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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

U.S. Seeks IAEA Leverage in Syria Probe

Peter Crail

The United States last month suggested that further measures may be required to open up Syrian sites to international nuclear inspectors, raising the prospect of a rarely used “special inspection” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Absent Syria’s cooperation with the ongoing IAEA investigation, “we are approaching a situation where the [IAEA] Board [of Governors] and the Secretariat must consider all available measures and authorities to pursue the verification assurances the international community seeks,” Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said in a Sept. 16 statement to the board during its week-long meeting.

Davies has suggested in recent weeks that a special inspection is one such option. Reuters reported Sept. 16 that Davies said in August that “a number of countries” were beginning to ask whether it was time to initiate a special inspection to gain access to suspect locations.

Under the IAEA model safeguards agreement, the agency can conduct a special inspection to investigate undeclared sites if the existing inspection mechanism “is not adequate for the agency to fulfill its responsibilities under the agreement.” That provision has been used only twice: in Romania in 1992 at the Romanian government’s request, and in North Korea in 1993. Pyongyang rejected the inspection, touching off an international crisis leading to a nuclear freeze agreement with the United States a year later.

Although the IAEA board can request such an inspection, the decision is up to the agency’s director-general, currently Yukiya Amano.

The IAEA, the United States, and the European Union have all called on Syria to implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which would also allow access to undeclared sites.

Amano’s Response

Amano expressed frustration with Syria’s lack of cooperation with a two-year investigation into suspected illicit nuclear activities. “Syria has not cooperated with the agency since June 2008 in connection with the unresolved issues related to the Dair al Zour site and some other locations,” he told the board Sept. 13.

A facility Israel destroyed at Dair al Zour in 2007 is widely suspected to have been a nuclear reactor under construction with North Korean assistance. The United States publicly accused Syria in 2008 of building the reactor to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2008.) The IAEA also has requested information regarding additional sites that may have some connection to the Dair al Zour facility.

Damascus allowed the agency to carry out one visit to the site in June 2008, but has rebuffed requests for follow-up checks. A Sept. 6 report by Amano to the IAEA board expressed concern that information on the Dair al Zour site “is further deteriorating or has been lost entirely” as time has passed. During its 2008 inspections, the IAEA detected traces of materials that could have been intended for a reactor—in particular, the kind of reactor North Korea has built as part of its weapons program—including chemically processed uranium and graphite. (See ACT, December 2008.)

IAEA officials have said that the uranium particles found at the site could be consistent with nuclear fuel. Syria has not declared any such fuel to the IAEA. Adding to such concerns, a Sept. 6 report by the Institute for Science and International Security cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying that some intelligence information indicated one of the suspect sites associated with Dair al Zour might be a fuel fabrication facility.

The recent IAEA report noted the agency’s continued investigation into previously undeclared experiments Syria carried out at its Miniature Neutron Source Reactor in Damascus. Last year, the agency discovered chemically processed uranium particles not declared as part of Syria’s nuclear research efforts. After initially providing explanations inconsistent with the IAEA findings, Syria admitted to carrying out small-scale uranium-conversion and -irradiation experiments at the facility.

The Sept. 6 IAEA report said Syria had agreed to a “plan of action” with the agency to resolve the agency’s questions about the activities at the Damascus reactor as well as the agency’s request for access to Syria’s phosphoric acid purification plant at Homs.

The Homs plant extracts yellowcake, or milled uranium oxide, from phosphates. The agency is seeking to determine whether the Homs plant had produced larger quantities of yellowcake than Syria has reported. Yellowcake is a precursor for nuclear fuel.

Russian-Syrian Missile Deal

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters in Washington Sept. 17 that Moscow would go ahead with the sale of about 70 P-800 Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria despite U.S. and Israeli objections. Noting that a contract for the missiles was signed in 2007, he said, “[W]e do not see the concerns expressed by [the United States and Israel] that these arms will fall into the hands of terrorists.”

The use of a Chinese-origin C-802 anti-ship cruise missile by Lebanese Hezbollah against an Israeli warship during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict raised concerns about the transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah by its allies, Iran and Syria. Iran, which acquired the C-802 from China during the 1990s, is widely believed to have provided Hezbollah with the missile used in 2006.

The United States and Israel classify Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, a designation not shared worldwide, including by Russia. Israel and Syria also technically remain in a state of conflict.

The Yakhont is a supersonic missile with a range of up to 300 kilometers, delivering a 200-kilogram payload.

 

The United States last month suggested that further measures may be required to open up Syrian sites to international nuclear inspectors, raising the prospect of a rarely used “special inspection” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA, Iran Clash on Inspections Report

Peter Crail

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month sparred over the agency’s inspections in Iran, with the IAEA saying Iran was uncooperative and Tehran responding by questioning the IAEA’s credibility and independence.

In a Sept. 13 public statement at the beginning of the week-long, closed-door meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director-General Yukiya Amano said Iran “has not provided the necessary cooperation” to ensure that all of Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful. He called on Tehran to abide by resolutions adopted by the board and the UN Security Council and to provide greater transparency. In reaction, Iran charged the agency with acting outside its mandate and bowing to political pressure. According to a Sept. 15 statement to the board published by Iran’s state-run Press TV, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh accused the agency of “entering into the political games of certain countries,” saying that it “definitely deviated from its Statute.”

The dispute was primarily based on a Sept. 6 report by Amano on the agency’s safeguards in Iran; the report highlighted a number of areas where Tehran has not provided the access or information requested by the IAEA. In particular, the document cites Tehran’s decision in June to remove two individuals familiar with Iran’s sensitive nuclear facilities from the list of inspectors that can take part in the agency’s monitoring efforts in the country. The IAEA said in the report that this de-designation, as it is known, “detracts from the Agency’s capability to implement effective and efficient safeguards in Iran.”

The report also says that Iran told the IAEA that the de-designation was in response to “false and wrong statements” in a May 31 report by Amano on Iran’s nuclear program. That report said the inspectors were informed, presumably by Iranian technicians, during a January visit that Iran had been carrying out research on pyroprocessing to produce uranium metal at a research laboratory but that, by the time inspectors returned in April, the related equipment had been removed. (See ACT, June 2010.) Iran denies that it carried out pyroprocessing work or that it relocated any equipment from the facility. Nuclear weapons experts have said that such pyroprocessing experiments could be useful in producing nuclear material for weapons. (See ACT, March 2010.)

The agency has stood by its findings and inspectors. In his Sept. 13 remarks to the board, Amano expressed his “full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned.” He added that they are “very knowledgeable” about Iran and the nuclear fuel cycle.

Western countries criticized Iran for banning the inspectors and accused Tehran of trying to undercut the IAEA investigation. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said in a joint statement to the 35-member board Sept. 15 that Iran is “trying to intimidate the agency” and undermine its ability to carry out its investigation. The three countries said Iran was targeting agency officials that have experience with Iran’s nuclear program, calling the move “troubling and reprehensible.”

IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements require the agency to secure consent from a state for the inspectors taking part in monitoring activities. The agreements stipulate that the IAEA must propose alternatives for any inspectors a state does not accept.

The United States argues that Iran’s rejection of the inspectors falls in line with language in the agreements on cases in which a state undermines the agency’s work. According to Iran’s safeguards agreement with the agency, “If, as a result of the repeated refusal of the Government of Iran to accept the designation of Agency inspectors, inspections to be conducted under this Agreement would be impeded, such refusal shall be considered by the Board…with a view to its taking appropriate action.”

In a Sept. 15 statement obtained by Arms Control Today, Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said that Iran’s action warranted such board consideration because it was “unprecedented” for a state to ban inspectors “because they report accurately.”

IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements, including Iran’s, provide for an arbitration mechanism to resolve a safeguards dispute between the agency and a state. In a Sept. 27 e-mail, a former IAEA safeguards official said an arbitration tribunal would be unlikely to conclude that Iran’s de-designation of the inspectors was prohibited by its safeguards agreement. “All the Director-General can do is to highlight in his reports the bad faith and obstruction tactics of Iran,” the former official said, adding that “[t]hat’s what he did.”

