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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
Peter Crail

Congress Sanctions Iran Central Bank

Peter Crail

President Barack Obama on Dec. 31 signed into law legislation to impose sanctions on firms doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, a move intended to make it more difficult for Tehran to sell oil abroad.

Congress adopted the legislation in spite of concerns expressed by the Obama administration that sanctions might alienate allies and disrupt oil markets, slowing the global economic recovery.

Iran’s oil sales amount to more than half of its income. Because of international sanctions on much of Iran’s banking sector, it must rely on its central bank for the financing of oil purchases, making sanctions against the bank in effect a prohibition on other countries importing Iranian oil. In recent months, Congress has been increasing pressure on the administration to sanction the bank. (See ACT, November 2011.)

The new law blocks companies and financial institutions from accessing the U.S. financial system if they are found to be engaged in a “significant financial transaction” with the bank, but includes a six-month grace period for sanctions applied to oil purchases from Iran. It gives the president the option of waiving the sanctions if there is insufficient oil in the global market to make up for losses resulting from the sanctions or if countries have demonstrated that they have “significantly reduced” their reliance on Iranian oil.

The sanctions are largely based on an amendment proposed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which was the bill that Obama signed on Dec. 31.

During a Dec. 1 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the proposed sanctions, administration officials warned that the legislation under consideration by Congress could backfire. “There is absolutely a risk that in fact the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would in fact have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the panel.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner also sent a Dec. 1 letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) opposing the measure. He warned that countries “are more likely to resent our actions and resist following our lead—a consequence that would serve the Iranians more than it harms them.” Instead, he urged “properly targeted” sanctions aimed at the bank.

U.S. allies have been discussing ways to reduce their reliance on Iranian oil. The 27-nation European Union considered a British- and French-proposed embargo on Iranian oil in December, but could not reach consensus on the matter largely due to objections by Greece, whose economy is in dire fiscal straits and relies on Iran for roughly 14 percent of its oil.

Menendez said during the Dec. 1 hearing he was “extremely disappointed” with the administration’s opposition to the measure. He noted that administration officials had previously expressed support for his efforts to adjust the sanctions to address their concerns.

“The original amendment had no waivers whatsoever,” he said, “Maybe we should have allowed that to stand.”

That same day the Senate voted unanimously for the amendment.

A House-Senate conference committee agreed Dec. 13 on language to reconcile the Senate amendment with a House provision contained in a bill applying a wide range of sanctions on Iran.

“The conference report includes four modifications to the Senate language, but preserves the scope and implementation timeline of the Senate provision,” according to a Dec. 13 press release by the House and Senate armed service committees.

The House adopted the sanctions on the central bank as a stand-alone measure Dec. 14 while the Senate adopted the defense authorization bill, which included the central bank sanctions amendment, Dec. 15.

President Barack Obama on Dec. 31 signed into law legislation to impose sanctions on firms doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, a move intended to make it more difficult for Tehran to sell oil abroad.

India Extending Missile Reach

Peter Crail and Kathleen E. Masterson

India is preparing to test a missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers early this year and possibly develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the future, Indian defense officials have indicated in recent weeks.

India conducted its first successful test of the Agni-4, which has a 3,500-kilometer range, Nov. 15. In a press release that day, New Delhi’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said the test marks a “quantum leap” in India’s indigenous technological capabilities.

Following the test, the defense officials said their country had mastered a series of technologies that would allow it to field longer-range systems. However, there appear to be some differences within India’s defense community over whether New Delhi should use those technologies to cross the ICBM threshold by developing missiles with a range exceeding 5,500 kilometers.

Only five countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have a demonstrated ICBM capability. North Korea has unsuccessfully tested missiles in the ICBM range.

The technologies India claimed it has successfully developed include a re-entry heat shield to protect the warhead from extreme temperatures as it returns into the atmosphere, an improved navigation system, and a composite rocket motor. Indian officials claimed the country’s scientists made these advances even though it has been subject to international technology controls to prevent the spread of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. India is not a member of the 35-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which was formed in 1987 to restrict the spread of missile technology. New Delhi committed in 2008 to adhere to MTCR rules, and Washington announced in November 2010 that it would support India’s membership in the group. (See ACT, December 2010.)

DRDO Director-General Vijay Kumar Saraswat told reporters Nov. 16, “The technologies proven in this mission will give us the necessary confidence to go in for the Agni-5 launch in a couple of months.” Indian defense officials have since said that the Agni-5, which is to have a range of 5,000 kilometers, will undergo its first test in February.

Michael Elleman, a former UN weapons inspector who is now a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a Dec. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today that India’s missile development pattern was “highly unusual.”

“They conduct a limited number of tests, declare development completed and then embark on an improvement effort,” he said. “[A]t least a half-dozen flight tests would be needed to validate the performance and reliability of the new missile under a range of operational conditions,” he added.

The two-stage, solid-fuel Agni-4 failed its first test, in December 2010 as the Agni-2 Prime, and was not tested again until Nov. 15.

