Paragraph 26 of the JCPOA clearly states that the United States “acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and Congress, will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the sanction specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA.”

Reimposing sanctions lifted by the deal, particularly when even top U.S. officials and critics of the deal admit that Iran is in compliance with its commitments, clearly abrogates U.S. commitments under this paragraph.

Additionally, the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, given the extraterritorial nature of the measures, will interfere with foreign companies and banks conducting legitimate business with Iran that is permitted by the JCPOA.That would directly inhibit Iran from realizing the benefits of sanctions relief.

For instance, the United States also committed in Paragraph 26 to “make best efforts in good faith… to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting.” In paragraph 28, the United States committed to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”

Even if the administration claims that it is not implementing the sanctions and therefore not violating the deal, failing to renew the waivers will make certain transactions with Iran illegal. Additionally, entities are not going to wait for the Trump administration to start implementing the measures to take actions to comply with the restrictions and avoid being penalized by the United States. The risk of sanctions penalties alone will result in a certain amount of self-enforcement, particularly for the sanctions measures that are due to be renewed May 12.

The Impact of Reimposing Oil Measures

The sanctions that will be reimposed May 12 if Trump does not renew waivers come from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. The sanctions in the NDAA require states purchasing oil from Iran to make significant reductions in imports every 180 days or risk being sanctioned. While “significant reduction” was not defined in the legislation and it is unclear what standard the Trump administration will use, it was understood by the Obama administration to mean an 18 percent decrease in the total price paid for oil purchases every 180 days. If the sanctions are reimposed, compliance would be assessed Nov. 8, 2018. Failure to meet the “significant reduction” standard would result in sanctions on the foreign banks that process the transactions.

Key U.S. allies will be affected if this measure is snapped back. Right now the top five purchasers of Iranian oil include China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the European Union. Some of these states have already begun reducing purchases of Iranian oil in anticipation of the reimposition. South Korea’s purchases of Iranian oil products were down 40 percent in March 2018, when compared to prior year, although that is partially due to a decrease in the supply of certain oil products.

Reimposing these measures will also have a negative impact on support in Iran to maintain the deal, given the central role that oil sales play in Iran’s economy. The increase in oil sales after the JCPOA was implemented constitutes a significant portion of the sanctions relief Iran has experienced under the JCPOA.

In addition to higher sales since the agreement was implemented in 2016, Iran’s production of oil has also rebounded to 4 million barrels per day, up from the approximately 2.6 million barrels per day during the period from 2012-2016 when the EU oil embargo and the U.S. sanctions from the 2012 NDAA were in place. Crude oil sales are up from 1.1 million barrels per day during the negotiations from 2013-2015, when further reductions were capped, to about 2.5 million barrels per day.

Options for Congress

If Trump fails to renew the sanctions waivers, it is critical that members of Congress immediately denounce his action as a clear violation of the nuclear deal and call upon Washington’s partners in the agreement to sustain the accord.

Failure to call out Trump for violating the deal could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of his approach and, more broadly, a rejection of multilateral efforts to address issues of proliferation concern. For this reason, it is also critical that members of Congress call on the remaining P5+1 to continue to implement the nuclear deal with Iran.

At a time when the overarching nonproliferation and disarmament architecture is under considerable stress, the nuclear deal with Iran was widely viewed in the international community as a nonproliferation success that averted a nuclear crisis and brought Iran back into compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Now, with the deal under threat from Trump, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, opened the door to Iranian withdraw from the NPT in response to a U.S. violation of the JCPOA, an action which would have grave consequences for the treaty and remove the binding legal prohibition on developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Such an action would not only undermine international security, but it would severely undermine Iran’s own security and standing.

Demonstrating that Trump’s extreme view is outside of the mainstream and the deal still has support from policymakers in the United States may help persuade Tehran from making such a drastic move in response to the U.S. violation.

Members of Congress would also be right to point out that Trump will be responsible for the consequences if the U.S. violation ultimately causes the deal to collapse and the damage that would be done to U.S. credibility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported Iran’s compliance with the accord in 10 consecutive reports and Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a critic of the Iran deal, testified to Congress that there is no evidence of Iranian noncompliance with the accord, there is no legitimate reason for Trump to violate the agreement. Given Iran’s full implementation of the JCPOA, a decision by Trump to violate the accord and risk the future of the nuclear deal should be denounced by responsible members of Congress.

