The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Daryl G. Kimball

A Historic Nonproliferation Opportunity

The leaders of Iran and six world powers have finally reached a framework agreement on a long-sought, long-term comprehensive deal designed to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The deadline for a final agreement is June 30. Once concluded and implemented, the arrangement will block the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons and put in place enhanced monitoring to guard against a clandestine weapons program in exchange for phased relief from internationally mandated sanctions.

The deal promises to be one of the most consequential and complex nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades. It can significantly reduce the risk of a destabilizing nuclear competition in a troubled region and head off a potentially catastrophic military conflict. It is an opportunity that neither side can afford to squander.

When fully implemented, the multiyear arrangement will significantly reduce Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium to the point that it would take at least 12 months to amass enough uranium enriched to weapons grade for one bomb. The number of installed centrifuges would be cut from about 20,000 to around 6,000; excess centrifuges would be disassembled and put under monitored storage; Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium would be slashed; and research on advanced centrifuges would be tightly limited and carefully monitored.

The two sides also agree that the design of Iran’s heavy-water reactor project at Arak will be modified to significantly reduce its plutonium output and that Iran will not develop any capability for separating plutonium from spent fuel for weapons.

Iran would allow intrusive international inspections under the terms of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) additional protocol, plus additional transparency and accountancy measures. The enhanced monitoring system would effectively and promptly detect and help deter a possible future clandestine weapons effort. The deal also can help incentivize Iran to provide the cooperation with the IAEA that is necessary to conclude the investigation of Iran’s past efforts to develop a nuclear warhead and provide transparency sufficient to help ensure that no such efforts continue.

The multiyear, multiphase agreement must be faithfully implemented and carefully monitored. There must also be sufficient domestic support in Iran and the United States to sustain implementation in the years ahead.

The first political hurdle is the U.S. Congress, where many lawmakers will complain that the deal falls short of their expectations in one area or another. Serious lawmakers must assess the deal on the basis of its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving the ability of the international community to detect any future Iranian weapons program.

Some will demand permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear activities. That option has never been in the cards. The comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) would last some 10 to 15 years; the IAEA’s enhanced inspection authority would last indefinitely.

Others will argue that additional, tougher sanctions can coerce Iran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure altogether. That is a dangerous fantasy. There is no better deal on the horizon. For more than a decade, Iran has resisted pressure to dismantle its nuclear facilities. Additional pressure, even in the unlikely case that Washington could persuade other countries to toughen existing sanctions, would not suddenly persuade Iran’s leaders to capitulate.

In the name of giving Congress a chance to “weigh in,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill that would delay the implementation to allow Congress to review the deal for 60 days or until Congress could hold an up-or-down vote.

This approach unnecessarily undermines the president’s authority to negotiate effectively with other governments. The bill would revoke the president’s existing legislative authority to waive certain sanctions on Iran, which would complicate the ongoing talks, and give partisans in Congress a means to try to blow up the deal just weeks after it was concluded. A “no” vote would only give Iran an excuse to quickly expand its dangerous nuclear pursuits.

The Senate has advice-and-consent authority on treaties, but the Iran deal is not a treaty. Rather, it is an arrangement between Iran and the six countries to bring Iran into compliance with its obligations.

It is understandable that lawmakers want a say in the matter, but there are other, genuinely constructive ways for Congress to weigh in, such as requiring frequent reports on the implementation of any nuclear deal, establishing presidential certification requirements that relate directly to Iran’s obligations, providing the financial resources for the IAEA and its added work, and being ready to put sanctions back in place on an expedited basis if Iran commits a flagrant violation.

Eventually, Congress will need to take legislative action to permanently remove U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, once Iran takes the steps required by the agreement.

The emerging agreement with Iran would be a major boost for U.S. and international security, for Israel and other U.S. friends in the region, and for global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Congress should strengthen, not undermine, this vital diplomatic effort.

The leaders of Iran and six world powers have finally reached a framework agreement on a long-sought, long-term comprehensive deal designed to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 13

A Critical Week in Lausanne Nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) are entering the final days before the end-of-March target date for reaching a framework agreement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday, March 15 in Lusanne, Switzerland. The following day, Zarif will meet with EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini in Brussels. Also present at that meeting will be British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 9

Talks Resume March 15: "A good deal is at hand" Following the March 2-6 round of P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran nuclear talks in Montreux, Switzerland, statements from the principle negotiators suggest the two sides are close to reaching agreement on the political framework for a comprehensive, long-term nuclear deal. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a conference in Latvia, "I believe a good deal is at hand. I also believe that there is not going to be any deal if it is not going to be a good deal."...

