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"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Daryl G. Kimball

A Realistic, Meaningful First Phase Nuclear Deal With Iran

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Volume 4, Issue 13, November 19, 2013

After three days of intense, talks in Geneva Nov. 7-9, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran came close to a breakthrough, "first phase" deal that would verifiably halt the progress of Iran's nuclear program, and at the same time increase International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring capabilities on its nuclear projects in exchange for limited, reversible sanction relief.

The negotiations will resume Nov. 20 in Geneva and could last through Nov. 22.

The key elements of the "first phase" agreement would clearly address the most immediate issues of proliferation concern, significantly increase the time it would take Iran to produce fissile material for weapons, and provide time to negotiate a more permanent agreement that might lead to a significant reduction of Iran's overall enrichment capacity and even more intrusive IAEA inspections to guard against any possible secret nuclear weapons-related activities.

Key elements likely include:

  • halting Iranian uranium enrichment to 20% levels, which is above normal power reactor fuel grade and closer to weapons grade (90%);
  • converting existing 20% material to oxide and/or downblending the stockpile to lower enrichment levels;
  • freezing the introduction or operation of additional centrifuges (approx. 10,000 IR-1 machines are operating; 19,000 are installed), including a freeze on the installation of more advanced IR2-M machines;
  • reducing the proliferation potential of the Arak heavy water reactor, possibly including a freeze on the manufacture of fuel assemblies, or an agreement on the disposition of its spent fuel outside of Iran, or converting the reactor to a more proliferation resistant light-water reactor;
  • unspecified additional transparency measures, possibly implementation (but not ratification) of the additional protocol and/or an agreement to allow the IAEA to maintain a near-constant presence at key nuclear facilities.

Taken together, these measures would put into effect even tougher limits on Iran's nuclear activities than the P5+1 proposal for Iranian actions put forward at the February and April 2013 talks in Almaty.

In exchange for these concrete steps, the P5+1 may be considering:

  • releasing approximately several billion of the estimated $50 billion in Iranian assets tied up in other countries from oil sales;
  • waiving certain sanctions on trade with Iran in petro-chemicals, trade in gold and other precious metals just put into effect last July;
  • waiving the designation of Iran's auto industry and access to aircraft parts as areas of "proliferation concern;" and
  • providing medical isotopes or fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which uses 20% enriched uranium fuel to produce medical isotopes.

This "phase one" agreement would last approximately six-months, during which time, Iran would remain under severe international sanctions and additional Iranian financial assets--perhaps as much as $15-$20 billion worth--would become frozen. The phase one agreement could be extended by mutual consent of the parties.

Toward A "Final Phase" Agreement

Most importantly, a "first phase" deal would open the way for negotiations on a more comprehensive, more permanent agreement that rolls back Iran's overall enrichment capacity-ideally to no more than 3,000-4,000 centrifuges-and provides more extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program.

In principle, Iran's enrichment capacity and stockpile of material should not exceed the fuel supply needs of its nuclear power reactor program, which for now are close to zero.

With these restrictions in place, Iran would find it extremely difficult to try to make a dash to build nuclear weapons before the international community would detect such activities and could act to block such an outcome.

To secure a "final phase" agreement, the P5+1 will need to further scale-back the oil and financial sanctions that are devastating Iran's economy and will need to recognize Iran's right under the Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue peaceful nuclear activities under certain conditions.

As Obama said in his Sept. 24 address to the United Nations: "We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people [to access nuclear energy], while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."

Article IV of the NPT guarantees the "the inalienable right ... to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II ...."  Many countries including Iran interpret this to include uranium enrichment to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors and research reactors that produce medical isotopes.

Article II requires each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty ... not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons ...." Article III of the NPT requires that each non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the NPT accepts safeguards agreements with the IAEA to ensure that all nuclear activities are for exclusively peaceful purposes.

To move forward on this issue, it has been reported by The New York Times and others that in the "first phase" agreement, each side might affirm that Iran would be entitled to all of the rights of states parties to the NPT.  The P5+1 and Iran would then agree to disagree on how to interpret those NPT rights.

To resolve concerns about the purpose of Iran's nuclear program, President Hassan Rouhani must continue to follow through on his pledge for "greater transparency" by implementing the additional protocol and fully cooperating with the IAEA to resolve questions about suspected weapons-related experiments that may have been conducted in years past.

On Nov. 11, IAEA Director-General Amano met with top Iranian officials in Tehran and signed a new framework for cooperation for initial actions to address some of these issues over the next 3 months.

Closing the Deal

With talks resuming on November 20 in Geneva, it is vital to maintain the momentum to work toward a "first phase" agreement that addresses the most urgent proliferation concerns.

Policymakers in Washington and leaders in Israel who genuinely want to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran should be careful not to insist on unrealistic demands, such as zero enrichment or the complete dismantlement of Iran's nuclear program.

Such a deal may have been possible in 2005 when Iran had fewer than 300 uranium centrifuges enriching uranium at one site; but it is not realistic now that Iran has 19,000 installed and 10,000 operating centrifuges at two sites.

Pushing for everything and getting nothing is foolhardy and dangerous.

Since 2007, the U.S. Intelligence Community has assessed that Iran has already gained a nuclear weapons capability--that is, "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."

Current U.S. intelligence continues to assess that leaders in Tehran have not made such a decision and they assess that Iran is still more than a year away from being able to produce enough weapons grade uranium and possibly build nuclear weapons.

Since President Rouhani's inauguration, Iran has halted key elements of its nuclear program, according to the latest quarterly report of the IAEA.

But in the absence of a meaningful, realistic deal to limit Iran's nuclear program, Iran will likely continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium and expand its other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle projects. That, in turn, will increase the risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites. Such an attack would only delay, not stop, Iran's nuclear pursuits, would lead to a wider Middle East war, and likely push Iran's leaders to openly seek the bomb.