Iran defended its removal of the two inspectors from the designated list, maintaining that it was the right of any IAEA member to reject specific individuals. In his Sept. 15 statement to the board, Soltanieh said Iran has accepted 150 designated inspectors and “usually around 10 are inspecting Iran,” suggesting that the agency has many other individuals from which to choose.

Members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a bloc representing 118 developing countries including Iran, backed Tehran’s claims during the meeting. In a Sept. 15 statement to the board published by Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency, the group “note[d] with concern” that the IAEA rejected Iran’s justification for barring the two inspectors, adding that safeguards agreements with the IAEA do not require states to justify such decisions to the agency.

Beyond the inspector designation issue, Iran also attacked the agency for citing elements of UN Security Council Resolution 1929—the latest sanctions resolution on Iran, adopted in June—in its Sept. 6 report. In his statement to the board, Soltanieh said Amano “unprecedentedly copied parts of the illegal [resolution]” in the report. Because the Security Council’s demands go beyond Iran’s IAEA safeguards obligations, they are illegitimate, Soltanieh said.

All Security Council resolutions on Iran have asked the IAEA chief to report to the council and the IAEA board on Iran’s compliance with council demands. Those demands include suspending all enrichment-related work, answering agency questions about possible nuclear weapons-related activities, and providing early design information on nuclear facilities Iran intends to construct.

Renewed Calls for Talks

The dispute at the IAEA comes at a time when six world powers and Iran have all expressed interest in new negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Immediately following a Sept. 22 ministerial meeting, the “P5+1,” which comprises the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany, issued a joint statement calling on Iran to re-enter talks on its nuclear program.

“Our objective continues to be a comprehensive long-term negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature” of Iran’s nuclear activities, while “respecting Iran’s legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” the statement said.

The call for renewed talks follows a letter that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton delivered to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in August on behalf of the P5+1, inviting Iran to negotiations.

The six countries also said they were prepared to hold talks with Iran on a nuclear fuel swap arrangement that would provide fuel for a medical isotope-producing reactor in Tehran in return for a portion of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU). (See ACT, November 2009.) According to the transcript of a Sept. 22 background briefing, a senior U.S. official who took part in the ministerial meeting said the six countries “discussed the continued value of a phased approach to resolving the nuclear issue,” including through a “revised and updated” fuel swap arrangement. The United States originally proposed the arrangement last year.

Negotiations that France, Russia, and the United States (known as the Vienna Group) held with Iran last fall broke down after Tehran backed away from an initial agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of its 4 percent-enriched LEU—about 75 percent of its known stockpile at the time—out of the country. Nuclear power reactors generally use LEU enriched to such enrichment levels.

In May, Brazil and Turkey sought to revive the fuel swap by securing agreement from Tehran to hold the LEU in Turkey until it received fuel for the medical reactor. By that time, however, Iran had begun producing 20 percent-enriched uranium, the level required for the Tehran reactor, and accumulated a larger amount of 4 percent-enriched LEU. The senior U.S. official said that both issues would have to be addressed in any fuel deal.

According to the Sept. 6 IAEA report, Iran has produced a total of about 2,800 kilograms of 4 percent-enriched LEU at its commercial-scale plant at Natanz.

The United States has stressed that the fuel swap does not address broader problems with Iran’s nuclear program and that the focus must be placed on comprehensive negotiations with the P5+1.

Iran has said that it would like to restart dialogue. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters in New York Sept. 21 that “there is a good chance that talks will resume in the near future.” He repeated prior claims that Iran would halt the higher-level enrichment if the fuel swap were agreed.

Iranian calls for dialogue have focused on the LEU fuel deal rather than more comprehensive talks. In a Sept. 21 statement to the annual IAEA General Conference, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran head Ali Akbar Salehi called on the Vienna Group to resume fuel swap talks “without further delay.”

 

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month sparred over the agency’s inspections in Iran, with the IAEA saying Iran was uncooperative and Tehran responding by questioning the IAEA’s credibility and independence.

News Briefs

Medvedev Bans S-300 Sale to Iran

Peter Crail

Following years of mixed messages over the potential delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree prohibiting the transfer Sept. 22. The United States and Israel, arguing that the deal would further undermine regional stability, long had pressed Moscow not to follow through on a 2007 contract Russia inked with Iran to provide the system.

The version of the S-300 system believed to have been part of the contract has the capability to counter aircraft at a range of 195 kilometers and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 50 kilometers. Previous Russian air defense systems sold to Tehran are believed to guard some Iranian nuclear facilities.

For years, Russian officials avoided commenting directly on whether Moscow would transfer the system, merely citing Russian policy that it would take into account regional security before it carried out its weapons sales. Russia also said that an arms embargo imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council in June did not apply to air defense systems, but officials from Western countries said that Moscow assured them the S-300 transfer would not go through.

Responding to the Russian decree, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Sept. 23 that Medvedev “demonstrated leadership on holding Iran accountable to its international obligations from start to finish.”

Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi downplayed the decree in a state television interview Sept. 23, saying the sale was “not vital” and that Iran would build a similar system of its own.


Software Error Derails Airborne Laser Test

Robert Golan-Vilella

The experimental Airborne Laser (ABL) missile defense system failed a test last month after a software error caused the system’s high-energy laser to become misaligned, according to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The test was conducted Sept. 1 at the PointMuguNavalAirWarfareCenter off the coast of California. The ABL test bed, which is housed in a modified Boeing 747, attempted to shoot down a liquid-fueled, short-range missile in its boost phase, the first phase of flight. The ABL employs sensors and a low-energy laser beam to detect and track the incoming missile; it then uses a high-energy laser to target and damage the missile.

However, the Sept. 1 test never got beyond the first stage. According to a Sept. 10 MDA press release, the ABL successfully detected and tracked the target missile, but “corrupted beam control software steered the high energy laser slightly off center.” Sensing the misalignment, the system’s high-energy laser immediately shut down, and the test terminated early.

The MDA did not announce the results of the test until AOL News inquired about the results and broke the story Sept. 7.

The failed Sept. 1 test comes after a successful ABL test in February, in which the system’s high-energy laser destroyed a liquid-fuel missile in its boost phase. The system’s next test, which was originally scheduled for late September, is now expected to take place “at some point in October,” MDA spokeswoman Debra Christman said.

According to the Obama administration’s “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” the ABL program has “experienced repeated schedule delays and technical problems since its inception in 1996.” In particular, plans for a second plane were canceled, and the existing aircraft has been shifted to a technology demonstration program. (See ACT, March 2010.) It is not clear if the recent test failure will affect current test plans.


States at Odds Over Disarmament Body

Peter Crail

UN efforts to “revitalize” the work of its negotiating forum on disarmament during a high-level meeting Sept. 24 revealed continued disagreement on how best to resolve more than a decade of deadlock. (See ACT, September 2010.) A summary of the meeting compiled by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who chaired the session, proposed to continue the discussions during the UN General Assembly’s First Committee during the fall.

A key disagreement during the meeting involved the continued utility of the procedural rules of the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD), which require consensus. A number of states, including Ireland, Mexico, and Norway, suggested that the consensus rule apply only to substantive issues; they argued that some states have abused the rule by applying it to procedural decisions, such as the adoption of the body’s program of work.

Primarily because of procedural conflicts, the CD has been unable to begin substantive negotiations since 1996.

Many states opposed any changes, insisting that political disagreements, rather than rules of procedure, were behind the deadlock.

States similarly differed on whether negotiations on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons should be handled outside the CD. Several countries suggested that if work on the treaty has not started at the CD by the end of 2011, countries need to start considering other forums.

Ban’s summary “strongly suggested” that the CD, when it meets again in January, adopt a program of work initially approved in 2009. Since then, Pakistan has blocked the start of negotiations over concerns that a fissile material cutoff treaty, at least in the form that most countries are supporting, would not affect India’s existing stocks of fissile material.


UN Chief Urges Countries to Ratify CTBT

Eric Auner

Countries that have not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) should aim to be “the first mover” and join the treaty without waiting for others to do so, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a group of national representatives, including 24 foreign ministers, Sept. 23.

Ban, who previously chaired the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, made the comments at a biennial meeting held at the United Nations to mark the anniversary of the date in 1996 when the treaty was opened for signature.

The foreign ministers in attendance released a joint statement reaffirming their support for CTBT ratification. As of Sept. 28, 62 countries, including the United States, had endorsed the statement. The statement will remain open for endorsement until it is submitted to the UN in late November or early December.