EU Measures to Sustain the Deal

Washington’s P5+1 partners, particularly the EU, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have committed to the continued implementation of the JCPOA, irrespective of U.S. actions. To sustain the deal, however, the E3 and the EU must do more than just denounce U.S. actions as a violation and detrimental to the future of the nuclear deal.

The EU can, and should, take actions to block the application of U.S. secondary sanctions and seek to assure Iran that the rest of the P5+1 remain committed to Iran realizing sanctions relief under the deal.

The EU has experience responding to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions. In the 1990s, the EU issued blocking regulation to protect its banks and businesses from U.S. sanctions targeting Cuba by instructing the entities not to comply with U.S. sanctions. In that case, the EU had an assurance from the United States that Washington would not target EU businesses for violating the sanctions.

While a handshake agreement that the United States will not seek to penalize EU businesses in the Iran case is highly unlikely, the EU should still pursue the blocking regulation. The blocking regulation probably will not provide enough guarantee that banks and businesses will be shielded from U.S. sanctions that business with Iran will continue–the penalty of being cut off from the U.S. financial system is likely too high a risk—but it will send an important political signal to Iran that the EU supports the deal. Equally important, it sends a message to the United States the decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran is unacceptable and the EU will not be pressured into abiding by U.S. measures.

The EU could also consider setting up channels to facilitate business transactions with Iran that do not rely on the U.S. dollar. Isolating such transactions from the U.S. financial system could provide an avenue for doing business with Iran and demonstrate to Tehran that the EU is still serious about implementing the deal.

These actions will be critical to try and continue sanctions relief. Failure to do so might push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities halted by the JCPOA, such as enrichment to 20-percent uranium-235, an activity currently prohibited by the deal until 2031.

As Zarif told CBS April 22, if “benefits of the deal for Iran start to diminish, then there is no reason for Iran to remain in the deal.”

The EU also has other channels for supporting the JCPOA. One often overlooked benefit of the nuclear deal is the technical cooperation for nuclear research and assistance in advancing nuclear safety and security. The EU and Iran have conducted several meetings to date and the results over some clear benefits to Iran. Pledging to continue to help Iran realize the full benefit of Annex III of the JCPOA is another way the EU can show its commitment to the deal.

Russia and China have also indicated support for sustaining the JCPOA and denounced Trump’s threats to the deal. At a meeting on the NPT in Geneva, Russia and China circulated a statement affirming their "unwavering support for the comprehensive and effective implementation" of the deal and invited all states present to sign on to the agreement. The Russian envoy to the meeting called upon states “not to remain silent in hopes that this situation will somehow blow over by itself but rather to take serious steps to preserve the JCPOA.”

Washington’s P5+1 partners should also use the dispute resolution mechanism set up by the JCPOA to present a united front in the face of the U.S. violation or support Iran if Tehran chooses this path. While the dispute resolution might push the E3 and the EU into the unattractive position of siding with Russia and China against the United States, it would send a strong signal to the Trump administration that the United States is isolated in its rejection of the deal.

Beyond the P5+1

The world is looking to the E3 to save the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran–but it is not just the responsibility of the other P5+1 states to avert the nonproliferation crisis that would follow if Trump reimposes sanctions. States beyond the P5+1 have an obligation to contribute to efforts to sustain the deal and uphold nonproliferation norms.

The UN Security Council endorsed the JCPOA in a 2015 resolution that “calls upon all Member States” to “take such actions as may be appropriate to support the implementation of the JCPOA” and “refraining from actions that undermine the implementation of commitments” under the deal. The preamble of the Resolution 2231 also emphasizes the importance of a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue “would benefit nuclear-nonproliferation.” The Security Council resolution statements may be nonbinding, but they underscore the global importance of the deal for nonproliferation and the responsibility that all UN member states have toward supporting the agreement.

States like South Korea, Japan, and India also have a stake in the economic consequences of any U.S. decision to violate the deal and reimpose sanctions. Not only would they be subject to restrictions on oil purchases from Iran, but banks and entities in these countries engaged in legitimate trade with Iran risk penalties if they do not cut ties with Tehran.

