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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Daniel Horner

BWC Parties Start Looking to 2016

January/February 2015

By Daniel Horner

Robert Wood of the United States addresses the opening plenary session of the meeting of parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva on December 1, 2014. (U.S. Mission Geneva)With the attention of many delegations starting to turn toward the 2016 review conference, the states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) met Dec. 1-5 in Geneva.

In the accounts of several observers and participants, the approach of the review conference helped spur a raft of proposals to strengthen the treaty and its processes. But some accounts portrayed a sharply divided meeting.

One observer who attended the meeting remarked in a Dec. 9 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “broader geopolitical issues are spilling into the BWC.” That development is “[n]ot a surprise but could sink hopes for the review conference, which needs to make real progress on effective implementation,” the observer said.

A large number of the proposals focused on verification and compliance, a perennial BWC topic of debate, and on modifications to the so-called intersessional process, the series of meetings that the parties hold during the five years between review conferences. Many of the proposals and statements echoed positions that were articulated at the 2011 review conference. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

In its opening statement, the European Union suggested a mechanism under which the parties could begin holding “informal consultations” that “could focus on areas that are likely to command consensus.”

At the December meeting, Myanmar became the 171st party to the BWC. In his statement welcoming Myanmar’s ratification to the treaty, Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament and special representative for BWC issues, said that “[s]hould Myanmar so desire,” the United States “stands ready to assist” in areas such as incorporating Myanmar’s incorporation of its BWC obligations into its national laws, regulations, and practices.

Myanmar has indicated it also is preparing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (see Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable).

With the attention of many delegations starting to turn toward the 2016 review conference, the states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) met Dec. 1-5 in Geneva.

Panel Calls for NNSA Overhaul

January/February 2015

By Daniel Horner

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should be reconstituted as the Office of Nuclear Security within the Energy Department, and the department’s name should be changed to the “Department of Energy and Nuclear Security,” according to a high-level independent report.

Since it was established 15 years ago, the NNSA has been a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department responsible for the management and security of U.S. nuclear weapons and for nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs. Congress created the NNSA to sharpen the department’s focus on nuclear security and other issues relating to the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

In its recently released report, “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise,” the panel argued for “a knowledgeable, engaged” energy secretary and for department-wide “ownership” of the NNSA’s mission. That stands in contrast to proposals for greater NNSA autonomy.

The congressionally mandated report also stressed the need for better coordination and collaboration with the Defense Department. According to the report, NNSA “customers” in the Pentagon currently “lack confidence” in the NNSA’s ability to carry out programs to extend the life of warheads in the U.S. stockpile and modernize the facilities that produce the warheads.

NNSA reform is crucial because “nuclear weapons have become orphans” in Congress and the executive branch, the report said.

The NNSA should be reconstituted as the Office of Nuclear Security within the Energy Department, and the department’s name should be changed to the “Department of Energy and Nuclear Security,”...

Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable

January/February 2015

By Daniel Horner

Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw addresses the conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague on December 2, 2014. He said Myanmar was on the verge of ratifying the treaty. (OPCW)Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable, according to a Dec. 1 Russian statement.

In the statement, which came on the first day of the week-long annual conference in The Hague of countries that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Russia said it was “fully committed” to the convention and would complete the destruction as quickly as possible. But Moscow “will do so based on the actual economic situation as it unfolds, while following all safety standards that ought to be met during the implementation of such a complex technological task,” the statement said.

In the statement, Russia said it planned to complete the work at four of its active destruction facilities—Leonidovka, Maradykovsky, Pochep, and Shchuch’ye—this year, but that work at the Kizner facility would continue through 2020.

Under the CWC, countries that possessed chemical weapons were supposed to eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. Russia and the United States, which accounted for the vast majority of chemical arms declared under the CWC, did not meet the deadline. Libya, which declared a much smaller stockpile, also did not meet the deadline.

In a document adopted at their 2011 annual meeting, the CWC parties essentially recognized that the three countries would miss the deadline, but said they should complete the work “in the shortest time possible.” The document spelled out reporting and monitoring requirements for the destruction work. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

Russia had set the 2015 target date in 2010. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) At the time, some experts expressed skepticism about the feasibility of that timetable.

Earlier this year, Moscow indicated that it would not be able to meet the schedule. According to a May 2014 report by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) describing a visit to Russia the previous month by members of the council, a senior Russian official, Col. Gen. Victor Kholstov, told the delegation about several obstacles for the work at Kizner.

According to the council’s report, Kholstov described certain munitions that are particularly expensive and time consuming to destroy because of their complex configuration. The report cited Kholstov as saying that funds were moved from Kizner to the facilities handling the complex munitions, delaying completion of the construction work at Kizner. Kholstov also said that recently adopted safety regulations have had a particular impact on the technology used at Kizner, further delaying the work there, the report said.

