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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Daryl G. Kimball

Time to Close the Iran Deal

January/February 2015

By Daryl G. Kimball

The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing. Nevertheless, a historic agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran is attainable within the next several weeks and certainly before their new July deadline.

The agreement would block Iran’s major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development—the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route—guard against a clandestine weapons program, and remove a major threat to international security. To get to “yes,” the two sides must act with renewed determination, and Iran in particular must demonstrate greater flexibility on key issues.

There is no time to waste. Some members of the new, Republican-led Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation and set unrealistic requirements for a nuclear deal. With a deal so close at hand, new sanctions are unnecessary and would be counterproductive. Moreover, they would violate the terms of the successful November 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.

Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have made significant progress toward long-term solutions on major issues of proliferation concern. For instance, the two sides agree in principle that the design of and fuel for Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor can and should be modified to drastically cut its output of weapons-grade plutonium.

They agree that Iran should implement and ratify measures that would allow short-notice inspections of undeclared sites and provide early notification of new nuclear projects to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would allow for prompt detection and disruption of a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.

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 all sanctions tied to this particular issue will not be removed unless the questions are adequately resolved. This makes it more likely that if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, Iran will have a stronger incentive to provide the IAEA with the information necessary to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or will in the future.

Some members of Congress erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons is somehow to persuade Iran’s leaders to dismantle the country’s major enrichment facilities and other elements of its “illicit nuclear program,” as Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), two leading advocates of new sanctions, recently put it. But it is unrealistic to expect that Iran’s leadership would accept such harsh terms, even under tougher sanctions pressure.

Instead, negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 are discussing a combination of realistic, practical measures that would establish verifiable, long-term, sustainable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. These must be sufficient and irreversible enough so as to block Iran from quickly amassing fissile material for weapons use while providing Tehran with a politically and technically acceptable enrichment capability consistent with its practical needs.

Iran’s 10,200 first-generation, operating centrifuges provide a capability that far exceeds its foreseeable civilian nuclear fuel needs. At the same time, they can produce enough weapons-grade uranium gas for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months. The P5+1 is, for good reason, pressing Iran to significantly reduce its enrichment capacity in order to increase the time Iran would need to produce a significant quantity of weapons-grade material to a year or more.

Effective limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity will involve several complementary measures, including reducing the capacity of currently operating centrifuges; verifiably disabling centrifuge machines that are installed but not yet operating; limiting, but not stopping, research on more-advanced centrifuges; and reducing the size of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium and converting it to oxide form.

The two sides are closer to agreement on the right formula, but differences remain. In late November, Iranian negotiators proposed lowering the number of its operating centrifuges, but they will need to reduce the number further to assure the P5+1 that Iran cannot make a dash for nuclear weapons.

The P5+1 has promised Iran that it will phase out nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations. But if the P5+1 wants to convince Iran to accept tighter restrictions on enrichment, the six-country group should agree to the faster removal of certain sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the European Union that are not tied to the weaponization issue.

An effective, verifiable nuclear deal is within reach if the two sides—and the U.S. Congress—make smart choices in the days and weeks ahead.

The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing.

CTBTO Conducts Major Field Exercise

December 2014

By Daryl G. Kimball

Participants in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s five-week-long field exercise in Jordan adjust monitoring equipment on November 18. (CTBTO)The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) launched its second full-scale, on-site inspection field exercise in a remote desert region adjoining the Dead Sea southwest of Amman, Jordan, in early November.

The objective of the five-week-long exercise, which will cost an estimated $10.3 million, including in-kind contributions from nine states and the European Union, is to test the CTBTO’s ability to determine whether a nuclear test explosion has taken place following the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The month-long event, known as Integrated Field Exercise 2014 (IFE14), involves a multinational team of more than 200 experts and scientists, including officials from the fictitious CTBT state-party under inspection and an inspection team of 40 experts searching a rugged area of approximately 1,000 square kilometers for evidence of a nuclear test. The team is deploying a wide range of inspection techniques, including radionuclide, seismic, geophysical, and other methods, as would be permitted under an actual inspection if requested and approved by the CTBTO’s executive council of states-parties.