Netanyahu On the Iran Nuclear Issue: A Reality Check



Volume 7, Issue 5, March 3, 2015 

In Switzerland today, the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) are moving closer to a comprehensive, verifiable, long-term agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The outlines of the agreement are taking shape. A political framework agreement by the end of March is within sight.

Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to undermine support for the agreement, in part by exploiting partisan politics in Washington.

In his address today before a joint session of Congress, he claimed that the deal-in-the-making just isn't good enough.

He argues that the agreement-in-the-making would make it a near "certainty" that Iran pursues nuclear weapons because it would retain a nuclear program. This is just plain wrong.

The reality is that the agreement the P5+1 are pursuing would increase Iran's theoretical "breakout" time to amass enough enriched uranium gas enriched to bomb grade from today's 2-3 months to more than 12 months, and it would do so for over a decade. It would block the plutonium path to weapons.

The deal would put in place enhanced, intrusive inspections that could promptly detect and deter a potential clandestine nuclear weapons effort. Some of these inspections would continue indefinitely, as would Iran's obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu's alternative? Hold out for a better deal and do so until Iran's changes its foreign policy behavior. Walk away from a "bad deal," he said, and Iran will come back. That's bad advice.

If the Congress rejects an effective nuclear deal, it would only help Iran's hardliners, invite Iran to expand its nuclear program, and dissolve international sanctions pressure. Israel and the world would be less secure.

Additional pressure, through still tougher sanctions, he suggests, will somehow persuade Iran's leaders to dismantle their major nuclear facilities entirely. That's a risky and unrealistic gamble. For over a decade Iran has resisted such an outcome. There is no reason to believe they would agree to do so now.

As U.S. National Security advisor Susan Rice said March 2, "There's simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better--or- longer-than the type of deal we seek."

Here are several reasons why the Prime Minister's logic about how to address the Iranian nuclear issue is flawed.

Dismantling Iran's nuclear weapons capability is, unfortunately, not possible.

For more than a decade, Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons.

Eliminating that capability is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran completely "dismantled" its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.  

Ergo, the goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to prevent Iran from exercising that capability by limiting and constraining its nuclear capacity (especially fissile material production) and by increasing transparency over its program. Phased sanctions relief also offers Iranian leaders incentives for continued compliance with the terms of the deal.

More pressure will not lead Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

Netanyahu, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons is to secure an agreement that requires Iran to abandon key elements of its nuclear program, including its enrichment facilities and its Arak heavy-water reactor project.

Such an outcome would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint, but it is unrealistic to expect that Iran's leadership would accept such terms, even under the tougher sanctions pressure.

As former U.S. nuclear negotiator Robert J. Einhorn said in January testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, "... no one who closely follows Iran and its domestic politics believes that it is achievable, whatever pressures we are able to bring to bear."

U.S. National Security Advisor, Susan Rice argued in an address to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "...we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal."

"Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy," Rice said. "If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable."

If the P5+1, or members of Congress, tried to hold out for dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, Iran would not agree, negotiations would break down, and Iran would resume efforts to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity. A nuclear-armed Iran, a conflict over its program, or both, would become far more likely.

More sanctions now, would do more harm that good.

The international sanctions regime helped push Iran toward the negotiating table, but sanctions alone cannot convince Iran to agree to verifiably limit its nuclear activities. In fact, sanctions have never stopped Iran from advancing its program further.

Moreover, initiating new sanctions at this time as proposed by Senators Kirk (R-Ill.) and Menendez (D-N.J.), would violate the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and risk pushing Iran toward escalatory measures and away from the negotiating table.

Moving forward on any sanctions bill will give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal even further.

New sanctions could also cause Iran to pull out of the negotiations. Iran made clear last year that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action.

New sanctions risk fracturing the international coalition supporting sanctions, which is instrumental to maintaining pressure on Iran.

As Rice said at AIPAC March 2, "Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn't play the spoiler now."

UN Security Council resolutions do not require Iran to permanently halt its nuclear program.

Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak. None of the six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council called for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment. 

During debate on the most recent resolution in June 2010, British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the P5+1, said the resolution was intended to keep "the door open for continued engagement" with Iran over its nuclear program. Amb. Grant said that the purpose of such diplomatic efforts must be to achieve a comprehensive, long-term settlement, that respects Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy.

The Security Council resolutions were never intended to eliminate an Iranian civil nuclear program in the future that complies with the conditions of the NPT.

Iran's long-range ballistic missile program is behind schedule.  

Assertions about an imminent threat of Iranian long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) are overstated. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Iran may be technically capable of developing an ICBM with sufficient foreign assistance, but Iran's progress is well behind the schedule previously predicted by the intelligence community.