At the council’s meeting in July 2014, Russia provided information that work at Kizner would continue beyond 2015, according to the official report of that meeting. Russia apparently did not specify a new target date at that time.

The current U.S. target date for eliminating its chemical stockpile is 2023.

According to figures cited by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü in his Dec. 1 statement to the CWC conference, the United States has destroyed about 24,900 metric tons of chemical weapons, representing 90 percent of its stockpile. Russia has destroyed about 33,800 metric tons, about 85 percent of its holdings, he said.

In his remarks, Üzümcü praised the OPCW’s “truly remarkable achievements” in the successful effort to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical weapons, but noted that some issues relating to Syria’s chemical weapons program remain to be resolved.

On one of those issues, the destruction of 12 chemical weapons production facilities, he reported that contracts with the “commercial entities” that are to carry out the destruction had been finalized at the end of November. In a Jan. 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said destruction of the first facility had begun Dec. 24 and was “ongoing.”

Another issue is the completeness of the declaration of its chemical weapons program that Syria made when it joined the CWC in 2013. In her Dec. 3 remarks to the meeting of CWC parties, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “chemical weapons capabilities may very well remain in the hands of the Syrian government.”

Üzümcü said in his statement that the OPCW would continue its consultations with Syria on the country’s declaration. Another continuing effort, he said, is the work of the OPCW team that determined “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in three villages in the northern part of the country last year, when Damascus already was a CWC party. (See ACT, October 2014.)

With Syria’s accession to the CWC, six countries—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan—remain outside it. At the December conference, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw said his country was on the verge of ratifying the treaty.

During remarks at a Dec. 12 conference in Washington sponsored by the Arms Control Association, Peter Sawczak, head of government relations and political affairs in the OPCW’s external relations division, said he expected Myanmar to ratify the CWC “in short order.”

Sawczak also highlighted another nonparty, Angola, which began a two-year term on the UN Security Council on Jan. 1. “I think a lot of states-parties have delivered the message that it’s not a good look for a member of the Security Council not to be a state-party to cornerstone arms control treaties” such as the CWC, he said.


CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the conclusion of the report by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria. In its report, the team said it had a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon, but it did not assign responsibility for the chlorine use to any party.

Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable.

NNSA Reviewing Nonproliferation Work

November 2014

By Daniel Horner

The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is reviewing its approach to its nonproliferation programs and expects to issue the results of that review early next year, the head of the semiautonomous agency said Oct. 29.

Speaking at a briefing for reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz said that, for more than a year, the NNSA has been “going through an assessment of how we view the world situation, how we view technology development, and where we can best have an impact in achieving the overall goals of nonproliferation and implementing safeguards across the globe.”

A major part of the impetus for that review, he indicated, was the end of the four-year period that President Barack Obama established for securing “vulnerable nuclear material around the world.” Obama announced the four-year effort in his speech in Prague in April 2009.

As Klotz noted, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has established a task force under the auspices of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board to take a broad look at the way the department addresses nuclear nonproliferation issues. Klotz said the department is planning to publish a document reflecting the review when the administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 is released.

The task force, which is expected to issue its report around the end of the year, produced an interim report in August. According to the report, “The U.S. government does not yet have a compelling vision for the future of its nonproliferation efforts or how [the Energy Department’s] programs fit in that larger picture, though [the department] has launched an effort to develop one.” An important task for the department, the report says, is to “[l]ay out a vision and set priorities.”

The report notes that the Energy Department’s nonproliferation budget has declined by hundreds of millions of dollars in the past several years. Although that is partly the result of “projects being completed or efforts being put on hold while [the department] reviews its approach to them,” in some cases “it appears that important nonproliferation work is being slowed or canceled because of lack of funds,” the report says.

Other observers of the nonproliferation work have reached similar conclusions. In August, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. (See ACT, September 2014.)

One particular focus of the interim report is U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation, which, for a number of reasons, “will not be easy, is likely to encounter delays, and will require creative approaches and sustained attention,” the report says. But the United States should pursue this cooperation in spite of the obstacles because it “remains critical to U.S. national security interests,” the report says.

The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is reviewing its approach to its nonproliferation programs and expects to issue the results of that review early next year, the head of the semiautonomous agency said Oct. 29.

Syria Declares More Chemical Facilities

November 2014

By Daniel Horner

Syria has declared four additional chemical weapons facilities, UN diplomats and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last month.

Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations to oversee the removal and destruction of Syrian chemical weapons materials, speaks at Georgetown University on September 30 in this video image. (C-SPAN)After a UN Security Council briefing Oct. 7 on the status of Syria’s chemical weapons program, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a tweet, “UN’s @SigridKaag said 4 facilities identified that regime failed to declare.” Sigrid Kaag is the Dutch diplomat who has been overseeing the effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Media reports citing anonymous UN diplomats’ accounts of the closed briefing said the declaration comprised three research facilities and one production facility. In an Oct. 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Paul Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability for Green Cross International, said the production facility and one of the research facilities were for ricin. The other two research facilities were for more general research on chemical weapons, said Walker, a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee and current member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan confirmed that Syria had made the declaration, but declined to provide details beyond the number of facilities. In an Oct. 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he noted that the OPCW in April had established a “declarations assessment team” (DAT) to "clarify anomalies and discrepancies that have arisen with Syria’s initial declaration” of its chemical weapons program. The Syrian government declared the additional facilities “after reaching agreement with the DAT on their declarable status,” he said.

The OPCW is the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Syria joined a little more than a year ago.

In response to an August 2013 chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which the United States, other countries, and most independent analysts attributed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes against Syria. But Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal under which Syria, which has close ties to Russia, agreed to join the CWC and destroy its chemical arsenal under an accelerated schedule.

According to specialists on the CWC, it is not unusual for countries to make minor revisions to their initial declarations as their chemical destruction progresses. But reports have circulated for months that the Syrian discrepancies went beyond that category.

On Sept. 21, Kerry expressed “deep concerns regarding the accuracy and completeness” of Syria’s initial declaration. Power, in her Oct. 7 tweet, said, “Must keep pressure on regime so it doesn’t hide [chemical weapons] capability.”

At an Oct. 7 roundtable discussion with reporters, Andrew Weber, outgoing assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, said that “[t]he strategic threat of Syria’s chemical weapons has been eliminated” but that there may be “some tactical, small things that were not declared by the Syrian regime.” There is “a system in place to deal with that,” led by the OPCW, he said.

Another ongoing part of Syria’s chemical disarmament is the destruction of 12 production facilities—five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels, and seven aboveground hangars. After extended negotiations with Syria, the OPCW on July 24 announced an agreement on a plan for destroying the facilities. (See ACT, September 2014.) Under that plan, destruction was to begin in late September. By late October, however, the work had not started. In his Oct. 27 e-mail, the OPCW’s Luhan said it “has been delayed by contract issues.”

In Sept. 30 remarks at Georgetown University, Kaag said the destruction of the facilities “hopefully” would be completed by April. Kaag was speaking on the last day before the official expiration of the OPCW-UN joint mission that she headed.

The OPCW has responsibility for pursuing the remaining issues related to Syria’s chemical weapons program. Kaag will continue to have a role in this effort as an adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In September 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118, which approved a plan formulated by the OPCW Executive Council for destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal. (See ACT, October 2013.)

When it joined the CWC last year, Syria declared about 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons agents. About 10 percent of the stockpile was destroyed in Syria; the rest was shipped out of the country for destruction elsewhere. About 600 metric tons were neutralized aboard the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. ship, in July and August. The remainder, along with the effluent from the Cape Ray operation, went to facilities in the United States and Europe to be processed.

As of October 20, about 98 percent of the declared arsenal, including all the high-priority chemicals, had been destroyed, according to the OPCW.

Syria has declared four additional chemical weapons facilities, according to UN diplomats and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

OPCW Confirms Chlorine Attacks in Syria

By Daniel Horner

Evidence gathered by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) forms a “consistent and credible narrative” of use of a toxic chemical as a weapon in Syria in recent months, the team said in a report issued Sept. 10.

The group concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that “chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question.”

The team did not assign responsibility for the attacks, which the Syrian government and the rebels fighting to overthrow it have blamed on each other. But the OPCW investigators reported that “witnesses invariably connected the devices to helicopters flying overhead.” 

In a Sept. 21 statement commenting on the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that because helicopters constitute “a capability the opposition lacks,” the evidence “strongly points to Syrian regime culpability.”

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad frequently have used helicopters to drop conventional explosives. The report described one incident in which a child standing near the landing point of a bomb dropped from a helicopter “died later because of exposure to the toxic chemical, while showing none of the obvious physical trauma as that usually inflicted by a conventional explosive device.”

The OPCW launched the fact-finding mission in April after allegations of chlorine use near the Syrian village of Kafr Zita. (See ACT, May 2014.) In May, a convoy carrying members of the OPCW team to Kafr Zita came under attack and had to turn back. For the report, the investigators interviewed witnesses from Kafr Zita and two other villages in northern Syria, Al Tamanah and Talmenes. The report said it also drew on documentation such as medical records.