More than 180 countries have signed the CTBT; 153 of them have ratified it. Forty-four countries, specified in the treaty’s Annex 2, must ratify the pact before it can enter into force. Nine have not done so, including the United States.

Some governments have indicated that they will be more likely to ratify the CTBT if the United States does so.

In his opening statement at the meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara specifically cited India, another Annex 2 state. The CTBT is “an important measure to guide those non-[nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] signatories, including India, into the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime,” he said.

The meeting took place on the heels of the first annual International Day Against Nuclear Tests on Aug. 29, which was declared by a vote of the UN General Assembly.

 

News Briefs

UN Chief Attends Hiroshima Ceremony

Meri Lugo

In the first visit by a sitting UN secretary-general to Hiroshima’s annual observance of the atomic bombing of the city, Ban Ki-moon last month touted recent strides toward arms reductions worldwide while calling for more dramatic steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

In an Aug. 6 speech commemorating the 65th anniversary of the U.S. bombing, Ban praised the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia and the nuclear security summit in Washington in April. “[But] we must keep up the momentum,” he said. He announced he would convene a meeting Sept. 24 at the United Nations to revitalize the Conference on Disarmament, where efforts to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and other arms control measures have stalled (see page 48).

Ban said he would discuss building consensus on a way forward for an FMCT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The world should set a goal of bringing the CTBT into force by 2012, he said. He also pressed for movement toward “agreement on a no-first-use doctrine, paving the way toward a no-use doctrine.”

U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos attended this year’s Peace Memorial Ceremony, the first time a U.S. official had done so. Representatives from France and the United Kingdom also attended the ceremony for the first time.

An estimated 140,000 Japanese were killed instantly in the Hiroshima bombing, and an additional 70,000 are estimated to have died during the bombing of Nagasaki three days later. These estimates do not include the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who later succumbed to radiation poisoning or cancer as a result of the bombings.


 

Japanese Panel Moots Nuclear Principle

Peter Crail

AJapanese government defense panel questioned in an Aug. 27 report whether Tokyo should maintain its principle of barring the entry of nuclear weapons from Japanese territory, expressing concerns about placing unilateral limits on the United States. The panel report is intended to contribute to a Japanese national security policy review later this year. Since 1971, Japan has subscribed to three “non-nuclear principles” of not possessing or producing nuclear weapons or introducing them into its territory. Although the report raised questions about maintaining the nonintroduction principle, it said that no changes were needed to the three principles “for the time being.”

In the past, the nonintroduction principle has come into conflict with the country’s defense cooperation with the United States as U.S. vessels carrying nuclear arms have made use of Japanese ports. The Japanese government released two reports in March on investigations into secret U.S.-Japanese agreements during the 1960s and ’70s allowing port calls by nuclear-armed U.S. vessels. Revelations on those agreements stirred controversy in Japan following a change in government last year.

Long-standing U.S. policy is neither to confirm nor to deny the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons aboard its vessels.

Panel member Takashi Shiraishi said during an Aug. 27 press conference that the report did not recommend a review of Japan’s three non-nuclear principles. “But at the same time, we didn’t think it wise to limits Japan’s future actions by setting a principle that Japan won’t need to review them in the future,” he said, stressing that Tokyo’s options should be left open.

However, during an Aug. 9 press conference marking the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that he would “like to consider enshrining the principles into law.”


 

EU Contributes to CTBT Verification Efforts

Meri Lugo

The EU Council has provided a contribution of 280,000 euros to strengthen nuclear test ban verification, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced July 27. The contribution is part of the EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The EU contribution will fund projects related to improving the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) auxiliary seismic station network, which provides data on a seismic event on request. Those stations supplement the data from the CTBTO primary network, which runs constantly and provides data in real time. More than 75 percent of the CTBTO’s total planned 337 seismic stations, intended to detect nuclear test explosions, have already been constructed and certified.

The funds also will strengthen verification measures, such as on-site inspections and noble-gas monitoring, and provide technical assistance to African, Caribbean, and Latin American countries to facilitate their full participation in the CTBT verification regime.

The CTBTO’s 2010 budget is approximately 92 million euros. The assessed annual contributions of EU member states comprise about 40 percent of the CTBTO’s total budget, and the recent contribution marks the largest-ever voluntary contribution by the European Union to the CTBTO.

In a statement reflecting on its contribution, the EU remarked, “A fully operational and credible CTBT verification regime will provide the international community with reliable, independent means to ensure that [the] norm [against nuclear testing] is respected.”


 

Bout to Be Extradited to U.S.

Valerie Pacer

A Thai appeals court ruled Aug. 20 that alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout should be extradited to the United States. Bout was arrested on March 5, 2008, after a joint sting operation between the United States and Thailand where Bout allegedly attempted to arrange a weapons deal with undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents, who were acting as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (See ACT, April 2008.)

The United States, which had campaigned for the extradition, welcomed the move. In an Aug. 20 statement, Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary G. Grindler said that “the prosecution of Viktor Bout is of utmost priority to the United States.” Citing UN sanctions imposed on Bout, Grindler said that “the criminal charges he faces are not solely an American concern.”

Russia had opposed extradition, and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the decision to extradite Bout surprising, disappointing, and highly questionable in light of the lower court ruling in August 2009 that Bout should be released. That court said FARC is a political movement rather than a terrorist organization.

In the original U.S. indictment, Bout was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum of 15 years imprisonment. New charges unsealed earlier this year include conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and six counts of wire fraud.

In addition to the charges brought by the United States, Bout is included on UN travel ban and asset freeze lists, in part for violating Security Council Resolution 1343, which sought to end Liberian government support for Sierra Leonean rebels.

 

Stalled CD Sparks Plans for Sept. UN Meeting

Peter Crail

Members of the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) remained sharply divided in August over the body’s work, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prepared for an effort to kick-start talks on substantive issues. The CD is the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament issues.

In May the parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) invited Ban to hold a high-level meeting in September to support the work of the CD, which operates on a consensus basis and has been plagued by years of deadlock. With brief exceptions, the CD has been unable to begin substantive work since 1995.

Ban announced last month that he would hold such a meeting Sept. 24, stating that the dialogue “will provide a unique opportunity to discuss how to revitalize the work of the Conference on Disarmament and build consensus on the broader challenges of disarmament—including moving forward” on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The CD’s current primary agenda item is the negotiation of an FMCT, which would halt the production of material for nuclear weapons.

The high-level meeting is scheduled for five hours Sept. 24 and will be open to all UN members to deliver brief statements, primarily by their foreign ministers. The UN Secretariat has indicated that the outcome of that meeting will consist of a chair’s summary by Ban, which would include his own views as well as those of the participants.

Diplomatic sources said that expectations for the UN gathering were low, given continued intense disagreement over key substantive and procedural issues. Sources also said that some delegations have suggested that a follow-up discussion to the high-level meeting during the General Assembly later this year would be helpful to ensure continued efforts to break the deadlock.

CD members held discussions on the high-level meeting in late August, but several delegations expressed concern over the purpose and prospects of such a session.

Pakistan in particular, which has held up CD consensus on starting negotiations on an FMCT, said during an Aug. 24 discussion that Western countries were only interested in an FMCT and predicted that the UN Secretary-General summary would reflect this preference. Diplomatic sources said that the five NPT nuclear-weapon powers want the Sept. 24 meeting to focus solely on starting FMCT negotiations next year. Iran, Pakistan, and other developing states have pressed for negotiations on other topics, such as nuclear disarmament.

Beyond the high-level meeting, the CD discussed the prospect of holding a parallel process outside the CD to address an FMCT, skirting the body’s strict consensus rules. CD Secretary-General Sergey Ordzhonikidze said during the Aug. 24 session that the CD likely has a year to start substantive work before some members organize such outside initiatives.

The effort could be similar to a 1996 Canadian-led initiative that brought the issue of an anti-personnel landmine ban outside the CD, resulting in a global treaty banning such weapons the following year. Many key countries making use of such arms, however, remain outside that accord, including the United States.

Several delegations, including those of Canada, Germany, Mexico, and the Netherlands, expressed support for a parallel process on an FMCT. The Dutch ambassador, Paul van den Ijssel, stressed that his government did not want to wait another year for the CD to start negotiations on an FMCT.