Like the EU, these states may think about what measures they can take to shield businesses and entities from U.S. sanctions. Pursuing strategies similar to the EU blocking regulation would send a strong signal of support for the Iran deal and demonstrate to Washington that there are consequences for blatantly disregarding multilateral accords.

Conclusion

If Trump fails to renew sanctions waivers May 12 it will be a clear violation of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. Withholding waivers would be irresponsible, dangerous, and risk a nuclear agreement that is verifiably restricting Iran’s nuclear activities. Trump’s action may not cause the deal collapse, but it certainly jeopardizes the future of the JCPOA and isolates the United States from key allies.

It is critical that members of Congress, Washington P5+1 partners, and the broader international community denounce Trump for violating the agreement if he fails to renew the sanctions waivers. Collapse of the agreement would have international consequences. Defending the JCPOA must be a global responsibility.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, April 25, 2018

Europe Works to Save the JCPOA As time winds down to the May 12 deadline U.S. President Donald Trump set for negotiating a “fix” to the nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) are urging the United States not to violate the agreement and warning Washington of the consequences if the deal collapses. Behind the scenes, E3–France, Germany, and the United Kingdom–and U.S. officials continue working on a supplemental arrangement dealing with the “flaws” Trump demanded the Europeans address before the May 12 deadline to renew U.S...

EU Prepares for U.S. Exit From Iran Deal


April 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

While the United States continues discussions with European partners on a supplemental agreement to the Iran nuclear deal, the European Union is starting to prepare for the impact of President Donald Trump pulling out of the accord.

Brian Hook, director for policy planning at the State Department, said on March 21 he had “constructive” meetings in Berlin with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the so-called E3 group, on a supplemental agreement that addresses what Trump regards as “flaws” in the nuclear deal.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini addresses a press conference during a foreign ministers meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on March 19, 2018. She said the EU is starting to prepare to “protect European interests” in case “decisions are taken elsewhere” not to abide by the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)Trump threatened on Jan. 12 to withhold sanctions waivers in May, which would effectively put the United States in violation of the nuclear deal, unless the E3 and Congress act to address his concerns. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Further, Trump in March shook up his national security team, putting into key positions two officials who have been outspoken in their rejection of the Iran deal. Trump selected CIA Director Mike Pompeo, subject to Senate confirmation, to replace fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and named former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who has advocated military action against Iran and North Korea, as White House national security adviser, succeeding fired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. The two ousted officials had clashed with the president over their views that the benefits of maintaining the nuclear agreement exceed any shortcomings.

Trump’s threat has rattled key European allies, who have lobbied to keep the nuclear deal, and perhaps complicated anticipated negotiations with North Korea, which would have reason to doubt the reliability of any U.S. promises tied to denuclearization. Further, Iranian officials have said such action by Trump would mean their country is no longer bound by the nuclear deal, which could lead to a military confrontation if Iran resumes certain nuclear activities.

Hook would not predict whether the United States and the E3 would conclude an agreement before the May 12 deadline, but he said conversations were focused on the sunset provisions, or elements of the deal that expire; Iran’s missile program; and stronger inspections. He said that the United States and the E3 are working to “narrow” the differences to see if an agreement can be reached.

If an agreement is reached, Hook said it will be presented to Trump, who would make a decision on “whether he wants to remain in the deal or stop waiving sanctions.”

Hook’s meetings with the E3 took place as Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, citing disagreements over the nuclear deal as one of the causes for his dismissal. Tillerson had urged Trump to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal.

Although the EU did not participate in the talks between the E3 and the United States, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking after the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting March 19, said that the EU is starting to prepare to “protect European interests” in case “decisions are taken elsewhere” not to abide by the deal.

Mogherini did not provide details on what the EU’s preparations included, but if the United States reimposes sanctions on Iran, it would impact European entities doing legitimate business with Iran.

Hook said the United States is also “engaged in contingency planning” for “any eventuality.”

Mogherini, who headed the P5+1 group in negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal, said the EU is prepared to address Iran’s ballistic missiles and activities in the region through dialogue and separately from the nuclear agreement. The E3 states are looking at sanctions to respond to Iran’s actions in these two areas, but Mogherini said the EU did not discuss any additional sanctions.

