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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

Outreach to North Korea Continues

Peter Crail

High-level UN and Chinese envoys met with key North Korean leaders in early February to discuss the prospects for resuming multilateral talks on that country’s nuclear weapons program.

Despite Pyongyang’s willingness to continue discussions on the possibility of returning to negotiations it abandoned last year, it appears to be sending mixed messages to the international community. Those six-party talks involved the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Although few details of the Chinese outreach to North Korea have been made public, reports from China’s official press have suggested that Pyongyang is receptive to engaging in denuclearization talks. The state-run Xinhua news agency reported Feb. 9 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, that North Korea’s goal is still the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. In a 1992 “denuclearization” pact, North and South Korea agreed to forswear nuclear weapons and the means to develop them. The report quoted Kim as saying that “the sincerity of relevant parties to resume the six-party talks is very important.”

Wang met with Kim Feb. 8 and, on his return to Beijing Feb. 9, was accompanied by Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, for further discussions.

The Chinese reports contrast with the assessment of B. Lynn Pascoe, UN undersecretary-general for political affairs and a former U.S. diplomat, who visited North Korea Feb. 9-12. Describing his discussions during a Feb. 12 press conference in Beijing, Pascoe said that the North Koreans were “certainly not eager to return to the six-party talks,” although they have not ruled out a return.

Pascoe was the most senior UN official to visit the country in six years. The trip included a meeting with Pyongyang’s second-highest ranking official, Kim Yong Nam.

The outreach by China and the United Nations follows North Korean claims that it would be willing to return to talks and pursue denuclearization only after a peace treaty formally concluding the Korean War was agreed and international sanctions were lifted.

In a Jan. 11 Foreign Ministry statement, Pyongyang proposed talks beginning this year on a peace treaty to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which continues to serve as a ceasefire but not a permanent end to the Korean War. “The conclusion of the peace treaty will help terminate the hostile relations between [North Korea and the United States] and positively promote the denuclearization of the KoreanPeninsula at a rapid tempo,” read the statement.

The statement also said that the removal of sanctions was necessary to pave the way for the resumption of talks. Sin Son Ho, North Korea’s permanent representative to the UN, repeated this position Jan. 12, telling reporters, “We will return to the talks if the sanctions are lifted.”

Japan, South Korea, and the United States have maintained, however, that Pyongyang must make progress on denuclearization before peace talks could begin or sanctions could be removed. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Seoul Feb. 3 that until North Korea agrees once again to abide by its commitments in the six-party talks, “the United States will not be prepared either to ease sanctions [or] begin discussions on other issues like the establishment of a peace regime.”

Those talks, which were carried out intermittently between 2003 and 2009, arrived at two sets of agreements. A September 2005 joint statement outlined a broad framework for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, as well as steps toward a peace agreement and normalization of relations between the conflicting parties. That was followed by a February 2007 agreement in which the parties agreed on steps to implement the 2005 accord. Those steps were in the process of being carried out when Pyongyang backed away from the talks in April 2009 following the UN Security Council’s censure of a North Korean rocket launch earlier that month. (See ACT, May 2009.)

A diplomatic source from one of the six parties said in a Jan. 26 e-mail that if North Korea begins discussions on denuclearization again, “other issues can be dealt with at a quite early stage.” The diplomat stressed, however, that North Korea must first demonstrate that it is sincere in dealing with the primary issue of denuclearization before the other parties can exhibit such flexibility.

 

 

High-level UN and Chinese envoys met with key North Korean leaders in early February to discuss the prospects for resuming multilateral talks on that country’s nuclear weapons program.

Despite Pyongyang’s willingness to continue discussions on the possibility of returning to negotiations it abandoned last year, it appears to be sending mixed messages to the international community. Those six-party talks involved the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Senate Targets Iran’s Oil Suppliers

Peter Crail

The Senate approved a bill Jan. 28 that would increase pressure on Iran by levying sanctions on firms that export gasoline and refinery equipment to that country.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, sponsored by Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), amends the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which targeted firms investing in Iran’s energy sector. The House of Representatives passed an Iran sanctions bill in December. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

Iran imports about 30 to 40 percent of its gasoline from abroad; proponents of the legislation have cited this as a key economic vulnerability. (See ACT, June 2009.) Iran has recently taken steps to reduce its gasoline consumption, however. The Iranian parliament adopted legislation last October to phase out long-standing public energy subsidies, which artificially lowered the cost of gasoline and other energy-related goods.

