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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Peter Crail

UN Enhances Iran Sanctions

Peter Crail

After a months-long push by the United States and its allies to expand penalties against Iran over its nuclear program, the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran June 9. Resolution 1929 includes a range of mandatory restrictions aimed primarily at persons and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, but it also calls for additional measures against financial, shipping, and other activities that may contribute to Iran’s proliferation.

Of the council’s 15 members, 12 voted in favor of the resolution, including all of its permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Brazil and Turkey, which had been engaged in a diplomatic effort to restart major-power negotiations with Iran, opposed the measure. It was the first time council members had voted against sanctions on Iran.

Lebanon abstained, stating following the vote that it had not “reached a final position” regarding the issue. A Lebanese Council of Ministers poll the day of the UN action to determine Beirut’s vote concluded in a 14-14 split.

In separate statements just prior to the vote, Brazil and Turkey expressed concern that insufficient time had been given to pursue a preliminary agreement they had reached with Iran the preceding month.

On May 17, the two countries inked a declaration with Iran in which Tehran agreed to a nuclear fuel swap arrangement that mirrored a proposal last fall by France, Russia, and the United States, the so-called Vienna Group. (See ACT, June 2010.) In particular, Brazil and Turkey criticized the Vienna Group for providing a formal response to the declaration only hours before the council vote.

“The fact that the response was of a negative nature and that it was sent on the day of the adoption of the draft resolution on sanctions had a determining effect on our position,” Ertugrul Apakan, Turkey’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told the council. He noted, however, that Ankara’s vote against the measure “should not be construed as reflecting indifference to the problems emanating from Iran’s nuclear program.”

In their statements following the vote, France, Russia, and the United States each welcomed the Brazilian-Turkish diplomatic efforts, expressing their intent to continue discussing the fuel swap proposal. Nevertheless, the three countries made a distinction between that proposal and broader issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice said the fuel swap “does not respond to the fundamental, well-founded, and unanswered concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” adding, “Today’s resolution does.”

New Restrictions on Iran

Resolution 1929 reiterates the council’s demand, first made in July 2006, that Iran suspend all uranium-enrichment-related and spent fuel reprocessing activities and halt the construction of its heavy-water reactor. It is the sixth resolution by the council calling on Iran to do so. (Two of the resolutions did not impose sanctions.) Tehran has consistently ruled out such an action.

In addition, the new resolution requires that Iran implement a provision of its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement, so-called modified Code 3.1, which requires that Tehran provide the agency with design information on all nuclear facilities it intends to construct as soon as the decision has been made to do so.

Iran signed on to the modified Code 3.1 in 2003, but in response to the adoption of Resolution 1747 in March 2007 imposing the UN’s second set of sanctions, declared that it would revert to an older version of the provision that required handing over design information to the IAEA only six months prior to the introduction of nuclear material. Tehran claims that, by reverting to the older code, it does not need to provide the agency with access to additional enrichment facilities, such as one revealed last year near the city of Qom, or its heavy-water reactor at Arak, until they are nearer to completion.

The IAEA maintains and Resolution 1929 notes, however, that a country cannot unilaterally suspend any provisions of its IAEA safeguards agreement.

For the first time, the council prohibited Iran from carrying out any activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The resolution also requires that states “take all necessary measures” to prevent Iran from acquiring technology related to such capabilities.

Previous resolutions only required that Tehran not import key missile-related technologies and that states not export such technologies to Iran.

Intensified Sanctions

As in the case of the previous three sets of sanctions, Resolution 1929 imposes asset freezes, travel bans, and financial restrictions on individuals and entities believed to be involved in Iran’s proliferation-related activities. The resolution’s blacklist includes one individual, Javad Rahiqi, who heads Iran’s IsfahanNuclearTechnologyCenter, and a total of 40 organizations, many of which already fall under U.S. sanctions.

The organizations targeted by the sanctions include 22 firms that are directly involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities. Another 15 entities are owned by, controlled by, or acting on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a political-military organization overseeing Iran’s nonconventional weapons programs and holding increasing sway in Iran’s leadership. A final three are entities owned or controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), a shipping firm cited in a 2008 UN sanctions resolution on Iran for suspicions of transporting proliferation-related goods.

Since 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has placed restrictions on IRISL, its affiliates, and more than 100 specific vessels operated by the firm, prohibiting U.S. nationals from any transactions with them.

Furthermore, the new resolution imposes an arms embargo on Iran covering most major combat systems, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters. States are prohibited from supplying Iran with not only the systems themselves, but also related technical training, spare parts, and other services. The provisions strengthen a prior call in Resolution 1747 for states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” regarding the supply of such military items to Tehran.

Many of Iran’s U.S.-supplied military systems acquired before the 1979 Iranian Revolution have suffered from a lack of spare parts and maintenance due to U.S. sanctions. The embargo could have a similar impact on the military systems Iran has imported from other countries since that time, particularly Russia and China.

Beyond the mandatory restrictions on specific Iranian entities, the resolution includes a number of provisions that call for additional actions against Iranian entities suspected of contributing to proliferation. For example, it calls on states to take “appropriate measures” to prevent their financial institutions from engaging in transactions that might contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.

Resolution 1929 also expands the enforcement mechanisms endorsed in prior sanctions. Whereas the last set of sanctions, adopted in March 2008, called on states to inspect cargo carried by IRISL and another firm, Iran Air Cargo, if the cargo is suspected of containing illicit goods, Resolution 1929 calls on states to inspect any such suspicious cargo in their jurisdiction going to or from Iran. States are further required to withhold bunkering services, such as refueling, from Iranian-owned or -contracted vessels on the basis of such suspicions.

Moreover, the resolution notes that such inspections could occur on the high seas by request and with the permission of the vessel’s flag state.

In order to support the work of a UN committee established by the first Iran sanctions resolution in December 2006, the new resolution calls for the creation of a group of up to eight experts to evaluate the implementation of the sanctions and provide recommendations to strengthen them.

Many of the new provisions are similar to steps taken by the Security Council against North Korea in 2006 and 2009 in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear tests conducted in those years. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) Those sanctions included an arms embargo, calls to inspect ships suspected of carrying contraband to and from North Korea, a denial of bunkering services to suspicious North Korean vessels, and restrictions on financial transactions with North Korea that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs.

Pending EU Action

Following adoption of the UN measure, the European Union began taking steps to adopt its own set of sanctions that would go beyond those in Resolution 1929. During a June 17 EU summit, European leaders agreed on a statement outlining the punitive steps the bloc would take. Those steps included trade restrictions particularly focused on dual-use goods, financial sanctions against additional Iranian banking and insurance activities, and visa bans and asset freezes targeting the IRGC.

The EU also indicated that it would adopt restrictions against “key sectors of [Iran’s] gas and oil industry with prohibition of new investment.”

The specific measures must still be worked out and formally agreed by the EU foreign ministers when they meet July 26.

Over the last several months, U.S. officials have said frequently that one of the aims of the UN sanctions process was to provide a legal basis for its allies, particularly in Europe, to adopt their own stringent measures against Iran. (See ACT, May 2010 .)

In May the U.S. Congress postponed its consideration of sanctions aimed at companies doing business with Iran’s energy sector, which were poised to target European firms, until the EU took its own steps. (See ACT, June 2010.) The Obama administration has sought exemptions from those sanctions for countries cooperating with efforts to place pressure on Iran.