A number of delegations opposed such a move, and Algeria and Pakistan suggested that the high-level meeting prevent initiatives outside the CD. Islamabad added that it would not attend any negotiations outside the CD on an FMCT.

Pakistan has been scaling up its fissile material production in recent years.

 

Members of the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) remained sharply divided in August over the body’s work, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prepared for an effort to kick-start talks on substantive issues. The CD is the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament issues.

Russia Complied With START, State Dept. Says

Tom Z. Collina and Peter Crail

Adding a historical dimension to the Senate ratification debate on New START, the Department of State in July released a long-awaited report finding that Russia was in compliance with the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). That finding should reassure the Senate that Russia would comply with New START, a senior State Department official said in a July 28 interview.

However, the report did not find a similar level of Russian compliance with the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) or the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill. At a July 29 Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) characterized the report as showing that “compliance issues from the last START treaty remain unresolved and that the Chemical Weapons Convention has not been adhered to, and [Russia] may not be in compliance with the international convention banning biological weapons.” He called Russia’s record of compliance “a matter of significant concern.”

All the issues are long-standing ones that State Department compliance reports have publicly tracked for many years.

The report, Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements, is required by law to be submitted to Congress annually, but the July document is the first update released since 2005. Republican senators had been requesting this report, along with a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and a State Department report on verification, before voting on New START. All three reports now have been submitted to Congress. The 2010 compliance report generally covers the period 2004 through 2008; in the case of START, it tracks compliance through the pact’s expiration last December.

According to the report, the United States is in full compliance with its treaty commitments. The Russian Foreign Ministry disagreed and issued its own report Aug. 7 raising concerns about U.S. treaty compliance.

The unclassified version of the 2010 U.S. report states that Russia was “in compliance with the START strategic offensive arms (SOA) central limits for the 15-year term” of the treaty. This was also the conclusion of the 2005 report. Despite the “overall success of START implementation,” the 2010 report notes that a number of compliance issues that were raised by each side in the treaty’s Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission remained unresolved when the treaty expired.

At the July 29 hearing, Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, testified that “the majority of compliance issues raised under START were satisfactorily resolved. Most reflected differing interpretations on how to implement START’s complex inspection and verification provisions.”

Gottemoeller told the Associated Press July 28 that the issues left unresolved were minor technical matters that “went away when START went out of force.” She added that there were “some concerns that we had about them, some concerns that they had about us.” The most significant disputes, such as movement of Russian SS-27 mobile missile launchers and U.S. inspection of re-entry vehicles aboard certain Russian missiles, were resolved, Gottemoeller said.

Neither side accused the other of violating provisions of START at any point, she said.

“Cheating implies intent to undermine a treaty,” Gottemoeller told The Cable July 28. “There’s no history of cheating on the central obligations of START; there’s a history of abiding by the treaty,” she said. “We think [the compliance report] actually tells a good story about Russia and its willingness to resolve compliance and verification issues and should help ratification” of New START, she said.

For its part, Moscow’s report states that “a number of Russian concerns with U.S. compliance with [START] were never alleviated.” For example, the report says that the conversion of five silo launchers of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to missile defense interceptor launchers at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is “contrary to the provisions of the treaty.” In addition, the U.S. conversion of B-1 heavy bombers to conventional missions did not provide conclusive evidence that the bombers could not be reconverted to nuclear missions, according to the report.

U.S. officials have said that one of the main reasons New START prohibits additional conversions of ICBM launchers to interceptor launchers is to address Russian concerns in this area.

Russian BWC Compliance “Remains Unclear”

According to the 2010 U.S. report, Russian entities have remained engaged in dual-use, biological research activities, although “there were no indications that these activities were conducted for purposes inconsistent with the BWC.” Dual-use activities are those that could be used for offensive or defensive purposes. For example, the treaty permits research on defenses against biological weapons attacks or disease outbreaks; such research often deals with biological agents that could otherwise be banned by the BWC.

As early as 1984, the United States found the Soviet Union to be violating the BWC, and both the 2003 and 2005 reports concluded that Russia continued to do so. The 2005 report found that the Soviet Union’s offensive biological warfare program before 1992 “was the world’s largest” and then was significantly reduced, but not eliminated. In 1992, Russia confirmed it had a biological weapons program inherited from the Soviet Union and agreed to dismantle it under on-site monitoring. “Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measure declarations since 1992 have not satisfactorily documented whether this program was terminated,” the 2010 report says.

“There are significant challenges in monitoring and verifying…compliance with the BWC,” the 2010 report says. Because states are allowed to develop biological agents or toxins for defensive purposes, showing the existence of activity involving banned biological agents is not enough to demonstrate noncompliance. Moreover, the treaty does not have a formal verification system, but relies on ad hoc confidence-building measures.

Gottemoeller testified July 29 that Russian compliance with the BWC “remains unclear” but that the activities prompting the concerns date from the Soviet period. “President [Boris] Yeltsin made some statements in 1992 about Russian compliance or, rather, the existence of a Russian offensive [biological weapons] program. There was a statement made at the time that some information would be provided about that program. That information has never been received,” she said.

Russia’s August report finds that Washington “continues to avoid establishing international control over its biological activities in any form,” a reference to the Bush administration’s opposition, later supported by the Obama administration, to adding a verification protocol to the BWC, experts say. The report alleges that U.S. research continues at the University of Pennsylvania on a synthetic smallpox virus despite a World Health Organization prohibition on such work. Also questionable, according to the report, are “threat assessment investigations” that, according to the report, have “intensified in recent years and are being justified on the grounds of the need to combat terrorism.” The U.S. biodefense program has spent roughly $50 billion since 2001, according to Western estimates, giving rise to international calls for greater transparency into U.S. activities in this area.

Russia, U.S. to Miss CWC Targets

The 2010 U.S. report states that Washington is “unable to ascertain” whether Russia’s CWC declaration is complete for weapons production and development facilities and weapons stockpiles (declared to be 40,000 metric tons) and whether Moscow is complying with treaty criteria for chemical weapons destruction and verification. The United States is concerned that Russia’s process for eliminating chemical agents is not irreversible and thus not adequate. Russia, with significant international assistance, has built chemical weapons destruction facilities at Gorny, Kambarka, Leonidovka, Maradykovsky, and Shchuch’ye, and two more are planned.

In March 2006, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague set an intermediate deadline of Dec. 31, 2009, for Russia to destroy 45 percent of its chemical weapons stocks, and the CWC sets a final deadline of April 29, 2012. Russia announced that it has met the 2009 deadline, but the OPCW announced in June that Russia will not meet the 2012 deadline and that Moscow had estimated it would complete the destruction by 2015. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) The United States previously announced that it also would not meet the 2012 deadline and has set 2021 as its new target date. The United States has destroyed more than 65 percent of its stockpile (declared to be 28,000 metric tons), according to the OPCW.

Rogelio Pfirter, outgoing director-general of the OPCW, said in June that the deadline slippage did not call into question the Russian or U.S. commitment to the CWC. The two countries “have consistently shown their resolve to abide by their commitments under the convention, and I for one have no doubt that they will continue to stay on track,” he said. Gottemoeller testified July 29 she was convinced that Russia was working to resolve CWC compliance concerns “by trying to reduce their stocks, as required by the convention.”

Moscow’s report states that U.S. law allows Washington to evade fulfilling the requirements of the CWC because the president can refuse inspections at U.S. chemical facilities and samples taken during inspections may be prohibited from leaving the country. Western experts have expressed similar concerns.

NPT Compliance Issues

The report also assesses the compliance of a number of countries with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). It finds that Iran “continues to be in violation of Article III,” which requires non-nuclear-weapon states to accept international safeguards on peaceful nuclear activities. It also says that “issues underlying” a finding in the 2005 report that Iran violated its Article II obligations not to seek nuclear weapons “remain unresolved.” In this regard, the recent report refers to past Iranian “weaponization” attempts, but does not say that such efforts continued during the report’s time frame.

The 2010 report repeats the conclusion of a 2007 NIE that Iran halted a nuclear weapons development program in the fall of 2003, stating, “Iran refuses to resolve concerns regarding its former nuclear weapons program.” Senior U.S. officials have said over the last several months that a new NIE on Iran’s nuclear program is underway.