In the absence of a negotiated "first phase" agreement to pause Iran's nuclear program, some U.S. legislators may seek further sanctions against Iran, but such sanctions would take many months to have an effect, they could strain international support for implementing the existing sanction regime, and such efforts would not halt or eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons potential.

Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful first phase agreement and quickly move to negotiate a longer-term final phase agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals.--DARYL G. KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

 

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.

Description: 

After three days of intense, talks in Geneva Nov. 7-9, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran came close to a breakthrough, "first phase" deal that would verifiably halt the progress of Iran's nuclear program, and at the same time increase International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring capabilities on its nuclear projects in exchange for limited, reversible sanction relief.

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A Nuclear Deal With Iran

Daryl G. Kimball

The United States and its “P5+1” negotiating partners are scheduled to resume talks with Iran on Nov. 7-8 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. These ongoing talks represent the best chance in years to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. A framework deal could be achieved by early next year.

Neither side can or will get everything it wants. If one or both sides miscalculate and demand more than the other side is willing to deliver, the negotiations will fail.

For instance, it is counterproductive to demand, as nuclear-armed Israel suggests, that Iran permanently halt all enrichment work and dismantle its key nuclear facilities. “Zero enrichment,” which would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint, might have been attainable a decade ago when Iran’s program was in its early stages. Today, however, it is not realistic, and insisting on it is a recipe for failure.

In the absence of a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium, and the risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites will increase. Further sanctions will not halt or eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons potential. Military strikes would only delay, not stop, Iran’s nuclear pursuits and would likely push Iran’s leaders to openly seek the bomb.

Negotiating a sound nuclear agreement will be difficult, but it is clearly the most effective course of action. The first priority must be to halt Iran’s production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and verifiably remove or down-blend its existing stockpile in exchange for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor or alternative sources of medical isotopes produced by the reactor.

Iran says it is prepared to limit the overall uranium-enrichment capacity of its two declared and safeguarded facilities, Natanz and Fordow. In principle, Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile of material should not exceed the fuel supply needs of its nuclear power reactor program, which for now are close to zero. Consequently, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) should seek an immediate halt to the further expansion of Iran’s enrichment program, and later secure a very significant reduction of its current installed enrichment capacity, which is about 19,000 IR-1 centrifuges.

The P5+1 should also press Iran to halt work on its Arak heavy-water reactor or agree that any spent fuel from Arak shall be exported for disposal. Arak, which is nearing completion, could provide Iran with a second path for producing fissile material for nuclear weapons if Tehran could extract the plutonium from its irradiated fuel.

To further guard against a secret weapons program at undisclosed sites and to provide additional warning time, Tehran must join the vast majority of other nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) member states in providing more-timely information to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about its nuclear projects under the standards of IAEA Code 3.1 and allow more-extensive inspections through adoption of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement.

With these restrictions in place, Iran would find it extremely difficult to make a dash to build nuclear weapons before the international community would detect such activities and could act to block such an outcome.

To motivate Iran to take these confidence-building steps, President Barack Obama can and must be prepared to use his authority to temporarily waive certain U.S. sanctions on Iran, including some key financial and oil restrictions. Congress must refrain from pushing ahead with a new round of sanctions, which would severely undermine the prospects of a negotiated solution and increase the chances of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Most international and national sanctions will remain in place until Iran takes the final steps necessary to give the international community confidence that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. But Iran will not likely agree to limits on its nuclear program if there is no prospect for serious sanctions relief.

To secure a deal, the P5+1 must also recognize Iran’s right under the Article IV of the NPT to pursue peaceful nuclear activities under certain conditions. As Obama said in his Sept. 24 address to the United Nations, such recognition requires that Iran adequately and satisfactorily respond to the international community’s concern about the nature of its program.

To do so, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani must follow through on his pledge for “greater transparency” by implementing the additional protocol and fully cooperating with the IAEA to resolve questions about suspected weapons-related experiments that may have been conducted over a decade ago.

Iran has the technical capability to build nuclear weapons if it wants to do so. In the assessment of senior U.S. intelligence officials, Iranian leaders have not made such a decision and are more than a year away from being able to produce nuclear weapons.

But in the absence of a negotiated solution, Iran’s capabilities to produce material for nuclear weapons will only improve. Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals.

The United States and its “P5+1” negotiating partners are scheduled to resume talks with Iran on Nov. 7-8 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. These ongoing talks represent the best chance in years to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. A framework deal could be achieved by early next year.

What Kind of Deal Is Necessary and Possible to Guard Against a Nuclear-Armed Iran?

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Volume 4, Issue 11, October 10, 2013

The United States and its P5+1 partners--China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany--will resume negotiations with Iran on October 15-16 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Iran's increasingly capable nuclear program.

The next round of talks--the first since the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's president in June--represents the best chance in years to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran.

Leaders in Washington and in Tehran say they want to see prompt action toward a "win-win" diplomatic solution. In August, a group of 76 senators wrote to President Barack Obama urging him "to fully explore the diplomatic process" with a "renewed sense of urgency." President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani have both said they believe there is a good basis for an agreement.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, Obama said:

"We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people [to access nuclear energy], while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."

In remarks delivered the same day, Rouhani said it is our objective and "[o]ur national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program."

Iran, Rouhani said, also seeks "acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights, provides the only path towards achieving the first objective."

These and other comments from senior officials suggest that Iran may be prepared make a serious offer that could lead to verifiable limits on its uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel cycle projects, as well as more intrusive and more timely international nuclear inspections if the P5+1 group is willing begin the process of phasing-out the damaging oil and financial sanctions now in force against the Islamic Republic.

The task now is to negotiate the basic terms of such an agreement. This requires that each side come to the October 15-16 meeting in Geneva with new, pragmatic proposals that address the core concerns of the other. Each side must be prepared to follow up quickly with further talks, including direct, bilateral diplomacy between senior U.S. and Iranian officials and technical experts.