The Senate measure was approved unanimously by voice vote and came a day after a bipartisan group of nine senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to pursue additional U.S. sanctions against Iran.

A House-Senate conference committee will have to reconcile the two versions of the bill, and the two chambers will then have to approve the committee compromise before final legislation can be signed into law.

The Senate bill is far more expansive than the House version, which was primarily aimed at Iran’s gasoline imports. Among other steps, it extends the Iran Sanctions Act restrictions to U.S. firms whose subsidiaries violate that law; codifies Department of the Treasury asset freezes and trade bans against Iran; authorizes states, local governments, and mutual funds to divest, without the risk of legal action, from firms that contribute to Iran’s energy sector; and prohibits U.S. government contracts with firms that export sensitive communications monitoring and jamming equipment to Iran.

It also establishes criteria to determine whether states may be found to be “destinations of possible diversion concern” and “destinations of diversion concern,” enumerating actions to be taken in response to each designation. The legislation would require the United States to provide assistance to strengthen the export controls in countries found to have lax export control systems or not to be cooperating with U.S. efforts to halt illicit trafficking in sensitive goods and technologies. Countries that continue their noncooperation would be subject to tightened Department of Commerce export licensing requirements.

The Obama administration has expressed concern that the sanctions legislation may hinder multilateral cooperation addressing Iran’s nuclear program. In a Jan. 27 floor statement, Dodd said that the administration was seeking an exemption from sanctions for firms in countries that are cooperating on efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program. The administration wants to have “a mechanism which could provide an additional incentive for certain countries to work with us on imposing tougher sanctions,” Dodd said.

He added that discussions with the administration have begun on adding such an exemption. The talks are focused on determining the criteria that would constitute “close cooperation,” he said. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who sponsored the House bill, said in December that he would be willing to work with the administration to address its concerns in a final bill.

In addition to being broader in scope, the Senate version includes less-stringent waiver provisions than the House bill for the president to exempt firms from sanctions. Although the Senate and House bills require the president to notify Congress of the rationale for any exemption, the Senate bill requires that such an exemption be “in the national interest” rather than “in the vital national interest,” as the House version requires.

Due to concerns that such penalties on foreign firms may hinder international cooperation to address Iranian proliferation, previous presidents have often not made the official determination that a firm is violating the law, skirting the need to issue a waiver or impose sanctions.

The United States has been holding discussions with UN Security Council members over the past month on a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. U.S. officials have indicated that Russia, which has not been willing to go as far as Western countries on Iran sanctions in the past, has joined the West in seeking new penalties.

U.S. officials have expressed hope that China would do so as well. On NBC’s Meet the Press Feb. 14, Vice President Joe Biden said, “[W]e have the support of everyone from Russia to Europe, and I believe we’ll get support of China to continue to impose sanctions on Iran.”

However, Beijing, one of the five veto-holding permanent members of the council, has continued to object to sanctions, calling for further negotiations instead. “We hope relevant parties can show flexibility to create conditions for completely and properly solving the Iran nuclear problem through diplomatic efforts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters Feb. 23.

Some key nonpermanent council members, including Brazil and Turkey, have echoed China’s call for continued negotiations rather than seeking sanctions, but current negotiation efforts on an IAEA proposal to fuel an Iranian nuclear reactor and reduce tensions appear to have failed to make progress.

A resolution requires nine of 15 votes to pass, but sponsors generally want their resolutions to be as broadly supported as possible.

 

 

The Senate approved a bill Jan. 28 that would increase pressure on Iran by levying sanctions on firms that export gasoline and refinery equipment to that country.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, sponsored by Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), amends the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which targeted firms investing in Iran’s energy sector. The House of Representatives passed an Iran sanctions bill in December.

Iran Raising Uranium-Enrichment Level

Peter Crail

Iran has moved nearly its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to a plant where it has begun further enrichment to up to 20 percent, a Feb. 18 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. Tehran’s move has escalated international tensions over its nuclear program, putting it in a position to dramatically reduce the time in which it can enrich a significant amount of material to weapons grade.