Even if Iran made a concerted effort to develop and deploy, it is very unlikely it could do so within the decade.

Iran has, not surprisingly, opposed putting its short- and medium-range ballistic missiles up for negotiation because it sees those missiles as a deterrent against foreign aggression, including Israel's own nuclear and missile arsenal.

The best way to neutralize a long-term Iranian long-range ballistic missile threat is the comprehensive nuclear deal the P5+1 are pursuing because it would block Iran's potential pathways to a bomb, making its ballistic missiles much less of a threat.

An effective nuclear deal will reduce the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region and strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation system.

A verifiable, comprehensive nuclear deal will impose strict limits and monitoring on Iran's nuclear program. It will reduce the risk that Iran may someday pursue nuclear weapons.

This will provide assurance to the international community that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that any deviations from the deal will be quickly noticed. This should reduce, not increase, the temptation by some states in the Middle East-particularly Saudi Arabia-to pursue the technical capabilities necessary to acquire nuclear weapons.

The alternative--no comprehensive P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal--would lead to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with less monitoring. This poses more of a threat to countries in the region and could increase the possibility of a "proliferation cascade" in the region. (For an in-depth look at this issue, see: "How to Actually Prevent a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East," by Kingston Reif, The National Interest, March 2, 2015.)

The agreement the P5+1 are pursuing would not invite Iran to pursue nuclear weapons after the major elements expire.

U.S. officials have been seeking an agreement that is at least 10 years in duration and possibly longer. Iran has said it will not agree to strict limits on its nuclear program for an indefinite period.

Even after the core limits on Iran's nuclear program expire Iran will be subject to enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring that will promptly detect any noncompliance and in a manner that will allow timely action by the international community to disrupt any potential nuclear weapons effort.

Once and if Iran ratifies the IAEA additional protocol to its safeguards agreement as anticipated in the P5+1 and Iran deal, the additional protocol is permanent, and Iran, as a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, will be legally required to continue those inspections and be prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons.

As Susan Rice noted on March 2, "[I]t has always been clear that the pursuit of an agreement of indefinite duration would result in no agreement at all.

"There's simply no alternative," she said, "that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better--or longer--than the type of deal we seek."


P5+1 negotiators have an historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that limits its nuclear program, blocks its pathways to a bomb, and guards against covert activities.

The gravity of the situation demands a discussion on a comprehensive nuclear deal that is based on realistic alternatives, not wishful or flawed thinking.--DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director


The Arms Control Association 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



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to undermine support for the agreement, in part by exploiting partisan politics in Washington.

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Nuclear-Weapon States Discuss NPT Issues

March 2015

By Daryl G. Kimball

Senior officials from the five nuclear-weapon-state members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) met in London last month for discussions on “the mutual confidence and transparency…that [are] essential to make progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament,” according to a joint statement issued on Feb. 6.

The meeting, which involved officials from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is the sixth of its kind since 2009. The effort began in 2008 when UK Defence Secretary Des Browne suggested a technical conference on verification of disarmament among the five states.

According to the joint statement, the London meeting covered disarmament verification, a glossary of disarmament-related terms, efforts to start talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty, and the states’ common reporting framework for the upcoming NPT review conference. The group discussed the challenges in bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force and “decided to continue regular technical meetings aimed at enhancing the [treaty’s] verification regime and to hold a workshop on data quality objectives for radionuclide measurements for on-site inspections.” For the first time, parts of the meeting included representatives from some non-nuclear-weapon states.

In their statement, the five states reaffirmed “their commitment towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the NPT.” They argued that “a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament that promotes international stability, peace and undiminished and increased security for all remains the only realistic and practical route to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. To this end, the [group] discussed issues related to international security and strategic stability and their nuclear doctrines in order to enhance mutual understanding in these areas.”

The joint statement did not define the elements of that step-by-step process, and it is not clear if there is agreement among the group about what those steps are and how or when they should be pursued.

Senior officials from the five nuclear-weapon-state members of the NPT met in London last month for discussions on “the mutual confidence and transparency…

Russia and the Big Chill

March 2015

By Daryl G. Kimball

Since the 2014 ouster of the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s persistent effort to annex and destabilize parts of Ukraine has undermined European security and the rules-based international order. The Ukraine crisis has sent already chilly relations between Moscow and the West to the lowest point in more than a quarter century.

U.S.-Russian cooperation in the sensitive arena of nuclear weapons has not yet been seriously affected, but it is at risk, and further progress is on hold. In July, the United States formally accused Russia of testing a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The dispute has made what is left of the bilateral U.S.-Russian nuclear dialogue even more difficult.