At a Nov. 15 briefing at the inspection area in Jordan, Oleg Rozhkov, the director of the On-Site Inspection Division and IFE14 project executive, described the exercise’s scenario. Under that scenario, the CTBT has been in force for six months when the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS) detects suspicious seismic readings and noble gas emissions indicative of a nuclear blast. Five days later, a state-party requests an on-site inspection; the Executive Council approves the request. Ten days after the initial readings, the inspection team moves in to set up a base of operations.

Fourteen days later and after negotiations with officials from the inspected state who claim the IMS’s readings were wrong, the first CTBTO team moves into the field using sensitive and mobile seismic and radiation monitoring equipment. Using visual surveys, aircraft reconnaissance, and satellite information to supplement the readings from the field equipment, the inspection team quickly narrows its search to four smaller areas of interest in the inspection zone. Once there, the team looks for more-definitive evidence of a prohibited nuclear explosion, such as the collapse of an underground cavity or emissions of additional noble gases.

“IFE14 demonstrates the CTBTO’s advanced capabilities” and shows that the organization is in “the last phase of [its] preparations for on-site inspections” and is ready for the CTBT’s entry into force, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said in a Nov. 18 interview.

Short-notice on-site inspections can only be requested and approved following the treaty’s entry into force. Under Annex 2 of the treaty, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. Eight of those 44 countries have not ratified the treaty.

The IMS consists of 337 stations, 85 percent of which are operational and transmitting data.

The exercise in Jordan is the most extensive since the CTBTO was established in 1997. In 2008 the CTBTO conducted its first IFE at the former Soviet nuclear test site located in present-day Kazakhstan. (See ACT, November 2008.)

Beginning in 2009, the CTBTO carried out a series of build-up exercises for IFE14 to practice specific methods, techniques, and sensor technologies in Austria, Finland, Hungary, and Jordan. These included testing special multispectral and infrared sensors used for overflight monitoring, as well as field-testing communications equipment to ensure it is secure from eavesdropping by inspected states-parties. Several training workshops on on-site inspections also were held, most recently in Yangzhou, China, in November 2013.

In combination with the CTBTO’s success in detecting North Korea’s three nuclear tests, the exercise in Jordan “proves that we’re ready to detect any type of nuclear test explosion,” Zerbo said in a separate statement issued Nov. 18.

The results of IFE14 will be evaluated at a workshop to be held in Israel in March 2015, which will be open to officials from all signatory states, including Egypt and Iran, according to CTBTO officials. Those two countries, along with Israel, are the region’s Annex 2 states.

“I am confident the exercise will prove that CTBT on-site inspections are a viable deterrent against would-be Treaty violators,” Rozhkov said.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization launched a five-week-long, on-site inspection field exercise in a remote desert region adjoining the Dead Sea.

Make Disarmament a ‘Global Enterprise’

December 2014

By Daryl G. Kimball

The global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at yet another important crossroads. Nearly five years after the successful 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan, particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps, has been very disappointing.

In 2010, all NPT nuclear-weapon states committed to “diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons” and “[d]iscuss policies that could prevent the use of nuclear weapons.” Unfortunately, none of them has undertaken demonstrable, concrete steps to do so.

Since the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2011, Russia and the United States have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles, which far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements. NATO has been unable to agree on a proposal for transparency and accounting for Russian and U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Russia refuses to engage in talks on tactical or strategic nuclear weapons and boasts about its nuclear modernization plans.

Progress toward entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is stalled. Negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty and other important disarmament proposals have not begun at the Conference on Disarmament.

Beginning with this month’s conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use and into 2015—the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings—key states must consider, explore, and pursue new ideas and initiatives to reduce global nuclear dangers and meet their NPT commitments.

Examine dangerous doctrines. The conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use in Oslo last year; in Nayarit, Mexico, earlier this year; and this month in Vienna are a useful but insufficient mechanism to press for progress on disarmament and challenge nuclear weapons employment plans. At the 2015 NPT Review Conference, the nuclear-weapon states should be called to explain the effects of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war.

Accelerate U.S.-Russian nuclear cuts and freeze other stockpiles. Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. The United States and Russia could accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline. Moreover, as long as both sides continue to reduce force levels below the treaty limits, U.S. and Russian leaders could agree to parallel reductions well below New START ceilings.