According to the report, there was a “marked reduction” in allegations of chlorine use in May, June, and July. But in August, there was “a spate of new allegations, with accounts of the incidents bearing strong resemblance to those that are now confirmed as having been chlorine attacks.”

The United States is “gravely concerned” about the investigative team’s findings, which “point to” a CWC violation, Kerry said in his statement. Chlorine is not one of the toxic chemicals specifically listed in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), but its use as a weapon would constitute a violation of the treaty. 

Syria joined the CWC a year ago as part of an agreement hammered out by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. That agreement formed the basis for actions by the OPCW Executive Council and UN Security Council under which more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons material were removed from Syria for destruction elsewhere.

Kerry also expressed “deep concerns regarding the accuracy and completeness” of Syria’s declaration of its arsenal to the OPCW when Damascus joined the CWC. 

During a Sept. 4 press briefing at the United Nations, Sigrid Kaag, the head of the OPCW-UN joint mission that has been overseeing the chemical disarmament work in Syria, said the discrepancies fall into several categories. She listed paperwork and documentation, areas “where the [Syrian] authorities have indicated that chemical materials have been destroyed” but the destruction “happened a long time ago [and] the records are not up to date,” and “areas where there are concerns over possible discrepancies in volume and other such matters.” There has been “close dialogue and cooperation” with the Syrians on these questions, she said.

Another issue that bears close watching, U.S. officials and others have said, is the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons production facilities. After protracted negotiations, the OCPW on July 24 announced an agreement on a plan for destroying 12 facilities. They comprise seven hangars and five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels. (See ACT, September 2014.)

At the UN briefing, Kaag said the tunnels would be destroyed by a method of “mix and fill.” It is “not high tech, and the equipment that’s going to be used is available in [Syria],” she said. The hangars are to be destroyed by chemical implosion, which is a little more complicated but “can be done,” she said.

Under the timetable in the July 24 OPCW decision document, the destruction of the hangars was to begin in late September and destruction of the underground structures a month later. But the document also says that the timelines for destruction “are estimates and could be refined after further consultation with technical experts and on the basis of initial experience in implementing this decision.” The Executive Council “shall review the timelines” to ensure that they “remain practical and realistic,” the document stated.

At a Sept. 10 event at the Center for Security and International Studies, Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said meetings were taking place on issues such as “contracting and the methodologies involved and exactly when the [OPCW] inspectors will be where to observe what part of the destruction.”

In a Sept. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a State Department official cited the OPCW as saying that the “start of the destruction of the hangars will fall in October.” The department has no information on a “specific start date” for the tunnels, the official said.

The OPCW did not respond to a request for information on the start dates.

In her Sept. 4 comments, Kaag estimated that the destruction activities would be completed by the end of March. Four of the 12 facilities are in “security-affected areas,” she said.

Regarding Syria’s adherence to the schedule, the State Department official said, “There are no guarantees[,] and we recognize that the work is both complex and unprecedented[,] but the United States will insist that the Syrian government provide the required support and assistance to enable the timely destruction of its remaining chemical weapons production facilities.”

An investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found compelling evidence of the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria in recent months.

Vietnam Pact Nears End of Hill Review

Daniel Horner

A U.S.-Vietnamese agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation is on the verge of clearing its main hurdle in the United States, as Congress seems unlikely to complete the action it would need to take to block or revise the pact in the little remaining time left to do so.

Legislation that would have altered the duration of the Vietnam pact and some other agreements passed the Senate, and when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had marked up the legislation, it considered but did not approve amendments that would have made changes that are more far-reaching.

In interviews since then, congressional staffers indicated that although the Senate bill is very unlikely to become law during the current Congress, its key provision and the amendments considered by the committee could resurface in some form. That is because they set standards for nuclear cooperation agreements rather than specifically changing the Vietnam accord, the staffers said.

Under current law, nuclear cooperation agreements that meet nine basic nonproliferation requirements can enter into force without a congressional vote of approval if they lie before Congress for 90 days of so-called continuous session without Congress blocking them. Most agreements, including the one with Vietnam, are in this category.

The 90-day clock for the Vietnam pact began when President Barack Obama submitted the agreement to Congress on May 8 and ran until Congress adjourned for its August recess, leaving only two of the 90 days when Congress returns in early September, according to congressional sources. House action on the legislation within that time is seen as extremely unlikely.

The agreement with Vietnam is the first in what could be a series of agreements with countries that are considering launching nuclear power programs. For nonproliferation advocates in Congress and elsewhere, a key issue is how hard the United States should press these countries to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, activities that are considered sensitive because they can be used to produce nuclear explosive material.