The Kremlin continues to say “nyet” to U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2013 proposal for a further one-third cut in U.S. and Russian deployed strategic warheads and delivery systems. Moscow argues that deeper cuts in strategic nuclear stockpiles must take into account U.S. strategic ballistic missile interceptors, conventional prompt-strike weapons, and the nuclear arsenals of other states.

Both sides continue to implement the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and recognize their disarmament commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but there is no serious dialogue on follow-on measures.

A further escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine could set back the nuclear relationship still further. Mikhail Ulyanov of the Russian Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti in January that Russia could revise its commitment to New START in response to “unfriendly” U.S. actions.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have already threatened to halt funding for implementation of New START to send a message to Moscow. Others want to accelerate costly U.S. nuclear force modernization plans and explore new types of nuclear weapons.

In a January letter to the Pentagon, two House Armed Services Committee leaders, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio), even called for the possible deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in NATO states on Russia’s border.

Rather than protect Ukraine or NATO, these radical steps would further undermine strategic stability and international security. Given the potential for a direct conflict between Russia and NATO, neither side should use nuclear weapons to send political messages or lower the threshold for nuclear weapons use.

Moscow’s actions in Ukraine require a unified response involving diplomacy, sanctions, and NATO conventional deterrence. But the new Russian challenge cannot be resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of U.S. nuclear capabilities.

Russia and the United States no longer are in the type of ideological competition they had during the Cold War, but they remain locked in a relationship of mutual assured destruction. The world’s daily survival still depends on the stability of nuclear command and control on both sides, mutual restraint, and effective government-to-government communication.

As Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said in a Feb. 18 address, “It is [in] times like these that arms control proves its worth. Arms control measures provide stability and predictability even when other things fall into disarray.”

New U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control measures are not coming soon, but it is in both sides’ interests to resume active discussions on new, creative proposals to reduce the size and enormous cost of their excess strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals and to resolve disagreements about missile defenses. Both countries deploy nuclear forces that are ready for prompt launch and in numbers that far exceed any common-sense deterrence “requirements.”

To begin, the two sides should jointly declare at the 2015 NPT Review Conference that they will begin formal negotiations within one year on a follow-on to New START, which expires in 2021. A follow-on agreement should aim to cut each side’s strategic deployed arsenals to fewer than 1,100 warheads and 500 launchers, including any conventional prompt-strike weapons.

Such talks can and should explore a wider range of issues, including transparency and confidence-building steps on tactical nuclear weapons and joint understandings on missile defense capabilities and deployments.

To build momentum, the two sides also could announce they will, in parallel, accelerate New START implementation to meet the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 strategic launchers ahead of the 2018 deadline.

The two sides also should reiterate their commitment not to test, produce, or deploy missile systems prohibited by the INF Treaty—that is, those with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers—and agree to special inspections to resolve compliance concerns. Russia and the United States also could work together to engage other states in talks on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems. This would allow the two countries to forgo expensive modernization programs for such missiles and head off dangerous cruise missile buildups around the globe.

Today, as during the Cold War, effective, persistent nuclear arms control leadership is in the best interests of Russia, the United States, and the world.

U.S.-Russian cooperation in the sensitive arena of nuclear weapons has not yet been seriously affected, but it is at risk, and further progress is on hold.

Voting Up-or-Down on an Iran Nuclear Deal: Not as Easy as 123



Volume 7, Issue 4, February 11, 2015

The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), says he will introduce legislation that would give Congress the opportunity to vote to disapprove or approve a comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran.

Corker argues that an up-or-down vote on a P5+1 and Iran deal—patterned on the procedures in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act for congressional approval/disapproval of civil nuclear cooperation agreements—is a way for Congress to weigh-in and have a “constructive” role in Washington’s negotiations with Iran.

However, a closer examination of Corker’s initial proposal to subject the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement or an arms control treaty raises more questions—and problems—than its answers.   

Consequently, the Obama administration has signaled that it opposes the Corker proposal, which has not yet been formally introduced but may soon be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker’s proposal would block implementation of any comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran until the congressional review period and vote is completed. 

The congressional review period would not begin until the Obama administration and the intelligence community completes a detailed nonproliferation assessment of the agreement—a complex process that could take many weeks to prepare.

As a result, Corker’s proposal would effectively delay or block implementation of measures in the comprehensive agreement that would curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

This would put the comprehensive agreement, as well as the interim agreement, in a state of legal and political limbo that could lead to the unraveling of the historic diplomatic opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. 