Other countries must get off the disarmament sidelines. That is especially true for China, India, and Pakistan, which continue to improve their nuclear capabilities. The other nuclear-armed states should pledge not to increase the overall size of their stockpiles as long as U.S. and Russian reductions continue.

A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states could create the conditions for multilateral action on disarmament.

Convene nuclear disarmament summits. As Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and George Shultz argued last year, a new multilateral effort for nuclear disarmament dialogue is needed. In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested that the UN Security Council convene a summit on nuclear disarmament.

Now is the time for a group of concerned states, perhaps led by Japan and the 10-nation Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, to invite the leaders of 20 to 30 other key states to a one- or two-day summit on the pursuit of a joint enterprise to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

The high-level meeting, which could be held to coincide with the anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, could be a new starting point for substantive discussions on proposals for advancing nuclear disarmament. Participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, and/or make their nuclear programs more transparent.

Follow through on the CTBT. Despite statements of support for ratification from China and the United States, neither state has taken sufficient action to secure domestic support for ratification. Stronger leadership from Washington and Beijing is overdue and is necessary to finally close the door on nuclear testing and new nuclear weapons development.

Ratification by Egypt, Iran, and Israel—three other key CTBT holdouts—would also reduce nuclear weapons-related security concerns in the Middle East and help create the conditions necessary for the realization of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

To reinforce the beleaguered nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament system and make the 2015 NPT Review Conference a success, nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states must do more than simply repeat previous calls for action and cite progress achieved in past decades. Serious leaders must be prepared to act, and they must do so right away.

The global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at yet another important crossroads. Nearly five years after the successful 2010 NPT Review Conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan, has been very disappointing.

A Good Deal in the Making

November 2014

By Daryl G. Kimball

After extending talks on Iran’s nuclear program beyond the original July 20 target date, Iran and six world powers are closing in on a long-term, verifiable, comprehensive deal. Such an agreement would block Iran’s potential uranium and plutonium paths to nuclear weapons, removing a major threat to international security for many years to come.

Iran and the six-country group—known as the P5+1 because it comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—have worked out solutions on several key issues, including some that appeared to be intractable just a year ago. They agree in principle that the design of Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor project can and should be modified to drastically cut its output of weapons-grade plutonium and that Iran shall not build a reprocessing facility to separate that material from spent reactor fuel.

Iran is amenable to implementing and ratifying measures that would strengthen International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection authority. With the option of short-notice inspections of undeclared sites under the terms of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement and with regular inspections of Iranian centrifuge workshops, the international community would have the capabilities necessary to promptly detect and disrupt an effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, even through a potential clandestine program.

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, including UN Security Council measures tied to the issue, will not be removed until and unless the investigation is resolved.

The members of the P5+1 agree that the goal is not to extract an admission from Iranian officials that their country engaged in nuclear weapons-related work in the past, but to ensure that the IAEA has sufficient information to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or in the future.

On uranium enrichment, the two sides agree that Iran should limit its enrichment of uranium to normal reactor-grade levels: 5 percent or less of fissionable uranium-235. They agree that Iran’s underground Fordow enrichment plant need not be closed, as the P5+1 originally demanded, but shall be limited to a research-only role.

But as the negotiators have stressed, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” With less than a month before their current Nov. 24 deadline, the two sides still need to hammer out technical understandings and make important decisions on at least two major issues in order to get to “yes.”

Until recently, Iran has sought to maintain its current number of operating centrifuges—approximately 10,200—with the option to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity over time to provide fuel for potential new power reactors. The United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners want Iran to cut the current number of operating centrifuges for several years and to disable machines that are installed but not yet operating.
Given Iran’s past actions, suspicion over its nuclear intentions is justified, particularly when its uranium-enrichment capacity exceeds its needs on the ground. Iran should be willing to accept a reduction in its enrichment capacity for a period of several years. This capacity could be allowed to expand in the future if Iran’s needs for enriched uranium increase.

Reducing Iran’s current enrichment capacity by half, combined with a significant reduction in the size of the country’s enriched-uranium stocks or removal of those stocks to a third country, would increase the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon to nine to 12 months or more. That is more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to develop nuclear weapons.