Iran claims that the additional enrichment is aimed at refueling a research reactor in Tehran that operates on about 19.75 percent LEU and is expected to run out of fuel later this year. (See ACT, November 2009.)

The new IAEA report indicated that, on Feb. 14, Iran transferred about 1,950 kilograms of LEU from its commercial-scale enrichment facility at Natanz to a much smaller pilot enrichment facility at the same location in order to carry out the enrichment to 20 percent. The transferred amount represents more than 90 percent of the total estimated stockpile Iran has produced since it began large-scale enrichment in 2007.

The percentage of enrichment refers to the concentration of the fissile isotope uranium-235, the isotope appropriate for nuclear weapons or nuclear power, in the material. Nuclear power reactors typically use uranium enriched to about 4 percent. Weapons-grade enrichment levels are generally around 90 percent, although nuclear weapons can also be produced using uranium enriched to about 80 percent. The IAEA defines highly enriched uranium (HEU) as uranium enriched to levels of 20 percent and higher.

The majority of the enrichment work needed to get to weapons-grade HEU levels, however, is carried out while enriching to LEU levels. A Feb. 8 Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) report says that “producing 3.5 percent enriched uranium is about 70 percent of the way to weapon-grade uranium in terms of enrichment efforts.” The authors say that if Iran enriched its entire stockpile of LEU to 20 percent, “it would be going most of the remaining way toward the production of weapon-grade HEU.”

Two days after Iran began its initial steps to further enrich LEU, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced during a Feb. 11 public rally commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that Iran had produced its first batch of 20 percent-enriched uranium. He also boasted that Iran had the capacity to enrich to much higher levels if it desired. “We have the capability to enrich to more than 20 percent and to more than 80 percent, but because we don’t need to, we won’t do so,” he said.

Expanding on Ahmadinejad’s claim, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Ali Akbar Salehi told Reuters Feb. 11 that Iran not only has the capability of enriching to far higher levels, but doing so “is a legal right” reflected in IAEA agreements and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Article 4 of the NPT says the parties are entitled to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Under Article 4, the pursuit of nuclear energy is an “inalienable right,” but it must be “in conformity with” Articles 1 and 2, which contain nonproliferation commitments for the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states.

The February IAEA report expressed concern, however, that Iran might be engaged in efforts to develop a nuclear warhead, which would violate its nonproliferation commitment under Article 2.

Moreover, the UN Security Council has adopted five resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities and is currently holding discussions on a potential sixth. The council has asked the IAEA to report on Iran’s compliance with this demand.

Raising Enrichment in One Cascade

The IAEA reports that only one 164-centrifuge cascade at the pilot enrichment facility is capable of enrichment to 20 percent. A cascade is a collection of centrifuges used to carry out the enrichment process.

Using that cascade, Iran began enriching about 10 kilograms of its LEU to 20 percent between Feb. 9 and 11, but started that process before agency inspectors arrived. A brief Feb. 10 IAEA report on the transfer and further enrichment of the material noted that, although the IAEA requested that Iran wait for the IAEA to adjust safeguards at the pilot facility before it began feeding LEU into the centrifuges, agency inspectors were informed when they arrived at the facility Feb. 9 that Iran had already begun doing so the previous evening “for purposes of passivation.” Passivation is a process by which small amounts of the material are introduced in the centrifuges to prepare them for enrichment.

The Feb. 18 IAEA report said that Iran provided “insufficient” time for the agency to adjust safeguards before running the centrifuges with LEU. Pierre Goldschmidt, former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, said in a Feb. 18 e-mail that Iran “should have waited for the agency’s green light” before starting the feed, regardless of the purpose.

Salehi said Feb. 11 that the cascade is capable of producing about 3 to 5 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium each month. Because that was “already more than enough” for the research reactor’s needs of 1.5 kilograms per month, he indicated that Iran would not use more than one cascade for the additional enrichment. However, given the operating performance history of Iran’s centrifuges, the cascade is more likely to produce about 1.25 to 3 kilograms per month, the ISIS report says.