The P5+1 and Iran met in March for the regular quarterly meeting of the Joint Commission, the body set up by the nuclear deal to oversee its implementation. The March 16 chair’s statement called for continued “effective implementation” of the accord by all parties and welcomed the most recent quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirming Iran’s “continued adherence” to its nuclear commitments.

During the Joint Commission meeting, Iran raised what it termed “breaches of obligations or delays” by the United States on sanctions relief. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called attention to delays in licenses for passenger aircraft sales.

The nuclear deal specifically references providing licenses for aircraft as part of the sanctions relief granted to Iran.

Hook said on March 21 that he told Iran during the Joint Commission meeting that the United States would not issue licenses “at the expense of our national security” because Iran uses its commercial airlines to “move terrorists and weapons” around the Middle East. He said he urged Iran to make reforms to its civil aviation.

Trump also called on Jan. 12 for Congress to pass legislation addressing the flaws he identified in the deal. Members of Congress, however, appear to be waiting to see what comes out of the negotiations with the E3 before acting. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on March 13 that Trump will have to make a decision to waive sanctions by May 12 “based on where the Europeans evolve to.”

It is “solely the responsibility of the administration to work out something with our European allies,” Corker said. “It’s not Congress’ responsibility.”

Members of Congress will likely have an opportunity to seek additional clarity from the Trump administration on its approach to the May 12 deadline during Pompeo’s confirmation hearing for secretary of state.

Pompeo, who served in the House of Representatives during the 2015 congressional debate over the nuclear deal, opposes the agreement. In a July 2016 opinion essay for Fox News, he called for the United States to walk away from the agreement and argued that it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons when limitations expire.
 

Trump’s threat to walk away rattles key allies.

The Wrong Choice for National Security Advisor

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For Immediate Release: March 23, 2018

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

(Washington, D.C.)—The United States already faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require pragmatic decision and sober diplomatic engagement with American allies and foes alike.

With the choice of John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, President Donald Trump has chosen someone with a record of a hostile attitude toward multilateral security and arms control agreements and effective international institutions designed to advance U.S. national security and international peace and security.

Bolton's extreme views could tilt the malleable Mr. Trump in the wrong direction on critical decisions affecting the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the strained U.S. relationship with Russia, among other issues.

Bolton is a nonproliferation hawk, but he has a disturbing and bellicose record of choosing confrontation rather than dialogue, politicizing intelligence to fit his worldview, and aggressively undermining treaties and negotiations designed to reduce weapons-related security threats. 

  • Bolton has long advocated for bombing Iran instead of pursuing negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program and he has called on the United States to abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is working to verifiably block Iran’s pathways to the bomb. 
  • In the early 2000s, Bolton was among those in the George W. Bush administration who opposed further dialogue with North Korea which allowed North Korea to advance its nuclear program and test nuclear weapons. More recently, has argued that the United States should launch a “preventive attack” on North Korea, which would result in a catastrophic war. His approach runs counter to Mr. Trump’s own stated policy of using sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement, including a summit with Kim Jong-un, to halt and reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
  • Bolton has repeatedly criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which is one of the few bright spots in the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship and continues to enjoy strong support from the U.S. military. Last year Bolton called the treaty “an execrable deal.”
  • While undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the George W. Bush administration, Bolton cherry-picked the findings of intelligence community assessments of that country’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and was a key player in making the Bush administration’s flawed case for the war in Iraq—a war that Donald Trump has correctly ridiculed as a catastrophic American foreign policy blunder.

If Bolton succeeds in imposing his worldview on Donald Trump’s improvisational and impulsive foreign policy approach, we could be entering in a period of crisis and confrontation.

In particular, if Bolton convinces Trump to unilaterally violate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May when the U.S. is due to renew sanctions waivers, it would not only open the door to the re-emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons proliferation risk, but it would undermine President Trump’s very tentative diplomatic opening with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In the next year or so, Trump will need to decide whether or not to engage in talks with Russia about extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in 2021. Without the treaty, there would be no verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

We can ill-afford two nuclear proliferation crises, as well as abandoning a key brake on the growing risks of renewed U.S. and Russian nuclear competition and arms racing. 