In exchange for a significant reduction in Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity, the P5+1 will likely need to agree to allow limited research and development on more-advanced centrifuges. It is unrealistic to expect Iran to agree to a deal that limits it to using only first-generation centrifuges, which are inefficient and unreliable. The agreement can and should put in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement.

Iran’s current practical needs for enrichment are limited, but to assure Tehran that its needs can be met for the duration of an agreement, the P5+1 may also offer nuclear fuel-supply guarantees, including the shipment of several years’ worth of fuel for Iran’s one operating light-water power reactor, at Bushehr.
To enhance Iran’s incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under the agreement, the two sides agree that the P5+1 will phase out and later lift nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations and the IAEA investigation of Iran’s nuclear program is concluded.

Policymakers in Washington and Tehran need to recognize a good deal when they see one. An effective, verifiable, comprehensive P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran is within reach. Such a deal is critical to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and an escalation of tensions in the Middle East, and it is the only way Iran can obtain relief from further international isolation and sanctions.

After extending talks on Iran’s nuclear program beyond the original July 20 target date, Iran and six world powers are closing in on a long-term, verifiable, comprehensive deal.

Iran Nuclear Deal 101: How A Comprehensive Agreement Can Block Weapons Pathways

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Volume 6, Issue 10, October 30, 2014

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council 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 Iran's nuclear program.

With just a few weeks to go before their Nov. 24 target date, the two sides may conclude a long-term, verifiable, comprehensive agreement that would

  • block Iran’s potential uranium and plutonium paths to nuclear weapons;
  • 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); and
  • decrease Iran’s incentives to enhance its nuclear capacity through nuclear fuel-supply guarantees and phased sanctions relief.

The following is a brief review of the key issues the comprehensive agreement will have to address, effective options for achieving U.S. goals in each area, and a brief discussion of some of the misconceptions that critics and skeptics of a negotiated solution have put forward. 

Any agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of how it addresses any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving existing capabilities to detect and deter any ongoing or future Iranian weapons program. 

Furthermore, any such comprehensive agreement must be compared to realistic alternatives, including the absence of a comprehensive agreement, rather than theoretical notions or vague hopes of a "better" deal negotiated at some future point in time.

Blocking the Uranium Path

The two sides can and should reach agreement on a formula that establishes verifiable, long-term, sustainable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity that block Iran from quickly amassing fissile material for weapons.

As part of the 2013 interim nuclear agreement, the two sides agreed to reduce Iran's enriched uranium stocks and temporarily halt further expansion of centrifuge capacity, which now stands at about 19,000 centrifuges, of which 10,200 are operating, first generation centrifuges.

The two sides have agreed 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.” 

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 enrichment capacity for a period of several years in order to increase the time Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for weapons. 

Some, including AIPAC and some members of Congress, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's uranium path to nuclear weapons would be to somehow persuade Iran's leaders to "dismantle its centrifuge infrastructure." (See AIPAC's six questions on "Negotiating A Final Deal with Iran," October 23.) Such an outcome was sought and failed a decade ago when Iran agreed to temporarily suspend all enrichment work and had about 300 operating centrifuges. 

Today, such demands are even more unrealistic and unnecessary to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. 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.

Even if facilities were to be dismantled, the Iranians would still have the technical know-how and ability to eventually develop and build a nuclear weapon, if they chose to do so.

A P5+1 and Iran comprehensive nuclear agreement will very likely bar Iran from enriching uranium above normal power reactor grade (five percent or less of fissionable uranium-235) and require Iran to transform the underground Fordow enrichment plant from a production-scale facility to a research-only site. The agreement can and should put in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement.

To reduce Iran's capacity to quickly amass highly-enriched uranium, the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners are also pressing Iran to cut the number of operating centrifuges for several years, to reduce the amount and form of low-enriched uranium stockpiled in Iran, and to disable machines that are installed but not yet operating. 

For example, by reducing Iran’s current 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), would increase the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon to nine to 12 months or more. 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 shut the facility.

Shutting down 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 AIPAC's recent point paper implies. 

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. 

More Robust Inspections and Monitoring

Iran's major nuclear sites are already frequently 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.”