In addition, any initiative that would subject a comprehensive P5+1 and Iran deal to congressional approval (and possible amendments that place conditions or requirements on its implementation) would overstep congressional authority in the area of executive branch conduct of foreign policy.

By putting the agreement, and/or waivers of sanctions necessary to implement the deal, up for an early vote—and possible disapproval— before Iran has a chance to demonstrate it will carry out initial nonproliferation steps, Congress creates the very real risk that the United States (not Iran) would be blamed for derailing any long-term P5+1-brokered agreement to verifiably limit its nuclear capabilities. Such a deal, is, by far, the most effective way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, proliferation in the region, and/or another war in the Middle East.

Before any legislation for a direct vote of approval/disapproval is advanced in Congress, responsible policymakers should carefully examine the proposal, evaluate downside risks, consider common sense alternatives, and recall the respective roles of the legislative and executive branches.

They should be mindful that unlike a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and another country, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will be a political agreement between the five-permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran designed to induce Iran to meet goals and obligations established by the Security Council and Iran’s obligations as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Over time, Congress will have a vital role in monitoring implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, including legislative action to remove and/or not renew legislatively-mandated, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran—if and when Iran fulfills key non-proliferation obligations called for in a comprehensive agreement.

An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not a 123 Agreement

Senator Corker stated in a January 2015 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing that he is working on legislation that would require an up-or-down vote on a comprehensive Iran deal that “builds off the 123 agreements” currently in place. 

Under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, nuclear cooperation agreements are subject to approval by Congress. These “congressional-executive” agreements are designed to ensure that U.S. cooperation with foreign nuclear programs, including the transfer of U.S. nuclear material, equipment, or technology, conforms to U.S. export control laws, meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, and is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

After the administration negotiates a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with another country, it is submitted to Congress, first to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then to Congress, for review.

The agreement must meet nine nonproliferation criteria and include a nuclear proliferation assessment statement explaining how the agreement meets those criteria and does not damage U.S. national security interests.

If no action is taken by Congress during the review period, the nuclear cooperation agreement enters into force. If Congress adopts a joint resolution disapproving the agreement and the resolution becomes law, the agreement does not enter into force.  Sometimes, the resolutions are hotly debated and amendments are adopted that set additional conditions on U.S. nuclear transfers to the other country.

A nuclear deal with Iran, however, will not involve the transfer of proliferation sensitive material, technology, or information from the United States.

Instead, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear agreement will require Iran to meet specific requirements that effectively limit its capability to produce material that can be used for nuclear weapons and will put in place additional monitoring requirements to guard against any dash for nuclear weapons in the future. 

Subjecting the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement is unnecessary, and it carries enormous risks for the success of a good P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Delay and Possible Derailment of Steps to Curb Iran’s Capabilities

If it follows the process of a 123 agreement, Corker’s proposals would require putting implementation of the P5+1 and Iran agreement on hold for at least 90 days (and perhaps longer), including implementation by Iran of key steps that would reduce its proliferation potential.

At the onset of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, Washington may need to waive certain sanctions measures in return for Iranian concessions. An extended congressional review process could impede the process and delay implementation of additional limits and monitoring on Iran’s nuclear program.

Worse still, if Congress votes to disapprove of the nuclear deal with Iran or vote to revoke or block the President’s existing legislative authority to waive certain nuclear-related sanctions, the Corker proposal would have derailed the carefully-constructed P5+1 diplomatic framework to verifiably block Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons.

In that scenario, the approach being pursued by Senator Corker would leave the United States with no credible “Plan B” to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Additionally, if the United States is seen as causing the deal to collapse, international support for the sanctions regime that was critical to bringing Iran to the negotiating table will erode.

Executive and Legislative Authority

Voting a verifiable, comprehensive agreement with Iran up or down also undermines the respective roles of the Executive and Legislative branches.

A nuclear agreement with Iran is not a treaty that requires Senate advice and consent for ratification. A nuclear deal with Iran will not, in any way, limit the military capabilities of the United States, as is the case with bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control treaties and nonproliferation agreements that are subject to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Nor will an agreement impose obligations on the United States beyond lifting sanctions that were intended to push Iran to the negotiating table.

It is the prerogative of the executive branch to conclude agreements in the national security interests of the United States. Setting a precedent for congressional review of such agreements sets a dangerous precedent for future executive branch decisions.

Furthermore, given that the UN Security Council will likely consider and approve a new resolution recognizing the agreement and mandating that the P5+1 and Iran undertake certain actions to implement it, a congressional vote of approval/disapproval would be redundant. And, if Congress votes to disapprove the agreement, it could lead to a direct conflict of opinion and legal authority between the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. President/UN Security Council.

