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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Peter Crail

South Korea Unveils New Missile

Peter Crail

A week after a failed North Korean long-range rocket launch, South Korea on April 19 announced its deployment of a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea.

“Now, our military has indigenously developed and deployed a cruise missile with the world’s top precision and striking capabilities that is capable of hitting all areas of North Korea promptly,” South Korean Defense Ministry policy planning chief Maj. Gen. Shin Won-sik told reporters the same day.

He said Seoul’s new missile capabilities would be used to retaliate against “another reckless provocation” by Pyongyang. Tensions flared between the two countries in 2010 when North Korea shelled a South Korean island and is believed to have sunk a South Korean naval vessel.

The cruise missile South Korea unveiled, called the Hyunmu-3C, is believed to have a range of 1,500 kilometers carrying a 450-kilogram payload. Such a capability appears to exceed the range limit on which South Korea and the United States had agreed in 2001 when Seoul joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a grouping of countries aimed at preventing the spread of missiles capable of delivering nonconventional warheads. The MTCR currently has 34 members.

Before joining the MTCR, Seoul already was subject to a 180-kilometer-range cap on its ballistic missiles under a 1979 agreement with Washington, but the two countries agreed to increase the cap to 300 kilometers in 2001 after years of negotiations. The agreement’s range limit on cruise missiles is believed to have been higher, at 500 kilometers.

South Korea is already believed to have deployed a 1,000-kilometer-range Hyunmu-3B cruise missile.

Missiles that can deliver 500 kilograms to distances of at least 300 kilometers, a capability often associated with nuclear delivery systems, are designated Category I systems under the MTCR and are subject to the group’s strictest rules on transferring technology. The payload of a missile affects its range, with heavier warheads decreasing the potential range of the missile.

The MTCR governs the transfer of missiles and missile technology and does not place limits on countries advancing their own missile capabilities. Since 1993, however, the United States has had a policy of requiring that countries joining the group adhere to MTCR Category I missile restrictions for their own missiles as well.

Over the past several years, South Korea has lobbied the United States to extend the agreed missile range limits. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told reporters March 21 that he believed bilateral discussions on the issue would produce an agreement “soon.”

“The 300-kilometer-range [limit] was set many years ago, predicated on the assumption that any fighting would be around the Demilitarized Zone” separating North and South Korea, Lee said.

Noting that North Korea has extended the range of its missiles and long-range artillery to cover the southernmost South Korean territory, Lee added, “South Korea is in need of expanding its defense posture in case of any contingencies.”

Diplomatic sources said that although there are no formal ongoing talks on extending the missile range limit, South Korea and the United States coordinate closely and are holding informal discussions.

A week after a failed North Korean long-range rocket launch, South Korea on April 19 announced its deployment of a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea.

P5+1 and Iran Hold ‘Positive’ Talks

Peter Crail

Six world powers held talks with Iran over its nuclear program April 14 for the first time in 15 months and produced what both sides said were “positive” results.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had said during an April 1 interview with ABC News that the upcoming talks were “perhaps a last chance to demonstrate a way forward that can satisfy the international community’s concerns [about Iran’s nuclear program] and have Iran come forward and accept limitations on what they are able to do.”

Rather than resolve the long-running confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, last month’s meeting in Istanbul was intended to start a negotiating process that could result in confidence-building measures, diplomats familiar with the talks said in April. At the meeting, the so-called P5+1—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and Iran agreed to hold another session May 23 in Baghdad, preceded by a meeting of “deputies” to prepare for those talks.

Both sides favorably contrasted the recent meeting with the last talks held between the P5+1 and Iran, in Istanbul in January 2011, which failed to produce any agreement.

“There was much less posturing, no preconditions; [the Iranians] were prepared to talk about the nuclear issue,” Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism, said during an April 17 interview with Radio Free Europe.

Tehran insisted at the January 2011 talks that the P5+1 lift sanctions and recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium before Iran would agree to take any steps to address its nuclear program. (See ACT, March 2011.) The P5+1 rejected both preconditions.

Diplomats familiar with the talks also said in interviews in April that Tehran appeared to give its lead nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, greater room to negotiate at last month’s meeting by granting him the additional title of personal representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The diplomats noted that, during previous talks, Jalili generally repeated Iran’s public positions.

In Istanbul, Jalili held separate meetings with China, Russia, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1 and led its delegation to the talks. Iran did not meet with the United States even though it was invited to do so, but there was “no specific push” for direct talks, a U.S. official said April 26.

Sanctions Motivating Iran

U.S. officials have attributed Iran’s greater willingness to negotiate with the P5+1 to the increasing pressure from sanctions. In his April 17 interview, Samore rejected the notion that Iran could use the talks to play for time, pointing to U.S. sanctions on Iran’s central bank scheduled to go into effect in June and a July 1 EU deadline for European countries to halt all imports of Iranian oil. (See ACT, March 2012.)

“To the extent that the Iranian concern about sanctions is driving them to seek an agreement, the closer we get to the summer, the stronger our position becomes,” Samore said.

Although Iran did not repeat its previous precondition that the P5+1 lift sanctions before any agreements were concluded, Tehran was determined to seek sanctions relief. A European diplomat said April 16 that Jalili pressed to delay the July 1 EU oil embargo. The U.S. official said Iran’s effort to seek relief from sanctions “was a common theme” of the talks.

Although P5+1 officials welcomed the apparent shift in Iran’s approach to the talks, Iranian officials insisted that a change in the posture of the P5+1 was responsible for the results of last month’s meeting. “There was a new approach adopted by the other party at this meeting and this new approach contributed to the positive outcomes,” Iranian deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Baqeri told Iran’s official Press TV April 15. Baqeri said that Iran’s nuclear advances led the P5+1 “towards respecting the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Since the January 2011 meeting, Iran has expanded its controversial uranium-enrichment program, which Tehran says is for nuclear fuel but which could be used to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. As part of that effort, Iran has begun operations at a second uranium-enrichment plant built under a mountain near the city of Qom. (See ACT, April 2012.) France, the United Kingdom, and the United States accused Iran of building that plant, called Fordow, in secret in 2009. (See ACT, October 2009.) Fordow is much smaller than Iran’s commercial-scale uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, raising questions about its role in Iran’s nuclear program.

Nuclear Weapons a ‘Grave Sin’

Ahead of the talks, Iranian officials stressed Khamenei’s 2004 religious ruling against the possession of nuclear weapons, with Khamenei himself delivering a speech Feb. 22 declaring such weapons to be a “grave sin.” Khamenei added, “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.”

In an additional attempt to drive this message home, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi published an op-ed in The Washington Post April 12 stating, “Our stance against weapons of mass destruction, which is far from new, has been put to the test.”