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 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 that can help detect and deter potential weapons work at any secret sites is put in place. 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, the Iran and the P5+1 agree that a comprehensive deal will, among other things, require implementation and ratification of the Additional Protocol to the IAEA’s safeguards agreement.

This would allow the U.N. nuclear watchdog the authority to inspect, on very short notice, any site that it suspects is being used for nuclear weapons work, whether or not it had been declared as part of Iran’s nuclear program. Once ratified, these arrangements would last in perpetuity.

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. Measures proposed in the U.S. Congress that 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 would be 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, will not be removed until, and unless, the investigation is resolved. 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 than if there is no such agreement.

Some members of Congress, along with 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 that the IAEA obtains sufficient information to determine that Iran has halted any nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

The Role of Sanctions

U.S. and international sanctions have helped to 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. Further sanctions have little chance of extracting further concessions from Iran in the future and would likely prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.

To enhance Iran’s incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under the comprehensive agreement, the two sides agree that as part of a comprehensive nuclear agreement, the P5+1 will phase out and later lift nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations, and the IAEA investigation of Iran's nuclear program is concluded. If Iran does not meet its obligations, key sanctions measures could be swiftly re-imposed by the president and by the UN Security Council.

The Duration of Key Elements of the Agreement

It is important to understand that any comprehensive nuclear agreement will be a multi-stage, multi-year agreement that specifies action-for-action steps by the P5+1 and Iran. Some restrictions may last for years, some measures will last decades, and some, like inspection measures under the terms of the IAEA's additional protocol, will be permanent. Overall, the agreement will likely last more than a decade, with certain Iranian commitments lasting well beyond its formal end date.

A few senators, including Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), have suggested that a comprehensive nuclear agreement and special inspections must last 20 years. Such requirements are not based on any scientific or technical assessment of what is adequate to block Iran's nuclear ambitions or to resolve the IAEA's questions about the history of Iran's nuclear program.

Furthermore, the longer the agreement the United States and its allies seek, the more difficult it will be for P5+1 negotiators to set tougher, more enforceable limits on Iran's nuclear capabilities, since Iran will resist long-term restrictions that close off its option to pursue legitimate, peaceful nuclear activities in the future.

Evaluating the Alternatives

Some may claim that a comprehensive agreement along these lines falls short of their expectations for limiting Iran’s nuclear potential in one area or another. Any agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving capabilities to detect any ongoing or future Iranian weapons program.

Some skeptics may claim that, with additional, tougher sanctions, Iran's leaders could be coerced to limit its nuclear program even further. Such thinking is naïve and dangerous. 

Although the nuclear talks may be extended beyond the Nov. 24 target date to resolve remaining issues, efforts to coerce Iranian leaders to make further concessions--including the possible imposition of new sanctions measures--will likely provoke Iran to take escalatory measures, worsen the chances for an effective diplomatic resolution, and lead to yet another Middle East crisis.

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.

Those who seek to block an effective agreement have a responsibility to present a viable alternative or take responsibility for its rejection.--Daryl G. Kimball

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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 Iran's nuclear program.

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A Global Nuclear Weapons Freeze

By Daryl G. Kimball

In the seven decades since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have become less and less relevant to the security of possessor states and their allies and more harmful to international security and human survival.

Today, the world’s nuclear-armed states still face significant security threats, but none can be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities. Nevertheless, each of these states is modernizing its nuclear arsenal. 

Throughout the Cold War, nuclear risk reduction efforts appropriately focused on the need to halt and reverse the buildup of the massive U.S. and Soviet arsenals. But in the coming years, a renewed and more comprehensive approach involving all major nuclear-armed states is essential.

Beginning in the late 1980s, U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated four bilateral arms reduction agreements that have slashed their nuclear stockpiles. Despite that progress, each side still deploys about 1,500 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles—far more than necessary to deter nuclear attack. If these weapons were used even in a “limited” way, the result would be catastrophic global nuclear devastation. 

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States is prepared to pursue cuts that go an additional one-third below the ceilings set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Russian President Vladimir Putin’s answer, so far, is “nyet.” He claims that U.S. missile defense plans threaten Russia’s retaliatory potential and maintains that other states’ nuclear arsenals must be addressed. 