Congress’s Constructive Role

There are other, more constructive ways for Congress to monitor compliance and implementation of a comprehensive P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

As part of the broad parameters agreed to in the interim deal, the United States committed to remove all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran as part of a comprehensive agreement. Under that process, the phase-out of those sanctions will begin with Presidential waivers, and later, if Iran meets key nonproliferation obligations, removal of UN Security Council and U.S. sanctions.

In the future, if Iran is abiding by its commitments, Congress will need to pass legislation removing some of these key nuclear-related measures, which incentivizes Iran to comply with the deal in the long term.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed this point in a January 2015 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the Iran nuclear talks. He said:

“… the best way to ensure that Iran complies with its obligations would be to suspend the existing sanctions, not end them, to test Iran's compliance, and only then, and obviously Congress would have to play a lead role in this, to actually end the sanctions.”

Additionally, Congress can provide a forum for a public discussion of Iran’s implementation of any comprehensive agreement.

Periodic congressional oversight hearings to discuss findings from the IAEA and the executive branch on Iran’s compliance with a comprehensive agreement and the impact of such an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program can serve an important role in holding both sides accountable.

At the same time, Congress should refrain from mandating automatic re-imposition of sanctions measures against Iran on the basis of unsubstantiated third party reports or intelligence obtained by foreign governments about possible noncompliance with the terms of the agreement.

It is and should remain the responsibility of the President, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and using information obtained by the IAEA, to determine whether Iran has materially violated the comprehensive agreement in a manner that threatens international security and is not working to come back into compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Establishing a record of compliance (or noncompliance) will be key when Congress eventually votes on whether or not to remove nuclear-related sanctions on Iran that are essential to the implementation of the agreement.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, and DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

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What Would An Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Deal With Iran Look Like?



Volume 7, Issue 3, February 9, 2015 

Top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran are working hard to build upon their successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement, which has halted, and in some areas, rolled back the most proliferation-sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

The P5+1 are seeking a comprehensive, verifiable nuclear agreement that would block Iran's major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development--the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route--and guard against a clandestine weapons program, thus removing a major threat to international security.

Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant progress on long-term solutions on several challenging issues. Following the most recent round of high-level talks, Western officials were reported to have said that the two sides have further narrowed differences on how many uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate under a long-term agreement, but hard-to-bridge differences remain on the timing for the lifting of sanctions and the duration of any deal.

The P5+1 and Iran are aiming to reach a political framework agreement by the end of March and conclude the technical annexes by the end of June.  

Senior U.S. officials have said their goal is to significantly reduce Iran's capacity to enrich uranium in order to increase the time that Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

Just as importantly, the comprehensive agreement would increase the international community's ability to promptly detect and disrupt any future effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons (including at potential undeclared sites).

Though the aims and objectives are clear, a number of myths and misperceptions have clouded the discussion about what a comprehensive agreement must achieve and why. Debate on a good deal should be based on a realistic assessment of the issues, objectives and options.  

Toward a Realistic Evaluation

Any comprehensive agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature (such as the number of centrifuges).

While each element is important, the agreement should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran's fissile-material production capacity and providing the additional transparency and monitoring necessary to detect and deter any future Iranian nuclear weapons program.  

Policy makers should also assess the comprehensive nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran in the context of the plausible alternatives, including the absence of a comprehensive agreement, rather than  vague hopes of a "better" deal that might still be negotiated at some future time.

Blocking the Uranium Path  

A key element of a comprehensive agreement will be sustainable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity that verifiably block Iran from quickly amassing enough fissile material for weapons.

As part of the 2013 interim nuclear agreement, the two sides agreed Iran would halt production of uranium gas enriched to 20% uranium-235, eliminate its stock of uranium gas enriched to that level, and temporarily halt further expansion of its centrifuge capacity. Iran has 19,000 centrifuges, of which 10,200 first generation centrifuges are operating.

The two sides also agreed in the interim deal that a comprehensive agreement should define a "mutually defined enrichment programme" with "agreed limits on the scope and level of enrichment, activities, capacity...and stocks of uranium" that should be "consistent with practical needs" for a "period to be agreed upon."  

Iran's nuclear fuel supply needs currently are very limited, but could grow in the coming years. Its current enrichment capacity exceeds its near-term needs and provides the technical capacity to produce a quantity of weapons-grade uranium gas sufficient for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months if such an effort were not detected and slowed or halted.