The legislation approved by the Senate would require most new agreements to be reviewed by Congress every 30 years. The Vietnam agreement has an initial duration of 30 years “and shall continue in force thereafter for additional periods of five years each.” Either party can terminate the agreement at the end of those periods.

Changes Contemplated

When the Foreign Relations Committee marked up legislation July 22, it considered amendments by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that would have made broader changes in U.S. law.

Corker’s amendment would have added a 10th item to the nonproliferation list, a “guaranty” that the country would not “engage in activities related to the enrichment or reprocessing of material.”

At the markup, Corker noted that adding the language does not mean that countries necessarily would be required to forgo enrichment and reprocessing. But if they did not agree to that condition, the agreement would require congressional approval, a much higher political hurdle than lying before Congress for 90 days without being disapproved.

Markey’s amendment would bar funding for U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that take certain actions, including pursuing development of enrichment and reprocessing programs unless such programs are authorized by the country’s nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.

Markey’s amendment failed by a vote of 11-5; Corker’s lost on a voice vote. Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told Corker and Markey that he supported their “aspirations” but not the amendments. He said he would be willing to work with the two lawmakers to come up with language that was more likely to win support in the Senate. Menendez is the author of the language requiring the 30-year review, which was incorporated into a resolution of approval for the Vietnam agreement.

In an Aug. 6 interview, a senior Senate staffer said the resolution had been crafted to recognize the different roles of Congress and the administration. Negotiating agreements is the responsibility of the executive branch, and it is “not our job to change the agreement that is negotiated,” he said. Congress has “other powers,” namely the ability to establish in law the standards that agreements must meet, he said.

Seeking Clarity

Late last year, the Obama administration completed a three-year internal review of its policy on civilian nuclear cooperation. A senior administration official last December described the policy as “principled...but also pragmatic and practical.” (See ACT, January/February 2014.) The administration did not issue the documents that typically accompany such a policy announcement, leading to questions in Congress and elsewhere about the specifics of the policy.

At a Jan. 30 Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Menendez and Corker pressed administration witnesses to provide a clear explanation of the U.S. policy on nuclear cooperation, particularly with regard to restricting enrichment and reprocessing.

Menendez said he wanted to know what criteria the administration would be using to determine whether to push a country to refrain from enrichment and reprocessing activities. Corker said there was a “great inconsistency across agreements.”

In the Aug. 6 interview, the staffer said the absence of clearly articulated criteria means that Congress has no baseline for judging if the administration “got as much as [it] could” in negotiating nonproliferation conditions with other countries. “We don’t enjoy that,” he said.

At a July 10 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Daniel Lipman of the Nuclear Energy Institute argued against “inflexible preconditions to U.S. nuclear cooperation with potential partners, especially nontraditional preconditions that potential partners refuse to accept and other supplier nations do not require,” a description that would apply to the proposals to press countries to renounce enrichment and reprocessing activities. Lipman, the institute’s executive director for policy development and supplier programs, said enrichment- and reprocessing-related provisions in U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements should “reflect the unique circumstances of each bilateral relationship.”

But he said that the nuclear industry “has no quarrel” with a 30-year limit on the duration of civilian nuclear agreements. The most important issue with regard to the term of the agreements is that renewal negotiations begin early enough to avoid situations in which “an agreement is ready run out” and the renewal agreement has not been completed. “The term to us is, to some degree, immaterial,” he said.

Congress is in the midst of a wave of new and renewed nuclear cooperation agreements. Renewal agreements with Taiwan and the International Atomic Energy Agency recently entered into force. Earlier this year, the United States and South Korea agreed to a two-year extension while they sought to resolve issues preventing a longer-term agreement.

The United States also is in various stages of negotiations with a number of other countries, including China, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. China’s agreement expires next year; the ones with Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be new ones.

The congressional review period for a U.S.-Vietnamese civilian nuclear agreement is almost finished, and action seems unlikely. Some congressional sources say broader issues raised by the pact could resurface.

Syrian Chemicals Destroyed on U.S. Ship

Daniel Horner

The destruction of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons materials was completed Aug. 18 aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea, President Barack Obama announced in a statement that day.

The MV Cape Ray neutralized about 600 metric tons of Syrian chemicals using two mobile units of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a technology developed by the Defense Department. About 20 metric tons was weapons-usable sulfur mustard, and the rest was a sarin precursor known as DF, according to figures from the Defense Department and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The announcement of the milestone in the ongoing effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program came a few days before the one-year anniversary of a chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, the catalyst for the sequence of events that led to Syrian chemical weapons materials being destroyed on a U.S. ship.