In addition to Iran’s noncompliance, the 2010 report cites North Korea and Syria for noncompliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations. In particular, it notes that Pyongyang was in “material breach” of the NPT before it announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003. It states that Syria “was likely pursuing a non-peaceful nuclear program” in violation of the NPT with the construction of a reactor at Al Kibar. That reactor was destroyed by Israel on Sept. 6, 2007, before it became operational. (See ACT, October 2007.)

The report’s assessment of NPT compliance features a section on Myanmar (also known as Burma) that did not appear in prior reports. It indicates that, since May 2007, when Myanmar signed an agreement with Russia to receive a research reactor, Washington and other governments have “exchanged views” on the proliferation potential of such a development. Although the United States has not found Myanmar in violation of its NPT or International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards obligations, the report says “the United States is concerned about Burma’s interest in pursuing a nuclear program, including the possibility of cooperation with North Korea.”

The report also notes that, by September 1996, each of the five countries that the NPT designates as a nuclear-weapon state (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) had declared a nuclear testing moratorium and had signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the United States and China have yet to ratify. The report found no indications that any of these states engaged in activities inconsistent with its declared moratorium.

 

Adding a historical dimension to the Senate ratification debate on New START, the Department of State in July released a long-awaited report finding that Russia was in compliance with the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). That finding should reassure the Senate that Russia would comply with New START, a senior State Department official said in a July 28 interview.

Bushehr Fuel Loading Commences

Peter Crail

Following decades of construction delays, Russian and Iranian technicians began loading Russian-provided fuel for Iran’s first nuclear power reactor, at Bushehr, Aug. 21. The critical step kicks off the initial stages of the reactor’s operations, which are covered by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The reactor is scheduled to begin producing electricity in the coming months.

Iranian officials characterized the move as an act of defiance against Western pressure. “Resistance of the Iranian nation…led to the completion of the Bushehr power plant project,” said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Ali Akbar Salehi in an Aug. 21 ceremony marking the fuel loading.

Although the United States opposed Russia’s construction of the plant for many years, Washington dropped its opposition in 2005 after Moscow secured an agreement from Tehran to return the spent fuel from the reactor to Russia. (See ACT, April 2010.) The 2005 arrangement helped to address U.S. concerns that Iran might reprocess the spent fuel to produce plutonium for weapons.

Under normal operations, light-water reactors (LWRs) such as the Bushehr plant do not produce plutonium of a quality appropriate for nuclear weapons. The reactor operations can be adjusted to produce better-quality plutonium, but such activities would be detectable by IAEA inspectors because they would entail shutting down the reactor very early.

In order to separate plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel, Iran would need a reprocessing capability, which it is not known to have. Moreover, Iran is currently constructing a heavy-water reactor at Arak that is far more suited to weapons-grade plutonium production.

Since 2005, U.S. officials have characterized the Bushehr plant as a model for Iran’s nuclear program, highlighting that Tehran’s arrangement for fueling the plant means that Iran does not need to enrich its own uranium.

Russia’s support for Bushehr underscores that Iran does not need an indigenous enrichment capability if its intentions are purely peaceful,” Agence France-Presse quoted Department of State spokesman Darby Holladay as saying Aug. 21.

The Bushehr reactor operates on uranium fuel enriched to about 4 percent of the fissile isotope uranium-235, the same isotope that, in high concentrations, can be used in nuclear weapons.

Russia has agreed to fuel the reactor for at least 10 years, providing both the enrichment and the fuel fabrication. Iran clams that it is enriching uranium to ensure that the Bushehr plant, as well as other reactors it intends to construct, have long-term fuel supplies. The proprietary specifications for fabricating the Bushehr plant’s fuel are owned by the Russian state-owned nuclear conglomerate Rosatom. A Russian diplomat said in April 2009 that he doubted that Rosatom provided the specifications to Iran to make this fuel. (See ACT, May 2009.)

In an apparent attempt to address its inability to fabricate the Bushehr fuel itself, Iran has proposed a joint Iranian-Russian consortium do so in Iran. “We have made a proposal to Russia to create a consortium under Russian license to do part of the work in Russia and part in Iran,” Salehi told Tehran’s state-owned Press TV Aug. 26.

Responding to the fuel-loading process, Israel criticized Iran’s ability to benefit from nuclear energy while it shirked nonproliferation obligations. “It is totally unacceptable that a country that so blatantly violates resolutions of the Security Council, decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its commitments under the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] should enjoy the fruits of using nuclear energy,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said in an Aug. 21 statement.

All non-nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT must subject their nuclear activities to IAEA inspection and not seek nuclear weapons. A recent State Department report on compliance with international arms control agreements found Iran to be in noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards and to have been in violation of its NPT commitment not to seek nuclear weapons, at least in the past (see page 41).

Although UN Security Council sanctions prohibit the transfer of nuclear goods and technology to Iran, they allow exemptions for assistance related to LWRs. Russia sought the exemption to allow continued work on the Bushehr plant.

Complicated Construction History

Construction of the Bushehr plant has taken place on and off for the past 35 years, by two different countries, and under two different Iranian governments.

Germany’s Kraftwerk Union (KWU) began construction of two reactors at Bushehr in 1975 under commission by the shah. Following Iran’s 1979 revolution, the new Islamic government discontinued payments. The German firm then backed out of the contract, leaving the first reactor nearly completed and the second only partially built. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war prevented KWU from reviving the project during the 1980s, as the plant was repeatedly targeted by Iraqi air strikes.

After the end of its war with Iraq and in the midst of increasingly strained relations with the West, Iran sought new partners to finish the project. Moscow agreed to take over construction of the first reactor in 1992 with work beginning three years later, but this effort has suffered repeated delays.

Russian officials have publicly cited technical and financial reasons for the setbacks, but diplomatic sources have said that Moscow held up construction to place pressure on Iran over its nuclear program as well.

Russian officials now cite the start-up of the Bushehr plant as an example of Moscow’s good faith. “Physical launch of Bushehr nuclear plant confirms Russia lives up to its commitments,” said Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko during an Aug. 21 press briefing with Salehi.

Nuclear Negotiations to Restart

Meanwhile, U.S., European, and Iranian officials have said that negotiations on the nuclear issue are set to resume this fall. Such talks, officials say, will be pursued on two tracks. One track entails broad discussions on Iran’s nuclear program between Tehran and the so-called P5+1—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany. The other track addresses a fuel-swap arrangement, proposed last year by the United States, which would send a portion of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile out of the country in return for fuel for a medical reactor. (See ACT, November 2009.)

Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin told reporters Aug. 3 that “useful exchanges” are taking place to restart talks and that “both tracks have promise in bringing about a diplomatic and political solution.”

According to recent press reports, President Barack Obama told a group of reporters Aug. 4 that following the recent series of sanctions Washington has pursued over the last several months, the United States would renew its diplomatic engagement with Iran. “It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons,” he said, according to the The New York Times.

Iran has signaled its readiness for the dual-track discussions. “We are ready for both talks, and as soon as we receive the final details from the other side, such as the date and venue, we will start,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters Aug. 24.

However, Tehran has repeatedly given mixed signals on a key issue in the fuel-swap discussions: Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20 percent. The P5+1 has insisted that Iran must halt the production of 20 percent uranium, which is closer to weapons-grade enrichment, as part of any fuel-swap deal.

The Iranian parliament approved a bill July 18 urging the government to continue 20 percent enrichment. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted Aug. 20 in an interview with Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper as saying, “We promise to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity if we are ensured fuel supply” for the medical reactor.

 

Following decades of construction delays, Russian and Iranian technicians began loading Russian-provided fuel for Iran’s first nuclear power reactor, at Bushehr, Aug. 21. The critical step kicks off the initial stages of the reactor’s operations, which are covered by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The reactor is scheduled to begin producing electricity in the coming months.

Global Sanctions on Iran Intensify

Peter Crail and Matt Sugrue

Following on the heels of a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran in June, several countries, led by the United States, have adopted their own national penalties to place additional pressure on Tehran. Many of these punitive actions go beyond the nuclear- and missile-related sanctions required by the United Nations and are intended to have a broader impact on Iran’s economy (see table 1).