A November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, however, describes several activities related to nuclear warhead development that the agency fears Iran may have pursued. Unclassified U.S. intelligence assessments have said that Iran had a nuclear weapons program prior to 2004 and that some weapons-related activities may have continued since then.

Ending Enrichment to 20 Percent

Responding to Iran’s professed opposition to nuclear weapons, Clinton told reporters in Istanbul April 1 that it was up to Iran to show its position is “not an abstract belief but it is a government policy.”

“That government policy can be demonstrated in a number of ways, by ending the enrichment of highly enriched uranium to 20 percent, by shipping out such highly enriched uranium out of the country, [and] by opening up to constant inspections and verifications,” Clinton said.

Arms Control Today confirmed in January that the United States was preparing a proposal for the talks under which Iran would stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and ship out the 20 percent material it has produced in exchange for fuel for a medical reactor. That reactor, which the United States supplied in 1967, is nearly out of its 20 percent-enriched uranium fuel. Washington made a similar proposal to Iran to fuel the reactor in 2009, which Iran ultimately rejected. (See box.)

Uranium enriched to 20 percent can be converted to weapons grade much more quickly than can Iran’s stockpile of 4 percent-enriched uranium.

Iranian officials have issued contradictory statements over the past year on their willingness to press ahead with 20 percent enrichment. Last month, however, key Iranian officials signaled a more uniform willingness to negotiate the terms of a halt.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director Fereydoun Abbasi, who has previously insisted that Iran would not give up 20 percent enrichment, told Press TV April 9 that Iran would enrich uranium to that level “based on our needs” and that “once the required fuel is obtained, we will decrease the production and we may even totally shift it to the 3.5 percent [enrichment level].”

Salehi repeated this formulation in an April 16 interview with the Iranian Students News Agency, stating, “Enrichment is Iran’s right but we can negotiate on how we obtain uranium with different enrichment levels.”

“Making 20 percent fuel is our right as long as it provides for our reactor needs and there is no question about that,” he said, adding, “If [the P5+1] guarantee that they will provide us with the different levels of enriched fuel that we need, then that would be another issue.”

Six world powers held talks with Iran over its nuclear program April 14 for the first time in 15 months and produced what both sides said were “positive” results.

N. Korean Launch Plan Puts Deal at Risk

Peter Crail

North Korea announced on March 16 that it will launch a satellite in mid-April, a move that threatens to unravel a Feb. 29 agreement the country made with the United States to halt key nuclear and missile activities. North Korea says it is carrying out the launch between April 12 and 16 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.

U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters March 16 that the North’s announcement calls into question Pyongyang’s good faith in committing to the agreement. Nuland said that, in its negotiations with North Korea over the so-called Leap Day agreement, the United States “made clear unequivocally that any satellite launch would be a deal-breaker.”

Under the agreement, the North pledged not to carry out nuclear or long-range missile tests and to suspend its operations at a uranium-enrichment facility “while constructive dialogue continued.” (See ACT, March 2012.)

In return for North Korea’s recent pledges, the United States agreed to provide the impoverished country with 240,000 tons of food aid under “intensive monitoring.”

Although the United States maintains that food assistance is based on “humanitarian need” and is not linked to political issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program, Nuland said that the assistance would be reconsidered in the event of a rocket launch.

“A launch of this kind, which would abrogate our agreement, would call into question the credibility of all the commitments that we’ve had with regard to the nutritional assistance,” she said, including Pyongyang’s commitment to allow international monitoring of food distribution to prevent the food from being diverted to the military or North Korean elites.

Pyongyang claims that the satellite launch would not violate the agreement, which it says it will uphold. “[T]he launch of the working satellite is an issue fundamentally different from that of a long-range missile,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said March 19. Also on March 19, North Korean nuclear negotiator Ri Yong Ho told reporters in Beijing that, in order to implement the Leap Day agreement, North Korea invited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the suspension of operations at its Yongbyon uranium-enrichment facility.

In a March 19 statement to reporters, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said that the agency received the invitation March 16, the same day Pyongyang announced the satellite launch, and that the IAEA will discuss the details of any visit with North Korea “and other parties concerned.”

Missile Test Feared

The United States and its allies view a North Korean satellite launch as a way for the country to test its ballistic missile technology, which overlaps in many areas with that of space-launch vehicles. The Unha-2 rocket North Korea launched in April 2009 in a failed attempt to put a satellite in orbit uses a cluster of four Nodong medium-range missiles for its first stage and is believed to be a version of the Taepo Dong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). (See ACT, May 2009.) The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the Unha-2 launch later that month and, in a June 2009 sanctions resolution, demanded that North Korea not conduct “any launch using ballistic missile technology.”

North Korea says that this month’s launch will use a rocket called the Unha-3. It is unknown whether the system has any significant differences from the Unha-2.

Pyongyang has rejected the council’s demand not to carry out launches using ballistic missile technology and responded to the council’s April 2009 condemnation of the Unha-2 launch by conducting the country’s second nuclear test the following month. (See ACT, June 2009.) Former U.S. officials said they were concerned that North Korea would similarly follow any international rebuke of the Unha-3 launch with another nuclear test.

Launch Planned for Months

The announced launch does not appear to have come entirely by surprise. Evans Revere, former acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said in a March 20 briefing paper for the Brookings Institution that a North Korean official told him Dec. 15 that Pyongyang intended to launch a satellite in the near future.

“The official spoke at length about [North Korea’s] ‘sovereign right’ to conduct such launches and warned that any U.S. effort to interfere with or oppose this plan would make [North Korea] even more determined to carry it out,” added Revere, who is now a senior director with the Albright Stonebridge Group.

He also said that Pyongyang likely made the decision to carry out the launch under the leadership of long-time North Korea ruler Kim Jong Il, who died Dec. 17, leaving his third-eldest son, Kim Jong Un, to lead the country.

Other former U.S. officials say that North Korean negotiators were aware that the United States viewed a satellite launch as a deal-breaker and still agreed to the moratorium Feb. 29, suggesting the mixed messages from the North’s actions point to policy splits under the country’s new leader.

Former U.S. envoy to North Korea Charles “Jack” Pritchard, now president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, said in a March 19 interview that Pyongyang’s decision to carry out a launch that undermines its recent agreement “suggests that this will be an internal crisis that will develop into an external crisis for the North.”

New Launch Facility

The satellite launch will be the first using a new facility, called the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which is larger than the launch site North Korea has previously used at Musudan-ri. The larger site is believed to allow the North to launch larger rockets and carry out launches more frequently.