In response to that attack, which the United States, other governments, and most independent analysts attributed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes against Syria. But Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal under which Syria, which has close ties to Russia, agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and destroy its chemical arsenal under an expedited schedule. (See ACT, October 2013.) The OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council subsequently endorsed the plan.

Parties to the CWC are responsible for destroying chemical weapons components that they possess, but the plan allowed for the possibility of destruction outside Syria, in part because of the civil war that has been taking place in Syria since early 2011. Several countries were seen as candidates for hosting destruction facilities, but all of them declined, making shipboard destruction an attractive option, particularly for the most dangerous chemicals.

In an Aug. 19 statement congratulating the United States, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü reported that “OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment.”

Some of the lower-priority chemicals, as well as the effluent from the Cape Ray operation, are being processed in land facilities in Europe and the United States.

Of the 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons material that Syria declared when it joined the CWC, approximately 90 percent was removed from the country for destruction. About 130 metric tons of isopropanol were destroyed in Syria.

The removal of the material proceeded sporadically, and Syria fell months behind the timetable set by the OPCW and the United Nations. Syria and Russia blamed the civil war and the resulting dangers to overland transport. Other countries assigned much of the blame to the Syrian government; Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, said Syria was “drag[ging] its feet.” (See ACT, March 2014.)

The chemicals had to be gathered from across the country to the port of Latakia, where an international convoy picked them up for delivery to the Cape Ray and other destruction locations. An OPCW-UN mission oversaw the operation.

Beating the Schedule

As Obama and Üzümcü noted in their statements, the chemical destruction on the Cape Ray was completed ahead of schedule. The estimates varied somewhat, but generally had projected that the task would require about two months.

In an Aug. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Defense Department official said the original estimates were 45 to 90 days, with the range later narrowing to 45 to 60 days once officials had a better idea of the quantities the Cape Ray would be handling. The Pentagon maintained 60 days as the publicly announced figure to avoid “external pressure to meet an ‘artificial’ deadline,” the official said.

The 60-day figure built in some time for delays the official said, noting that the Cape Ray operation marked the first time chemical weapons neutralization was carried out at sea.

The hydrolysis units operated 24 hours a day for six days a week, with one day set aside for activities such as maintenance and testing, the official said, adding that there were no “major problems or delays.”

In an Aug. 18 press release, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had called the ship to congratulate the crew on its work.

Production Facilities

Several weeks before the Cape Ray completed its task, the OPCW announced an agreement on a long-running, contentious issue, the destruction of Syria’s 12 remaining chemical weapons production facilities. In a July 24 statement following an Executive Council meeting earlier that day, the OPCW said that seven hangars would be “razed to the ground” and five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels, would be “sealed permanently to make them inaccessible.”

Syria had previously insisted on converting the facilities to other uses rather than destroying them. (See ACT, July/August 2014, Web Extra.) The CWC allows countries to do so, with the approval of their fellow to the treaty parties.

The council’s decision document and an addendum from Üzümcü, which were not publicly released but were obtained by Arms Control Today, provide some details on the upcoming steps for the production facilities. The addendum describes a “fill and plug” process that would essentially destroy the parts of the underground structures that were directly related to chemical weapons production.

Sensors will be installed “to monitor the integrity of the interior plug.” The OPCW Technical Secretariat will have the right to inspect the closed portions for five years after the filling and plugging operation is completed, the addendum says.

No “toxic chemical activities” are allowed in the parts of the structures that remain usable.

According to the decision document, the destruction of the hangars is to start within 60 days of July 24, and destruction of the underground facilities within 90 days.

In his Aug. 18 statement, Obama said, “Going forward, we will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities.” He also cited “serious questions” about “omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW” and “continued allegations of use,” apparently a reference to allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria earlier this year. The OPCW is investigating those allegations.

The destruction of Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons materials was completed Aug. 18 aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

Vietnam Pact Nears End of Hill Review

Daniel Horner

A U.S.-Vietnamese agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation is on the verge of clearing its main hurdle in the United States, as Congress seems unlikely to complete the action it would need to take to block or revise the pact in the little remaining time left to do so.

Legislation that would have altered the duration of the Vietnam pact and some other agreements passed the Senate, and when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had marked up the legislation, it considered but did not approve amendments that would have made changes that are more far-reaching.

In interviews since then, congressional staffers indicated that although the Senate bill is very unlikely to become law during the current Congress, its key provision and the amendments considered by the committee could resurface in some form. That is because they set standards for nuclear cooperation agreements rather than specifically changing the Vietnam accord, the staffers said.