Congress will need to play a stronger role to guard against further chaos and confusion in U.S. foreign policy, prevent the White House from blundering into unwise and catastrophic military conflicts, and to halt further degradation of the credibility of the United States as a responsible global leader.

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Press release on the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, March 22, 2018

P5+1 and Iran Meet Amid Uncertainty Over the Nuclear Deal’s Future Members of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran met last week in Vienna for a quarterly meeting of the Joint Commission, the body set up by the nuclear deal to assess its implementation. This was the first full meeting of the Joint Commission since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened in January to pull out of the deal in May unless Congress and the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) worked with his administration to address what he terms as “flaws” in the...

Trump Threatens Iran Deal Withdrawal


March 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump set the stage for a new showdown over Iran sanctions in early May, putting pressure on Congress and Washington’s European partners to take action to address what he describes as “disastrous flaws” in the agreement.

In a Jan. 12 statement, Trump announced that he was waiving sanctions, as required to keep the United States in compliance with the deal, but he coupled that action with an ultimatum by saying he would not reissue the waivers again unless the deal is fixed. The next sanctions waivers are due around May 12.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on January 13 that President Trump is seeking to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement.” (Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)The four “critical components” that Trump wants addressed include tying Iran’s ballistic missile program to its nuclear activities, extending limits on Iran’s nuclear program that are set to expire over time, ensuring Iran never gets close to development of a nuclear weapon, and allowing international inspectors immediate access to any site on request. Trump said that the waived U.S. sanctions should snap back immediately if Iran does not comply with the provisions he is pursing.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, some limits on Iran’s nuclear program will expire in 10 to 25 years, whereas other provisions are permanent.

The nuclear deal does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, although the UN Security Council’s endorsement of the agreement declared limits on Iran’s ability to transfer ballistic missiles and components and called on the country to refrain from testing missiles designed to be nuclear capable. The deal does contain provisions outlining a process for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to request access to undeclared sites if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activity.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Jan. 13 that Trump’s statement amounts to a “desperate” attempt to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement” and is itself a violation of the nuclear deal. He called for the United States to come into “full compliance.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also rejected the U.S. approach. Moscow will not support any U.S. actions “changing the wording of the agreement,” he said. Russia was one of the P5+1 members (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, but was not included in Trump’s request for a supplemental agreement.

Leaders from the three European countries that Trump called on to negotiate the “supplemental” agreement with the United States offered in October to work with the administration to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, but rejected any renegotiation of the nuclear deal. (See ACT, November 2017.) Those countries are France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

They did agree, however, to participate in joint working groups that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said will address the status of Iran’s nuclear program after certain limits expire and Iranian activities “not related to the nuclear program.”

Tillerson, speaking to reporters during a trip to the United Kingdom on Jan. 22, said that there is a “common view” with the Europeans that these areas need to be addressed. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson only confirmed that the European countries share U.S. concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The three European countries could work with the United States on the ballistic missile issue if it does not “vitiate the fundaments of the Iran nuclear deal,” Johnson said.

Tillerson said that the administration cannot “set timetables for others” but that the United States is under a deadline from Trump to produce results. An official from one of the three European states told Arms Control Today on Feb. 13 that the United States has not been clear about its expectations for the working groups or the results necessary for Trump to continue to waive sanctions.

Congressional reactions to Trump’s demand that Congress pass legislation to address his four areas of concern were mixed. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a Jan. 12 statement that he was working with the administration on a way to “address the flaws in the agreement without violating U.S. commitments.” Corker said it is an opportunity to reach a “better deal” that will “stand the test of time and actually prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” He has yet to introduce any legislation.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time of Trump’s announcement, said he was “open to legislation options that would not violate” the nuclear deal and is supported by Europe.

U.S. demands more constraints on Iran or else.

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, February 5, 2017

P5+1, Congress Respond to Trump’s Demands to Change the Iran Nuclear Deal Officials from the United States and the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) gathered Jan. 25 in London for a working group meeting to discuss the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and Iran’s ballistic missile program. The meeting came after U.S. President Donald Trump renewed sanctions waivers required to keep the United States in compliance with the accord Jan. 12, but threatened to withhold the next round of waivers, due May 12, if Congress and...