Consequently, the P5+1 is pressing Iran to significantly reduce its overall uranium-enrichment capacity for at least ten years in order to increase the time Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

While the overall number of operational centrifuges is a major factor, in reality, the agreement must address a number of elements of Iran's overall enrichment capacity in order to reach the 12-month theoretical "breakout" objective, including

  • barring Iran from enriching uranium above normal power reactor grade (five percent or less uranium-235);
  • putting in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement;
  • significantly reducing the number/capacity of Iran's 10,200 operating IR-1 centrifuges for several years;
  • reducing the amount and form of low-enriched uranium stockpiled in Iran; and
  • verifiably disabling the approximately 9,000 centrifuge machines that are now installed but not yet operating.  

There are several possible ways these variables can be combined to increase the time that it would take Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

For example, by reducing Iran's current operating enrichment capacity by half, combined with a significant reduction in the size of Iran's low enriched-uranium stocks and conversion to more proliferation-resistant oxide form (or removal to a third country), the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon would grow to nine to 12 months.

With enhanced international monitoring capabilities, that is more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.  

Blocking the Plutonium Path

A comprehensive agreement will need to address the risks posed by Iran's unfinished 40-MWt, heavy-water reactor project at Arak. Under the current design configuration, the reactor could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium per year for about two nuclear weapons. Because the Arak site represents Iran's only indigenously developed and domestically constructed nuclear facility, Tehran strongly opposes any outcome that would require it to shutdown the facility.

Preventing completion of the Arak reactor or converting it to a light-water reactor is not the only way to guard against its possible use for fissile material production, as some have claimed.  

Iran and the P5+1 agree in principle that as part of a comprehensive agreement, the design of Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor project can and should be modified-by reducing the power level and/or changing the fuel content and configuration--to drastically cut its annual weapons-grade plutonium output far below what is required for a nuclear weapon. They also agree that Iran shall not build a reprocessing facility that would be needed to separate that material from spent reactor fuel. A critical step for this particular path for obtaining nuclear-weapons material.

More Robust Inspections and Monitoring

Iran's major nuclear sites are already regularly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and very closed watched by U.S. intelligence. However, U.S. intelligence officials have testified since 2007 that if Iran were to make the decision to build a nuclear weapon, it would probably "use covert facilities--rather than its declared nuclear sites--for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon."

On January 29, 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reported to Congress that the intelligence community still assesses "Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough [weapons-grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered."

Blocking the clandestine path to a bomb-also known as "sneakout"-is a top goal for the P5+1. Iran has already agreed to more intrusive IAEA scrutiny of its nuclear sites, including daily access to its enrichment facilities," as part of last year's interim nuclear agreement.

But to guard against "sneakout," it is essential that a more robust international monitoring and inspection system be put in place to detect and deter potential weapons work at any secret sites. The only way to achieve this is through a long-term comprehensive nuclear deal.

To achieve the transparency necessary to promptly detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, even through a potential clandestine program, Iran and the P5+1 agreed that a comprehensive deal would, among other things, require implementation and ratification of the additional protocol to the IAEA's safeguards agreement with Iran.

Specifically, the additional protocol gives the IAEA expanded right of access to information and nuclear sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will have regular access to Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, fuel fabrication facilities, and the heavy-water production plant. This will make it more difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program if the IAEA is tracking inventory.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for clandestine activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out inspections in any facility suspected to contain nuclear material or be part of a nuclear weapons program. It also enables the agency to visit the facilities at short notice, making it more difficult to cover-up any activities intended to divert materials or that are inconsistent with a facilities' stated purposes.

Once ratified, these arrangements would last in perpetuity. Additional inspection measures, including on site inspections of centrifuge workshops, will also likely be part of the agreement.

Resolving Questions About Possible Military Dimensions

It is vital that Iran continue to cooperate with the ongoing IAEA investigation of past activities with "possible military dimensions," and to do so in a timely manner. Given the need for a thorough investigation, however, it would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines.

To make the determination that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the agency will need to investigate each of the issues involving possible military dimensions individually, and assess them as a system to gain a complete understanding of Iran's past work on nuclear weapons development. In late-2013, the IAEA and Iran agreed to a framework for cooperation for resolving the issues.

Measures proposed in the U.S. Congress that would require Iran to resolve all questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program before the conclusion of negotiations on a comprehensive agreement are counterproductive.

Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that key sanctions relief measures, including UN Security Council measures tied to the issue, would not be removed until, and unless, the investigation is completed. As a result, it is more likely that Iran will more fully cooperate with the IAEA investigation if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement with the P5+1 that offers incentives to comply.

Some members of Congress, along with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), suggest that without a "full" explanation of Iran's past weaponization efforts, "it is impossible to fully understand its nuclear capability."