India fields a number of systems geared toward South Asian rival Pakistan, but it has been increasing the range of its ballistic missiles in order to place a larger number of Chinese targets in range. The Agni-5 would be capable of covering all of China while being deployed deep within Indian territory.

For some current and former Indian defense officials, such a range is all that is necessary for India’s deterrence needs. Former Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who is regarded as the father of India’s missile program, told the Indian newspaper The Tribune Nov. 18 that a missile that can reach 5,000 kilometers “was enough as the potential enemies were well within this range.”

Saraswat similarly told reporters in February 2010 that India is focused on “threat mitigation” and does intend to develop an ICBM.

However, in comments to reporters last June 11, Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik said, “India should pursue an ICBM program” with missiles having a range of 10,000 kilometers “or even more,” the Hindustan Times reported.

“Breaking out of the regional context is important as the country’s sphere of influence grows,” Naik said.

In a Dec. 13 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Bharat Karnad, one of the authors of India’s 1999 draft nuclear doctrine, said, “The technological momentum driving the Indian missile program is going to take it well beyond the 5,000 km range Agni-5 and into producing genuine ICBM category delivery systems, if only to match China.” He added that although Kalam’s suggestions would be “taken on board, his influence on current missile programs should not be overstated.”

According to Karnad, “[L]onger range, more accurate missiles will be developed [by India] as a technological imperative."

India is preparing to test a missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers early this year and possibly develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the future, Indian defense officials have indicated in recent weeks.

Progress Made on SE Asian Nuclear Pact

Peter Crail

Southeast Asian countries reached agreement last month on a process for the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states to endorse the region’s nuclear-weapon-free zone, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 16 statement.

The agreement came after the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Nov. 14 with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to discuss ratification by those five states of a protocol to the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok, which established the zone. Under the protocol, the nuclear-weapon states would pledge not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against zone members and not to transport nuclear weapons through the zone.

The world’s five regional nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties all include similar protocols, but none of the nuclear-weapon states have signed the Southeast Asian pact. China has been supportive of doing so, but the other four countries have expressed concern that the Bangkok Treaty includes the continental shelves and exclusive economic zones of the zone’s members. The five nuclear powers have agreed to the protocols of some of the other treaties on nuclear-weapon-free zones.

A Nov. 19 White House summary said that, during the Nov. 18-19 East Asian summit, President Barack Obama and other leaders “welcomed the successful conclusion of a 40-year long negotiation between ASEAN and the Nuclear Weapons States to enable the latter’s accession” to the zone’s protocol. “All sides have agreed to take the necessary steps to enable the signing of the protocol and its entry into force at the earliest opportunity,” it added.

Those steps appear to include further negotiations among the various parties. Agreement on the protocol “cannot be deemed settled until all the matters are agreed upon by the nuclear-weapon states and all ASEAN members,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry Director for International Security and Disarmament Febrian Alphyanto Ruddyard told reporters Nov. 16.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced during the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference last year that the United States would ratify the African and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free-zone protocols and would work with the members of the Southeast Asian and Central Asian zones toward endorsing those pacts as well. (See ACT, June 2010.)

Southeast Asian countries reached agreement last month on a process for the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states to endorse the region’s nuclear-weapon-free zone, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 16 statement.

Syria Probe Still Stalled, IAEA Says

Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made “no progress” in recent discussions with Syria on resolving concerns about that country’s suspected attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Nov. 17.

Last month, the IAEA Board of Governors held its second consecutive quarterly meeting without an updated report on the agency’s efforts to investigate allegations of undeclared nuclear activities by Syria. Amano urged Syria “to cooperate fully with unresolved issues” related to a facility the agency said in June “was very likely” intended to be an undeclared nuclear reactor. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

The United States has accused Syria of building a reactor with North Korean assistance in order to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The facility, located at a site called Dair al Zour, was destroyed by Israel in a September 2007 airstrike. (See ACT, October 2007.)

The agency met with Syrian officials in October to seek additional cooperation on Syria’s suspected undeclared nuclear work. Prior to the IAEA board’s finding in June that Syria was in “non-compliance” with its safeguards obligations, Damascus had pledged full cooperation with the agency.

Glyn Davies, U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA, told the board Nov. 17 that “Syrian cooperation would indeed be welcome after three years of empty offers, including most recently the agency’s October meeting with Syria in which no progress was made in obtaining full access to requested locations.”

The United States also said Syria needs to address its violations before developing a nuclear power program.

During a Nov. 14 annual meeting of the IAEA Technical Assistance and Cooperation Committee, Washington raised objections to a proposed feasibility study for a nuclear power reactor in Syria. “In principle, it is our view that a state found in noncompliance with [its] safeguards agreement should also have certain [technical cooperation] projects curtailed or suspended,” U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the IAEA Robert Wood told the meeting.