Clearly, Washington and Moscow can and must do more. Each possesses an arsenal that is 10 times larger than any other nuclear-armed adversary. Furthermore, with New START verification tools in place, additional nuclear reductions do not require the negotiation of a new treaty. 

Despite sharp differences on Ukraine and other issues, Obama and Putin could jointly announce they will accelerate the pace of reductions under New START. As part of the announcement, each leader could say that he would be willing to go further as long as the other does so. A reasonable target would be to reduce each side’s arsenal to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads and 500 strategic delivery vehicles.

This approach could spur the world’s other major nuclear-armed states to get off the sidelines and join the game. The involvement of these states is essential.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in Arms Control Today in May, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.” 

China, India, and Pakistan, in particular, are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has dangerously lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.

These arsenals, although smaller in number, are dangerous and destabilizing. Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory disarmament and minimum deterrence, but there is little or no dialogue among themselves and with others on nuclear risk reduction. Ignoring the commitment made by the nuclear-weapon states at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference to undertake further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons, Chinese officials suggest they will not do so unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Some in Washington naively suggest that the response to these trends should be to increase the lethality and quantity of U.S. nuclear forces. That would only compound the problem by giving these states a cynical excuse to expand their arsenals even faster.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the nuclear-weapon states’ “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, more than 140 non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress by convening a series of conferences that document the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. The effort is vitally important, but has not yet led to a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition and starting multilateral disarmament talks.

Creative ideas are needed to overcome the obstacles and excuses. Beginning with the third humanitarian-consequences conference in Vienna this December and the 2015 NPT Review Conference, leading states, including the United States, should actively press those states not yet engaged in the nuclear disarmament effort to freeze the size of their arsenals and their fissile material stockpiles as a first step toward multilateral, verifiable reductions.

Nuclear weapons continue to pose global dangers. Their elimination is a global enterprise that requires renewed leadership, dialogue, and action on the part of all the world’s nations. A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze could create the conditions for multilateral action on disarmament and open the door for multilateral talks on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In the seven decades since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have become less and less relevant to the security of possessor states and their allies.

U.S. Forswears Landmines Except in Korea

By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States announced on Sept. 23 that it would not use anti-personnel landmines (APLs) “outside the unique circumstances” of the Korean peninsula and would not “assist, encourage, or induce others to use, stockpile, produce or transfer” APLs anywhere beyond the peninsula. 

According to the State Department, the decision opens the way for the destruction of a significant portion of the estimated U.S. stockpile of 3 million APLs, except for those deemed necessary for the defense of South Korea. U.S. forces are stationed there to help guard against a North Korean attack. 

The newly announced measures “represent a further step to advance the humanitarian aims of the Ottawa Convention and to bring U.S. practice in closer alignment with a global humanitarian movement that has had a demonstrated positive impact in reducing civilian casualties” from APLs, the White House said in its Sept. 23 statement. The 1997 Ottawa Convention bans the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, or transfer of APLs, as well as assisting or encouraging other states in those activities.

The announcement comes on the heels of a June statement in which the United States said it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention, including replacements for such munitions as they expire in the coming years. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) During a Sept. 23 telephone briefing, a senior administration official said the policy applies to all parts of the word, including the Korean peninsula.

According to the White House statement, the United States will continue to look for ways to “be compliant with” and “ultimately” to accede to the convention while ensuring that it can meet its defense commitments to South Korea. Officials speaking during the Sept. 23 briefing said that the Defense Department has been asked to produce a study on options to accomplish this.

Mine-ban advocates, including the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, welcomed the announcement. In a Sept. 23 statement, the campaign called it a “positive step.” 

In a Sept. 23 press release, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the announcement “a crucial step that makes official what has been de facto U.S. practice for a decade and a half. The White House has recognized what our NATO allies declared long ago: These inherently indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians have no place in the 21st Century, and those who use them should be condemned.”

Leahy said the decision “brings U.S. policy closer to the international landmine ban treaty. It mirrors my legislation in 1997, cosponsored by 57 U.S. senators, including key Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate today.”

The United States announced on Sept. 23 that it would not use anti-personnel landmines (APLs) “outside the unique circumstances” of the Korean peninsula...