The most significant of those national steps was wide-ranging U.S. legislation primarily aimed at penalizing foreign firms that provide refined petroleum to Iran. The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, which was signed into law July 1, followed more than a year of congressional efforts to augment existing U.S. law sanctioning foreign companies that invest in Iran’s oil and gas sector. During the time in which Congress considered those sanctions, a number of foreign firms agreed voluntarily to restrict business dealings with Iran’s oil and gas sector, thereby avoiding U.S. penalties.

In another critical move the same month, the European Union, Iran’s largest trading partner, adopted a wide variety of sanctions affecting the trade, energy investment, and financial relationships between the bloc’s 27 countries and Iran, as well as implementing the latest UN penalties against Iran’s proliferation activities.

A number of other countries, including Australia, Canada, and Norway, similarly went beyond the requirements of the UN sanctions in June and July and restricted investment with Iran’s oil and gas sector, in line with U.S. and EU sanctions. On Aug. 3, Japan approved measures to implement the UN sanctions and indicated that it would consider further measures.

The Obama administration insists that its efforts to convince private firms abroad not to invest in Iran’s oil and gas sectors have garnered success and are poised to impact Iran’s economy. According to an Aug. 5 White House summary of the recent sanctions, Washington has “convinced a significant number of companies” to reduce their energy investment in Iran, adding that “[b]ecause the Iranian economy depends so heavily on oil revenues, this will adversely impact Iran’s long term economic situation.”

U.S. lawmakers also have touted the impact of the sanctions. In an Aug. 3 statement, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), co-sponsors of the House sanctions bill, said the U.S. law “has already had a significant impact on Iran’s access to international markets and its ability to acquire refined petroleum.”

Congress Strengthens Iran Sanctions

The U.S. sanctions legislation was adopted by a 99-0 vote in the Senate June 24 and a 408-8 vote in the House later the same day. The House adopted its version of the bill in December and the Senate in March, but the two versions of the legislation contained key differences that had to be reconciled in a conference committee. (See ACT, April 2010.) The June vote was on the text that the conference committee had worked out.

The legislation amends the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which requires the president to sanction foreign firms found to have invested more than $20 million in Iran’s oil and gas sector in a given year. Iran’s oil exports account for about one-half of its government revenues. In addition to targeting oil and gas investments, the new law levies sanctions against foreign firms that provide Iran with refined petroleum products or help Tehran develop its refining capacity.

Iran, which currently imports 30 to 40 percent of its gasoline due to limited refining capacity, has been working to expand its domestic refining capacity to reduce its import needs.

Beyond the petroleum sanctions, the new law includes a variety of measures to restrict trade and investment in Iran. These measures include extending the Iran Sanctions Act restrictions to U.S. firms whose subsidiaries violate that law; codifying Department of the Treasury asset freezes and trade bans against Iran; and prohibiting U.S. government contracts with firms that export sensitive communications monitoring and jamming equipment to Iran.

The new law extends the Iran Sanctions Act to December 2016. It was previously set to expire in December of next year.

In floor statements during the vote, proponents of the legislation characterized it as the strongest sanctions Congress has passed on Iran. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that foreign firms would need to choose: “Do you want to do business with Iran, or do you want to do business with the United States?”

Berman said he did not know if the sanctions would bring Iran’s leadership “to its senses,” adding, “But I do know this: doing nothing certainly won’t work.”

The opposition to the legislation, comprising six Democrats and two Republicans, cited concerns that the measure would harm the Iranian people, which the United States says it supports, while benefiting the Iranian leadership. “Not one member of the Iranian elite will lack for gasoline while ordinary Iranians will go without,” Rep. Earl  Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said during the House vote.

Enforcement Versus Flexibility

Even as lawmakers touted the strength of the sanctions legislation, many stressed that the sanctions depend on the administration’s willingness to punish violators. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said during the Senate vote, “It is only from full implementation of this law and pressure from the international community that Iran may be dissuaded from this course.”

One of the most contentious aspects of the legislation was an effort by Congress to require the administration to cite companies that violate the law. Since the 1996 law was passed, U.S. administrations have opted not to cite potential violators, thereby avoiding the need either to sanction them and potentially harm U.S. diplomatic and trade relations or waive the sanctions and come under political pressure from Congress. In 1998, President Bill Clinton waived the sanctions for the only project determined to have been in violation of the law, a $2 billion contract by the French energy conglomerate Total and partners Gazprom of Russia and Petronas of Malaysia.

Citing ongoing efforts to secure a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran, the administration sought to exempt countries cooperating with U.S. efforts in Iran from the sanctions legislation. Key lawmakers balked at the request, but when efforts to adopt a new UN resolution entered their final stages in May, Congress postponed finalizing the legislation until the UN and follow-up EU actions made progress. (See ACT, June 2010.) The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1929 on June 9, and EU leaders outlined steps the bloc would take to extend sanctions on Iran June 17. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

The new law requires that the administration investigate any companies believed to be in violation of the energy sanctions and report them to Congress. Also, it limits the waiver to 12 months, rather than allowing it to be in effect indefinitely, and stipulates that the president must report on what the country is doing to assist in efforts to address Iran’s illicit activities to provide justification for the waiver. “The waiver has the name-and-shame effect and a political cost for the White House,” Berman said in his June 24 floor statement.

President Barack Obama’s July 1 signing statement for the legislation also highlighted the waiver provision. Noting that the law provides “new authority” to address the issue of states cooperating in multilateral efforts on Iran, he said, “The Act appropriately provides this special authority to waive the application of petroleum-related sanctions provisions to a person from such a closely cooperating country, out of recognition for the key role such a country plays in ongoing multilateral efforts to constrain Iran.”

It is not the first time that Congress has sought to limit presidential waiver authority regarding the 1996 law, and numerous bills to that effect have been introduced in Congress over the past several years. In 2007, for example, legislation adopted by the House removed the waiver provision from the Iran Sanctions Act. (See ACT, November 2007.) The Senate never voted on a similar measure.

In order to stress sanctions enforcement, Berman and Ros-Lehtinen announced the creation of a bipartisan working group on sanctions implementation, outlining in an Aug. 3 statement that the group would help ensure that the sanctions were “fully implemented” and “effectively enforced.” The lawmakers indicated that the House Foreign Affairs Committee would hold hearings on the sanctions in the fall.

The working group will be focused primarily on efforts to implement the refined petroleum sanctions provisions of the legislation, a House staffer said in an Aug. 3 interview.

EU Adopts Sanctions

Meanwhile, the EU agreed July 26 on “a comprehensive and robust package of measures in the areas of trade, financial services, energy, [and] transport, as well as additional designations for [a] visa ban and asset freeze,” according to a statement by the bloc’s foreign ministers.

The measures closely align with the sanctions required by Resolution 1929, as well as the new U.S. energy-related sanctions.

European officials claim that Iran can obtain certain kinds of equipment and technology required for its oil and gas development only from Europe, and although Tehran can seek alternatives for other technologies in other countries, it would prefer the European imports it has traditionally used in these other areas as well. Likewise, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Mark Fitzpatrick told The New York Times July 26 that, “over the long term Iran’s output of oil and gas will continue to decline without European technology.”

In the past, the EU has adopted more stringent sanctions on Iran than those required by UN Security Council resolutions, but those sanctions have been aimed primarily at Iran’s proliferation-related activities, avoiding steps that would penalize regular commercial activity. Moreover, the EU has been wary of the possibility of falling under Iran Sanctions Act penalties due to the extensive business relations between European firms and Iran’s energy sector, threatening to bring the matter before the World Trade Organization in 1997 as an extraterritorial application of U.S. law.

In February, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reminding her of a 1998 agreement between the United States and the EU in which Washington pledged not to sanction European firms under the Iran Sanctions Act in return for increased EU cooperation addressing proliferation concerns about Iran.

Over the past several years, however, some European countries, in particular France and Germany, have warned their firms and financial institutions against continuing to do business with Iran. This effort has led many major European firms and banks to restrict their dealings with Iran voluntarily or abandon them altogether.

Yet, European officials and companies are wary of the cost of such efforts to reduce the bloc’s trading relationship with Iran because other countries, particularly China, might replace such lucrative trade. In recent years, China has surpassed Germany as Iran’s top national trading partner as German firms pulled out of Iran.