The U.S. Congress must do its part by refraining from actions that place unrealistic demands on the negotiators or establish new conditions for the easing of nonproliferation-related sanctions in response to concrete, verifiable actions by Iran that reduce proliferation risks.

Negotiated Limits Vs. Unconstrained Enrichment, Sanctions & War

Neither side can or will get everything they might have wanted in the past. If one or both sides miscalculate and demand more than the other side can or is willing to deliver, the negotiations will fail. For instance, it would be counterproductive for Iran to continue to insist, as it was doing last spring, on sanctions relief in return for little or no change in its nuclear program.

Likewise, it is unrealistic to insist that Iran halt all nuclear activities before there is any prospect of sanctions relief or even further talks. For example, the suggestion advanced in AIPAC's October 7 briefing paper that "Tehran must suspend all enrichment ... activities" in order "to provide the necessary time and space for discussions" is a non-starter.

There is clearly sufficient time to conclude and begin to implement an agreement before Iran could produce a nuclear weapon, which President Obama said in an October 4th interview would take Iran "more than a year" to accomplish, if it were to chose to do so.

Furthermore, it is counterproductive at this stage to demand that Iran suspend all nuclear activities as a precondition for further negotiations. "Zero enrichment" in Iran would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint--and it may have been attainable a decade ago when Iran's program was in its early stages--but insisting on such an outcome is not realistic today and is a recipe for failure.

And if the talks fail, both sides--and Israel--stand to lose. Big time.

In the absence of a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program and put in place tougher international inspections regime to guard against a potential undeclared nuclear activity, Iran will continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium without constraints, the United States will put in place even tighter sanctions, and risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites will grow.

Skeptics of a negotiated solution must recognize the reality that the alternative course--further sanctions and possible military strikes--cannot effectively stop Iran's dangerous nuclear pursuits.

Iran's economy is suffering under increasingly painful sanctions, but sanctions alone will not halt or eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons potential. Direct military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites would delay--not stop--Iran's nuclear pursuits and would give strength to hardliners in Tehran and push Iranian leaders to openly pursue nuclear weapons.

Reaching a sound, negotiated agreement will be difficult, but it is clearly the most effective course of action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Core Elements of An Effective Deal

At the previous round of talks in April of 2013, Iran and the P5+1 presented proposals that highlighted key concerns of each side. While there were a number of common elements, there were significant differences regarding the sequence of actions, the scope of issues to be addressed, and the timing of sanctions relief.

To reach an agreement that addresses the most urgent proliferation risks posed by Iran's nuclear program, as well as Iran's desire to continue some nuclear activities and begin to remove elements of the severe sanctions regime that has been put in place, each side will need to exhibit more flexibility and creativity.

President Obama and the United States' P5+1 partners must be prepared to expand their modest diplomatic proposal from last April in a way that sets new constraints on Iran's evolving nuclear program in exchange for more significant sanctions relief.

Iranian Actions: The first priority of the P5+1 must be to seek a halt to Iran's production of 20 percent-enriched uranium on a permanent basis, which is above the fuel grade used in civilian power reactors and closer to weapons grade, and verifiably remove its existing stockpile of such material, in exchange for an arrangement to supply fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor, medical isotopes, or both.

Iran must also agree to reasonable limits on the overall uranium enrichment capacity of its two declared and safeguarded facilities: Natanz and Fordow. This can be accomplished in various ways, including:

  • verifiable limits on the overall number of operating centrifuges; and/or
  • agreed limits on Iran's enrichment capacity to a level commensurate with Iran's nuclear power reactor fuel supply needs, which are, for now, minimal.

Any agreed constraints on Iranian enrichment capacity must take into account the possible deployment of new and more efficient centrifuges.

The P5+1 also should press Iran to halt work on its Arak heavy-water reactor, which is nearing completion, in exchange for other forms of civil nuclear cooperation or energy assistance that do not represent such a high proliferation risk. Although Iran does not currently have the capability to extract the plutonium from the spent fuel this reactor would produce a year or so after it becomes fully operational, the Arak reactor could eventually provide Iran with a second path to producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.

To further guard against a secret weapons program at undisclosed sites and to provide additional warning time, Tehran should join the vast majority of other nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) member states in providing more-timely information to the IAEA about its nuclear projects under the standards of IAEA Code 3.1 and allow more-extensive inspections, shorter-notice through an Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

With these restrictions in place, Iran would find it extremely difficult to try to make a dash to build nuclear weapons before the international community would detect such activities and could act to block such an outcome.

U.S. and P5+1 Actions: To get to "yes" on these important steps, the P5+1 must be prepared to phase-out hard-hitting sanctions against Iran's banking sector and oil exports, which are at the core of the wide-array of restrictions that have been imposed on Iran's trade and economic activity in recent years.

The purpose of the sanctions effort has been to alter Iran's cost-benefit calculations about agreeing to limit its nuclear program-and they have. Iran understands that the tough international and national sanctions will remain in place until it takes the steps necessary to provide confidence that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. But Iran will not likely agree to limits on its nuclear program if there is no prospect for sanctions relief.

In the coming weeks, key members of the Senate must refrain from pushing ahead with a new round sanctions before the results of the next round of talks become clear.

Contrary to the suggestions of some, including Banking Committee chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), the imposition of tougher sanctions now--before the negotiators have reasonable amount of time to conclude an agreement--would severely undermine the prospects of an negotiated solution that is in the United States' interests and increase the chances of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The P5+1 also must be prepared to recognize Iran's right under the Article IV of the NPT to pursue peaceful nuclear activities under certain conditions. As President Obama said in his September 24 address to the UN, such recognition requires that Iran adequately and satisfactorily respond to the international community's concern about the nature of its program.

To do so, President Rouhani must follow through on his pledge for "greater transparency" by agreeing to ratify and implement the Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards arrangement and by fully cooperating with the IAEA investigation of suspected weapons-related experiments. The next meeting between the IAEA and Iran to agree on a "structured approach" for the IAEA's investigation is scheduled for October 28 in Vienna.