The Sohae facility is on the country’s western coast, allowing the North to launch its rockets in a southern direction that avoids travel over Japan. North Korea’s 1998 and 2009 launches both overflew Japan, leading to Japanese concerns about the North’s intentions and the risks of falling debris.

Prior to the April 2009 satellite launch, Japan said it would deploy short-range anti-missile batteries and potentially shoot down any rocket components that might threaten the country’s territory.

North Korea announced on March 16 that it will launch a satellite in mid-April, a move that threatens to unravel a Feb. 29 agreement the country made with the United States to halt key nuclear and missile activities. North Korea says it is carrying out the launch between April 12 and 16 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.

A Window of Opportunity with Iran

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Volume 3, Issue 3, March 9, 2012

President Barack Obama said during a March 6 White House press conference that there was still a "window of opportunity" to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse diplomatically. With an agreement finally reached between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran to hold nuclear negotiations, the opportunity to make serious progress toward such a resolution appears to be on the horizon, with talks likely to begin in April.

The talks will be critical both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and another war in the Middle East, but they will not solve the issue in a single meeting. Rather, the upcoming negotiations should focus on the most pressing proliferation risk: Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20%, a level that could allow Iran to rapidly produce weapons-grade material. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has previously suggested that Iran would halt enrichment to 20% in exchange for reactor fuel. That proposition should be tested.

A Serious Step-by-Step Approach

In recognition of the need to make steady progress towards a comprehensive agreement, EU foreign policy chief and P5+1 representative Catherine Ashton said in her March 6 letter to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili that the six countries were seeking a "step-by-step approach," beginning with specific confidence-building measures. An arrangement under which Iran halts enriching to 20%, therefore, would only be an intermediary step that builds trust and buys time on the road to a final settlement. If policymakers prematurely criticize such an important achievement for failing to resolve the issue all at once, it only becomes more difficult to reach a permanent agreement that places sufficient constraints and transparency over Iran's nuclear program.

Serious negotiations on such a high stakes issue will inevitably entail a series of meetings amongst the seven countries, but more importantly, bilateral talks between the United States and Iran. Iran unfortunately rejected bilateral meetings with the United States during the last round, and their willingness to do so now will be a key test of their seriousness. Contrary to myth, such sustained negotiations do not allow Iran to buy time to expand its nuclear program. In fact, in the absence of talks, Iran continued to enrich uranium and scaled up its enrichment capacity over the past year.

The recent intensified sanctions-which U.S. officials say are aimed at changing Iran's behavior and increasing negotiating leverage-also make it critical for the United States and its diplomatic partners to go back to the table with Iran to gauge whether it is willing to fulfill its nonproliferation obligations. Failure to do so would only make it more difficult for the sanctions to achieve their primary goal, because it is only through negotiations that a commitment from Tehran to alter its dangerous course can be secured.

The rough outline of a potential long-term deal has already been charted out by the P5+1, involving efforts by Iran to undertake practical steps to ensure its nuclear program will not be used for nuclear weapons in exchange for cooperation with the West in a number of areas. Accomplishing that goal will be difficult, but a sustained dialogue remains the only way to a permanent resolution.

Another Shot at the Fuel Swap?

Recent P5+1 diplomatic initiatives have centered on near-term confidence-building measures that can be used as stepping-stones to a more comprehensive agreement. A key focus has been Iran's need to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which runs on 20%-enriched uranium fuel, rather than the normal low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in most nuclear power reactors.

In October 2009, Iran initially agreed to a U.S.-proposed, IAEA-brokered confidence-building measure intended to fuel the TRR and alleviate concerns about Iran's accumulation of LEU. The bulk of this material, roughly 5,500 kilograms, is currently enriched to about 3.5%.

Despite Iran's initial assent, political divisions in Tehran ultimately led Iran to reject the deal. Tehran then began to increase the enrichment level of some of its LEU to 20% in February 2010, ostensibly for TRR fuel.

Months later, a diplomatic initiative by Brazil and Turkey to renew the fuel swap proposal resulted in the May 2010 Tehran Declaration between Presidents Lula da Silva, Erdogan, and Ahmadinejad.

France, Russia, and the United States rejected the Tehran Declaration on a number of grounds, highlighting the fact that it did not address Iran's production of 20%-enriched uranium nor did it address Iran's accumulation of a larger amount of LEU since the offer was proposed.

These concerns were valid and the Tehran Declaration was indeed deficient in these areas, but the three countries could have addressed these issues in any follow-up negotiations. Because Russia and France would provide the TRR fuel as part of any final arrangement, the terms of the Vienna Group would inevitably supercede that of the Tehran Declaration. In the end, Iran's 20% enrichment has not only continued unchecked, earlier this year Tehran increased its 20%-enriched uranium production by three-fold.

The dubious rationale for this scaled up production is that, in addition to fueling the TRR, Iran would need to fuel additional research reactors it intends to build in the future. This rationale stretches plausibility because Iran likely does not have the technical expertise to construct such facilities, it is already building the Arak research reactor for the same questionable rationale of medical isotope production, and Tehran has provided no information to the IAEA on its reactor construction plans.

The only plausible reason for Iran's decision to stockpile 20%-enriched uranium is to acquire material that it can rapidly convert to weapons grade should it decide to produce nuclear weapons. This dangerous prospect makes halting Iran's enrichment to 20% a near-term priority, as the accumulation of a ready stockpile of 20% material greatly reduces the timeframe in which Iran might make a dash to produce a weapon, a fact that also raises the risk of a military strike to preempt such a move.

The United States has reportedly drafted a proposed confidence building measure that would require that Iran halt 20% enrichment and ship out the 20%-enriched uranium it has produced. In exchange, the P5+1 would provide Iran with fuel for the TRR and an agreement not to pursue an additional round of UN sanctions.

Although such an arrangement would not take the place of the UN Security Council's requirement that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment, much less the need for Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA, if Iran agreed to this proposal it would effectively end one of the most dangerous aspects of Iran's existing nuclear work and create an important precedent that Tehran agree not to enrich to levels above normal reactor-grade.

There appear to be divisions in Iran about just how far they are willing to press on with enrichment to 20%. President Ahmadinejad said publicly on a number of occasions in late 2011 that Iran would be willing to "immediately halt 20% enrichment" if Iran received fuel for the TRR (a suggestion which also shows that Iran's claimed plans to construct reactors that will use 20%-enriched fuel are not to be taken seriously). The Iranian president went even further to make the startling admission that the "production of 20 percent [enriched] fuel is not economical." At the same time, Iran has recently installed additional centrifuges at its Fordow plant to increase its production of 20%-enriched uranium.