Under current law, nuclear cooperation agreements that meet nine basic nonproliferation requirements can enter into force without a congressional vote of approval if they lie before Congress for 90 days of so-called continuous session without Congress blocking them. Most agreements, including the one with Vietnam, are in this category.

The 90-day clock for the Vietnam pact began when President Barack Obama submitted the agreement to Congress on May 8 and ran until Congress adjourned for its August recess, leaving only two of the 90 days when Congress returns in early September, according to congressional sources. House action on the legislation within that time is seen as extremely unlikely.

The agreement with Vietnam is the first in what could be a series of agreements with countries that are considering launching nuclear power programs. For nonproliferation advocates in Congress and elsewhere, a key issue is how hard the United States should press these countries to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, activities that are considered sensitive because they can be used to produce nuclear explosive material.

The legislation approved by the Senate would require most new agreements to be reviewed by Congress every 30 years. The Vietnam agreement has an initial duration of 30 years “and shall continue in force thereafter for additional periods of five years each.” Either party can terminate the agreement at the end of those periods.

Changes Contemplated

When the Foreign Relations Committee marked up legislation July 22, it considered amendments by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that would have made broader changes in U.S. law.

Corker’s amendment would have added a 10th item to the nonproliferation list, a “guaranty” that the country would not “engage in activities related to the enrichment or reprocessing of material.”

At the markup, Corker noted that adding the language does not mean that countries necessarily would be required to forgo enrichment and reprocessing. But if they did not agree to that condition, the agreement would require congressional approval, a much higher political hurdle than lying before Congress for 90 days without being disapproved.

Markey’s amendment would bar funding for U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that take certain actions, including pursuing development of enrichment and reprocessing programs unless such programs are authorized by the country’s nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.

Markey’s amendment failed by a vote of 11-5; Corker’s lost on a voice vote. Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told Corker and Markey that he supported their “aspirations” but not the amendments. He said he would be willing to work with the two lawmakers to come up with language that was more likely to win support in the Senate. Menendez is the author of the language requiring the 30-year review, which was incorporated into a resolution of approval for the Vietnam agreement.

In an Aug. 6 interview, a senior Senate staffer said the resolution had been crafted to recognize the different roles of Congress and the administration. Negotiating agreements is the responsibility of the executive branch, and it is “not our job to change the agreement that is negotiated,” he said. Congress has “other powers,” namely the ability to establish in law the standards that agreements must meet, he said.

Seeking Clarity

Late last year, the Obama administration completed a three-year internal review of its policy on civilian nuclear cooperation. A senior administration official last December described the policy as “principled...but also pragmatic and practical.” (See ACT, January/February 2014.) The administration did not issue the documents that typically accompany such a policy announcement, leading to questions in Congress and elsewhere about the specifics of the policy.

At a Jan. 30 Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Menendez and Corker pressed administration witnesses to provide a clear explanation of the U.S. policy on nuclear cooperation, particularly with regard to restricting enrichment and reprocessing.

Menendez said he wanted to know what criteria the administration would be using to determine whether to push a country to refrain from enrichment and reprocessing activities. Corker said there was a “great inconsistency across agreements.”

In the Aug. 6 interview, the staffer said the absence of clearly articulated criteria means that Congress has no baseline for judging if the administration “got as much as [it] could” in negotiating nonproliferation conditions with other countries. “We don’t enjoy that,” he said.

At a July 10 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Daniel Lipman of the Nuclear Energy Institute argued against “inflexible preconditions to U.S. nuclear cooperation with potential partners, especially nontraditional preconditions that potential partners refuse to accept and other supplier nations do not require,” a description that would apply to the proposals to press countries to renounce enrichment and reprocessing activities. Lipman, the institute’s executive director for policy development and supplier programs, said enrichment- and reprocessing-related provisions in U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements should “reflect the unique circumstances of each bilateral relationship.”

But he said that the nuclear industry “has no quarrel” with a 30-year limit on the duration of civilian nuclear agreements. The most important issue with regard to the term of the agreements is that renewal negotiations begin early enough to avoid situations in which “an agreement is ready run out” and the renewal agreement has not been completed. “The term to us is, to some degree, immaterial,” he said.

Congress is in the midst of a wave of new and renewed nuclear cooperation agreements. Renewal agreements with Taiwan and the International Atomic Energy Agency recently entered into force. Earlier this year, the United States and South Korea agreed to a two-year extension while they sought to resolve issues preventing a longer-term agreement.

The United States also is in various stages of negotiations with a number of other countries, including China, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. China’s agreement expires next year; the ones with Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be new ones.