If the two sides can agree to allow the IAEA sufficient access to Iranian sites, personnel and information about its ongoing and past nuclear work, the Agency should be able to determine whether experiments with "potential military dimensions" are still underway, or not. Only then can the Agency report to the IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council on the its findings.

Now Is the Time

Over the past decade, the United States, along with its European partners, as well as Iran, have squandered opportunities to reach a resolution that would have limited Iran's nuclear capabilities.

In the absence of an agreement to limit Iran's nuclear activities and improve safeguards against diversion, Tehran has significantly expanded its enrichment program and other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities.

In 2005, when the United States and its EU-3 partners turned down Iran's offer to limit its enrichment capacity, Iran had less than three hundred uranium enrichment centrifuge machines; today Iran has nearly 10,000 operating centrifuges and has installed a total of nearly 19,000. A more advanced centrifuge design may soon become operational, increasing Iran's uranium enrichment capabilities even further.

Since 2007, the U.S. Intelligence Community has assessed that Iran has already gained a nuclear weapons capability--that is, "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."

Senior U.S. intelligence officials continue to assess that leaders in Tehran have not made such a decision and they assess that Iran still more than a year away from being able to produce enough weapons grade uranium and possibly build nuclear weapons.

But in the absence of a negotiated solution, Iran's capabilities to produce material for nuclear weapons will only improve, even if international sanctions are tightened still further.

Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful agreement with Iran to verifiably limit its uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. If the two sides proceed on the basis of realistic and achievable goals, we can secure the transparency necessary to increase confidence that Iran is not actively developing nuclear weapons and finally establish verifiable limitations on uranium enrichment program to ensure that Iran does not develop a more rapid break-out option.

Negotiating a deal to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran will not be easy, but it is the best option on the table.--DARYL G. KIMBALL

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.

Description: 

The United States and its P5+1 partners--China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany--will resume negotiations with Iran on October 15-16 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Iran's increasingly capable nuclear program.

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Foreign Ministers Urge Action on CTBT

Daryl G. Kimball

More than 50 foreign ministers and senior government representatives met Sept. 27 at the United Nations to call for prompt action toward entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

One hundred eighty-three states have signed the treaty, and 161 have ratified it. But under the terms of the treaty, eight more listed in Article XIV of the treaty, including the United States and China, must ratify it to achieve entry into force.

This year’s conference on facilitating entry into force, the eighth such meeting held since 1999, adopted a final declaration reaffirming the participants’ “determination to take concrete steps towards early entry into force” and pledging “support for bilateral, regional, and multilateral outreach initiatives” to that end. The conference did not produce a work plan for such an effort.

In an effort to spur progress, the new executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Lassina Zerbo, announced the formation of 18-member Group of Eminent Persons to boost national and international efforts to bring the treaty into force. It includes several former foreign and defense ministers and senior diplomats, plus the co-chairs of the Sept. 27 conference, Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

U.S. and Chinese officials reiterated their support for the treaty, but did not make any commitments on ratification. Mirroring comments made at the 2011 conference, Rose Gottemoeller, the acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “there are no set time frames to bring the treaty to a vote, and we are going to be patient, but persistent in our outreach efforts.” Pang Sen, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control Department, pledged that his government would continue to “push forward the deliberation process” for Chinese ratification.

In August, following a visit by Zerbo to Beijing to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, China agreed to transmit data from the CTBTO’s monitoring stations in China to the organization’s International Data Center (IDC) in Vienna. According to an Aug. 7 CTBTO press statement, “This is part of the testing and evaluation process that marks the first formal step towards certification of the monitoring stations in China.”

The International Monitoring System will consist of 337 monitoring facilities when complete. Around 85 percent have already been installed and are sending data to the IDC. To date, 10 of the 11 CTBTO monitoring stations hosted by China have been built.

More than 50 foreign ministers and senior government representatives met Sept. 27 at the United Nations to call for prompt action toward entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Syria Plan Is Difficult but Doable

Daryl G. Kimball

The large-scale use of chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on Aug. 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again in Syria or elsewhere.

The UN chemical weapons inspection team found evidence of extensive use of the nerve agent sarin, determined the type of rockets used in the attacks, and calculated the direction from which the rockets were fired. These findings and others all point to use by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In the wake of these horrible attacks, which killed more than 1,000 men, women, and children, U.S. and Russian leaders now have an opportunity to establish international control of and to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal.

After days of intensive talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached a landmark agreement Sept. 14 for the expeditious accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria’s deadly arsenal under the auspices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Under the terms of the plan, which was approved by the OPCW and UN Security Council, Syria is required to declare its arsenal and allow initial inspections in November. By mid-2014, the entire stockpile, including chemical agents, production facilities, and delivery systems, is to be safely eliminated or, if necessary, removed from the country.

The plan is difficult but doable. Moscow and Washington bear a tremendous responsibility for its success. Making the plan work depends heavily on the ability of Moscow to maintain pressure on its client, Assad, to fully cooperate with the process of eliminating his chemical stockpile on schedule.

The United States and Russia will also have to continue to work together to overcome the serious security, technical, and financial challenges that lie ahead. Assad’s forces are believed to possess about 1,000 tons of blister agents, including mustard gas, and nerve agents, including sarin and VX, at dozens of sites. Most of this stockpile consists of precursor chemicals and bulk agent with relatively little already weaponized.

The OPCW will need additional experienced personnel to verify the accuracy of Syria’s declaration and to oversee stockpile elimination. Currently, the organization only has about 125 inspectors with ongoing responsibilities worldwide. The United States, Russia, and other donor states will need to provide additional financing, technical experts, and equipment for the task ahead.

Moscow and Washington agree that the most important first steps are to secure the chemical sites and begin destroying the equipment needed to mix chemicals and arm delivery systems. That will reduce the threat posed to Syria’s people and its neighbors as soon as possible.