Though it would be welcome if he made the even more accurate admission that there is no enrichment level in Iran that makes economic sense, Ahamdinejad's statement suggests that there are elements in the Iranian leadership are willing to seek a deal on the issue. It is possible, if not probable, that they cannot make good on the offer just as Iran was unable to agree to the initial fuel swap proposal in 2009, but given the proliferation risk of an increasing stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium, the P5+1 cannot afford to ignore diplomatic opportunities to reduce that risk.

Russia's Step-By-Step Proposal

The principle of capping Iran's enrichment in the near-term to reactor-grade also features in a proposed step-by-step process that has been advanced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was first publicly announced in July 2011.

The specific details of the Russian plan have not been made public, but they have been characterized as an "action for action" process in which Iranian confidence-building and transparency measures are met with an easing of sanctions by the P5+1.

So far, the other P5+1 members have not voiced public opposition to the Russian proposal, but some do not appear to support it in its current form. U.S. officials have said that Washington is studying the proposal and have held meetings with Moscow regarding the plan. Similarly, Iran publicly welcomed the proposal but has been non-committal regarding its terms, claiming it would take several months to study.

In its current form, the Russian proposal does not appear to be well tailored to address concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program as it lifts key nonproliferation sanctions early in the process before requiring sufficient levels of transparency that make those sanctions unnecessary. The principle of a step-by-step process, however, is sound, and the proposal could be adjusted to achieve the goal of reaching a comprehensive agreement.

Finding a Comprehensive Agreement

Given the difficulties in reaching even a short-term arrangement, it may seem premature to talk about what a comprehensive agreement could look like. However, it is important that the two sides have some sense of where any negotiations are intended to lead, and that Iran in particular understand what steps it needs to take to come back into full compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

The proposal by the P5+1 in 2006 provides a broad outline of just what is expected of Iran and what Tehran could receive in return for this cooperation, although Iran would likely need to agree to additional transparency measures for a certain period of time to demonstrate that its is not seeking nuclear weapons. After all, Iran applied the IAEA Additional Protocol between 2003 and 2006 but still stonewalled some aspects of the IAEA's investigations and continued on a path to a nuclear-weapons capability.

In 2008, the P5+1 revised the package, spelling out in greater detail some of the benefits Iran would receive and making an effort to highlight those benefits directly to the Iranian people, meeting with Iranian officials for the first time in Tehran to discuss the proposal.

Rights and Responsibilities

Iranian officials and negotiators have consistently misrepresented the aim of the United States and its negotiating partners as trying to deprive Iran of its "rights" to nuclear technology. In fact, the six countries have insisted all along that they recognize Iran's rights to a peaceful nuclear program, and have offered as part of their negotiation proposals technical and financial assistance for a nuclear energy program in Iran.

A sticking point has been the continuation of an Iranian enrichment program, which various Western P5+1 countries, at different points in time, have insisted must be halted indefinitely-rather than merely suspended until Iran meets certain conditions.

Tehran has used this implicit indefinite denial of enrichment as a way to divide the international community, suggesting that its rights are being violated if the world powers do not recognize an explicit right to such technology. This was one of Iran's preconditions at its last meeting with the P5+1 in January 2011 in Istanbul that contributed to scuttling those talks.

Yet Iran is seeking an explicit right to enrich uranium that does not exist. Although the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit countries from maintaining any specific nuclear technology that can be used for peaceful purposes, it does not grant an explicit right to the pursuit of certain nuclear technologies either.

Regardless, the IAEA Board of Governors has determined that Iran violated its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, in essence breaking the very condition on which its rights to peaceful nuclear technology are predicated.

The Issue of "Suspension"

What the P5+1 have formally called for and what the UN Security Council has required is that Iran suspend enrichment while long-term negotiations progress and until Iran can re-establish confidence that it is not seeking nuclear weapons through additional transparency measures and a full accounting of its nuclear history to the IAEA.

Even as some P5+1 members have been reluctant to publicly agree that Iran can enrich again at some point in the future, the group's comprehensive proposals have included a review mechanism for suspension-implicitly indicating that the suspension could be lifted at some point. In the U.S. political context, it is also important to recall that the 2006 and 2008 P5+1 proposals permitting eventual enrichment in Iran were agreed by the Bush administration, which had previously insisted on zero enrichment.

The Obama administration sought to capitalize on this position by making it clear to Iran in public that its arguments that its rights were being undercut were without merit. On March 1, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that "under very strict conditions" and "having responded to the international community's concerns," Iran would have a "right" to enrich uranium under IAEA inspections. This is consistent with the rights and responsibilities contained in the NPT.

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Ambassador Hossein Mousavian has suggested that, as part of a negotiated settlement, Tehran can agree to enrich consistent with its fuel needs. Such a commitment would entail a de facto suspension because of Iran's lack of near-term domestic fuel needs, but it would provide Iran with a way to rationalize such a halt without appearing to capitulate entirely.

It is important to remember in this context that Iran has no near-term need to enrich-even if one accepts its argument that it cannot rely on outside sources of nuclear fuel for its nuclear energy program-because Russia has provided the initial fuel for Iran's sole nuclear power reactor. And because Iran does not have sufficient domestic uranium reserves to fuel its ambitious nuclear power program, it will inevitably have to rely on other countries for fuel anyway, even if it carries out enrichment itself.

On the other hand, while a permanent uranium enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Furthermore, a permanent halt is not realistic given the strong support for enrichment across the political spectrum in Iran. Tying enrichment amounts and levels to the actual needs of Iran's nuclear power plants might provide an acceptable compromise.

The fundamental question for Iran is whether it wants to maintain enrichment to protect its "rights" and to maintain its national pride, or if it wants to maintain and expand uranium enrichment (and other sensitive fuel cycle activities) to provide a path to nuclear weapons.

The broad proposals outlined by the P5+1 allow Iran to do the former, putting in place transparency measures and confidence-building steps to make it difficult to do the latter. It appears that Iran cannot yet decide that it simply wants to keep enrichment, but rather continues to desire a hedge in the form of a rapid capacity to make nuclear weapons.

If Iran is unwilling to agree to commonsense confidence building steps, Tehran will become increasingly isolated. But P5+1 leaders in Washington and other capitals must continue both tracks of their "dual-track policy" and keep testing Iran's willingness to change course by pursuing opportunities to engage Iran on the nuclear issue.--Peter Crail

* This is an update of an Iran Nuclear Brief first published Jan. 26, 2012.

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Volume 3, Issue 3, March 9, 2012

President Barack Obama said during a March 6 White House press conference that there was still a "window of opportunity" to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse diplomatically. With an agreement finally reached between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran to hold nuclear negotiations, the opportunity to make serious progress toward such a resolution appears to be on the horizon, with talks likely to begin in April.