The stalemated investigation continues despite media reports that the IAEA has identified another Syrian site that was potentially intended to be a uranium-enrichment facility, suggesting Syria considered a second path to producing nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium. The Associated Press reported Nov. 1 that the agency determined that a facility in the city of Hasakah matches the design of a uranium-enrichment plant Libya sought to construct as part of its then-active nuclear weapons program.

The design came from an illicit nuclear trafficking network led by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The Khan network is known to have contributed to the nuclear programs of Iran, Libya, and North Korea and had been suspected of aiding at least one additional country. Syria has admitted to being approached by Khan, but claimed that it did not follow up with his network.

However, the Associated Press report says the IAEA obtained correspondence between Khan and a Syrian official proposing scientific cooperation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made “no progress” in recent discussions with Syria on resolving concerns about that country’s suspected attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Nov. 17.

IAEA Lays Out Iran Weapons Suspicions

Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month provided the most extensive details to date regarding suspicions that Iran has engaged in activities to develop a nuclear warhead. The details in the Nov. 8 report suggest that Iran pursued a range of activities relevant to nuclear weapons development as part of a structured program prior to the fall of 2003 and has resumed  some weapons-related activities since then.

In response to the report, the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution Nov. 18 expressing “deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program.” The resolution also said that it was essential that Iran provide the IAEA with “access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material, and personnel” to resolve all outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear work.

In his Nov. 17 opening remarks at the board meeting, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said he has proposed to Iran that the agency send a high-level mission to clarify the weapons-related activities identified in the report. Also that day, an Obama administration official told Arms Control Today that “it will not be the United States or any other national government that judges if Iran has done what it needs to do” to resolve concerns about its past activities. The IAEA “can give Iran a clean bill of health so long as Iran commits to genuine cooperation,” the official said.

The board resolution avoided the direct censure contained in some prior resolutions and did not declare Iran in noncompliance with its nonproliferation obligations, as the governors did in 2005 following a finding that Tehran had failed to declare certain nuclear activities to the agency.

Diplomats said that Western governments had sought a strongly worded resolution but China and Russia had objected in negotiations over the draft. The resolution the board adopted was submitted by the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany, which have been engaged in off-and-on negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 32-2, with Cuba and Ecuador opposing it and Indonesia abstaining. Brazil, Egypt, and South Africa voted in favor of the resolution after abstaining during the last IAEA resolution rebuking Iran in 2009, following revelations of a secret uranium-enrichment facility, named Fordow, that Iran was constructing near the city of Qom. (See ACT, December 2009.)

Responding to the November resolution, Iranian IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told reporters it would only result in “strengthening the determination” of Iran to pursue its “peaceful” nuclear program. “We will not suspend our enrichment activities and our work for even a second,” he said, referring to Security Council demands that Iran temporarily halt all uranium-enrichment activities as a confidence-building measure.

Soltanieh said Iran would “study” Amano’s proposed high-level mission, but rejected the possibility of such a visit in the near term because “everything is messed up by the director-general’s decision” to publish the report.

Information Seen as Credible

The information on Iran’s suspected warhead development program, contained in a rare 12-page annex to the agency’s quarterly report, was largely based on more than 1,000 pages of documentation. Over the past several years, the IAEA has referred to these documents as the “alleged studies.” A Western intelligence agency is believed to have acquired them from the wife of an Iranian involved in Iran’s nuclear program.

The report said that additional information came from “more than ten” countries and the IAEA’s own investigation, which included satellite imagery analysis, information provided by Iran, and discussions with members of the nuclear trafficking network led by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network provided Iran with key components and expertise for its nuclear program.

The agency concluded that the information describing Iran’s suspected warhead development work is “credible,” as it comes from “a wide variety of independent sources” and “is overall consistent in terms of technical content, individuals and organizations involved, and time frames.” Amano said in his opening remarks to the board that the information the IAEA received “passed rigorous agency scrutiny.”

In the Nov. 17 interview, the administration official said the IAEA wanted to wait “until it had assured itself that it had undertaken a thorough investigation and explored every angle regarding the serious charges against Iran” before making the information public.

Describing Iran’s response to questions about the suspected weapons-related activities, the report said that Iran’s answers “have been imprecise and/or incomplete, and the information slow in coming and sometimes contradictory.” According to the IAEA, Iran has not cooperated with its investigation into the weapons allegations since 2008.

Although Iran has previously admitted to carrying out some of the work detailed in the report, it says the work was not for nuclear weapons and that many other allegations are fabricated.

Wide Range of Weapons Activities

According to the report, the weapons-related activities Iran allegedly pursued relate to “three technical areas” encompassing many of the steps in a nuclear weapons development process. The administration official said, “[I]t is impossible to read this report and the chilling details it provides on Iranian research into almost every facet of a nuclear weapons program and not come away with the conclusion that Iran is, at the very minimum, leaving open the option to pursue a weapon down the road.”

The first technical area the IAEA describes was a covert uranium-conversion effort called “Project Green Salt,” aimed at producing uranium hexafluoride, an early precursor in producing nuclear fuel or fissile material for nuclear weapons. The report said that documentation received from member states suggests that this project was part of an effort to produce uranium metal for use in a nuclear warhead.