With Syria’s stockpile largely in bulk and precursor form, it can be more easily incinerated and neutralized in semi-mobile units, which will facilitate the accelerated destruction schedule. Munitions can be destroyed in closed, steel-canister systems, making destruction in nine to 12 months feasible.

President Barack Obama’s call for holding Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons, combined with the credible threat of punitive U.S. cruise missile strikes, already has transformed Syria’s chemical arsenal into an enormous liability for the Syrian government. These weapons no longer can be used. Assad must verifiably eliminate them to avoid U.S. military action.

Although Russia will continue to object to the possible use of force against Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now invested in the success of the plan, something that was difficult to imagine before the August chemical attacks.

Nevertheless, in the coming weeks, Assad could try to hide some of his chemical weapons stockpile. It will be up to Russia, Assad’s main arms supplier and political supporter, to ensure he fully cooperates and avoids a possible U.S. military attack.

Contrary to the statements of some critics, the plan does not “absolve” Assad from the war crime of using chemical weapons. The UN Security Council can refer such war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC) even if the persons responsible are citizens of a state that has not ratified the ICC statute.

The U.S.-Russian framework for the control and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is not intended to resolve the ongoing, brutal conflict in Syria. But it does provide the most effective way of denying Assad the option to use some of his most dangerous weapons against unprotected civilians and rebel forces.

The U.S.-Russian plan can provide much-needed energy for negotiations that could lead to a political settlement for ending the conflict. The plan should spur Egypt, Israel, and other Chemical Weapons Convention holdouts to join the treaty and take other, overdue steps needed to move the Middle East closer to becoming a zone free of all types of weapons of mass destruction.

 

The large-scale use of chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on Aug. 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again in Syria or elsewhere.

Seizing Control of Assad's Chemical Arsenal: U.S.-Russian Plan Is Difficult But Doable

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Volume 4, Issue 10, September 19, 2013

The large-scale use of chemical weapons (CW) against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on August 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again--in Syria or elsewhere.

The recent findings of the UN chemical weapons inspection team--including evidence of the large-scale use of the nerve agent, Sarin, and the direction and type of the rockets used in the attacks--all point to use by President Bashar al-Assad's forces beyond reasonable doubt. The UN report corroborates and reinforces the conclusions reached by the United States and European intelligence agencies in the days after the attack.

In the wake of Assad's use of these horrible weapons on unprotected civilians, U.S. and Russian leaders have a game-changing opportunity to establish international control over Syria's chemical weapons and to eliminate or remove them within the course of the next year.

After days of intensive talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached a landmark agreement Sept. 14 on a detailed plan for the expeditious accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria's sizable arsenal of chemical weapons-probably the world's fourth largest today.

The U.S.-Russian plan is thorough and tough; the timetable for action is difficult but doable. It deserves the full support of the international community and the implementing agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)--the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Framework for Eliminating Syria's CW

The Sept. 14 U.S.-Russian joint framework calls on Syria to provide a full declaration of its stockpile "within a week" and "to achieve accountability for their chemical weapons, the Syrians must provide the OPCW, the UN, and other supporting personnel with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria." The plan calls for the OPCW inspectors to complete their initial inspections by November.

The document states that U.S. and Russian officials have also reached a consensus on the size of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile and calls for the destruction of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons and chemical agents by the first half of 2014.

Reinforcing the Political and Legal Mandate

In the coming days, the OPCW Executive Council must approve the framework agreement and UN Security Council must come together on a resolution mandating that Syria comply with the plan.

At a minimum, the resolution should:

  • Unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a war crime;
  • Forbid further use of chemical weapons by anyone, under any circumstances;
  • Recognize Syria's accession to the CWC;
  • Demand that the Syrian government immediately and fully declare its chemical weapons and facilities, and allow inspectors immediate access to and control of all chemical weapons storage and production sites;
  • Demand that Syria and all CWC member states fully cooperate with the OPCW and other Security Council members to achieve the removal and/or destruction of its entire chemical arsenal no later than mid-2014; and
  • Call upon all other states that have not yet signed and ratified the convention--Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan--to do so immediately.

In addition, the plan for international control of Syria's chemical stockpiles requires an effective enforcement mechanism.

As the Obama administration has noted, Russia's pursuit and Syria's acceptance of the concept of international control has only come after the threat of the use of force. In order to ensure that Syria fully implements its commitments, the Security Council should agree that "serious action" by Council members under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including the use of force, would be warranted if there are flagrant violations by Assad. If not, the United States and other governments must continue to reserve the right to use force to compel implementation by Syria.

The Chemical Weapons Destruction Task

Assad's forces are believed to possess (and are responsible for maintaining control over) about 1,100 tons of blister agents, including mustard gas, and nerve agents, including Sarin and VX. Syria's stockpile is deliverable by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.

Before the Syrian civil war began, independent analysts believed that there were about a dozen chemical weapons stockpiles and production-related sites inside Syria. Today, published press reports based on Western intelligence sources suggest there may be as many as 40 such sites.

Together, the United States and Russia know a good deal more about the size and nature of the Syrian CW stocks, including whether most of it is in precursor chemicals, and/or bulk storage and how much of it is weaponized.

The Sept. 14 framework document states that "the United States and Russia have reached a shared assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons" in Syria, and that "[w]e further determined that the most effective control of these weapons may be achieved by removal of the largest amounts of weapons feasible, under OPCW supervision, and their destruction outside Syria if possible."

If Syria's stockpile is in bulk form, it can be more easily be incinerated, neutralized, or detonated in closed steel-canister systems (mobile "bang boxes"), making destruction within the nine to twelve months feasible. These Explosive Detonation Systems (EDS) have been used very effectively in China by the Japanese for the ongoing destruction of some 750,000 buried and old Japanese chemical munitions, and will be used in Pueblo, Colorado, and in Blue Grass, Kentucky as supplements to the neutralization processes for leaking and troublesome U.S. chemical weapons.