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The IAEA Outlines the Path for Iran to Come Clean, But is Tehran Ready?

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Volume 3, Issue 2, March 7, 2012

After years of denying any need to respond to international concerns about suspected nuclear weaponization work, Iran has finally engaged in a discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address an alleged weapons program. This is a positive development, but it will only be meaningful in the context of serious efforts by Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA's investigation.

The agency met with Iranian officials in Tehran on two occasions in January and February to discuss a way forward on the issue but Iran did not allow the IAEA to begin with an initial step of visiting a key site believed to have been involved in warhead-related high explosives testing.

In a February 20 IAEA document, the agency identifies the kinds of actions Iran needs to take to address suspected weapons-related activities and ensure that there is no ongoing warhead development work. The specific topics that the IAEA wants to address were laid out extensively in the agency's November 2011 report, including:

  • High-explosives experiments with nuclear weapons implications;
  • Neutron initiation and detonator development;
  • Work to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile, along with arming, firing and fusing mechanisms;
  • And Iranian procurement activities related to its alleged warhead work.

Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, distributed a version of the Feb. 20 document to members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that contains Tehran's suggested revisions to the IAEA's proposed work plan. The two sides are still negotiating the procedures for the agency's investigation.

While any country would have a legitimate need to protect information that is not relevant to the IAEA's investigation, Iran's counter-proposals to the Agency's proposed work plan would place undue limitations on the agency's work that will make it more difficult to determine whether Iran has carried out or still maintains a warhead development program.

Any access that Iran is willing to provide is a step in the right direction and should be encouraged, but the international community should make clear that token measures will only drag out the investigation rather than close the case. Three issues in particular stand out in the document that Soltanieh circulated.

The IAEA Should Avoid a "One and Done" Approach

Iran's responses to the agency show that it would like to prevent the IAEA from adequately following up on any information it obtains during the course of its investigation. Iran has suggested removing a clause stating, "Follow up actions that are required of Iran to facilitate the agency's conclusions regarding the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program will be identified as this process continues."

Iran also inserted language specifying that, after steps are taken on each issue the agency wishes to address, that issue "will be considered concluded."

Iran's proposed approach risks that, even if the agency does not receive sufficient information from Iran during its initial investigation, Tehran will try to assert that particular aspects of the case are closed and refuse to answer any follow-up questions. Iran's suggestions would preclude any efforts to go back to topics that the agency previously investigated should new information arise. Such limitations do not match up with what Soltanieh describes in his communication to the NAM states as a "proactive and cooperative approach."

Strictly Sequencing the Issues Investigated Only Delays the Process

The Feb. 20 document says that steps to address the IAEA's questions should be completed in time for the agency's June 2012 meeting, "if possible." Such a quick timeframe would be welcome, particularly as tensions over the issue increase.

But Iran's opposition to potentially addressing some of the IAEA's questions in parallel unnecessarily delays the process. If Iran's nuclear program is purely peaceful, there is little reason to drag out the investigation in such a way and rejecting any parallel investigations does nothing to address legitimate concerns about protecting access to information unrelated to Iran's nuclear program.

More importantly, because many of the activities that the IAEA is investigating appear to be interlinked, it would be natural for the agency to seek to address multiple issues at once if information it obtains is relevant to them.

Verifying the Completeness of Iran's Declarations

Section C of the Feb. 20 document details steps the IAEA requests Iran take to ensure that it has a firm grasp of all the nuclear-related activities being carried out in the country. These steps are hardly new. Most of them either stem from provisions of Iran's safeguards agreement that Tehran unilaterally suspended (a requirement to provide early design information of nuclear facilities under so-called Code 3.1), or the agency's Additional Protocol (allowing access to undeclared sites).

Unlike the rest of the document--which is focused on Iran's alleged warhead work--the actions requested in Section C are directly related to ensuring that Iran's known nuclear activities are not being diverted for possible weapons use. Achieving agreement on these steps would provide some of the most vital assurances that Iran's nuclear activities will not be misused. However, the appearance of bracketed text suggests that this section may be subject to extensive negotiation. Iran has refused to provide many of these measures for several years.

Is Iran Ready to Come Clean?

The November 2011 IAEA report makes a convincing case that Iran was indeed involved in a comprehensive nuclear weapons program prior to 2004, some elements of which have likely continued. Iran's full and complete cooperation with the agency would likely bear this out, demonstrating that Iran's claims that it has pursued a peaceful nuclear program all along have been false.

Tehran does not appear to be ready to either make such an admission, or to be confronted with more conclusive evidence of such activities. Iran's leaders should understand that their failure to address the agency's concerns only undermines Tehran's claim that it is simply pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

The international community should also make clear that, while additional transparency on Iran's part is positive, half measures will not alleviate suspicions. The agency has a job to do, and it should continue to pursue of answers to questions raised over the course of its investigation.

At the same time, the leadership in Tehran is unlikely to decide that it can fully address the IAEA's concerns and verifiably end any ongoing warhead work absent a diplomatic process aimed at producing a comprehensive resolution to the nuclear impasse.

In the course of that process, Iran must be convinced of two things: 1) that continuing down a path toward nuclear weapons will only result in increasing isolation and diminished security; and 2) that genuine and meaningful cooperation will be met by an easing of pressure, rather than an escalation. Iran should not be at risk of being punished for coming clean.

The talks between the P5+1 and Iran to be scheduled for later this spring provide the best chance to provide Iran with an "off-ramp" from its current course. This process should begin with confidence building steps addressing the most pressing proliferation risks, which would pave the way for additional measures to bring Iran further and further back from a nuclear-weapons breakout capability.

Answering the IAEA's questions will be a critical step en route to a broader, comprehensive arrangement that should also include full transparency over Iranian nuclear activities. --Peter Crail

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Volume 3, Issue 2, March 7, 2012

After years of denying any need to respond to international concerns about suspected nuclear weaponization work, Iran has finally engaged in a discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address an alleged weapons program. This is a positive development, but it will only be meaningful in the context of serious efforts by Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA's investigation.

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N. Korea Agrees to Nuclear Halt

Peter Crail

North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and to implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests, Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a Feb. 29 statement.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency the same day said Pyongyang agreed to the steps “with a view to maintaining [a] positive atmosphere” for high-level talks between the two countries, and that it would continue to refrain from such activities “while productive dialogues continue.” The United States and its allies have called on North Korea to suspend enrichment, nuclear tests, and long-range missile tests as conditions for restarting multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The agreement comes on the heels of the first formal meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials since the death of long-time North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last December.