Tehran has admitted to receiving a document from the Khan network that describes how to turn uranium compounds into uranium metal, but claims that it did not request it. The IAEA report said this document was known to be part of a larger package that included a “nuclear explosive design,” based on its investigation into the Khan network’s dealings with Libya. A member of the Khan network told the agency in 2007 that Iran had received nuclear explosive design information, and the agency said in the November report that based on that discussion, it “is concerned that Iran may have obtained more advanced design information” than what Libya received.

The most extensive detail in the report related to the second area of study: high-explosives work suitable for a nuclear warhead. This work included the development of fast-acting detonators and the means to position and fire high explosives simultaneously. The agency said that it was informed by nuclear-weapon states that the specific multipoint-initiation system used in Iran’s high-explosives work “is used in some nuclear explosive devices.”

When the agency confronted Iran in 2008 with some of the information it had on Iran’s suspected high-explosives work, Iran said that it did not understand the information and had not carried out any of the activities, the recent report said.

According to the report, the IAEA “has strong indications” that Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons-relevant high-explosives initiation system was assisted by a “foreign expert.” It indicated that a member state informed the agency that the expert “worked for much of his career” in the Soviet nuclear weapons program.

The Washington Post identified the expert Nov. 10 as Vyacheslav Danilenko, who is currently an expert in using advanced explosives technologies to create industrial-use nanodiamonds. The IAEA confirmed through discussions with Danilenko that he was in Iran between 1996 and 2002 assisting with nanodiamond production using high-explosive techniques, the report said.

The third technical area described in the report covered the development of a nuclear warhead capable of fitting on Iran’s medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. Known as “Project 111,” this work allegedly included computer modeling studies of various payloads for Iran’s Shahab-3 missile consistent with a nuclear warhead and the manufacture of prototype re-entry-vehicle components at workshops known to exist in Iran.

The agency carried out a technical assessment of the study with the assistance of experts from countries that did not provide the IAEA with information related to Project 111. That assessment ruled out any payload option other than a nuclear weapon. Asked to comment on the results of the assessment in 2008, Iran told the agency that it agreed such a program would constitute nuclear weapons development, the report said. However, Tehran has dismissed the computer modeling documentation as “an animation game” and said that the electronic format of the documentation could have easily been fabricated.

Program Halted in 2003

According to the report, Iran consolidated the activities related to these technical areas under an umbrella called “the AMAD Plan,” headed by an individual named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and most AMAD Plan activities were carried out between 2002 and 2003. The agency further notes that “senior Iranian figures featured” in the command structure of the AMAD Plan “at least for some significant period of time.” The report does not identify the senior Iranian figures or their role in the Iranian leadership.

An annex to a May 2008 report by the agency outlined Iran’s suspected covert conversion, high explosives, and re-entry vehicle activities, but not in the same detail. The agency has said that it continued to receive new information from states after 2008 on Iran’s suspected weapons-related activities.

Based on information the agency received from members states, the report says that “work on the AMAD Plan was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order’” by senior Iranian officials in late 2003. However, it adds that some of the work carried out under the AMAD Plan was resumed later, with Fakhrizadeh maintaining “the principal organizational role” for those activities under different military and academic institutions.

The finding appears to be consistent with that of the unclassified summary of a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) by the U.S. intelligence community. That assessment judged “with high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and concluded “with moderate confidence” that the halt lasted through mid-2007. The NIE defined Iran’s nuclear program as covert uranium conversion- and enrichment-related activities and “weaponization work.” The intelligence community completed a classified update of the 2007 NIE earlier this year. (See ACT, March 2011.)

The IAEA report and the NIE, however, pointed to different rationales behind the halt. According to the NIE, the U.S. intelligence community believed the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared work.”

Iran’s key nuclear facilities capable of producing material for nuclear weapons were first publicly revealed in the fall of 2002 and came under IAEA safeguards shortly thereafter.

The recent IAEA report, however, said that the halt to the AMAD Plan was the result of “growing concerns about the international security situation in Iraq and neighbouring countries at that time.”

The agency identifies three areas in which Iran is believed to have continued weapons-related work. The report said that information provided by one country indicated that Iran initiated a four-year program in 2006 to continue work on a neutron initiator. Such a device is used in the center of a nuclear weapon to generate a burst of neutrons and initiate a nuclear explosion. According to the IAEA, the neutron initiator Iran allegedly worked on matches the warhead design information the Khan network shared with Iran.

Information the agency received from two member states suggested Iran carried out modeling studies on nuclear warhead design in 2008 and 2009, including determining the nuclear explosive yield, the report said. Because the application of such studies appears unique to nuclear weapons, the IAEA said that “it is therefore essential that Iran engage with the agency and provide explanation.”

According to the report, two countries told the IAEA that Iran conducted “experimental research” on scaling down and optimizing a nuclear weapons-relevant high-explosives package after 2003.