Iranian Response

Iran responded harshly to the sanctions and threatened to curtail cooperation with the IAEA. On June 21, Iran announced it was barring two IAEA inspectors from further visits to Iran on charges of authoring “a false report” about Iran’s nuclear program.

Tehran has criticized a May 31 IAEA report that said an electrochemical cell, used for removing impurities from uranium metal, had been removed from the Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory prior to an April 14 inspection. Iranian officials claimed no equipment was removed.

According to a February IAEA report, Iran had told the agency that it was using the equipment to carry out pyroprocessing research and development to study the electrochemical production of uranium metal. Siegfried Hecker, former head of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in February that such work should be of concern, noting its possible relation to nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2010.)

It is not the first time that Iran has barred particular inspectors from visiting the country. Following the adoption of Resolution 1747 in 2007, Iran banned 38 IAEA inspectors from taking part in the agency’s safeguards activities in the country.

A June 21 statement by IAEA spokesman Greg Webb said that the IAEA had received Iran’s objection to the two inspectors and that the agency “has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned.” The statement also said that the IAEA “confirms that its report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran, issued on 31 May 2010, is fully accurate.”

 

After a months-long push by the United States and its allies to expand penalties against Iran over its nuclear program, the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran June 9. Resolution 1929 includes a range of mandatory restrictions aimed primarily at persons and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, but it also calls for additional measures against financial, shipping, and other activities that may contribute to Iran’s proliferation.

South Korea Charges North in Ship Sinking

Peter Crail

South Korea formally accused North Korea May 20 of torpedoing a patrol vessel in March, the latest step in the fallout from an incident that has increased tensions between the two countries and further worsened the near-term prospects for restarting multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Those six-way talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, have taken place intermittently since 2003. The most recent round ended in April 2009. (See ACT, May 2009.)

Following the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, Seoul and Washington abandoned efforts to bring Pyongyang back to the talks while suspicions of North Korea’s role in the sinking were assessed. (See ACT, May 2010.) The South Korean accusation follows a nearly two-month-long multinational investigation into the March 26 sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan.

During a May 20 press briefing, the team of investigators from Australia, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States pointed in particular to torpedo parts recovered from the Yellow Sea that they said matched a type used by the North Korean military. The team issued a report on the incident the same day that said “the evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told reporters April 19 that the six-party talks “would not be possible for some time” if clear evidence emerged that North Korea was responsible for the sinking.

Similarly, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirofumi Hirano, told reporters May 20, “It would be difficult to have the six-party talks if the situation stays as it is now.”

North Korea has denied the charge, claiming in a May 20 statement carried by its state media that it would react to any punishment “with various forms of tough measures.”

The White House issued a statement May 20 declaring the attack to constitute “a challenge to international peace and security” and “a violation of the [1953] Armistice Agreement.” That agreement imposed an end to hostilities during the Korean War, but there is no peace treaty officially ending the conflict.

The investigation’s impact on the potential resumption of nuclear disarmament talks appears to have overshadowed suggestions that Pyongyang might be willing to return to them. China’s official Xinhua news agency said May 7 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Chinese President Hu Jintao during a May 3-7 visit that Pyongyang “will work with China to create favorable conditions for restarting the six-party talks.” It was Kim’s first foreign visit in four years. North Korea has insisted that progress on replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace process is necessary before it returns to multilateral talks, while the United States and its allies maintain that Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament must come first.

 

South Korea formally accused North Korea May 20 of torpedoing a patrol vessel in March, the latest step in the fallout from an incident that has increased tensions between the two countries and further worsened the near-term prospects for restarting multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Congress Delays Iran Sanctions

Peter Crail and Matt Sugrue

In a nod to long-standing Obama administration requests, Congress will delay finalizing sanctions legislation on Iran while the UN Security Council considers its own draft sanctions resolution, the two lead sponsors of the legislation said in a May 25 press release. “[W]ith the progress in negotiations at the Security Council, we believe that our overriding goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is best served by providing a limited amount of time for those efforts—and expected follow-on action by the EU [European Union] at its mid-June summit—to reach a successful conclusion before we send our bill to the President,” said the statement by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).

The administration has expressed concern that the pending legislation might harm diplomatic initiatives to mount international pressure on Iran because the bills may require sanctioning U.S. allies as well as China and Russia.

A key component in both congressional bills is U.S. sanctions on foreign firms providing gasoline to Iran or investing in Iran’s refining capacity. This measure is intended to expand on the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which requires sanctions on foreign firms investing $20 million or more in other parts of Iran’s energy sector. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee May 18 that the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—had agreed on a draft resolution. The resolution was circulated to the council’s 10 rotating members later that day (see page 25). Berman and Dodd said in the May 25 statement that they had been “skeptical about the prospects for near-term action on Iran sanctions at the United Nations” until that agreement was reached.

The delay comes in the midst of increased momentum by Congress to pass a final bill; many lawmakers have expressed impatience with the administration’s protracted efforts to achieve a fourth set of UN sanctions. Arguing for swift congressional action on the sanctions, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters April 22, “In my opinion, we have waited long enough for the diplomacy to work.” In April, Congress set a May 28 deadline for the conferees appointed to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters May 18 that he expected a floor vote on the final bill the following week.

Although the administration has succeeded in buying time for the UN sanctions effort to move first, it is unclear if the UN action will help the administration carve out exemptions in the sanctions legislation for specific diplomatic partners. Lawmakers from both parties have resisted such a provision. A May 3 letter by a bipartisan group of 10 senators to Berman and Dodd argued against the inclusion of exemptions for “cooperating countries” in the final sanctions bill. “Specifically, we would find it difficult to support any conference report that would weaken…sanctions by providing exemptions to companies or countries engaged in the refined petroleum trade with Iran,” the letter said.

In a May 19 statement, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a member of the conference committee, suggested that the UN sanctions would not be a rationale for loosening the planned restrictions. “Nothing about this resolution, or any measures which countries may take under its cover, justify weakening the legislation currently in conference,” he said.

A congressional source said May 6 that other options may be considered to address the administration’s concerns. For example, the source said,  the legislation might include criteria that would have to be met before exemptions could be made.

In addition to the administration, U.S. allies, particularly in Europe, have expressed concern about the pending legislation. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton sent a letter to 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 on Iran’s nuclear program. Ashton wrote that she was concerned about the “extraterritorial application of U.S. legislation,” which would be “contrary to the EU-US understanding of 1998 under which it was agreed that such sanctions would not be applied to the EU in the light of the EU’s commitment to work with the U.S. to counter the threat that Iran poses to international security.”

The EU threatened to bring the United States before the World Trade Organization in 1997 in response to the passage of the Iran Sanctions Act on the basis of its extraterritorial application of U.S. law. The 1998 agreement defused that threat.

In interviews with Arms Control Today over the last two months, European diplomats said that EU countries are already engaged in efforts to discourage their own companies from investing in Iran’s energy sector. Those efforts have met with some success, the diplomats said. The EU would continue its previous practice of using the UN restrictions as a baseline for adopting even tougher sanctions, they said.

 

This page was corrected on June 8, 2010. The original article misidentified Rep. Brad Sherman as the House chairman of the conference committee on the pending Iran sanctions bill. Sherman is a member of the conference committee; the House chairman is Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

In a nod to long-standing Obama administration requests, Congress will delay finalizing sanctions legislation on Iran while the UN Security Council considers its own draft sanctions resolution, the two lead sponsors of the legislation said in a May 25 press release. “[W]ith the progress in negotiations at the Security Council, we believe that our overriding goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is best served by providing a limited amount of time for those efforts—and expected follow-on action by the EU [European Union] at its mid-June summit—to reach a successful conclusion before we send our bill to the President,” said the statement by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).