After the Feb. 23-24 meeting in Beijing, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies told reporters that the two sides “made a little bit of progress,” calling North Korea’s willingness to meet with the United States “relatively soon” after its leadership transition a positive development. Davies rejected the idea that the talks made a breakthrough, however. “I think the word breakthrough goes way too far,” he told reporters.

Kim Jong Il’s third son, Kim Jong Un, was formally declared the country’s new leader Dec. 29.

According to Davies, the talks covered a wide range of issues, including nonproliferation, human rights, and food assistance. Nuland said in her Feb. 29 statement the United States is working with North Korea to provide 240,000 metric tons of food assistance under “intensive monitoring.”

Davies pointed out that, despite North Korea’s leadership change, his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, has been Pyongyang’s lead nuclear negotiator for many years.

“He’s one of the veterans of the six-party process, and many of the officials on his side had been involved previously in these talks, so I didn’t have sitting across the table from me a new cast or a new set of officials,” Davies said. The meeting originally was scheduled to last for a single day, but the two countries extended it to a second day.

The U.S.-North Korean discussions were the third session since Pyongyang backed out of multilateral talks on its nuclear program in 2009. The two countries, as well as the other four participants in the so-called six-party talks—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—have called for a resumption of negotiations. Efforts to resume talks were disrupted by Kim Jong Il’s death Dec. 17.

Since efforts to resume the six-party talks intensified last year, the United States and its allies have stipulated that North Korea must first take steps to demonstrate its willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Those requirements have included suspending operations at a uranium-enrichment plant Pyongyang publicly revealed in 2010 and instituting nuclear and missile test moratoriums.

North Korea has traditionally relied on plutonium production for its nuclear weapons program but U.S. officials have expressed concerns for over a decade that Pyongyang has sought to enrich uranium as another source of nuclear weapons material. North Korea first publicly admitted to pursuing uranium enrichment in 2009 when it left the six-party talks.

For several months, Pyongyang indicated that it was willing to suspend enrichment and refrain from nuclear and long-range missile tests, but only in the context of a resumed six-party process, rather than as a precondition. North Korea had also raised the delivery of food aid as a possible precondition for resuming negotiations on its nuclear program.

In her statement, Nuland also said that Pyongyang agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to return to verify the suspension of nuclear activities at its Yongbyong complex. That nuclear complex houses the uranium-enrichment plant North Korea revealed in 2010 as well as a nuclear reactor that was partially dismantled as part of a previous round of six-party negotiations in 2007 and 2008. The IAEA also will “confirm the disablement” of that five-megawatt reactor, Nuland said Feb. 29.

As part of the Feb. 23-24 discussions with North Korea, the United States also appears to have made a series of political gestures to North Korea under its new leadership. Nuland said the United States “reaffirms that it does not have hostile intent toward” Pyongyang, and that U.S. sanctions are “not targeted against the livelihood” of the North Korean people. Nuland also said in her statement that the United States is prepared to increase cultural, education, and sports exchanges with North Korea.

North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and to implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests, Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a Feb. 29 statement.

Iran Responds to Call for Talks

Peter Crail

Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili formally responded to a call for talks with six major powers Feb. 15, potentially paving the way for the first negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program in more than a year.

That same day, Iran announced a series of new achievements related to its nuclear program, although former U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials said the advances were not as significant as Iran portrayed them to be. A Feb. 24 IAEA report appeared to contradict some of Iran’s claims, but did demonstrate that Iran had accomplished a significant expansion of its uranium-enrichment capacity.

Jalili’s response was delivered in a letter to EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, who represents the so-called P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Ashton sent a letter to Jalili last Oct. 21 calling for “meaningful discussions on concrete confidence-building steps” to address international concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Although senior Iranian officials have expressed Tehran’s readiness for new talks for several weeks, Jalili’s letter was the first formal indication that Iran was willing to hold talks on the nuclear issue.

P5+1 diplomats said in interviews in January that although Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Ashton on the sidelines of a conference in Bonn Dec. 5 that Iran wished to hold talks, the six countries still needed a formal response from Tehran. The diplomats said it was important for Iran to demonstrate that it was willing to discuss the nuclear issue seriously in order to avoid a repeat of the last meeting between the two sides in January 2011.

At that meeting, Iran insisted that talks could proceed only if the P5+1 explicitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium and lifted the sanctions that have been imposed on Tehran. (See ACT, January/February 2011.)

Officials from P5+1 countries suggested that Jalili’s letter might be enough to allow talks to proceed but that the six countries first had to examine the letter and discuss it with one another.

“This response from the Iranian government is one we’ve been waiting for, and if we do proceed, it will have to be a sustained effort that can produce results,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington Feb. 17.

A U.S. official said in a Feb. 27 interview that the United States is “ready to move forward with talks later this spring” and is currently consulting with the other P5+1 members. The official explained that Washington hopes to hold “more than just one meeting,” but added that “it will be Iran’s actions at the negotiating table that ultimately determine whether any negotiation can be a sustained effort—which we seek.”

Ashton’s and Jalili’s letters suggested an interest in engaging in a gradual process addressing the nuclear issue. Ashton said that the “initial objective” of the P5+1 “is to engage in a confidence-building exercise aimed at facilitating a constructive dialogue on the basis of reciprocity and a step-by-step approach.”

In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by Arms Control Today, Jalili appeared to envision a similar process. Citing the P5+1 recognition of Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy contained in Ashton’s letter, Jalili said that based on that understanding, “our talks for cooperation based on step-by-step principles and reciprocity on Iran’s nuclear issue could be commenced.”

The initial step to which Ashton appears to be referring in her letter is a proposal focused on Iran’s production of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Yahoo News reported Jan. 18 that the United States has drafted a proposal that would require Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment and ship out the roughly 100 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium it has produced. In return, the news report said, the P5+1 would agree not to seek additional sanctions on Iran.

Arms Control Today confirmed with a U.S. official in January that the proposal would also entail the provision of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which operates on 20 percent-enriched uranium fuel and produces medical isotopes for cancer patients. Similar proposals to fuel the Tehran reactor over the past three years have failed to obtain agreement from all of the parties involved. (See ACT, June 2010.)

Iran claims it is producing 20 percent-enriched uranium to fuel the reactor in Tehran and additional plants Iran intends to build in the future. However, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iran’s state-run Fars news agency Oct. 5 that Iran would “immediately” stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level if the country received fuel for the Tehran reactor, stating that the process is “not economical.”

Nuclear Advances Touted

Also on Feb. 15, Iran ceremoniously announced several advances in its nuclear program.

A key announcement was that Iran had begun loading fuel plates for the Tehran reactor. Ahmadinejad characterized the move as a very “big new achievement” in a ceremony unveiling the fuel, according to Fars.