The report says, however, that the IAEA’s understanding of Iran’s post-2003 nuclear weapons-relevant activities is not as substantial as its assessment of the AMAD Plan “due to the more limited information available to the agency.”

New Enrichment Plant

The report continued to detail Iran’s safeguarded nuclear activities, citing developments relating to Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. Iran prepared to begin operations at the Fordow enrichment plant last month after moving some of the low-enriched uranium (LEU) there from its commercial plant at Natanz.

The LEU produced at Natanz is enriched to about 4 percent of the fissile isotope uranium-235, a level generally used in nuclear power reactor fuel. Iran declared earlier this year that it would use the Fordow plant to triple its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium in order to fuel a research reactor in Tehran and additional reactors it intends to build. Western governments and independent experts have raised concerns that the accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium provides Iran with material that can easily be further processed to weapons-grade levels, which is about 90 percent enriched.

According to the IAEA report, Iran has begun testing a prototype fuel rod at the Tehran Research Reactor. U.S. and former IAEA officials have said, however, that Iran cannot safely manufacture fuel for the reactor.

The administration official said that “an Iranian initiative to cease the production of near 20 percent-enriched uranium and halt its ongoing construction at the underground Qom facility would be the most significant steps Tehran could take to signal that it is searching for a way out of this increasingly dangerous path.”

Iran began producing 20 percent-enriched uranium in February 2010 after rejecting a U.S.-proposed arrangement under which Iran would ship out its LEU in return for fuel for the Tehran reactor. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in September that Iran would halt 20 percent-enrichment activities if it received fuel for the reactor. (See ACT, October 2011.)

Iran began producing 20 percent-enriched uranium in February 2010 at a pilot facility also located at the Natanz site. Producing 20 percent-enriched uranium accomplishes about 90 percent of the work required to enrich uranium from natural levels to weapons grade.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month provided the most extensive details to date regarding suspicions that Iran has engaged in activities to develop a nuclear warhead. The details in the Nov. 8 report suggest that Iran pursued a range of activities relevant to nuclear weapons development as part of a structured program prior to the fall of 2003 and has resumed  some weapons-related activities since then.

WMD Controls Improving, UN Panel Says

Peter Crail

Countries have made steady progress in adopting national controls to stop the spread of nonconventional weapons, according to a UN panel report released last month.

Efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1540, adopted in 2004, have “contributed to strengthened global nonproliferation and counterterrorism regimes and ha[ve] contributed to better preparing states to prevent proliferation” of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, the report says.

Resolution 1540 requires all states to adopt a wide variety of national instruments aimed at criminalizing the acquisition of nonconventional weapons by nonstate actors, accounting for and securing materials that could be used to build such weapons, and preventing them from being smuggled. A committee overseeing the implementation of the resolution completed the report Sept. 12, but it was not publicly released until Nov. 10.

The committee originally was supposed to issue the progress report in April, at the same time that the Security Council extended the panel’s mandate for 10 years with the adoption of Resolution 1977, but the report faced repeated delays. (See ACT, May 2011.)

During a Nov. 14 briefing to the Security Council, 1540 Committee Chairman Baso Sangqu of South Africa said that since the committee’s last report in 2008, “more states have taken more measures to implement almost every obligation or recommendation” in Resolution 1540. The committee recognized in its report, however, that “much work remains to be done,” characterizing full implementation as “a long[-]term effort.”

Thomas Wuchte, the U.S. special coordinator for Resolution 1540, told Arms Control Today in April that implementation is “moving forward in stages that are appropriate for each region.” Echoing the recent report’s recognition of the long-term task for states to establish comprehensive controls on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he said he sees the prospect for “steady progress, not stagnation.”

Since 2005, the committee has used a spreadsheet containing 382 fields, called the matrix, to evaluate the adoption of national WMD controls. The 382 fields comprise national laws or enforcement authorities that states are required to establish to control the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons; related materials; and their means of delivery.

The committee report notes that, of the measures detailed in the matrix, states now have taken steps to implement an average of 128, compared with 93 in 2008.

To better evaluate progress in implementing the resolution, the committee said it would consider replacing or upgrading its assessment matrix no later than the end of next year. Such upgrades could, for example, take into account assistance and cooperation or lessons learned, the report said.

The committee primarily relies on national reports submitted by states to evaluate what steps countries have taken to establish WMD controls. States were required to submit reports in October 2004 and have been encouraged to provide additional information on their progress since that time.

Still, 24 countries, 19 of which are in Africa, have not submitted a report to the committee on steps they have taken to implement WMD controls.

The committee recently has sought to supplement the state-submitted reports with in-country visits in order to get a better sense of a country’s WMD controls. The United States hosted the first such visit in September, a step intended to spur additional countries to take similar actions. (See ACT, October 2011.) Sangqu told the council Nov. 14 that Albania, Croatia, and Madagascar have requested such visits.