Trump’s Cynical Gambit on the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Volume 10, Issue 2, January 17, 2018

President Donald Trump’s Jan. 12 decision to waive sanctions on Iran keeps the United States in compliance–for the time being–with its obligations under the multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump’s ultimatum that Congress pass legislation to unilaterally address what he describes as “flaws” in the agreement is based on flawed assumptions. His demands are unrealistic and put the future of the accord in doubt.

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images)Trump’s Jan. 12 statement announcing the United States would waive sanctions reiterated the threat from his October Iran policy speech: “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.” In the Jan. 12 statement, however, Trump put a deadline on the “fix,” declaring that he would not waive sanctions again unless Congress passes legislation to address the “flaws” and almost certainly violating the JCPOA. Before the next sanctions waivers are due on or around May 12, Trump specifically called for legislation addressing four factors:

1) It must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.

2) Second, it must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.

3) Third, unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date.

4) Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.

Under the nuclear deal, the United States committed to “implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit, and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.” (See Section C.)

Conditioning continued U.S. participation in the agreement on achieving changes through unilateral action is not a good faith implementation of the JCPOA and sets the United States up to violate the agreement.

Thus far, Congress has wisely refrained from pursuing legislation that would violate the deal. In response to Trump’s ultimatum, it is critical that Congress does not kill the deal under the guise of saving it. Legislation that violates the agreement by unilaterally attempting to extend or alter the nuclear restrictions on Iran poses just as great a risk as Trump revoking the waivers, which would put the United States in material breach of its JCPOA commitments.

Moreover, any U.S. attempt to make changes to the multilateral accord will be staunchly opposed by Washington’s P5+1 negotiating partners, (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) and would be rejected by Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly responded to Trump’s Jan. 12 statement by saying the JCPOA is “not renegotiable” and that the U.S. announcement amounts to a desperate attempt to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Jan. 15 that Trump’s approach is unacceptable and Moscow would work to preserve the existing agreement.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1 group made similar comments last year, noting Sept. 21 that reopening an agreement that is working is unnecessary. Mogherini also called out Trump on his threat to blow up the deal. She warned that the JCPOA “does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”

Clearly, pursuing Trump’s approach will only isolate the United States at a time when Washington needs to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. Worse still, threats to pull out of the JCPOA unless other parties accede to U.S. demands will undermine cooperation on sanctions and negotiations to produce a deal to halt and reverse North Korea’s far more advanced nuclear and missile programs.

Trump’s Unrealistic Renegotiation Demands

A closer look at Trump’s four conditions for new legislation on the JCPOA show them to be unnecessary and unrealistic:

1) “It must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.”

Additional inspections authorities dictated by Congress are unnecessary and risk undermining the independence and integrity of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Under the JCPOA, key nuclear activities in Iran are subject to continuous monitoring to verify Iran is abiding by the deal. The IAEA also has timely access to both declared and undeclared sites. Declared sites can be visited on short notice and key sites can be inspected on a daily basis if requested by the agency.

If the IAEA has questions about illicit nuclear-related activities at any undeclared site (either civilian or military) that Iran does not address, the agency can request access. If Iran does not comply or fails to provide sufficient access in 14 days, the Joint Commission set up by the JCPOA can require Iran to comply with the IAEA’s request. This process is outlined in Annex I, Section Q of the JCPOA. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano noted Oct. 13 that agency inspectors have had all the access to sites they have requested and that the verification regime is the “world’s most robust.”

The JCPOA does not allow “anytime, anywhere” inspections–but that is not necessary for a strong agreement. Nor is likely that Iran–or any other country–would agree to give inspectors carte blanche access to any site, particularly military facilities. The current measures, combined with U.S. national intelligence means, provide high confidence that any deviations from the provisions allowed in the JCPOA would be quickly detected.

Additionally, the United States cannot and should not dictate the terms of international inspections. The IAEA is an independent organization and the credibility of the agency’s work depends on that perception. For the United States or any other country to try to legislate the agency’s access risks undermining the independence and integrity that is so critical to the IAEA’s work.