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London Feb. 16, IISS Nonproliferation and Disarmament Programme Director Mark Fitzpatrick said what Iran likely meant was that it has begun the process of testing the fuel, rather than fueling the plant for operations.

Fitzpatrick, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation under President George W. Bush, added that the only danger stemming from Iran’s loading of the fuel plates into the reactor might be “to the people living around the reactor,” noting that Iran could create a safety hazard if it did not first test its fuel “extensively.”

Fitzpatrick’s assessment appeared to be confirmed in the Feb. 24 IAEA report, which stated that the fuel assemblies that Iran has created for the Tehran reactor were transferred to the facility for irradiation testing.

Iran also announced that it has begun using a “fourth generation” centrifuge at its commercial-scale enrichment plant at Natanz. Iranian state television reported that the centrifuges are “speedier, produce less waste, and occupy less space” than Iran’s current model.

The recent IAEA report said Iran told the agency Feb. 1 that it intended to install three new types of centrifuges called the IR-5, IR-6, and IR-6S. It was not clear what “generation” these models were. In 2010, Iran unveiled what it called a “third generation” centrifuge model, but it had not begun testing any new designs until now.

Iran currently uses an unreliable centrifuge model, called the IR-1, it acquired in the 1980s from the nuclear trafficking network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. For more than a decade, Iran has sought to develop a second-generation machine based on a more advanced model provided by the Khan network, but has encountered numerous delays in developing those centrifuges.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director Fereydoon Abbasi said during a Feb. 15 press briefing that the new centrifuges “increase Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium by three times” compared to the IR-1 model, a capability believed to be on par with Iran’s second-generation machines.

A final announcement Iran made Feb. 15 was the expansion of its commercial-scale Natanz enrichment plant by 3,000 centrifuges.

“Approximately 6,000 centrifuges were working [at Natanz, and] 3,000 have been added to that amount,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech celebrating Iran’s nuclear-related accomplishments.

The Feb. 24 IAEA report said that Iran had about 8,800 centrifuges operating at the plant, up from about 6,200 operating centrifuges noted in a Nov. 8 IAEA report. This increase provides Iran with the largest number of operating machines that it has ever had. Iran also increased the total number of centrifuges installed at Natanz by about 1,100 since November, for a total of about 9,100 machines.

Additional Sanctions

Iran’s nuclear developments come as more countries are looking to tighten restrictions on importing Iranian oil, following the U.S. adoption of sanctions against Iran’s central bank. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

The 27-nation European Union decided Jan. 23 to impose an oil embargo on Iran, agreeing not to conclude any further oil contracts and ending all existing contracts in July. The bloc has been considering such a move over the past few months, but met strong reservations from Greece, which relies on Iran for roughly 14 percent of its oil and faces severe fiscal challenges.

Japan and South Korea also have announced that they will be limiting their imports of Iranian oil, although diplomats from the two U.S. allies say that the process will be challenging because they will have to find alternative suppliers.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has said that it could increase output to make up for much of the shortage faced by embargoing countries.

In another Feb. 15 development, Iran’s Foreign Ministry directly threated to cut off oil exports to France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.

Diplomats from two of the countries said in interviews that along with the threat to cut off oil exports, Iranian officials described conditions under which Tehran would continue supplying oil to each country, such as an agreement on long-term contracts. The diplomats said their governments would reject those conditions.

IAEA Rebuffed

Meanwhile, the IAEA said in a Feb. 22 press statement that Iran had denied a request by IAEA inspectors to visit a site called Parchin, which the agency suspects may have been involved in nuclear warhead development.

The statement quoted IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano as saying, “It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin during the first or second meetings,” referring to the IAEA team’s most recent high-level visit and one carried out Jan. 29-31.

The agency’s Nov. 8 report said that a building at the Parchin military complex may have housed a containment vessel used to carry out high-explosives experiments that are “strong indicators of possible weapon development.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Feb. 22 that Iran’s rejection of an IAEA request for a visit to Parchin “suggest[s] that they have not changed their behavior when it comes to abiding by their international obligations.”

Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili formally responded to a call for talks with six major powers Feb. 15, potentially paving the way for the first negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program in more than a year.

Iran Nuclear Brief: Charting a Diplomatic Path On the Iran Nuclear Challenge

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January 25, 2012
By Peter Grail

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Even as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program rise, the principal parties engaged in the issue say that they seek a peaceful resolution through diplomacy.

Earlier this month, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili reportedly sent a letter to European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton—who represents the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)—in response to the six-country offer for the renewal of serious talks on Iran’s nuclear program. With the P5+1 insisting that a diplomatic path to resolve the issue remains open and Tehran’s professed interest in dialogue, the question arises: what steps could the two sides take to resolve the impasse?

In her letter to Jalili last October calling for renewed negotiations, Ashton said the process would need to begin with confidence-building measures to facilitate longer-term engagement. Given the current trust deficit and the inability of the fractured Iranian political leadership to agree on whether and how to engage on the nuclear issue, an approach that builds upon short-term arrangements makes sense. But it will also be necessary to have some idea of what the end-goal of such engagement might be.

In this respect, Ashton said in her letter that the goal of the six countries is “a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme,” reaffirming the group’s commitment to proposals it put forward 2006 and 2008. This brief provides an overview of these proposals and related confidence-building steps and discusses how they address the critical issue of Iran’s enrichment program.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Even as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program rise, the principal parties engaged in the issue say that they seek a peaceful resolution through diplomacy. Earlier this month, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili reportedly sent a letter to European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton—who represents the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)—in response to the six-country offer for the renewal of serious talks on Iran’s nuclear program. With the P5+1 insisting that a diplomatic path to resolve the issue remains open and Tehran’s professed interest in dialogue, the question arises: what steps could the two sides take to resolve the impasse?

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Swiss Indict Family for Nuclear Smuggling

Peter Crail

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Friedrich Tinner and his sons Urs and Marco have been accused of providing gas centrifuge components for the nuclear trafficking network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network was initially used to provide Pakistan with nuclear weapons, but later was aimed at assisting the nuclear weapons programs of several other countries, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, a process that can produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.

The Tinner case has suffered from major political complications stemming from the family’s suspected assistance to the CIA in shutting down the Khan network in 2003. Although Swiss law prohibits such cooperation with a foreign intelligence agency, in 2007 the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s highest executive body, canceled an investigation into the Tinners’ work with the CIA. Also in 2007, the council destroyed key evidence related to the Tinners’ participation in the Khan network, ostensibly to prevent the further spread of sensitive nuclear weapons-related information. (See ACT, July/August 2008.) In 2009 the Swiss parliament published a report describing U.S. pressure on the Swiss government to destroy the documentation, which included nuclear warhead designs.