Brazil, Turkey Broker Fuel Swap With Iran

Peter Crail

Reviving a confidence-building proposal on Iran’s nuclear program dormant since late last year, the presidents of Brazil, Iran, and Turkey agreed May 17 on a plan by which Iran would export half of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile to Turkey in return for fuel for a medical research reactor. The terms of the arrangement are nearly identical to a proposal on which France, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the so-called Vienna Group, reached an agreement in principle with Iran last October. (See ACT, November 2009.) Tehran subsequently sought to alter the terms of that proposal, leading to its collapse. According to the May 17 plan, the Vienna Group would still need to approve the terms of any final fuel exchange.

The agreement came the day before the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) forwarded a draft sanctions resolution on Iran to the council’s 10 rotating members, which include Brazil and Turkey, putting the future of the fuel swap in question. Brasilia and Ankara have opposed additional sanctions on Iran, and Tehran has indicated that it would not agree to the exchange if placed under further sanctions.

Dropping long-held objections to exporting its LEU before receiving reactor fuel in return, Iran agreed as part of the May 17 declaration in Tehran to deposit 1,200 kilograms of LEU in Turkey as a confidence-building measure for up to a year while it awaited the fuel from abroad. Since last October, Iran had proposed at different times either that the two elements of the fuel exchange should occur simultaneously on Iranian soil or that both sides carry out the exchange in small batches.

The initial Vienna Group plan involved exporting 1,200 kilograms of Iran’s LEU to Russia in a single batch by the end of 2009 for further enrichment to 20 percent and then processing into reactor fuel in France. The U.S.-supplied Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes and is expected to run out of fuel this year, operates on fuel enriched to about 20 percent of the isotope uranium-235, the threshold for highly enriched uranium (HEU). Nuclear weapons generally require HEU enriched to far higher levels, but acquiring 2 0 percent-enriched material can speed the process to achieve weapons-grade levels.

Argentina and France are the only two countries that currently maintain the capability to produce fuel for the Tehran reactor, which has been operating on Argentinean fuel since 1993.

After Iran rejected the October arrangement, declaring that it needed “100 percent guarantees” that it would receive the reactor fuel, Mohamed ElBaradei, then the IAEA director-general, proposed stationing the LEU in Turkey in escrow. (See ACT, December 2009.) Responding to the proposal, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters last November that Ankara had “no problem” storing the LEU in his country.

In February, Iran began enriching some of its LEU to 20 percent in order to fuel the reactor, even though it does not currently have the capability to make the reactor fuel plates. (See ACT, March 2010.) The day prior to the start of this additional enrichment, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state television Feb. 9, “If [Western countries] come forward and supply the fuel, then we will stop the 20 percent enrichment.” In response to Iran’s efforts to enrich to 20 percent, the permanent representatives to the IAEA for France, Russia, and the United States delivered a letter Feb. 12 to IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano describing the move as “wholly unjustified, contrary to UN Security Council resolutions [demanding that Iran suspend its enrichment activities], and…a further step toward a capability to produce highly enriched uranium.”

The envoys called the October proposal “the most effective and timely mechanism to assure the refueling” of Iran’s reactor “and to begin to establish mutual trust and confidence.”

Skeptical Responses

The United States and its allies responded coolly to the May 17 declaration, citing advances in Iran’s nuclear program since last fall and additional concerns about Iran’s nuclear program the deal does not address. Key among those concerns is Iran’s announcement that it would continue enriching to 20 percent even if the fuel swap went forward, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a May 25 press conference in Beijing.

In an apparent reversal from his Feb. 8-9 statement, Salehi told Reuters May 17, “There is no relation between the swap deal and our enrichment activities,” he said, adding, “We will continue our 20 percent uranium enrichment work.”

Western governments indicated that Iran’s LEU stockpile has grown since last October, and removing the 1,200 kilograms would account for a smaller percentage of Iran’s total stockpile, lessening its value as a confidence-building measure. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a May 25 press briefing that Iran’s stockpile now “must be” about 2,000 to 2,400 kilograms, up from about 1,600 kilograms in October.

“There’s a bit of a difference between the two, and that is also part of the problem,” he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed this concern in a speech to Parliament the same day. “Even if Iran were to complete the deal proposed in their recent agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would still retain around 50 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and it is this stockpile that could be enriched to weapons-grade uranium,” he said.

If enriched to weapons-grade levels, Iran’s 1,200 kilograms of LEU would be about enough material for one nuclear weapon.

Russia offered a more positive appraisal of the declaration. Stating that Moscow welcomed the agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a May 27 press briefing, “If it is fulfilled in all its entirety, very important prerequisites will be created not only for resolving the concrete problem of fuel supplies to this reactor, but also important conditions will emerge for strengthening the atmosphere for resuming talks.”

“Very much will depend on how the Iranian side will handle its obligations,” he said, indicating that Russia would support the agreement if Iran fulfilled its commitments.

Middle-Power Mediators

The May 17 fuel exchange declaration capped a high-profile visit to Iran by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had sought, along with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to restart negotiations with Iran on the basis of the aborted October fuel exchange arrangement.

In the days leading up to the meeting, it did not appear as though Iran was willing to adjust its position on the fuel swap. Erdogan initially abandoned his plans to join Lula in Tehran to discuss the nuclear issue, telling reporters May 14 that he would not travel to Iran because Tehran had not taken steps to conclude a successful agreement. In a last-minute change of plans May 16, Erdogan announced he would visit Tehran the following day, suggesting sufficient changes to Iran’s position.

In the days before the meeting, Lula appeared far more optimistic about the chances of an agreement. During a May 14 press briefing with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, he told reporters he believed he had a 99 percent chance of securing an agreement. Medvedev had placed the chances at 30 percent.

Despite the apparent difference in perception of Iran’s willingness to negotiate an acceptable deal, a Brazilian diplomat said May 26 that “Brazil and Turkey coordinated closely throughout the whole process.”

Responding to the chilly reception to the fuel swap arrangement by the West, Brazil and Turkey insisted that the international community seek a “negotiated solution” to the Iran nuclear impasse. In an International Herald Tribune op-ed, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu argued, “The Tehran declaration needs to be given the opportunity to work.”

“[W]e believe the declaration helps to address the entire issue by providing essential confidence-building, the key missing component thus far,” they said.

Brazil in particular has claimed that the United States supported its efforts to broker a deal conforming to the terms of the October agreement. “We were encouraged directly or indirectly...to implement the October proposal without any leeway, and that’s what we did,” Amorim told reporters May 22.

In an April 20 letter to Lula, President Barack Obama said that Iran’s agreement to export 1,200 kilograms of LEU “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile.” He cited a number of concerns regarding Tehran’s unwillingness to export its LEU beforehand, including the notion that there would be no guarantee that Iran would carry out the exchange after it was agreed.

Obama specifically endorsed the proposal for holding that material in escrow in Turkey, stating, “I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to ‘escrow’ its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced.”

Although Iran ultimately agreed to those terms, its new insistence that it would continue 20 percent enrichment has raised additional hurdles. At a May 22 press briefing in Brasilia, Amorim acknowledged that Iran’s position had complicated the matters, but he said, “It wasn’t on the agenda. Nobody told us, ‘Hey if you don’t stop 20 percent enrichment, forget the deal.’”