Iran’s Inflexibility on Enrichment a Barrier to Progress on Nuclear Deal

Officials involved in the high-stakes negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program report limited progress after the latest round of meetings in New York. Both sides, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran, say that the most significant disagreement is over how to define Iran's uranium enrichment capacity over the course of the multiyear deal. Iran's Foreign Minster Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani came to New York expressing hope for a deal, but, unfortunately, they say its up to the P5+1 to...

Bridging the Uranium-Enrichment Gap

Daryl G. Kimball

A long-sought, comprehensive deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to ensure Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful is within reach. Both sides have been negotiating seriously, but some big gaps must still be bridged before the Nov. 24 deadline.

To succeed, both sides must seek creative trade-offs, particularly on the toughest issue: Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity.

In previous rounds of talks, the two sides reached a basic understanding on several key issues, including strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections to guard against a secret weapons program and modifying the Arak heavy-water reactor project to drastically cut its plutonium output.

The two sides also agreed that Iran need not enrich uranium to levels above 5 percent fissionable uranium-235 and that the Fordow enrichment plant would be limited to a research role, but they could not bridge their differences regarding the overall scale of Iran’s enrichment program.

Today, Iran has about 18,000 IR-1 first-generation centrifuge machines at two sites, of which about 10,200 are operational. Iran has also installed 1,008 more-advanced IR-2M centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant.

Theoretically, Iran’s operating IR-1 machines could allow Tehran to use natural uranium 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 first. Even so, if Iran tried to build a militarily significant nuclear arsenal, it would take considerably more than a year.

For the next several years, Iran’s practical needs for enrichment are limited. Iran already has enough fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes, for several years. If the Arak reactor is modified to use 3.5 percent-enriched uranium fuel, it might require no more than 1,000 IR-1 centrifuges to provide for its fuel requirements.

Iran’s light-water reactor at Bushehr, which has a power-generation capacity of about 1,000 megawatts electric, uses fuel supplied by Russia under a 10-year deal that could be extended past its 2021 end date. Russia is obliged to supply fuel unless Iran chooses not to renew the contract. But Iran’s leaders are under heavy political pressure to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign energy suppliers and to maintain a uranium-enrichment program that could be expanded if and when the country’s nuclear energy needs grow.

By the close of the last round of talks in July, Iran was still pushing for an industrial-scale enrichment capacity. The P5+1 was insisting on a drastic reduction of Iran’s enrichment capacity—to about 1,500 IR-1 centrifuges—for an extended period.

Negotiators can square the circle in a number of ways. The International Crisis Group and the Arms Control Association recently outlined a formula that would increase the time Iran would require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its civilian nuclear program over a period of 11 to 16 years. Key elements of the proposal include:

• Reducing Iran’s current enrichment capacity by half for a period of three to five years. Combined with a reduction in the size of Iran’s enriched-uranium stocks, this would increase the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas to 12 months or more. Iran’s operating enrichment capacity could return to current levels by 2021 and for the duration of any agreement, but only if Iran can demonstrate that it has discontinued any experiments with possible military dimensions.

• Limiting Iran’s working stockpile of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride gas to less than 200 kilograms and converting any excess into an oxide powder, which is more proliferation resistant, for removal to a third country, conversion into fuel for the Arak reactor or a light-water reactor, or some combination of those options. Iran would be barred from building a reconversion line that could reverse the process.

• Removing and storing under IAEA seal most of Iran’s IR-1 centrifuges and replacing some with a smaller number of IR2-M centrifuges. Research on machines that are even more advanced would be limited over the course of any agreement. This would allow Iranian scientists to make the desired shift to more cost-effective machines, but still constrain Iran’s overall enrichment capacity.

• Providing strong guarantees to Iran to help meet its future energy needs, including predelivery of fuel for operation of the Bushehr reactor beyond 2021. By that time, the IAEA and Iran could begin a technical assistance project on reactor fuel fabrication.

Such an agreement may not deliver everything each side wants, but it would deliver what each side needs. The P5+1 would put in place significant, verifiable, long-term constraints on Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons and be able to detect and deter any such effort before Tehran could do so. Iran would be able to ease the burden of nuclear-related sanctions and pursue a realistic civilian nuclear program. It is a win-win formula that both sides should embrace. ACT

A long-sought, comprehensive deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to ensure Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful is within reach. 

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