Russia also has some of the best equipped and trained chemical weapons personnel and significant destruction capabilities, including the Shchuch'ye chemical weapons destruction facility, which opened in 2009.

The technology for destroying the Syrian chemical stocks and the capability to get the job done is there; the key is maintaining the political will to do so.

The Best Alternative

While there are many further, challenging steps ahead, the agreement is an important breakthrough that can deny the Assad regime access to his dangerous chemical arsenal and significantly reduce the risk that the government can use CW again, either inside Syria or against neighboring states in the region.

The Obama administration plan for a punitive U.S. cruise missile strike would have degraded but not eliminated Assad's ability to launch chemical weapons against rebel forces, Syrian civilians, and/or targets in Israel, Turkey, or Jordan. By contrast, the plan for the verifiable control and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal has the potential to achieve more at a lower risk. It is the best option on the table.

Assad's cost-benefit calculation about chemical weapons has already changed: they are now an enormous liability that cannot be used and only through their verifiable elimination can he avoid punitive military strikes that would have the backing of not just the United States, but the UN Security Council.

It is possible that Assad may try to hide some of his CW stockpile, but it will be difficult for him to do successfully so over the course of the inspection process, which will be aided by U.S. and Russian intelligence on the nature and location and size of the Syrian stockpile- and there will be serious consequences if Assad does not cooperate and does not turn over his entire CW arsenal.

The U.S.-Russian agreement states that: "in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

The strong U.S. and global reaction against the brazen use of chemical weapons, combined with the credible threat of punitive U.S. cruise missile strikes to degrade Assad's CW capabilities, has transformed Syria's chemical arsenal into a liability for both Assad and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Although Russia will continue to object to the possible use of force against Assad, Moscow is now invested in the success of the plan, something that was hard to imagine even a week ago.

The U.S.-Russian Framework for the control and verifiable destruction of Syria's chemical weapons is, of course, not intended to resolve the ongoing, brutal conflict in Syria. But it does provide the most effective way of denying Assad the option to use one of his most dangerous weapons--against which the rebel forces and Syria's civilians do not stand a chance. And it does so in a way that can facilitate U.S.-Russian cooperation toward bringing key parties together to reach a political settlement for ending the conflict.

Contrary to some critics, the plan does not "absolve" Assad for using chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN Security Council can refer such war crimes to the ICC even if the persons responsible are citizens of a state that has not ratified the ICC statute. This and other options for holding Assad and his chemical henchmen accountable will remain on the table.

It is clearly everyone's interest to ensure the success of the plan for denying Assad access to his chemical arsenal, which will reinforce the long-standing and vital global prohibition against chemical weapons and is the most effective way to protect Syria's civilians from further poison gas attacks.--DARYL G. KIMBALL

 

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

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The large-scale use of chemical weapons (CW) against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on August 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again--in Syria or elsewhere.

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ACA Statement on the U.S.-Russian Joint Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons

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For Immediate Release: September 14, 2013
Media Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

Today, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached  agreement on a detailed plan for the expeditious accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria’s sizable arsenal of chemical weapons, with provision for enforcement by the UN Security Council.

Among other things, the plan calls on Syria to provide a full declaration of its stockpile “within a week” and “to achieve accountability for their chemical weapons, the Syrians must provide the OPCW, the UN, and other supporting personnel with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria.”

The plan calls for the OPCW inspectors  to complete their initial inspections by November. The document states that U.S. and Russian officials have also reached a consensus on the size of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and calls for the destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and chemical agents by the first half of 2014.

One of the next steps will be for the United States and Russia to secure approval of the plan by the OPCW executive council and then a UN Security Council resolution that mandates the implementation of the plan by Syria and other entities. The U.S.-Russian agreement outlined today states that “in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

“If fully implemented,” Mr. Kerry said in remarks this morning in Geneva, “this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world.”

We agree. The plan is very thorough and tough. It outlines a thorough series of key steps on an accelerated schedule and provides for enforcement through the UN Security Council–with the authority and influence of both the United States, as well as Assad’s patron, Russia.

While there are many further, challenging steps ahead, the agreement is an unprecedented breakthrough that would deny the Assad regime access to this dangerous arsenal and significantly reduce the risk that the government can use chemical weapons (CW) again, either inside Syria or against neighboring states in the region.

The first test of Syrian cooperation will be the delivery of a declaration of its CW stockpile “within a week.” It is possible that Assad may try to hide some of his CW stockpile, but it will be difficult for him to do so over the course of the inspections process, which will be aided by U.S. and Russian intelligence on the nature and location and size of the Syrian stockpile– and there will be consequences if Assad does not cooperate and does not turn over his entire CW arsenal.

Assad’s cost-benefit calculation about chemical weapons has already changed: they are now an enormous liability that cannot be used and only through their verifiable elimination can he avoid punitive military strikes that would have the backing of not just the United States, but the UN Security Council.

At this stage, Assad has little choice but to cooperate. Russia is on board this plan, something that was hard to imagine even a week ago. It is an important diplomatic accomplishment for the U.S. and Russia, but especially for the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry and his team in Geneva.

-Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding and effective policies to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons: nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, as well as certain types of conventional weapons that pose a threat to noncombatants. ACA publishes the monthly journal Arms Control Today.

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Today, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached  agreement on a detailed plan for the expeditious accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria’s sizable arsenal of chemical weapons, with provision for enforcement by the UN Security Council.

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Time to Solve the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle

Daryl G. Kimball

In the 10 years since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first confirmed that Iran had secretly built a uranium-enrichment plant, Tehran has expanded its enrichment program and other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities.

Iran’s leaders apparently have not made a strategic decision to build nuclear weapons, and they do not yet have the necessary ingredients for building a nuclear arsenal. Iran’s new foreign minister recently reiterated that “nuclear weapons have no place in our national security doctrine and are even detrimental to our national security.”

Unfortunately, the five rounds of nuclear talks since April 2012 between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) revealed substantial differences and an inability by both sides to take the necessary first steps. At the same time, Iran’s capabilities to produce material for nuclear weapons have improved even as international sanctions on Iran have been tightened.