U.S. officials disputed Amorim’s statement. In a May 28 background briefing, a senior administration official said that Washington had raised the issue of Iran’s enrichment to 20 percent in consultations with Brasilia, saying that Brazil’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, asked Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki what Tehran would do about such enrichment if a deal were agreed during a May 7 dinner Iran hosted in New York for Security Council members.

Another senior administration official stressed that Obama’s letter to Lula “was not intended to lay out a comprehensive position,” because Brazil and Turkey were not asked to negotiate on behalf of the Vienna Group.

Responding to questions about the value of the deal if it does not require Iran to stop its enrichment work, the Brazilian diplomat said that the fuel swap proposal “was never meant to solve all problems related to the Iranian nuclear program,” but rather “was conceived as a confidence-building measure to facilitate broader discussions about the issue.”

UN Sanctions Still Pushed

Far from characterizing the May 17 declaration as a confidence-building measure, the United States has charged that Iran only agreed to the plan to avoid a new round of UN sanctions.

Clinton said in her May 25 remarks that Iran agreed to the fuel swap only “because the Security Council was on the brink of publicly releasing the text of the resolution that we have been negotiating for many weeks.”

U.S. officials have said that the sanctions and the fuel swap are separate issues. “[N]one of the elements of the fuel swap deal…have anything to do with what is called for in this resolution, which is a suspension of all enrichment,” the first senior administration official at the May 28 briefing said.

The draft resolution circulated by the five major powers expands on existing international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, its arms imports and exports, and its banking and financial sectors. Many of its enforcement provisions, however, are not mandatory.

It also seeks, for the first time, to prohibit all Iranian activities related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, including development and testing. Previous sanctions have only restricted imports and exports relevant to Iran’s ballistic missile program.

U.S. officials have argued that the sanctions can be used as a legal basis for U.S. allies, particularly the European Union, to adopt their own stringent measures against Iran.

Even prior to the May 17 fuel swap declaration, Western diplomats said that it would be difficult to move forward with sanctions while Lebanon held the May council presidency as it would complicate placing the issue on the council’s agenda. Beirut has voiced opposition to new sanctions, and Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group with links to Iran, is a major Lebanese political party holding parliamentary seats.

Mexico holds the council presidency in June.

 

Reviving a confidence-building proposal on Iran’s nuclear program dormant since late last year, the presidents of Brazil, Iran, and Turkey agreed May 17 on a plan by which Iran would export half of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile to Turkey in return for fuel for a medical research reactor. The terms of the arrangement are nearly identical to a proposal on which France, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the so-called Vienna Group, reached an agreement in principle with Iran last October. (See ACT, November 2009.) Tehran subsequently sought to alter the terms of that proposal, leading to its collapse. According to the May 17 plan, the Vienna Group would still need to approve the terms of any final fuel exchange.

NPT Parties Agree on Middle East Meeting

Peter Crail

In a final-hour agreement concluding a month-long review of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 189 parties on May 28 endorsed a final document on ways to strengthen the treaty, including, for the first time in 15 years, steps toward establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. The document is centered on a series of 64 action steps aimed at strengthening the treaty’s “three pillars” of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. On the Middle East zone, the parties agreed to start a process over the next two years to determine how progress can be made on a WMD-free Middle East, in particular calling for a regional conference to discuss the issue in 2012.

It was the eighth such review, which are held every five years, but only three previous sessions have adopted a final consensus document. The May conference adopted only the 64-step action plan by consensus. An article-by-article review of the treaty was adopted as the conference president’s interpretation of member-state views.

Throughout the last day, the consensus agreement hinged on whether a small group of states, in particular Egypt and the United States, could agree on language related to implementing the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. The NPT parties adopted that resolution, aimed at establishing a WMD-free Middle East, as part of a package of decisions that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT. Diplomatic sources said during the conference that much depended on the outcome of the discussions on the Middle East, some of which occurred at the highest levels of government, outside the conference itself.

In their closing statements, many delegations credited the success of the conference to an improved atmosphere for promoting disarmament and nonproliferation, noting particularly President Barack Obama’s April 5, 2009, speech in Prague calling for steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons and the April 8 signing of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement.

Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a group of 118 developing nations and the largest bloc in the treaty, called the timing of the conference a “historical juncture,” citing “stronger political will…aimed at the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

In this regard, several delegations, including Indonesia and Japan, contrasted the renewed momentum and the success of the conference with the failure of the last review in 2005, which was fraught with serious disagreement, was not able to agree on an agenda for half of the month, and concluded without any substantive agreement. (See ACT, June 2005.)

Obama also tied the review conference outcome to the nuclear arms policies he outlined in 2009, saying in a May 28 press statement that it “reaffirms many aspects of the agenda that I laid out in Prague, and which we have pursued together with other nations over the last year, and underscores that those nations that refuse to abide by their international obligations must be held accountable.”

The adoption of the consensus document did not mean that all areas of dispute were resolved. In several cases, the final document recognized that “many” or particular groups of states held a particular position, indicating the parties could not reach consensus in these areas by the end of the conference.

Although nearly all states characterized the final document as a success, many cited areas in which it did not meet their expectations or contained elements they did not fully endorse.

The United States, which played a central role in negotiating the language on the Middle East zone, said that it “deeply regretted” the decision to name Israel in that context, citing concerns that the conference to be held in 2012 might be used to single out the U.S. ally. The United States also noted that the final document did not name Iran, which Washington and its allies have charged is in violation of the NPT and UN Security Council resolutions.

The final document “recalls the reaffirmation by the 2000 Review Conference of the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty and the placement of its nuclear facilities” under international inspections. Israel, along with India and Pakistan, has never signed the NPT. The document includes similar language for the two other nonsignatories.

France also stated that the conference should have gone further in criticizing countries of proliferation concern, such as Iran and North Korea, saying that “words were not enough” and that more had to be done to respond to such “proliferation crises.”

Many states, however, expressed disappointment that the document did not promote more urgent action toward nuclear disarmament by the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.) The NAM states in particular noted that many of their proposals for an action plan toward nuclear disarmament were not adopted. Other non-nuclear-weapon states, including Mexico and Norway, joined them in stating that the document should have established nuclear disarmament timelines.

The most significant critique came from Iran, which derided the final document for drawing “a rosy picture” of recent nuclear disarmament efforts by nuclear-weapon states and for failing to condemn efforts to modernize nuclear arsenals or call for the withdrawal of nuclear arms stationed on the territories of non-nuclear-weapon states.

The United States maintains about 200 nuclear arms in Europe as part of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements.

Tehran said that it joined the consensus to “demonstrate political goodwill” and respect the views of other countries. Iran was the last country to agree to the consensus document, having delayed the final meeting for several hours as its delegation sought instructions from Tehran, diplomats said.

Steps on WMD-Free Middle East Agreed

One of the central agreements of the conference was on steps toward a WMD-free Middle East, a goal with which the international community as a whole has agreed since it was first proposed by Iran in 1974.

Arms control discussions that foresaw the eventual establishment of such a zone had been held by states in the region, including Israel, as part of the Madrid peace process during the 1990s. Those discussions did not include such key countries as Iran and Iraq, and the process eventually faltered.