Iran's nuclear capability is well understood, though clearly, the more the IAEA understands about Iran's past work the better. Given Iran's history, it should be assumed that Iran's scientists have already acquired information that is important for building nuclear weapons.

An admission from Iran that its scientists once engaged in work intended to help build nuclear weapons will not erase that knowledge. It is also naive to think that Iran's leaders, some of whom have issued religious decrees against the development, production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons, will make such an admission.

The chief goal for the P5+1 is to structure a comprehensive agreement in such a way that it ensures the IAEA obtains sufficient information to determine that Iran has halted any nuclear activities with possible military dimensions. A good deal will also put in place the monitoring and verification to ensure that Iran is not pursing these activities in the future.  

The Role of Sanctions and Sanctions Relief

U.S. and international sanctions have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table and changed Iran's cost-benefit calculus, but sanctions alone have not stopped and cannot stop Iran's nuclear progress. Additional sanctions have little chance of extracting further concessions from Iran in the future, would likely prompt Iran to take escalatory steps, and could blow up the diplomatic process.

As the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and the European Union wrote in The Washington Post January 21, "... introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture."

To enhance Iran's incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under a comprehensive agreement, the two sides agree that the P5+1 will phase out and later remove nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its obligations under the deal, and the IAEA investigation of Iran's nuclear program is concluded.  

If Iran fails to meet its core obligations, key sanctions measures could be swiftly re-imposed by the president and, if necessary, by Congress.

More Pressure Will Not Lead Iran to Abandon Its Program

Some members of Congress, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons is to secure an agreement that requires Iran to abandon key elements of its nuclear program, including its enrichment facilities and its Arak heavy water reactor project.

Such an outcome would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint, but it is unrealistic to expect that Iran's leadership would accept such terms, even under the tougher sanctions pressure, as some members of Congress and Netanyahu are now advocating.

As former U.S. nuclear negotiator Robert J. Einhorn said in January testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, "... no one who closely follows Iran and its domestic politics believes that it is achievable, whatever pressures we are able to bring to bear.

"Iranian leaders," Einhorn said, "have successfully convinced their public that an enrichment capability is an inalienable right, an essential component of a respectable civil nuclear program, and a source of national pride - and that giving it up in the face of Western pressure would be a national humiliation. No one across the Iranian political spectrum, even those who strongly want a deal, would be prepared to accept an outcome banning enrichment and dismantling nuclear facilities."

Moreover, as Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Senate hearing January 21, as a practical matter

... the problem is that Iran has mastered the fuel cycle, whether we like it or not. We can't bomb that away, we can't sanction that away, we can't argue that away. They have that knowledge.

The real question is not whether they have any enrichment capacity. The real question is whether it is so limited, so constrained, so confined, so transparent, that as a practical matter, they cannot develop enough fissile material for a bomb without us having the time to see it and to do something about it. That is the practical test.

Now in an ideal world, would we want them to have zero enrichment? Sure. Is that something they will ever agree to? I think the answer is probably not, in fact. And second, our partners are unlikely to stick around in terms of implementing the sanctions regime if that has to be the bottom-line test.

The complete dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment program also goes against the broad parameters for a comprehensive deal outlined in the Nov. 2013 interim agreement, which recognized that under a long-term agreement, Iran would have a limited enrichment program based on its "practical needs."

If the P5+1, or members of Congress, tried to hold out for dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, Iran would not agree, negotiations would break down, and Iran would resume efforts to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity.   

If the Congress initiates action on new sanctions against Iran while the interim agreement is still in force, it would violate the terms of the successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.  

Toward a Sober Evaluation of the Alternatives

The goal of a verifiable, comprehensive agreement must be to limit Iran's capacity to amass enough fissile material for nuclear weapons and to strengthen oversight and transparency to ensure prompt detection of any effort-even a clandestine attempt-to build nuclear weapons. Phased sanctions relief is critical to providing Iran with the political and economic incentives for continued compliance with the agreement well into the future.

In the final analysis, serious policymakers in Washington and other capitals must consider whether their country is better off with an effective comprehensive nuclear agreement-or the continued pursuit of an effective deal-than without one.

They must consider the results of failing to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

  • There would be no constraints on Iran's enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran's nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

Although Iran would still have to overcome significant hurdles to try to build nuclear weapons, such an effort would likely increase the possibility over time of a military confrontation.  

Yet, even Israeli leaders know that military strikes are not a solution. Such an attack would only delay, not destroy, Iran's nuclear program and, at worst, would lead to a wider conflict that could push Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons. Israel would be far less secure.

Some say, "no deal is better than a bad deal." But it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is within reach.--DARYL G. KIMBALL


The Arms Control Association 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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