There is still time to use diplomacy to secure a meaningful, win-win deal to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. With the Aug. 3 inauguration of Iran’s new president, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani, there is a new and crucial opportunity to achieve a breakthrough.

Leaders in Washington and Tehran say they want a diplomatic solution. In an Aug. 4 statement, the White House said that should Iran’s new government “choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States.” In August, a group of 76 senators wrote to President Barack Obama urging him “to fully explore the diplomatic process” with a “renewed sense of urgency.”

Rouhani told reporters Aug. 6 that “Iran has a serious political will to solve the nuclear problem while protecting the rights of the Iranian people at the same time as it seeks to remove concerns of the other party.”

The task now is to translate words into action. That requires an early renewal of talks, in which each side is prepared to table new, realistic proposals and adjust its positions to achieve a wide-ranging deal to resolve the nuclear issue.

Obama and his P5+1 partners must be prepared to expand their modest diplomatic proposal from last April in a way that sets new constraints on Iran’s evolving nuclear program in exchange for significant sanctions relief.

As part of this “more-for-more” approach, the first priority of the P5+1 must be to seek a halt to Iran’s accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which is above the fuel grade used in civilian power reactors and closer to weapons grade, in exchange for an arrangement to supply fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor, medical isotopes, or both. This could serve as a basis for a broader deal to limit the size and scope of Iran’s enrichment program.

The P5+1 also should call on Iran halt work on its Arak heavy-water reactor, which could provide it with a second path to producing material for nuclear weapons, in exchange for other forms of civil nuclear cooperation or energy assistance that do not represent such a high proliferation risk.

To get to “yes,” the P5+1 must be prepared to phase out hard-hitting sanctions against Iran’s banking sector and oil exports. Members of the U.S. Congress must refrain from undermining the prospects of a diplomatic solution they say they want by pressing forward with a new round sanctions before the results of the next round of talks are clear. Likewise, potential military action by nuclear-armed Israel against Iran’s nuclear sites would be counterproductive. It could set back Iran’s program for no more than two to three years, but would provoke a wider war and almost certainly lead Tehran to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and openly pursue nuclear weapons.

The P5+1 also must be prepared to recognize Iran’s right to pursue nuclear fuel-cycle activities, such as enrichment, under certain conditions. In March 1, 2011, congressional testimony, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this requires that Iran respond to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down any nuclear weapons program.

For his part, Rouhani must follow through on his pledge for “greater transparency” by cooperating with the IAEA investigation of suspected weapons-related experiments. Furthermore, Tehran should join the vast majority of other NPT states in providing more-timely information to the IAEA under the standards of IAEA Code 3.1 and allowing more-extensive inspections through an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement.

Even as the crises in Syria and other areas of the Middle East worsen, Obama must seize the opportunity presented by Iran’s new president by reinvigorating diplomatic efforts to finally secure a nuclear agreement on the basis of achievable goals. It will not be easy, but it is the best option on the table.

In the 10 years since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first confirmed that Iran had secretly built a uranium-enrichment plant, the Islamic Republic has expanded its enrichment program and other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities.

The August IAEA Report on Iran: Key Takeaways

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This analysis was originally posted on Armscontrolnow.org, the blog of the Arms Control Association on August 28, 2013.

By Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball

Iran is continuing to make slow but steady progress on its nuclear program, according to the August 2013 quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran continues to install more centrifuges, including its second generation model. Iran’s accumulation its stockpiles of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent has increased modestly, while the quantity of uranium hexaflouride enriched to 20 percent remains roughly the same as reported in May.

Iran is also moving forward on construction of its heavy water reactor at Arak, which could potentially provide it with a second path to producing material for nuclear weapons, but on a slower schedule than previously reported.  The report also says that Iran still has not provided the IAEA with the cooperation it needs to resolve the outstanding questions regarding the potential military dimensions of the program. For the first time in the August report, the agency outlines the key steps necessary to resolve these concerns (pg. 3). A meeting between Iranian and IAEA officials to resume talks on this issue is scheduled for September 27.

The findings underscore the urgent need for the United States to work with its negotiating partners, (China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Russia) to negotiate a solution that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran. The August 3 inauguration of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran provides an important opportunity to resume negotiations. Rouhani has called for “greater transparency” in Iran’s nuclear activities and a resumption of serious negotiations.

Key Highlights from the Report:

  • Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium is at 185.8 kilograms, an increase of only about 4 kilograms since May 2013, because Iran is continuing to convert 20 percent material into powder. The stockpile remains below the estimated 240-250 kilograms which, when further enriched to weapons grade, would be enough for one nuclear weapon.
  • Iran continues to make progress on the Arak reactor, but its anticipated start-up date (early 2014) is no longer achievable due to construction delays.
  • In total, Iran has about 10,200 IR-1 centrifuges operating at Natanz and Fordow.
  • Iran has now installed 1,008 advanced (IR-2M) centrifuges at Natanz, but these centrifuges are not yet producing enriched uranium.
  • The number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordow remains constant at 696.
  • No progress has been made in negotiations between Iran and the IAEA on the scope and sequence of the agency’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

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    Description: 

    Iran is continuing to make slow but steady progress on its nuclear program, according to the August 2013 quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran continues to install more centrifuges, including its second generation model. Iran’s accumulation its stockpiles of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent has increased modestly, while the quantity of uranium hexaflouride enriched to 20 percent remains roughly the same as reported in May.

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    Statement on Chemical Weapons Use in Syria and the International Response

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    For Immediate Release: August 28, 2013
    Media Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

    (Washington, D.C.)--The deadly war for control of Syria has taken a gruesome turn for the worse with the heinous attack against civilian populations on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. The available evidence, including credible reports from Doctors Without Borders, strongly suggests that the many injuries and deaths reported were the result of a major chemical weapons attack. In this instance, the use of chemicals was more significant and the casualties were greater than earlier suspected episodes involving chemical munitions--and more brazen given that UN inspectors had just arrived in Damascus.