In a section of the document dedicated to implementing the 1995 Middle East resolution, the conference agreed on five “practical steps” to make progress toward this goal. Key among them was the decision to convene a conference in the region in 2012 “to be attended by all states in the Middle East.” The document also calls for the UN secretary-general and the co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to appoint a “facilitator” to consult with states in the region in preparation for that conference. Both actions were largely based on Egyptian proposals prior to the conference.

The resulting language was a compromise between the Arab League, led by Egypt, which wanted the 2012 conference to negotiate a WMD-free zone, and the United Kingdom and United States, which argued that it was too early for such negotiations.

The final negotiations on the Middle East zone language, still in dispute in the last days of the conference, hinged on whether to single out Israel by name. Washington sought to avoid that, but the Arab League pressed for it.

Israel responded harshly to the language, announcing that it would not participate in the conference. “It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation,” said a May 28 press statement issued by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

British Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament John Duncan cautioned in a May 30 post on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Web log, however, that the two-year process prior to the conference is intended to prepare a way in which all sides “will be comfortable attending.”

“It would indeed be very surprising if Israel was able to agree today to come to the proposed conference before that dialogue has taken place,” he added.

Debating the Urgency of Disarmament

Many non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members stressed the need for the conference to instill a greater sense of urgency into the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. The NAM in particular maintained that the conference should endorse negotiations on total nuclear disarmament, including by convening a conference to negotiate banning nuclear arms, and that the nuclear disarmament process should be outlined in a “time-bound framework.” Early on, NAM states called for setting a date of 2025 as the goal for completing nuclear disarmament.

With the exception of China, which endorsed holding such a conference, nuclear-weapon states argued that such a timeline was unfeasible and that nuclear disarmament was a lengthy process.

Early drafts of the disarmament language reflected calls for more definitive actions on nuclear disarmament, including deciding that the nuclear-weapon states “shall convene” consultations no later than 2011 “to accelerate progress on nuclear disarmament.” The drafts also invited the UN secretary-general to convene a conference by 2014 to consider a road map toward eliminating nuclear weapons in a specified time frame.

Due to objections from nuclear-weapon states, the final document did not include specific dates for consultations, but did retain a commitment by the nuclear powers to “accelerate progress on steps toward nuclear disarmament.” The final document also omitted any reference to a nuclear weapons conference, stating instead in the president’s summary that the final phase of nuclear disarmament “should be pursued in an agreed legal framework,” recognizing that “the majority of states believe this should include specified timelines.”

Specific actions related to nuclear disarmament stoked fierce debate, and in some cases, the final document either reflected such differences or removed references to the actions altogether. A call for nuclear-weapon states to “cease the development of new nuclear weapons and the qualitative improvement” of existing ones was removed in the final days from the list of action steps. Instead, the final document recognized “the legitimate interests of non-nuclear weapon states in constraining” such developments.

A U.S. diplomat said that Washington’s opposition to the language had no relation to improvements in military capabilities, but a concern that such restrictions would limit qualitative improvements to the safety and security of nuclear weapons.

In addition, a call to address the issue of nuclear sharing arrangements, solely practiced by the United States with five NATO allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey), was ultimately removed from the outcome document.

The United States, along with countries hosting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, opposed the draft language. NAM countries have challenged such arrangements as violations of the NPT’s Article I, which prohibits nuclear-weapon states from transferring nuclear arms. Washington argued that nuclear sharing does not fall in the purview of the NPT review process. The United States has maintained that because the weapons remain in U.S. custody, the arrangement does not violate Article I.

Instead, the issue of tactical weapons in general was addressed by calls for the nuclear-weapon states to reduce “all types” of nuclear weapons. In addition to the United States, Russia maintains a stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, estimated at 2,000. Moscow has generally resisted calls specifically aimed at reducing such weapons.

Although China supported many of the provisions sought by the NAM on nuclear disarmament, a Western diplomat said that the Chinese delegation challenged early draft language calling for a global moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. China is the only nuclear-weapon state not to have officially declared such a moratorium, although it is believed to have halted such production unofficially since the 1990s.

In their closing remarks, Australia and Japan voiced disappointment that the conference did not endorse such a moratorium.

Addressing the issue of fissile material for weapons, the conference called on the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations immediately on a treaty banning fissile material for weapons, a process that has been stalemated for well more than a decade.

The final document attaches some urgency to efforts to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, calling for nuclear-weapon states to ratify the accord “with all expediency.” Initial drafts, however, called on all states to do so “without delay and without conditions.”

A call for nuclear-weapon states to “close and dismantle as soon as feasible” their nuclear test sites was ultimately removed from the final document due to opposition from some nuclear-weapon states.

France, which supported the language, is the only country to have closed its test sites. The United Kingdom does not maintain any of its own. The United States opposed the call on the grounds that it carries out operations unrelated to nuclear testing at its test sites.

A diplomatic source said that referring to closing test sites in the section on the CTBT was always problematic because it is not in the CTBT itself. The diplomat suggested instead that the language should be placed in another section of the document.

Addressing Key Proliferation Concerns

The key debates on nonproliferation centered on long-standing efforts by many countries, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to universalize the more stringent inspections under the agency’s 1997 Model Additional Protocol, and on initiatives to respond to potential withdrawals from the NPT.

With regard to the additional protocol, the conference encouraged all states that have not done so to bring such a measure into force as soon as possible and to implement such a protocol provisionally before it has been ratified.

The NAM, as well as other key developing states such as Brazil, opposed attempts by the United States and other countries to recognize the additional protocol as the new IAEA safeguards standard. Instead, the president’s summary recognized the additional protocol, along with comprehensive IAEA safeguards, “as the enhanced standard for verification of the NPT.”

For the first time in a review conference document, the NPT parties also addressed concerns over a country’s withdrawal from the treaty after being found in noncompliance with its obligations. The language, however, appeared to reflect continued divisions over the issue.

The president’s statement noted that “many states” believed that NPT parties were still responsible for violations under the treaty in the event of their withdrawal and that “numerous states” acknowledged that nuclear suppliers could write their supply contracts to include provisions requiring the return of nuclear technology following a state’s withdrawal from the NPT.

Concerns about withdrawal rose after North Korea in 2003 declared that it withdrew from the treaty, an action that treaty members have not officially recognized.

Curtailing Nuclear Deals With Non-NPT States

One controversial issue raised in the course of the conference was the conclusion of nuclear supply arrangements with non-NPT members India, Israel, and Pakistan.

Many countries maintained that nuclear cooperation should continue to be reserved for countries that have joined the NPT. Early drafts of the NPT final statement incorporated this position by reaffirming that “existing or new supply arrangements” for civil nuclear trade require the recipient state to have “full-scope” safeguards in place. According to the Western diplomatic source, France opposed this language, while the U.S. delegation insisted that the word “existing” should be deleted; otherwise, the language would have applied to nuclear cooperation with India, which the United States argued was a “unique” case.

In 2008 the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal collection of the world’s major nuclear supplier countries that aims to prevent proliferation, agreed on an exemption for nuclear transfers to India. The exemption, initiated by the United States as part of a policy shift announced in 2005, reversed long-standing restrictions on nuclear trade with non-NPT parties.

Egypt suggested replacing “existing or new” with “any,” but this too was opposed by the United States; Mexico said the issue was important but could accept the U.S. proposal as a compromise, the Western diplomat said.

The final president’s statement reaffirmed that “new supply arrangements” for nuclear transfers should require that the recipient accept “IAEA full-scope safeguards and international legally-binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons.”