In addition to assessing global progress in establishing WMD controls under Resolution 1540, the committee is tasked with facilitating technical assistance to countries in need of it. Resolution 1540 recognized that some countries may lack “the legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources” to implement many of the controls required in the resolution and called on countries capable of doing so to provide assistance in those areas.

Wuchte said that Resolution 1977 “brings us to a point where the committee is only just now approaching a stage where it can effectively match those requesting assistance with those offering it.”

He added that he saw Africa as a “particularly important focus” for the 1540 Committee’s efforts to facilitate assistance, saying that it is a region where “many countries need help with capacity building and where the pressing requirements of development have traditionally left” WMD nonproliferation as a “distant priority.”

Countries have made steady progress in adopting national controls to stop the spread of nonconventional weapons, according to a UN panel report released last month.

U.S. Envoy Sees Progress in N. Korea Talks

Kathleen E. Masterson and Peter Crail

A second round of bilateral nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea last month “narrowed differences” between the two countries on steps needed to resume multilateral denuclearization negotiations, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth told reporters Oct. 25.

“I am confident that, with continued effort on both sides, we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal negotiations for a return to the six-party process,” Bosworth said following the Oct. 24-25 talks in Geneva. He added, however, that there were still differences to overcome and additional time would be needed to reach agreement.

Last month’s meeting between Bosworth and North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan is part of the first series of high-level talks between the two countries since 2009. Earlier this year, China proposed a series of bilateral meetings between the two Koreas and between the United States and North Korea to revive the stalled six-party talks, which also involve China, Japan, and Russia. The first round of U.S.-North Korean talks took place in July after a similar meeting between North and South Korea one week earlier. (See ACT, September 2011.)

Bosworth was accompanied by Glyn Davies, the U.S. permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who has since replaced Bosworth as the special envoy to North Korea. Bosworth stepped down from his position following the Geneva meeting to resume full-time duties as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he had continued to serve on a part-time basis.

The latest round of dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang comes on the heels of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to the United States. During an Oct. 13 joint press conference with President Barack Obama, Lee said that he and Obama were “in complete agreement when dealing with North Korea,” stressing the “principled approach” pursued by the two countries to denuclearize North Korea.

Both countries insist that North Korea must take specific concrete measures, including verifiably halting its uranium-enrichment program under IAEA inspections and halting nuclear and missile testing, before multilateral negotiations can take place.

Although North Korea has publicly rejected preconditions for resuming the six-party talks, its leader, Kim Jong Il, has expressed a willingness to consider a moratorium on missile and nuclear weapons testing.

North Korea first publicly revealed a uranium-enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex last November. (See ACT, December 2010.) Uranium enrichment can be used to produce low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power reactors as well as weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU). Pyongyang denied having a uranium-enrichment program for years despite long-running U.S. suspicions. North Korea is believed to maintain additional enrichment sites outside the Yongbyon complex.

The IAEA has not held inspections in North Korea since 2009 when Pyongyang ejected monitors after leaving the six-party talks.

Joel Wit, a former Department of State negotiator with North Korea, said it is important to restart talks with Pyongyang before it can dramatically build up its nuclear capabilities. “We are approaching a critical moment” regarding the North’s uranium-enrichment program, he warned in an Oct. 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today. He said that he did not believe Pyongyang has begun producing HEU yet, but that once it starts doing so, it will be far more difficult to convince Pyongyang to abandon the program.

The U.S. meeting with North Korea also comes after two Republican senators raised concerns about steps to resume the six-party talks that could involve material incentives for Pyongyang. In a Sept. 13 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, “We seek your written assurances that the administration will not provide any financial incentives to Pyongyang—including relief from sanctions, food aid, energy supplies, and other commercial goods—in exchange for participating in multilateral negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.”

Reportedly because of the concerns cited in the letter, Kyl maintained a hold on the nomination of Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, to serve as ambassador to South Korea. The hold was lifted, and the Senate confirmed Kim Oct. 13, during Lee’s visit.

The Obama administration has not offered financial incentives for the resumption of talks, and Pyongyang has abandoned calls for the lifting of sanctions before it would re-engage in negotiations. However, North Korea has sought food aid to respond to food shortages. Washington and Seoul have maintained that Pyongyang must allow sufficient monitoring for any food aid before they provide such assistance. They have not linked such aid to the nuclear negotiations.

Despite the lack of agreement on restarting multilateral nuclear negotiations, the North in recent months has taken a softer approach to its dealings with the United States and South Korea. In addition to resuming the two sets of bilateral talks, Pyongyang has taken steps such as sending military officials to meet with U.S. counterparts in Bangkok in early October to discuss resuming efforts to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula also have eased in recent months, having reached a peak following North Korea’s suspected involvement in the sinking of the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan and the shelling of a South Korean border island in 2010.

A second round of bilateral nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea last month “narrowed differences” between the two countries on steps needed to resume multilateral denuclearization negotiations, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth told reporters Oct. 25.

Congress Renews Iran Sanctions Push

Peter Crail

Following U.S. accusations on Oct. 11 that elements of Iran’s government conspired to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, members of Congress reiterated calls to increase sanctions on foreign firms doing business with Iran.