According to prosecutors, the Tinners have agreed to plead guilty to the smuggling charges as part of an expedited legal procedure that would avoid publicly airing sensitive evidence, the Associated Press reported Dec. 13. The procedure, however, cannot result in a prison term of more than five years. The Tinners all have served several years in prison awaiting trial.

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Lawmakers Raise North Korea ICBM Fears

Peter Crail

Five Republican members of Congress raised concerns in November that North Korea is developing a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a capability that might allow it to protect its long-range missiles from being destroyed before they are used. However, some nongovernmental experts said such a system was very likely beyond North Korea’s current technical reach.

In a Nov. 17 letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the lawmakers expressed “concern about new intelligence concerning foreign developments in long-range ballistic missile development, specifically ballistic missiles capable of attacking the United States.” Rep. Michael Turner (Ohio), who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and four other members of the panel—Reps. Trent Franks (Ariz.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Mike Rogers (Ala.), and Mac Thornberry (Texas)—wrote the letter after their subcommittee received an intelligence briefing that week.

The legislators argued that the United States must increase missile defense spending against threats to the homeland, rather than focusing on regional missile threats.

The letter includes a June 4 quote from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who told an audience in Singapore that, “with the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile [ICBM]…North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.” Gates later said even more definitively in a Newsweek interview published June 21 that Pyongyang was developing such a capability, commenting, “I never would have dreamed [North Korea] would go road-mobile before testing a static ICBM.”

ICBMs have a range of more than 5,500 kilometers. Only two countries, China and Russia, currently field road-mobile ICBMs. Three others—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have an ICBM capability, but do not use road-mobile systems. North Korea has unsuccessfully tested ICBMs twice, launching them from large, static platforms.

Previously, publicly available U.S. intelligence assessments have noted North Korea’s ICBM development, but have not referenced a road-mobile ICBM. An annual CIA report to Congress last February on the proliferation of unconventional weapons said that North Korea was continuing to develop a mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile. The omission of any assessment of road-mobile ICBM development suggests that any related intelligence would be more recent.

Some experts on missile technology are skeptical of the potential for North Korea to develop a road-mobile ICBM with its current state of technology. Theodore Postol, former scientific adviser to the U.S. chief of naval operations, said in a Dec. 8 e-mail that “the possibility that the North Koreans could deploy a ‘realistically’ mobile ICBM is extremely remote.”

Postol said his assessment was based on two key technology limitations seen in North Korean missiles. The first is North Korea’s reliance on clustering its medium-range Nodong ballistic missile rocket motors, which “are unable to efficiently lift heavy payloads to high speed,” he said. The other factor he cited was the heaviness of the airframes that North Korea manufactures, which makes it more difficult to carry heavy payloads, such as nuclear weapons, long distances.

Most of North Korea’s missile program is based on decades-old Soviet SCUD missile technology, which has proven difficult for countries to scale up to longer-range systems. In 2009, however, North Korea unsuccessfully tested a three-stage rocket called the Taepo Dong-2, whose second stage is believed to be based on the Soviet SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The SS-N-6 is far more sophisticated than the SCUD-based design North Korea used for the rocket’s first stage.

Postol said that based on the technology North Korea is known to possess, the only way it could reduce the size and weight of an ICBM to fit on a road-mobile platform would be to cluster four SS-N-6 rocket motors for the missile’s first stage. “This task would be absolutely gigantic relative to anything else that we have observed being done by either Iran or North Korea,” taking several years and using up potentially limited SS-N-6 rocket motors during the development process, he said.

According to a December 2009 Department of State cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Guardian newspaper, the United States concluded that North Korea could pursue three paths to an ICBM capability: using the Taepo Dong-2, developing a missile larger than the Taepo Dong-2 using a new launch facility North Korea has been building, or further developing its intermediate-range ballistic missile. That missile, which the United States calls the Musudan, is believed to be based on the SS-N-6.

Missiles understood to be the Musudan first publicly appeared in an October 2010 military parade in Pyongyang, but experts believe those missiles to have been mock-ups. North Korea has not tested the Musudan.

Reactor and Enrichment Progress

North Korea also appears to have made progress constructing an experimental light-water nuclear reactor first revealed last year, according to expert satellite imagery analysis and a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement. A Nov. 14 analysis by former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector Robert Kelley and Mehdi Sarram on the U.S.-Korea Institute Web site 38 North said that “significant progress has been made in building the reactor over the past year.” The assessment concluded, however, that operations were unlikely to begin for another two to three years.

The satellite imagery analysis appeared to offer some evidence for a Nov. 30 North Korean Foreign Ministry statement quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency as saying that the light-water reactor (LWR) construction and Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment program are “progressing apace.”

South Korea and the United States have demanded that North Korea suspend both activities prior to the resumption of multilateral talks to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization. Pyongyang has insisted that the talks begin first.

North Korea first publicly revealed that it was constructing an LWR, ostensibly to produce electricity, in November 2010. According its Nov. 30 Foreign Ministry statement, Pyongyang decided to build such a reactor because it had not received one as “promised” by other countries.

As part of a 1994 U.S.-North Korean denuclearization deal, Pyongyang was to receive two LWRs, but that agreement fell apart before much progress was made building them. Pyongyang has frequently raised the issue of receiving such reactors as part of negotiations on its nuclear weapons program.

Unlike North Korea’s five-megawatt research reactor, the LWR is not well suited to producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. However, the process used to produce fuel for the reactor, which involves enriching uranium, can be used to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons.

For several years, Pyongyang denied U.S. accusations that it was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program, first admitting that it had done so after abandoning multilateral nuclear talks in April 2009. It revealed an enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex at the same time that it disclosed its LWR construction, but it is widely believed to have other enrichment plants elsewhere.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Dies

After holding power for 17 years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died Dec. 17 “from a great mental and physical strain,” North Korean state media reported Dec. 19. He is to be succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be about 28 years old. Preparations for the succession process appeared to begin in 2008 when the elder Kim suffered a stroke. The North Korean media highlighted the successor role that his son now is to play, with a Dec. 20 Korean Central News Agency report stating that “the Korean people now pledge themselves to remain true to the leadership of General Kim Jong Un.” Both North and South Korea raised their military alert level following news of Kim’s death.—PETER CRAIL

 

Five Republican members of Congress raised concerns in November that North Korea is developing a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a capability that might allow it to protect its long-range missiles from being destroyed before they are used. However, some nongovernmental experts said such a system was very likely beyond North Korea’s current technical reach.

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