The issue may soon be put to a test. China, an NSG member, reportedly is planning to provide two additional light-water nuclear power reactors to Pakistan. China did not seek an NSG exemption similar to the one for India.

 

In a final-hour agreement concluding a month-long review of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 189 parties on May 28 endorsed a final document on ways to strengthen the treaty, including, for the first time in 15 years, steps toward establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. The document is centered on a series of 64 action steps aimed at strengthening the treaty’s “three pillars” of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. On the Middle East zone, the parties agreed to start a process over the next two years to determine how progress can be made on a WMD-free Middle East, in particular calling for a regional conference to discuss the issue in 2012.

Iran-Turkey-Brazil Fuel Deal Has Potential if Iran Provides Follow-Up Steps

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Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 5, May 17, 2010

Iran's agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel exchange agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey is a potentially positive development, but one of limited value without the appropriate follow-through.

The 1,200 kilograms of LEU is enough for one bomb's-worth of highly-enriched uranium if that material were further processed. Removing this LEU from Iran would be beneficial for delaying the time when Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons, but it would only be a short-term measure which does not address long-lasting concerns regarding Iran's history of secret nuclear activities and its lack of transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The primary purpose of a similar, IAEA-backed, arrangement tentatively agreed to last October was to build trust between the P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran, providing a stepping stone to broader negotiations on a long-term resolution to Iran's nuclear program. The 3-country joint declaration cites Iran's decision to continue to negotiate with the six powers, and the real value of this fuel exchange arrangement will be measured by whether or not Iran is willing to do so constructively.  

Other Questions Remain
A number of details must also be addressed for this agreement to have a nonproliferation value, including clarifying the circumstances in which Iran could require the return of the LEU back to its territory.  In particular, the joint statement does not address Iran's ongoing work to produce 20 percent-enriched uranium. Tehran claimed earlier this year that it would further enrich some of its LEU stockpile to this higher level to provide fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. However, since the fuel swap arrangement would result in Iran receiving the necessary reactor fuel from abroad, there would no longer be any reason for it to continue this additional enrichment or keep the 20 percent uranium it has already produced, which is closer to weapons-grade levels. The IAEA and the countries involved in the October negotiations (France, Russia, and the United States) should insist that Iran cease this work as part of any fuel deal.

The Fuel Swap and UN Sanctions
The preliminary fuel exchange agreement will undoubtedly impact the ongoing UN Security Council discussions on a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. Council members, including Brazil and Turkey, should keep in mind that the sanctions discussions were not taking place because Iran did not agree to a fuel exchange deal last October. Rather, sanctions were being considered to respond to Iran's failure to cooperate with the IAEA on a number of levels, including the construction of the Qom enrichment facility in secret, and for failing to comply with UN demands to suspend enrichment.

Since Iran has not resolved those concerns, and since today's joint declaration  makes no mention of Iran's willingness to improve its transparency and cooperation with the IAEA, there is no reason to abandon the UN sanctions discussion. It is worrisome, in fact, that the joint statement appears to re-interpret a critical linkage in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) between a non-nuclear-weapon state's right to peaceful nuclear energy with its obligation to adhere to IAEA safeguards by claiming that Iran has such a right merely "without discrimination." Should Iran work to resolve some of these concerns with the IAEA, in compliance with its NPT obligations, then there would be no need to pursue additional sanctions.

Moreover, the fact that Iran abandoned its own long-held stipulations regarding the fuel swap at the time that a P5 consensus on additional sanctions had been emerging demonstrates that such international pressure and the threat of sanctions itself can have an impact. Russia and China in particular should keep this in mind as it suggests that their willingness to consider placing such pressure on Iran can help to temper Tehran's hard-line stance.  

The United States and its partners should welcome any prospects for postponing the time when Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons, and that have the potential to lead to constructive negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. Whether the latest fuel swap agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey accomplishes those goals, however, depends on the appropriate follow-up by Iran. - PETER CRAIL

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Volume 1, Number 5

Iran's agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of an nuclear fuel exchange agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey is a potentially positive development, but one of limited value without the appropriate follow-through.

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Probe of Ship Sinking Halts Outreach to N. Korea

Peter Crail

Months-long efforts to convince North Korea to return to multilateral disarmament talks have been stalled over the past month by suspicions Pyongyang may have been behind the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March.

An explosion sank the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan March 26 near the maritime border between North and South Korea. That border has been the site of prior naval skirmishes between the two countries.

During an April 25 press briefing, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said “a bubble jet caused by a heavy torpedo is thought to be one of the most likely things to be blamed, but various other possibilities are also under review.”

North Korea has denied any involvement.

Although the cause has not been officially determined, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak cited the incident as an indication that Seoul must strengthen its military alertness, calling North Korea “the world’s most warlike power.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told reporters April 19, “I believe the resumption of the six-party talks will not be possible for some time, if we find evidence that clearly shows North Korea’s involvement.” China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States have held six-way talks addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs intermittently since 2003.

Yu also said that Seoul would refer the matter to the UN Security Council if Pyongyang was found to be behind the incident.

U.S. officials have echoed Seoul’s calls to halt outreach to North Korea until the Cheonan incident is resolved. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters April 14, “At this juncture, we told our South Korean friends that our primary objective is to work with them on the recovery of the ship,” adding, “and at that point, we will be able to make some judgments about the way forward.”

Meanwhile, North Korean state media reported April 21 that Pyongyang has issued a memorandum detailing its nuclear policy, declaring that it will join international nonproliferation and disarmament commitments “on an equal footing with other nuclear weapons states.”

Portions of the document were carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, which said that the memorandum sought to provide a “correct understanding” of the causes of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

The memorandum appears to link Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament to broader global nuclear disarmament, claiming that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are intended “to deter and repulse aggression and attack on the country and the nation till the nuclear weapons are eliminated from the [Korean] peninsula and the rest of the world.” It further declares that North Korea will produce nuclear weapons “as much as it deems necessary” but will not participate in a nuclear arms race.

The document repeats Pyongyang’s call to replace the current ceasefire agreement on the Korean peninsula with a formal peace treaty prior to its nuclear disarmament. (See ACT, March 2010.) The United States and its allies in the region have maintained that North Korea must first abandon its nuclear weapons and nuclear programs before such a treaty could be concluded.

At an April 21 press briefing, Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected Pyongyang’s call for a peace agreement prior to giving up its nuclear weapons. “This is not a new request from North Korea,” he said, adding that “they cannot expect a different relationship until they take specific actions first.” Crowley said those actions included fulfilling a September 2005 six-party agreement in which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons and adhering to UN Security Council resolutions calling on Pyongyang to carry out that pledge.

 

Months-long efforts to convince North Korea to return to multilateral disarmament talks have been stalled over the past month by suspicions Pyongyang may have been behind the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March.

An explosion sank the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan March 26 near the maritime border between North and South Korea. That border has been the site of prior naval skirmishes between the two countries.

Bill on Iran Gasoline Sanctions Nears Approval

Peter Crail

Congress began the final steps in April to prepare new U.S. legislation sanctioning foreign companies that provide gasoline to Iran.

The House of Representatives appointed conferees April 22 to a committee that must reconcile the versions of the legislation adopted by the House in December and the Senate in January to create a final bill for President Barack Obama to sign. The Senate appointed its conferees March 11.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said following the vote on the House conferees, “Today marks a major step towards preventing Iran from acquiring the ability to produce nuclear weapons.” The House action urged the conference committee to complete its work by May 28.