Obama administration officials insisted that they were taking steps to strengthen sanctions against Iran in response to the alleged plot and Iran’s nuclear program.

Lawmakers particularly insisted that the United States penalize foreign firms making purchases through the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). Many countries, including U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, rely on oil imports from Iran and make payments through the CBI. Cutting off access could have implications for global oil markets.

“Our best hope for slowing the Iranian nuclear train is to bring its financial machinery to a grinding halt,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the panel during an Oct. 14 hearing.

“Sanctioning banks and companies in other countries that do business with Iran’s central bank would have a uniquely powerful impact on the Iranian economy,” Berman added.

In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama calling on the administration to sanction the CBI. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has threatened to introduce legislation to do so if the administration did not take that step by the end of the year. (See ACT, September 2011.)

Members of Congress pressed administration officials in hearings Oct. 13 and 14 on U.S. efforts to toughen sanctions against Iran and the prospect of sanctioning the CBI. The officials said that they were focused on implementing the existing sanctions and would seek international cooperation to cut off the CBI from the global financial system.

“We are engaged in an effort to develop the multilateral support that would be…critically important in having action against the CBI be really effective,” Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the House committee during the Oct. 14 hearing. Cohen said current sanctions were having a serious impact on Iran’s financial sector and that many foreign banks already were cutting relationships with Tehran. “Iran is now facing unprecedented levels of financial and commercial isolation,” he told the committee.

Congress also is mulling additional efforts to target other countries doing business with Iran, in particular with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would sanction foreign firms purchasing oil or gas from Iran if the Guard was involved in the transaction, with the Senate bill extending this prohibition to include any transaction in which the Guard was involved.

The Guard has become increasingly involved in many aspects of Iran’s economy, including its energy sector.

The House foreign affairs panel is expected to take action on its bill early this month. That bill also would place greater limitations than current law on the president’s ability to waive the sanctions and eliminates such waivers in some cases. The Obama administration, like the two previous administrations, has sought to maintain waiver provisions for such sanctions to preserve diplomatic flexibility and to prevent the sanctions from causing friction with diplomatic partners.

Former National Security Council staffer Gary Sick said in an Oct. 13 e-mail to Arms Control Today that sanctions have a role as “bargaining chips” if the United States is willing and able to lift them in return for improvements in Iran’s policies, such as accepting additional International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. “That gives us an exceptional array of tools we could use,” he said, adding that the “greatest failing of our diplomatic track” has been that the United States has not used such leverage in negotiations.

During congressional testimony, U.S. officials said the administration still is adhering to a “dual-track approach” of negotiations and sanctions, as is the so-called P5+1, a group comprising the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany.

In an Oct. 21 letter to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1, said the six countries would be willing to meet with Iran “within the coming weeks” if Iran is ready to “engage seriously in discussions” on the nuclear issue.

The last meeting between the two sides, in January, ended without agreement for follow-on talks. In a Jan. 22 statement, Ashton said that “the Iranian side was not ready” for constructive talks, having demanded the lifting of sanctions and recognition of a right to enrich uranium as preconditions for progress. She said those preconditions “are not a way to proceed.”

In Oct. 6 remarks to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, Iranian UN ambassador Mohammed Khazaee said that his country was ready to engage in “serious and constructive negotiation” without preconditions.

Following U.S. accusations on Oct. 11 that elements of Iran’s government conspired to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, members of Congress reiterated calls to increase sanctions on foreign firms doing business with Iran.

North, South Korea Meet on Nuclear Issue

Peter Crail

North and South Korean nuclear negotiators held bilateral talks in Beijing last month, continuing an effort to revive stalled multilateral negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. The two sides do not appear to have bridged differences on the conditions for resuming the six-party talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Seoul and Washington maintain that Pyongyang first must demonstrate its commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons and related programs, including verifiably halting a uranium-enrichment program the North first publicly revealed last year. North Korea says it wants to restart the six-party talks without preconditions.

Uranium enrichment can be used in making fuel to power nuclear reactors and to make highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

North Korea first agreed to give up its nuclear weapons and programs in a September 2005 joint statement of the six-party talks. After taking some steps to implement that agreement, North Korea scuttled the negotiations in April 2009 after the UN Security Council reprimanded Pyongyang for a rocket launch earlier that month. (See ACT, May 2009.) Although North Korea said at that time it would never return to six-way negotiations, it has since reversed its position.

China, which chairs the six-party talks, has previously proposed a three-step process to revive the talks. The process involves North Korean bilateral meetings with South Korea and with the United States, followed by a preparatory meeting of the six parties. (See ACT, May 2011.) Although the first two steps have been carried out, the countries have not agreed to go beyond the bilateral discussions. The Sept. 21 discussions between South Korean nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, followed high-level talks in New York between U.S. and North Korean officials in July. (See ACT, September 2011.)