2) “It must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.”

It is unclear how Trump thinks legislation can or should be crafted to address this vague demand. A bill that seeks additional barriers based on a unilateral and arbitrary understanding of what constitutes "close to possessing a nuclear weapon" would be outside the scope of the JCPOA and would certainly be rejected by Iran and the United States' partners.

While some of the core restrictions under the JCPOA will expire, a shorter breakout time is not necessarily indicative of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Currently, the breakout, or time it would take for Iran to obtain enough fissile material for one bomb, is approximately 12 months. That timeline will drop after the first 10 years of the JCPOA when restrictions begin to expire. However, a shorter breakout alone does not indicate by itself that Iran has chosen to pursue nuclear weapons. For instance, if Tehran begins producing enough enriched uranium for its Bushehr power reactor, its breakout time would be shorter, but its activities would be legally permissible under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Additionally, key restrictions on Iran are permanent under the JCPOA. The enhanced inspections and monitoring under the additional protocol do not expire, nor does the prohibition on certain weaponization activities (Annex I, Section T). As a result, inspectors have more access than in prior years and Iran cannot claim that certain activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device are for conventional military purposes as it has in the past. The combination of restrictions, enhanced IAEA monitoring and access, and national intelligence means puts the United States in the best possible place to quickly detect covert nuclear activity, or a dash to nuclear weapons using declared nuclear facilities.

There are legitimate concerns about what happens in 10-15 years when some of the core nuclear limits mandated by the JCPOA are due to expire. But it is far better to sustain the current deal and look for opportunities, in conjunction with the P5+1 partners, to build on it in a way that strengthens nonproliferation in Iran and regionally, rather than risk the agreement immediately.


3) “Unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date. My policy is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon—not just for ten years, but forever. If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume.”

Unilaterally demanding an extension of JCPOA restrictions under threat of reimposing sanctions would violate the deal. Under the terms of the JCPOA, full implementation of the JCPOA results in Iran being treated like any other non-nuclear weapon state under the NPT. The State Department itself stated in the 2016 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments that with the implementation of the deal, “previous issues leading to NPT noncompliance findings [regarding Iran] had been resolved.”

Additionally, 10 years from adoption day, barring the reimposition of sanctions on Iran by the United Nations Security Council, that body will no longer be “seized” of the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. At this point, if Iran is in compliance with its international treaty obligations and the United States has no intelligence suggesting that Iran is pursuing a covert nuclear program, there is no legitimate basis to subject Iran’s nuclear program to arbitrary restrictions under threat of sanction.

The United States is also obligated in the JCPOA to seek the statutory lifting of sanctions eight years after adoption day. If Washington intends to threaten automatic reimposition of sanctions in perpetuity if Iran resumes certain nuclear activities, Congress cannot make a good faith effort to statutorily lift the measures.

The United States does not need to seek a basis now in order to respond to future, hypothetical Iranian actions. If national intelligence or evidence obtained by the IAEA were to emerge in the future that Iran had resumed nuclear-weapons related activities in violation of its NPT commitments, the United States should work multilaterally, as it did leading up to the JCPOA, to pursue a response supported by the international community.


4) “Legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”

Formally linking Iran’s long-range missile program to its nuclear weapons program under U.S. law risks putting in place conditions that would disrupt the JCPOA because of activities outside the scope of the agreement.

While the JCPOA does not cover Iran’s ballistic missile activities, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the deal, calls upon Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be nuclear-capable. While this is a nonbinding condition, the eight-year prohibitions on selling or purchasing certain ballistic missiles and related technologies without prior approval from the Security Council are absolute.

Since the Iran nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016, the UN secretary-general has issued four reports assessing the implementation the resolution. Several of the reports, including the most recent in December 2017, call into question Iran’s compliance with the restrictions, noting several allegations of illicit transfer of ballistic missile systems.

Iran’s flouting of UN Security Council restrictions is troublesome, but the United States has a number of tools to address Iran’s ballistic missile activities. The JCPOA did not waive or prohibit additional U.S. sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activity and the United States has responded to Iran’s ballistic missile activities by passing new measures and designating individuals and entities.