The appointment came as members of Congress were expressing increasing concern with the pace of U.S. efforts to secure a fourth set of UN sanctions against Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters April 22, “In my opinion, we have waited long enough for the diplomacy to work,” adding, “Iran is a festering sore in the world.” Administration officials have said they want to pursue multilateral sanctions before applying unilateral measures.

House and Senate members sent letters to Obama in April urging the administration to carry out sanctions under current U.S. law. “We urge you to move rapidly to implement your existing authority on Iran and the legislation we send you, and to galvanize the international community” for immediate steps against Iran, read the nearly identical letters signed by 363 representatives and 81 senators.

U.S. law adopted in 1996 imposes penalties on foreign firms that invest more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector. The House and Senate versions of the pending legislation are intended to expand those penalties to firms that provide Iran with refined petroleum or assist in expanding its refining capacity. The Senate bill includes a number of additional measures to target Iran’s financial sector and enhance export controls in countries at risk of diverting sensitive materials and technologies to Iran. (See ACT, March 2010.)

Due to a lack of domestic refining capacity, Iran imports an estimated 30 to 40 percent of its gasoline. Berman has called Iran’s reliance on such imports its “Achilles’ heel.” (See ACT, January/February 2010.) Iran heavily subsidizes gasoline for domestic use.

In the face of the potential sanctions, a number of Iran’s primary suppliers of gasoline have declared an end to such sales over the past several months. The firms include Russia’s Lukoil, India’s Reliance, the United Kingdom’s Royal Dutch Shell, and Switzerland’s Vitol and Trafigura.

A January 2010 Department of Energy country analysis notes, however, that Iranian efforts to increase its refining capacity “could eliminate the need for imports by 2013.” It adds that Iran has discussed joint ventures with countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore to carry out such an expansion. Such ventures could be targeted if the pending sanctions bill becomes law.

Although the U.S. law targeting energy investment in Iran has been in effect since 1996, no firms have been sanctioned to date. Since the law’s passage, U.S. administrations have preferred to seek international cooperation to place pressure on Iran rather than risk alienating key U.S. allies.

In particular, Washington came to an agreement in 1998 with the European Union that it would not sanction European firms under the law in exchange for an EU commitment to take action against Tehran’s nonconventional weapons programs.

U.S. officials testifying before Congress in March reiterated this preference for multilateral action, arguing that such efforts would have a greater impact on Iran than unilateral sanctions.

“There are steps that we can take unilaterally, and we have taken unilaterally. But our judgment is that if we really want to impose pressure on Iran that actually affects their calculus, the only way to be effective is to do that multilaterally,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy told a Senate panel April 14.

During the same hearing, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns added that U.S. allies in Europe have expressed a “very strong preference” to achieve a UN resolution first. The resolution could then serve as a legal basis for EU countries to adopt additional sanctions beyond those imposed by the UN Security Council, he said.

Burns said that “intensive negotiations on the text of that resolution have just begun,” adding that Russia and China are actively taking part in that effort. The two countries, along with France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, are veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

Moscow and Beijing have traditionally been wary of supporting sanctions, but Russian officials have expressed support for additional penalties on Tehran in recent months, so long as those penalties target Iran’s leadership and not its energy sector. Beijing agreed in April to begin discussions on new sanctions, moving the prospect of such a resolution forward.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters April 8 that Moscow would seek “targeted” and “tailored” sanctions and rejected the gasoline embargo sought by the United States, claiming it would be “a huge shock for the whole [Iranian] society.”

China, on the other hand, has been far more reluctant to engage in discussions over any new sanctions, calling for negotiations with Iran to continue. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters April 20, “We have always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the best channels for resolving the Iran nuclear issue.”

The United States and its allies have maintained that Tehran has rebuffed their diplomatic outreach because it continues to reject an International Atomic Energy Agency-brokered deal to swap much of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile for research reactor fuel. (See ACT, September 2009.) Tehran claims that it is still open to negotiations on the proposal, but it continues to seek changes to any such agreement.

U.S. National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Jeffrey Bader told reporters following an April 12 meeting between Obama and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao that the two presidents “agreed to instruct their delegations to work with” the P5+1 and Security Council representatives on a sanctions resolution, signaling China’s willingness to engage in talks on new sanctions.

The P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany. The six-country group has been engaged in a diplomatic effort to address Iran’s nuclear program since 2006.

Once the five permanent members agree on a draft resolution, they have to negotiate with the council’s 10 rotating members. That group includes states such as Brazil and Turkey, which have continued to oppose new sanctions. Although only nine votes are needed to approve such a measure, resolution sponsors generally want support for the measure to be as broad as possible.

Despite the remaining hurdles, U.S. officials have indicated they expect the council to adopt sanctions in the coming weeks. Vice President Joe Biden told ABC’s The View April 22, “I believe you will see a sanction[s] regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month.”

 

Congress began the final steps in April to prepare new U.S. legislation sanctioning foreign companies that provide gasoline to Iran.

The House of Representatives appointed conferees April 22 to a committee that must reconcile the versions of the legislation adopted by the House in December and the Senate in January to create a final bill for President Barack Obama to sign. The Senate appointed its conferees March 11.

Putin Predicts Summer Start for Iranian Reactor

Peter Crail

In a statement that triggered a public dispute with the United States, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last month Russia would help Iran’s first nuclear power plant begin operations this summer. The March 18 announcement, made during a Russian nuclear industry conference, coincided with a visit to Russia by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who criticized the move.

“I think it would be premature to go forward with any project at this time, because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians,” Clinton said in response to a question during a March 18 joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “If [Iran] reassures the world, or if its behavior is changed because of international sanctions, then they can pursue peaceful, civil nuclear power,” she said.

The United States is currently pressing for a fourth UN sanctions resolution in response to Iran’s nuclear program. Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley appeared to link concerns over the reactor start-up to that effort, telling reporters March 18 that Clinton’s concern was not about Russia, but “the potential for a mixed message as we are working to put pressure on Iran.”

The UN sanctions restricting the export of most nuclear-related goods and technology to Iran exempt such transfers if they are “for exclusive use in light water reactors,” in order to allow assistance with the Bushehr reactor to continue.

At the March 18 press conference, Lavrov defended Russia’s work on the reactor, which has been under construction since 1995 and undergone years of delays. He said the Bushehr project played an important role in promoting Iran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and “ensuring that Iran is complying with its nonproliferation obligations.” Lavrov did not explain what this role was. All declared Iranian nuclear facilities, including the Bushehr facility, are under IAEA safeguards.

The exchange appeared to resurrect a once-contentious issue that Moscow and Washington largely resolved in 2005. At that time, the United States said it would drop its public objections if Moscow took steps to address U.S. proliferation concerns about the reactor, former State Department officials told Arms Control Today last month.

In particular, those concerns stemmed from the risk that Iran could separate plutonium for weapons use from the reactor’s spent fuel.

In 2003 testimony to the House International Relations Committee, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton said Iran could produce “over 80 nuclear weapons” after operating the reactor for five to six years. Producing the weapons would require a reprocessing facility to separate plutonium from the spent fuel. Iran has carried out reprocessing experiments in the past but is not known to currently have a reprocessing capability.

U.S. officials had also expressed concern that Russia’s nuclear assistance would provide Iran with expertise and dual-use technology that could benefit a nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, April 2005.)