    The use of chemical weapons violates the established and widely accepted norms and practices prohibitions of the international community. It is essential that responsible leaders and governments fully support the ongoing United Nations chemical weapons inspection mission, review the evidence collected regarding the August 21 attack, and present that information before taking multilateral action designed to hold those individuals and entities who perpetrated these attacks accountable.

    Such action is necessary in order to help deter any further use of chemical weapons in Syria--by either government forces or rebels forces--and to reinforce the global norms and conventions against the use of chemical weapons and to prevent other types of indiscriminate attacks and war crimes against civilians populations elsewhere.

    The evidence available also strongly suggests that the forces of the government of Bashar al-Assad had the means and the motivation to use chemical weapons on August 21 as they seek to gain the upper hand against entrenched rebel positions outside Damascus. In July 2012, the Syrian government publicly acknowledged the existence of its chemical arsenal for the first time. Assad's forces are believed to possess (and are responsible for maintaining control over) hundreds of tons of blister agents, including mustard gas, and nerve agents, including sarin and VX. Its stockpile is deliverable by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.

    Syria is bound by the Geneva Protocol of 1925 not to use chemical agents in warfare and is but one of seven countries that have not yet joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banning all development, production, and deployment of deadly chemicals. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN Security Council can refer such war crimes to the ICC even if the persons responsible are citizens of a state that has not ratified the ICC statute.

    Through the the CWC, all states resolve "for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons, through the implementation of the provisions of this Convention, thereby complementing the obligations assumed under the Geneva Protocol of 1925." As Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, noted in an 2012 interview, the CWC and CWC states parties have an overall mandate for "the elimination of chemical weapons universally from the world and prevention of their use." As he notes, this goal applies to states-parties and states that are not parties to the CWC.

    U.S. and other global leaders have condemned the August 21 attacks and have justifiably said that they will seek multilateral action to hold those who launch the August 21 attack accountable.  As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said August 26: "all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again."

    Noting that the "Islamic Republic of Iran is itself victim of chemical weapons," President Hassan Rouhani said August 27 via Twitter that "Iran gives notice to international community to use all its might to prevent use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world, esp. in #Syria."

    Senior U.S. officials have made it clear that United States, acting together with other states will soon launch cruise missile strikes against select Assad leadership and military targets related to chemical weapons delivery for the purpose of trying to deter and dissuade Assad from launching further major chemical attacks. On August 26, Secretary of State Kerry said the administration would present the intelligence community's assessment, which should be carefully reviewed by Congress and other governments and the public.

    Media reports suggest that likely U.S. military targets do not include chemical weapons storage sites--and for good reason: even "precision" airstrikes cannot reliably or safely destroy the Syria's actual CW stockpiles because there is imperfect intelligence on all possible storage locations, and attempts to destroy the depots could cause widespread civilian casualties and/or undermine the security of the sites and risk that the chemical agents fall into the hands of extremist rebel groups or government militias.

    As President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and other Western and regional leaders prepare to act, they should seek a UN mandate to respond protect civilians from chemical attacks and take into account the results of the UN inspection team to provide further legitimacy and support for limited military strikes.

    Unfortunately, Assad's ally and major military supplier, Russia, would likely exercise its Security Council veto power despite the overwhelming evidence of a chemical attack and Russia's responsibility to help prevent chemical weapons use. The United States and other leaders must clearly explain their case for taking military action in order to help protect civilians from future chemical attacks in Syria or elsewhere by anyone and to uphold international rules prohibiting the use of the most indiscriminate and deadly types of weapons.

    As the Obama administration has noted, there is no military solution to the war in Syria, only a political solution. The President must continue to make it clear that any military action he might pursue is for the sole purpose of deterring Assad from using chemical weapons again and is not a pretext for tilting the conflict in favor of the poorly organized and divided rebel forces. He should make it clear that any limited missile strikes are not a prelude for deeper U.S. involvement, which would not likely make a significant difference in the outcome, could lead to an escalation of hostilities, and/or provoke the Assad regime to use chemical weapons on a more massive scale, possibly against Syria's neighbors.

    Assad's allies in Russia, as well as in Iran - which itself suffered from chemical warfare during the 1980-1988 conflict with Saddam Hussein's Iraq - can help reinforce the taboo against chemical weapons use by threatening to withdraw all forms of support if it is determined that Assad's forces used chemical weapons on August 21 or if Assad's forces use of chemical weapons in the future.

    The use of chemical weapons is an atrocity. All states should assist in bringing those individuals found to be responsible for ordering their use before the International Criminal Court.

    The war in Syria, which has killed more than 100,000 and dismembered a nation, is a human disaster of growing proportions. The events of the past week underscore the need for all parties to redouble their efforts to seek a political solution, aid the affected civilian populations, and suspend foreign supplies of arms and ammunition to the Assad regime and to rebel forces, which is only helping to fuel further death and destruction, facilitate other war crimes, and produce a flood of refugees and widespread suffering.

    Syria's chemical weapons cannot be allowed to create an even more dangerous and deadly situation for Syria's people and its neighbors. The United States and countries in the region with interests in Syria must overcome their differences to help prevent the further use and spread of Syria's deadly arsenals.--Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association.

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    The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding and effective policies to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons: nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, as well as certain types of conventional weapons that pose a threat to noncombatants. ACA publishes the monthly journal Arms Control Today.

    Description: 

    (Washington, D.C.)--The deadly war for control of Syria has taken a gruesome turn for the worse with the heinous attack against civilian populations on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. The available evidence, including credible reports from Doctors Without Borders, strongly suggests that the many injuries and deaths reported were the result of a major chemical weapons attack. In this instance, the use of chemicals was more significant and the casualties were greater than earlier suspected episodes involving chemical munitions--and more brazen given that UN inspectors had just arrived in Damascus.

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