At a Sept. 19 seminar in Beijing celebrating the sixth anniversary of the 2005 joint statement, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, “We are happy to see that there have been some new, positive interactions between the parties concerned surrounding the restart of the six-party talks.”

The North-South nuclear dialogue appears to be a sign of thawing tensions between the two countries. The tensions reached a peak last year after North Korea was found to have sunk a South Korean naval vessel and Pyongyang shelled a South Korean island in response to a military exercise, killing four and injuring 19 South Korean civilians and soldiers.

Wi and Ri formally initiated the recent round of bilateral nuclear discussions during a July 22 meeting in Bali, following which Ri said the two sides were “moving to a new stage of dialogue.” Prior to that meeting, the two countries had not met to discuss the nuclear issue in two years. Seoul initially insisted that Pyongyang apologize for the altercations prior to negotiating on the nuclear issue, but it has since dropped that requirement.

The North-South talks followed the first International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in four years to consider a report by an IAEA director-general on Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. The Sept. 2 report provided a detailed overview of the agency’s understanding of North Korean nuclear activities going back to the 1970s and, for the first time, included third-party information on North Korea’s enrichment program. The information came from former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker, who was allowed to visit a North Korean enrichment facility last year. (See ACT, December 2010.)

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the IAEA board Sept. 12 that North Korea’s nuclear program “is a matter of serious concern” and that reports about the construction of a new uranium-enrichment facility and light-water reactor in North Korea “are deeply troubling.” He also stressed the IAEA’s role in verifying Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

IAEA inspectors have not been present in North Korea since April 2009, when Pyongyang last ejected them.

The U.S. government said the report showed that North Korea’s claim that it only began work on its enrichment program in April 2009 was “unlikely,” U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Glyn Davies told the IAEA board Sept. 14. “The report’s assessment of [North Korea’s] enrichment-related procurements is consistent with our belief that North Korea has been pursuing enrichment for an extended period of time,” Davies said.

The United States accused North Korea of pursuing enrichment in 2002, but North Korea denied carrying out such work until 2009.

The IAEA report also publicly detailed for the first time the agency’s assessment of suspected North Korean assistance to Libya’s now-defunct nuclear weapons program. It said that it was “very likely” that a large cylinder of uranium hexafluoride Libya obtained in 2001 originated in North Korea. “That would indicate that [North Korea] had undeclared conversion capabilities prior to 2001,” the report said.

Conversion is the industrial process that produces uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for enrichment. To support an indigenous enrichment program, North Korea would need to have mastered the process or obtained the uranium hexafluoride from elsewhere.

North and South Korean nuclear negotiators held bilateral talks in Beijing last month, continuing an effort to revive stalled multilateral negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. The two sides do not appear to have bridged differences on the conditions for resuming the six-party talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

UN Examines U.S. WMD Controls

Peter Crail

A UN nonproliferation body carried out its first formal in-country visit last month, examining the steps that the United States has taken to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Diplomats said that, in addition to giving the panel overseeing the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 a better understanding of U.S. efforts to implement the resolution, the visit could serve as an example for other countries to follow.

The council adopted Resolution 1540 in 2004 to address the potential proliferation of unconventional weapons, related materials, and delivery systems to terrorist groups and smugglers. The resolution requires all states to adopt and enforce a series of national laws criminalizing the possession of unconventional weapons; setting standards to secure materials, facilities, and technologies used to make them; and establishing export controls to prevent their spread. A committee made up of the council’s 15 members also was established to oversee implementation of the measure.

To assess implementation, the committee and its eight experts traditionally have relied on national implementation reports that states have been required to submit and on public records of national laws and arrangements with international nonproliferation agencies. A 2009 UN review of Resolution 1540’s implementation suggested that country visits by the committee could enhance such information gathering and “delve deeper into understanding the challenges” of adopting the wide array of national laws and procedures the resolution requires.

The council endorsed the prospect of country visits in April when it adopted Resolution 1977, which extended the committee’s mandate for 10 years.

During the Sept. 12-16 visit to Washington, committee experts and representatives held meetings with and toured facilities belonging to a variety of government agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. During a Sept. 15 press briefing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Programs Simon Limage said that the visit was intended to “demonstrate the whole-of-government approach to the problem of proliferation.”

Limage noted four types of WMD-control efforts that the United States wished to highlight for the 1540 Committee: accountability, physical protection, border control enforcement, and export controls.

Committee representatives and U.S. officials stressed, however, that the visit was not an inspection akin to those carried out by international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, although the panel is to prepare a report on the visit.

Ruvarna Naidoo, acting spokeswoman for the chair of the 1540 Committee, said in a Sept. 14 interview that one of the purposes of the visit is to spur additional governments to host similar visits, providing greater understanding of how the governments tackle the issue of WMD proliferation. She also said that given the committee’s role in matching states needing implementation assistance with countries and organizations that provide such assistance, additional dialogue in the form of country visits can help countries put in place more-effective WMD controls.

A UN nonproliferation body carried out its first formal in-country visit last month, examining the steps that the United States has taken to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

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