In February 2005, Russia took a key step toward alleviating the concern about the potential misuse of Bushehr’s spent fuel, announcing it had concluded an agreement with Iran to provide fuel for the reactor with the condition that it would be returned to Russia after it was used and sufficiently cooled. The arrangement would also mean that Iran would not need to enrich uranium to fuel that reactor, removing one of the justifications Iranian officials had given for their controversial uranium-enrichment program. Light-water reactors such as the one constructed at Bushehr are regarded as more proliferation resistant than other types as they do not produce weapons-grade plutonium as readily during normal operations.

Since then, the United States has generally supported the Bushehr project, holding it up as a model that would allow Iran to pursue its peaceful nuclear energy aspirations without investing in the costly and proliferation-sensitive technologies of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. Speaking to reporters on Dec. 18, 2007, shortly after Russia delivered the first shipment of fuel for the reactor, President George W. Bush said he supported Moscow’s provision of fuel for Iran’s nuclear power program. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he said.

The fuel shipments were completed in January 2008 and have been kept under IAEA seal since then.

The 2005 policy shift to accept the Bushehr reactor followed a debate within the Bush administration as to how to approach the issue. According to the former officials, the debate was largely between those with responsibilities for nonproliferation, such as Bolton, who continued to object to Russia’s construction of the reactor, and the State Department’s regional bureau and its allies, who argued that it could serve as a model for Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

One former official said of the debate, “That’s no surprise, and not particular to the Bush administration; the two sides were reflecting their natural positions.”

The summer start-up of the reactor announced by Putin follows years of slipping timelines for when the reactor would be completed and begin operations. Russia had long maintained that those delays were due to technical problems and missed Iranian payments, but it is widely believed that Moscow has intentionally delayed the project due to concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions. Construction of the reactor was completed last year.

After another estimated date for starting reactor operations announced by Russian and Iranian officials passed at the end of 2009, Russian nuclear energy corporation chief Sergey Kiriyenko told reporters in January that “2010 is the year of Bushehr,” adding that “[t]here is absolutely no doubt that it will be built this year.”

More recently, officials from Atomstroyexport, the Russian state firm responsible for the reactor work, have given a more definitive time frame. The Russian news service RIA Novosti quoted Atomstroyexport Vice President Timur Bavlakov as saying March 24, “The start-up of the Bushehr nuclear power plant is planned for August.”

This would appear to come after the expected time frame for additional UN sanctions. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said during a March 14 press briefing he believed it was possible to agree on a resolution by June.

 

In a statement that triggered a public dispute with the United States, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last month Russia would help Iran’s first nuclear power plant begin operations this summer. The March 18 announcement, made during a Russian nuclear industry conference, coincided with a visit to Russia by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who criticized the move.

News Briefs

Japan Admits Secret U.S. Nuclear Pacts

Tom Z. Collina

Japan confirmed in March, after decades of denials, the existence of secret Cold War-era pacts to allow U.S. nuclear-armed ships to dock in Japanese ports in violation of Tokyo’s own national policies. The secret pacts had been revealed previously in Washington, but Japanese leaders had continued to deny their existence.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government opened an investigation of the secret agreements shortly after taking office in September 2009. The victory by Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan ended the almost unbroken 54-year reign of the Liberal Democratic Party last year.

“It is regrettable that such facts were not disclosed to the public for such a long time, even after the end of the Cold War,” Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told reporters in Tokyo March 9. “This is about becoming a government that discloses more information and is more truthful.”

Okada said exposing the pacts would not change Japan’s postwar policy of not making or owning nuclear weapons or allowing their entry into Japanese ports. He added the agreements were no longer needed because U.S. ships no longer carry nuclear weapons.

The investigation committee’s report said it had not found a formal signed treaty that allowed U.S. nuclear-armed warships into Japanese ports. Instead, the report said there had been an unspoken understanding with Washington that Tokyo would not ask whether U.S. ships had nuclear weapons on board.


 

More North Korean Arms Intercepted

Peter Crail

South Africa intercepted smuggled North Korean tank components last November, Pretoria reported to a UN sanctions committee at the end of February. In Feb. 24 testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the tank parts were destined for the Republic of Congo. The components were carried in two containers said to contain spare bulldozer parts, the Associated Press reported Feb. 25.

The attempted North Korean arms transfer joins a series of UN sanctions violations by Pyongyang uncovered in the nine months since a UN arms embargo was tightened last June. States with evidence of sanctions violations are required to report them to a UN Security Council committee established to monitor the sanctions. A Jan. 18 report by the committee indicated that it received reports on four cases of suspected violations by North Korea last year.

Known cases include the interception of arms caches by Thailand last December and the United Arab Emirates last August. Both shipments contained small arms, light weapons, and munitions bound for Iran. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

The United States and its allies maintain that the sanctions have helped to put economic pressure on North Korea, which relies largely on sales of military equipment for foreign currency.


 

U.S. Releases Cybersecurity Details

Michael Ashby

The White House released for the first time unclassified details of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) March 2. Launched in January 2008 by the Bush administration, the CNCI details a number of initiatives designed to increase the security of public and private U.S. computer networks.

In a March 15 interview, James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the release of CNCI is “a signal that the United States is taking a new approach to cybersecurity.” Lewis, who previously worked on national-security and technology issues for the U.S. government, added that the declassification of parts of the CNCI is a necessary step to include the private sector.

Part of the CNCI is “aimed at building an approach to cyber defense strategy that deters interference and attack in cyberspace…and developing appropriate responses for both state and non-state actors.” That statement appears to be the first acknowledgment by the Obama administration that it will develop a deterrence strategy in cyberspace.

According to Lewis, “[A] lot of the broad questions haven’t been wrestled to the ground: Who authorizes [the use of a U.S. offensive response]? When to use it? What will be its characteristics?”

The primary cyberthreats facing the United States come from China and Russia, Lewis said. Cyberattacks originating in those countries typically cannot be traced to the governments, but, because China and Russia have put a great deal of effort into monitoring communications, it is “implausible” that they “have not actively encouraged cybercrime,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the CNCI “faces challenges if it is to fully achieve its objectives related to securing federal information systems.” In a March 2010 report, the GAO said the CNCI should do a better job of defining roles and responsibilities, establish “measures of effectiveness,” and determine “an appropriate level of transparency.” On the last point, the report said, “Few of the elements of CNCI have been made public, and the rationale for classifying related information remains unclear, hindering coordination with private sector entities and accountability to the public.”


 

Russia, India Reach Arms Sale Agreements

Caitlin Taber

During Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s March 12 visit to India to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Moscow and New Delhi agreed on several arms sales, according to news reports. Most notably, the visit concluded six years of negotiations for the sale of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov to India, the reports said.

Media reports on the sale put the total value at $2.3 billion. Vadim Kozyulin, director of the conventional arms program at the nongovernmental PIRCenter in Moscow, said Putin has signed the agreement but that the final amount of the sale has yet to be disclosed.

The estimated price is significantly higher than the original $1.5 billion price tag Russia initially gave India in 2004, as reported by the U.S. Congressional Research Service. The price increase was a source of contention throughout the talks.

Negotiations reportedly are still under way to complete the sale of 29 MiG-29 fighter jets. According to the news reports and Kozyulin, that part of the package is worth about $1.5 billion. A contract for about 40 Su-30MKI fighter jets is also expected to be concluded in 2010, Kozyulin said.

In addition, Russia is currently testing the Akula-II class Nerpa nuclear-powered submarine for a possible lease to India later this year, Kozyulin said.

 

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