The congressional review period for a U.S.-Vietnamese civilian nuclear agreement is almost finished, and action seems unlikely. Some congressional sources say broader issues raised by the pact could resurface.

Syrian Chemicals Destroyed on U.S. Ship

Daniel Horner

The destruction of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons materials was completed Aug. 18 aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea, President Barack Obama announced in a statement that day.

The MV Cape Ray neutralized about 600 metric tons of Syrian chemicals using two mobile units of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a technology developed by the Defense Department. About 20 metric tons was weapons-usable sulfur mustard, and the rest was a sarin precursor known as DF, according to figures from the Defense Department and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The announcement of the milestone in the ongoing effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program came a few days before the one-year anniversary of a chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, the catalyst for the sequence of events that led to Syrian chemical weapons materials being destroyed on a U.S. ship.

In response to that attack, which the United States, other governments, and most independent analysts attributed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes against Syria. But Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal under which Syria, which has close ties to Russia, agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and destroy its chemical arsenal under an expedited schedule. (See ACT, October 2013.) The OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council subsequently endorsed the plan.

Parties to the CWC are responsible for destroying chemical weapons components that they possess, but the plan allowed for the possibility of destruction outside Syria, in part because of the civil war that has been taking place in Syria since early 2011. Several countries were seen as candidates for hosting destruction facilities, but all of them declined, making shipboard destruction an attractive option, particularly for the most dangerous chemicals.

In an Aug. 19 statement congratulating the United States, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü reported that “OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment.”

Some of the lower-priority chemicals, as well as the effluent from the Cape Ray operation, are being processed in land facilities in Europe and the United States.

Of the 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons material that Syria declared when it joined the CWC, approximately 90 percent was removed from the country for destruction. About 130 metric tons of isopropanol were destroyed in Syria.

The removal of the material proceeded sporadically, and Syria fell months behind the timetable set by the OPCW and the United Nations. Syria and Russia blamed the civil war and the resulting dangers to overland transport. Other countries assigned much of the blame to the Syrian government; Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, said Syria was “drag[ging] its feet.” (See ACT, March 2014.)

The chemicals had to be gathered from across the country to the port of Latakia, where an international convoy picked them up for delivery to the Cape Ray and other destruction locations. An OPCW-UN mission oversaw the operation.

Beating the Schedule

As Obama and Üzümcü noted in their statements, the chemical destruction on the Cape Ray was completed ahead of schedule. The estimates varied somewhat, but generally had projected that the task would require about two months.

In an Aug. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Defense Department official said the original estimates were 45 to 90 days, with the range later narrowing to 45 to 60 days once officials had a better idea of the quantities the Cape Ray would be handling. The Pentagon maintained 60 days as the publicly announced figure to avoid “external pressure to meet an ‘artificial’ deadline,” the official said.

The 60-day figure built in some time for delays the official said, noting that the Cape Ray operation marked the first time chemical weapons neutralization was carried out at sea.

The hydrolysis units operated 24 hours a day for six days a week, with one day set aside for activities such as maintenance and testing, the official said, adding that there were no “major problems or delays.”

In an Aug. 18 press release, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had called the ship to congratulate the crew on its work.

Production Facilities

Several weeks before the Cape Ray completed its task, the OPCW announced an agreement on a long-running, contentious issue, the destruction of Syria’s 12 remaining chemical weapons production facilities. In a July 24 statement following an Executive Council meeting earlier that day, the OPCW said that seven hangars would be “razed to the ground” and five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels, would be “sealed permanently to make them inaccessible.”

Syria had previously insisted on converting the facilities to other uses rather than destroying them. (See ACT, July/August 2014, Web Extra.) The CWC allows countries to do so, with the approval of their fellow to the treaty parties.

The council’s decision document and an addendum from Üzümcü, which were not publicly released but were obtained by Arms Control Today, provide some details on the upcoming steps for the production facilities. The addendum describes a “fill and plug” process that would essentially destroy the parts of the underground structures that were directly related to chemical weapons production.

Sensors will be installed “to monitor the integrity of the interior plug.” The OPCW Technical Secretariat will have the right to inspect the closed portions for five years after the filling and plugging operation is completed, the addendum says.

No “toxic chemical activities” are allowed in the parts of the structures that remain usable.

According to the decision document, the destruction of the hangars is to start within 60 days of July 24, and destruction of the underground facilities within 90 days.

In his Aug. 18 statement, Obama said, “Going forward, we will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities.” He also cited “serious questions” about “omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW” and “continued allegations of use,” apparently a reference to allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria earlier this year. The OPCW is investigating those allegations.

The destruction of Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons materials was completed Aug. 18 aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

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