Recognizing these concerns, U.S. officials have indicated that Washington is seeking to address the issue directly with Beijing. Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Robert Einhorn, who coordinates U.S. nonproliferation sanctions efforts on Iran and North Korea, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform July 29, “China has backfilled when a number of responsible countries have distanced themselves from Iran.” The U.S. government has “begun to raise this at the highest levels with Chinese leaders,” he said.

Table 1: Recent Iran Sanctions

Key provisions of recent UN, U.S., and EU sanctions against Iran are outlined below. Where appropriate, this list incorporates sanctions previously adopted by the three bodies that have been updated, revised, or otherwise augmented by the recent actions. Although the EU action was intended to implement the new UN sanctions, the U.S. sanctions were not directly related to the UN action, and other U.S. mechanisms are used to carry out UN sanctions mandates.

UN Security Council Resolution 1929 U.S. Iran Sanctions Act

July 26, 2010, European Council Decision

Financial Restrictions
Banking

Calls on states to “take appropriate measures” to prohibit Iranian banks from opening new branches or offices in their territory and conducting business with their own financial institutions if such activities might contribute to Iran’s “proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities” or its missile program.

Calls on states to take appropriate measures to prevent their banks from opening branches or offices in Iran if doing so may contribute to Iranian proliferation.

Prohibits U.S. entities owned or controlled by U.S. financial institutions from doing business with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or other proscribed entities.

Prohibits or restricts the holding of U.S. accounts by foreign banks that facilitate proliferation- and terrorism-related activities by Iran or provide significant financial services for the IRGC and its affiliates.

Requires U.S. banks holding accounts for foreign banks to monitor for prohibited activities.

Urges the president to sanction the Central Bank of Iran and other banks connected to Iran’s nuclear program.

Prohibits “new commitments for grants, financial assistance and concessional loans” for the Iranian government (except for humanitarian assistance).

Prohibits Iranian banks from opening new branches or offices in the EU and EU banks from opening new offices in Iran.

Requires increased monitoring of financial activities with Iranian banks.

Requires that any money transfers of more than 40,000 euros have prior authorization and that transfers of more than 10,000 euros be reported to the proper authorities.

Assets Freeze Requires that states freeze the assets of 118 persons and entities associated with Tehran’s nuclear program or its ballistic missile program, as well as select IRGC members and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) entities.

Freezes the assets of persons and entities associated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and international terrorism.

Separate Department of the Treasury sanctions freeze the assets of 245 persons and entities associated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

Freezes the assets of a list of 246 persons and entities that are identified in UN Security Council resolutions on Iran, associated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, or affiliated with IRISL or are senior members and entities of the IRGC.
Trade No restrictions.

Codifies long-standing executive orders imposing a U.S. trade embargo on Iran.

Bans U.S. government contracts with firms that provide Iran with equipment and technology to monitor or censor Internet usage.

Requires restraint in entering new short-term commitments for public and private trade support, including granting export credits, guarantees or insurance, and prohibits similar medium and long-term commitments.
Oil and Gas Sector Restrictions
Refined Petroleum

No restrictions.

The resolution’s preamble notes “the potential connection between revenues derived from Iran’s energy sector and the funding of its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities” as well as the similarity between petrochemical materials and equipment and those of certain sensitive fuel-cycle activities. At the same time, the council acknowledges that access to various forms of energy is necessary for economic development.

Imposes sanctions on foreign firms providing Iran with $5 million in refined petroleum exports or assistance in the development of Iran’s petroleum refining capacity in a given year. Prohibits the transfer of petroleum refining equipment or technology to Iran.
Trade and Investment

Imposes sanctions on foreign firms that invest $20 million in Iran’s oil and gas sector in a given year.

Requires foreign firms seeking U.S. government contracts to certify that they are not engaged in sanctionable activities in Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Allows states legally to divest from firms that invest $20 million in Iran’s oil and gas sector in a given year.

Prohibits the transfer of oil and gas equipment and technology to Iran related to liquefied natural gas exploration and production.

Prohibits granting loans to or creating joint enterprises with Iranian oil and gas industries or acquiring the shares in such firms.

Prohibits technical and financial assistance and services to Iranian oil and gas industries.

Strategic Trade Controls
Nuclear and Missile Technology

Requires states to prohibit the transfer of nuclear- and missile-related goods and technology subject to multilateral export control guidelines as well as technical, financial, or brokering assistance related to such goods and technologies, to Iran. Such goods and technologies intended for use in light-water reactors may be exempt.

Requires states to prohibit Iranian nationals and entities from investing in commercial activity in their territory involving uranium mining or the use or production of nuclear materials and technology, particularly uranium enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, and heavy-water-related work, as well as ballistic missile technology.

Restricts the export of U.S. goods and technology that could contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs to a country identified as allowing such U.S.-origin goods to be diverted to Iran.

Prohibits nuclear cooperation with a country whose nationals or entities contribute to Iran’s nuclear or missile programs unless that country was unaware of the assistance or has taken steps to counteract such activity.

Prohibits the transfer of nuclear- and missile-related goods and technology subject to multilateral export control guidelines as well as technical, financial, or brokering assistance related to such goods and technologies, to Iran. Such goods and technologies intended for use in light-water reactors “begun before December 2006” may be exempt.

Prohibits Iranian nationals and entities from investing in commercial activity in EU member states involving uranium mining or the use or production of nuclear materials and technology, particularly uranium enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, and heavy-water-related work, as well as ballistic missile technology.

Conventional Arms Bans the sale or transfer of “battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems...or related materials or spare parts” to Iran, as well as related training and assistance. Restricts the export of U.S. military items to countries identified as allowing the diversion of U.S.-origin military goods to Iran. Prohibits the transfer of “arms and related materiel of all types” to Iran, except for armored noncombat vehicles intended solely for use by EU and member state personnel.
Shipping

Calls on states to inspect vessels in their jurisdiction suspected of transporting items to or from Iran that are prohibited by relevant UN resolutions and notes that states can request to do so on the high seas, consistent with international law.

Prohibits the provision of bunkering services, such as servicing or fueling vessels, to Iranian-owned or contracted vessels believed to be carrying items prohibited by relevant UN resolutions.

Addressed by other U.S. laws and sanctions.

Requires states to inspect cargo transported to or from Iran believed to contain items prohibited by the EU decision.

Prohibits the provision of bunkering services, such as servicing or fueling vessels, to Iranian-owned or -contracted vessels believed to be carrying items prohibited by the EU decision.

Provides for the request of ship inspections on the high seas, consistent with international law, of vessels believed to contain items prohibited by the EU decision.

Travel Requires that states ban the entry of certain listed persons due to their association with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs or other proliferation-related activities, as well as senior IRGC members. Imposes travel restrictions on IRGC members and those who provide IRGC members with financial or material support. Bans entry by certain listed persons due to their association with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs or other proliferation-related activities, as well as senior IRGC members.
Sources: UN Security Council Resolution 1929; the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010; EU Council Decision of July 26, 2010, concerning restrictive measures against Iran and repealing Common Position 2007/140/CFSP.

Following on the heels of a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran in June, several countries, led by the United States, have adopted their own national penalties to place additional pressure on Tehran. Many of these punitive actions go beyond the nuclear- and missile-related sanctions required by the United Nations and are intended to have a broader impact on Iran’s economy.

Report Alleges Secret Myanmar Nuclear Work

Peter Crail

Myanmar (Burma) has been carrying out rudimentary steps toward developing nuclear weapons, a documentary released in June by an opposition group alleges. The documentary by the Democratic Voice of Burma featured information provided by Sai Thein Win, a former officer in the Myanmar army. Win claimed to have been deputy manager of special machine tool factories involved in Myanmar’s secret nuclear weapons efforts and ballistic missile development program.

The opposition group also issued a corresponding report June 3 featuring an analysis of Win’s information by former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector Robert Kelley. Kelley claimed in the report that, taken collectively, the technology featured in Win’s information “is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power.”