In the past six months, the administration targeted additional entities assessed as involved in Iran’s ballistic missiles program as recently as Jan. 12, and Congress passed additional sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activity in August 2017. Implementation of these measures, as well as UN restrictions, should be the focus of U.S. efforts at this point.

Given Iran’s security concerns and the current US-Iranian tensions, an agreement limiting ballistic missiles may be unlikely in short term, particularly if the JCPOA’s future is in doubt, and because of the central role that Iran’s ballistic missiles play in its national security. But the United States can and should do what it can to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and encourage Iran to abide by its announced range restriction. Iran has stated it will limit its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers. While this commitment is voluntary and nonbinding, it has been reiterated by the Supreme Leader, and a June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range.

The United States should also work with its EU allies, which have stated in October a willingness to work cooperatively to address Iran’s ballistic missiles–separate from the JCPOA. That could include discussions on a regional ballistic missile limitation mechanism and greater information sharing to ensure that the existing UN restrictions, as well as U.S. sanctions, are abided by. Training on Resolution 2231 and export controls could also be beneficial to enhance compliance with existing restrictions. Given the broad authorities already on the books, a focus on implementation, rather than additional sanctions, may be the best path forward.

Going Forward

Responsible legislators should understand Trump’s demands to “fix” the deal for what they are: an attempt to force Congress to unilaterally push changes that other parties won’t accept, or allow him to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments.

Even if the Congress proposes “fixes” to the JCPOA that do not violate the terms of the agreement outright—and it is difficult to conceive of legislation that would meet Trump’s conditions without violating the deal—there is no guarantee that Trump will not move the goalposts again in the future and demand additional concessions for continued U.S. participation in the accord.

From a nonproliferation perspective, the JCPOA can continue to block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons for more than a decade if fully implemented. With top U.S. policymakers like Secretary of Defense James Mattis affirming that Iran is meeting its commitments and that the deal benefits U.S. national security interests, there is no reason for Washington to pull out of the deal, demand additional changes, and risk a new proliferation crisis now.

The Trump administration must recognize that the best path forward to address Iran’s nuclear program is to fully implement the agreement at hand and look for opportunities to build on its unique nonproliferation value.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Trump’s ultimatum that Congress pass legislation to unilaterally address what he describes as “flaws” in the agreement is based on flawed assumptions and puts the future of the accord in doubt.

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Trump Decision to Respect Iran Deal Obligations Averts Self-Made Crisis, for Now.

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Nuclear Agreement is a Nonproliferation Success that Must Not Be Squandered

For Immediate Release: January 12, 2018

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Thomas Countryman, chair of the board of directors, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110

(Washington, D.C.)—The Trump administration announced Friday that it will continue to waive sanctions on Iran in accordance with U.S. commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal between the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran, known as known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Meeting the U.S. obligation to continue sanctions relief is a common-sense decision that helps ensure that the tough restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency measures will continue to block Iran’s pathways to the bomb for years to come,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

"The deal dodged a bullet today, but Trump is setting up the United States to violate it down the road," warned Davenport. "Threatening to withhold future sanctions waivers in an attempt to force unilateral changes to the deal is dangerous, jeopardizes the future of the agreement, and creates a schism between the United States and its allies."

“The vast majority of nonproliferation and security experts agree that the successful implementation of the JCPOA has effectively neutralized the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons program,” said Thomas Countryman, the chairman of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation.

“It would have been foolish for President Trump to disrupt a successful nonproliferation agreement that blocks the emergence of a significant new nuclear threat in a tension-filled region and contributes to strengthening the global nonproliferation regime,” Countryman argued.

“Trump continues to disparage the deal and is pressuring Congress to “fix” what it sees as flaws in the agreement,” noted Davenport. “In the weeks ahead, the administration and the Congress must refrain from imposing new sanctions that violate the JCPOA or seek to unilaterally alter the nuclear restrictions on Iran.”

“For example, legislative efforts by the U.S. Congress that automatically reimpose sanctions if Iran does not indefinitely abide by core nuclear restrictions that the JCPOA phases out over time would violate the accord and are strongly opposed by Washington’s negotiating partners,” she said.

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Nuclear Agreement is a Nonproliferation Success that Must Not Be Squandered

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