Much of the information is based on photographs Win provided, which depict machining tools and machined products produced at two factories believed to be housing key elements of Myanmar’s nuclear and missile programs. Although the tools and machined products were dual use in nature, according to Kelley, many could be used as part of a uranium-enrichment program. Even if they were used for that purpose, the report suggested that Myanmar’s nuclear efforts are at the very early stages, and its capacity to complete such a program is uncertain.

The report and documentary do not indicate any ties between North Korea and Myanmar’s suspected nuclear efforts; however, they do indicate North Korean assistance on ballistic missile development.

Media reports regarding suspicions of Myanmar nuclear activities led Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who has advocated diplomatic engagement with the country’s military junta, to cancel a scheduled June visit to the country. He said in a June 3 press statement that it would be “unwise and potentially counterproductive” to go there in light of allegations of proliferation activities by Myanmar. He added, however, that “[i]t is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit.”

Webb noted that Myanmar was suspected also of violating UN proliferation sanctions against North Korea.

In May 11 remarks to the press in Yangon (Rangoon), U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said that contrary to the Myanmar government’s pledge to uphold the sanctions on North Korea, “recent developments call that commitment into question.” He did not elaborate on what those developments were.

He added, “I have asked the Burmese leadership to work with the United States and others to put into place a transparent process to assure the international community that Burma is abiding by its international commitments.”

Although Myanmar has a comprehensive safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA, it has adopted a small quantities protocol, which holds in abeyance much of the agency’s inspection authority.

Traditionally, countries with little or no nuclear activity may adopt a small quantities protocol as long as their nuclear material holdings do not exceed certain thresholds. In September 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors approved modifications to such protocols to correct what the board believed was “a weakness of the safeguards system.”

The modifications provide for safeguards inspections and require early reporting on decisions to construct nuclear facilities. The final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference encouraged all states with small quantities protocols “to amend or rescind them, as appropriate, as soon as possible.”

According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper June 18, the IAEA wrote a letter to Myanmar’s permanent representative to the agency, Tin Win, June 14 raising questions about media reports of undeclared nuclear activities in the country. The newspaper report said that Win responded in a letter stating that “no activity related to uranium conversion, enrichment, reactor construction or operation has been carried out in the past, is ongoing or is planned for the future in Myanmar.”

Myanmar is also a member of the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, a binding arrangement among 10 countries in the region that committed not to develop nuclear weapons or allow such weapons in the region.

The Treaty of Bangkok, which establishes the zone, allows the states of the region to request statements of clarification or conduct fact-finding missions if they suspect a member state has violated the accord.

 

Myanmar (Burma) has been carrying out rudimentary steps toward developing nuclear weapons, a documentary released in June by an opposition group alleges. The documentary by the Democratic Voice of Burma featured information provided by Sai Thein Win, a former officer in the Myanmar army. Win claimed to have been deputy manager of special machine tool factories involved in Myanmar’s secret nuclear weapons efforts and ballistic missile development program.

Iranian Fuel Swap Still Up for Discussion

Peter Crail

Iran remains open to talks with France, Russia, and the United States on a proposed nuclear fuel deal but is delaying the negotiations in response to international sanctions, Iranian officials said in June. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a June 28 press conference in Tehran that Iran would not hold talks prior to late August as “punishment” for imposing sanctions.

The UN Security Council adopted a fourth round of sanctions against Iran June 9.

Iran also said that it was preparing a response to a June 9 letter that the three countries, known as the Vienna Group, submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) outlining concerns with a nuclear fuel swap declaration by Brazil, Iran, and Turkey. (See ACT, June 2010.)

The May 17 declaration, signed in Tehran, lays out an arrangement mirroring a deal proposed by the Vienna Group to Iran last fall wherein Iran would relinquish 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in return for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.

In a June 17 interview with Iran’s state-run Press TV, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) chief Ali Akbar Salehi appeared upbeat about the prospects for dialogue. “I’m optimistic that the Tehran declaration will eventually open the way for a just and fair dialogue and negotiation with the Vienna Group,” he said.

Salehi dismissed the sanctions as “face-saving measures,” suggesting they would not impede negotiations.

Ahmadinejad had previously suggested Iran would not be willing to negotiate if sanctions were adopted, telling reporters in Istanbul June 8, “The U.S. government and its allies are so mistaken that if they think they can brandish the stick of resolution and then sit down to talk with us, such a thing will not happen.”

The five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany have also signaled their readiness to hold negotiations. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, told reporters June 14 that she invited Iran for talks on the nuclear issue on behalf of the six countries.

Although they compared the May 17 proposal unfavorably to the Vienna Group’s original version, U.S. officials have suggested it could be salvaged. U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Glyn Davies told the agency’s Board of Governors June 9, “We still think the [Tehran Research Reactor] proposal, if Iran implemented it in a way that addressed the international community’s concerns, would be a positive step.”

The Vienna Group responded with skepticism to the declaration. U.S. officials said they believed Tehran was only seeking to avoid UN sanctions.

Hours before the sanctions were adopted, the group delivered a letter to the IAEA detailing nine specific concerns they had with the declaration. The concerns included Iran’s continued production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which the declaration did not address, and Iran’s doubling of its LEU stockpile since the group’s initial proposal last October. That LEU is enriched to less than 5 percent.

In February, Iran began producing 20 percent-enriched uranium, the level required for the Tehran reactor, although it does not have the ability to make the fuel plates for the plant. Following the May 17 declaration, Iranian officials said that Iran would continue such production, which puts the material closer to weapons-grade levels, even if the deal to receive the fuel from abroad were concluded.

In addition, although Iran would turn over 1,200 kilograms of its LEU as part of the fuel exchange, according to a May 31 IAEA report, Iran had accumulated an estimated 2,427 kilograms of LEU as of May 1. When the fuel swap was first proposed in October, it would have accounted for about 75 percent of Iran’s LEU stockpile. (See ACT, November 2009.)

New Medical Reactors

Potentially complicating any discussions over the fuel swap is Iran’s recent announcement that it would begin the construction of additional medical research reactors operating on 20 percent-enriched uranium fuel. Salehi said during his June 17 interview that Iran has begun to design the first of the new reactors, which he expected to be ready for operations in four to five years. Although UN sanctions prohibit Iran from importing nuclear technologies, such a reactor could fall under the exception for specific goods designated for light-water reactors.

Such imports would need first to be approved by the UN committee overseeing the Iran sanctions.

He indicated that the plant would be similar to the Tehran reactor and require the same fuel plates, although it would be more powerful, running between 10 and 20 megawatts rather than the Tehran reactor’s five megawatts.

Salehi said during a radiomedicine conference in Tehran June 16 that the reactors would produce medical isotopes both for consumption in Iran and for export “to regional and Islamic countries.”

If Iran moved ahead with plans to construct additional reactors operating on 20 percent-enriched fuel, it might continue enriching uranium to that level, a key sticking point raised by the Vienna Group over the declaration.

The May IAEA report said that Iran was preparing to expand its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, having installed a second 164-centrifuge cascade for that purpose at its pilot enrichment facility.

But Iran does not yet have the capability to manufacture the fuel plates for the Tehran reactor out of the 20 percent-enriched uranium. The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted Salehi June 16 as saying that Iran “has acquired the know-how” to do so and expected to produce an initial batch of fuel by September of next year.

It does not yet appear that Iran has carried out substantial work on making such fuel plates. The IAEA’s May report indicated that Iran had not yet installed new process equipment to produce nuclear fuel rods or pellets at its Fuel Manufacturing Plant at Isfahan since May 2009.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials have suggested that Iran is reversing plans to terminate the operations of the Tehran reactor once a heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak is completed. The Arak reactor is also intended to produce radioisotopes, including for medicine. Salehi said June 17 that the Tehran reactor could be operated “for another 20 years.” However, his predecessor, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, told ISNA in 2006, “Tehran’s reactor will be turned off by the time that Arak’s reactor is started up.” (See ACT, March 2010.)

Construction on the Arak reactor is expected to be completed in 2011, with the reactor beginning operations in 2013. The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran halt construction because the reactor can produce up to two bombs’ worth of plutonium in its spent fuel each year.

 

Iran remains open to talks with France, Russia, and the United States on a proposed nuclear fuel deal but is delaying the negotiations in response to international sanctions, Iranian officials said in June. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a June 28 press conference in Tehran that Iran would not hold talks prior to late August as “punishment” for imposing sanctions.

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