When asked by Reuters how much of Iran’s stockpile would be used to produce the fuel, Salehi replied, “[W]e will adjust it,” noting that 10 kilograms of 3.5 percent LEU produces 1 kilogram of 20 percent-enriched uranium.

At that ratio, Iran could produce about 195 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium from the amount it transferred to the pilot facility. That amount would be enough to run the reactor at full capacity for more than 10 years, or about twice as long if Iran continued to operate it at lower power levels, as it has since the 1990s. Tehran has claimed that it needed 120 kilograms of the material to run the reactor.

The production of such a large amount of 20 percent-enriched uranium fuel for the Tehran reactor appears to contradict Iran’s stated intention of replacing that reactor once another research reactor under construction at Arak is completed. In 2006, AEOI’s then-director, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, told the Iranian Students News Agency, “Tehran’s reactor will be turned off by the time that Arak’s reactor is started up.”

Although initially slated for completion in 2009, the heavy-water Arak reactor is currently expected to be completed next year and begin operations in 2013. That reactor runs on natural uranium fuel, which does not need to be enriched. Iran has said it expects the process line for producing fuel for the Arak reactor to be completed this month.

The IAEA and UN Security Council have called on Iran to halt the construction of that reactor because of concerns it can be used to produce one to two bombs’ worth of plutonium each year. (See ACT, November 2006.)

In addition to having transferred an amount of LEU well in excess of what it claims to need for the Tehran reactor, Iran does not currently have the capability to convert the 20 percent-enriched uranium into the necessary fuel assemblies. According to the ISIS report, Iran could develop the means to create the fuel for the reactor, but “it would take some time to master the process” and would run quality assurance and reactor-safety risks.

The IAEA report indicated that Iran intends to install a process line at its uranium-conversion facility for research and development on producing LEU metal enriched up to 19.7 percent, presumably in preparation for fueling the reactor.

Fuel Swap Rejected?

Iran’s move to enrich LEU to 20 percent appears to rule out the possibility of reaching agreement on an IAEA proposal for Iran to swap much of its LEU stockpile for fuel for the Tehran reactor. Last October, Iran initially agreed “in principle” to a proposal under which France, Russia, and the United States would provide fuel for the reactor. Shortly thereafter, Tehran sought changes to the arrangement to provide “100 percent guarantees” it would receive the fuel, threatening to enrich to 20 percent itself if those changes were not accepted. (See ACT, December 2009.) Those changes included a simultaneous exchange of material on Iranian soil and export of the LEU in several shipments rather than all at once.

In January, after failing to respond to a Dec. 31 deadline by the West to accept the IAEA-brokered plan, Iran declared that it would proceed with enrichment to 20 percent in one month if its proposed changes were not accepted.

Both sides have said that a fuel swap is still on the table, but Iran is not willing to agree to the IAEA-brokered proposal, and the other parties have refused to accept Iran’s demands to stagger the LEU shipments or carry out a simultaneous exchange. Under the IAEA proposal, Iran would ship its LEU immediately, as a confidence-building measure, and would receive the fuel about one year later once it was manufactured.

Iran’s plan for further enrichment prompted several countries to question its motives. A Feb. 12 letter to Amano from the permanent representatives of France, Russia, and the United States to the IAEA stated that Iran’s additional enrichment was “wholly unjustified,” violated UN resolutions, and represented “a further step toward a capability to produce” HEU.

The letter also highlighted a number of provisions in the IAEA proposal, the text of which has not been made public, intended to give Iran assurances that it would receive the reactor fuel. Those assurances included placing Iran’s LEU in the formal custody of the IAEA, holding the LEU in escrow in a third country until Iran received the fuel, and making the exchange a legally binding arrangement.

Centrifuges More Efficient

As Iran prepares to increase the enrichment level of much of its LEU stock, it is continuing to increase the efficiency of the centrifuges operating at its commercial-scale plant.

Iran is currently enriching uranium in about 3,800 of the 8,600 centrifuges installed in that facility, down from about 4,000 enriching in November 2009 and a high of about 5,000 enriching last May, according to the IAEA report. In spite of the decrease in the number of operating centrifuges, its monthly LEU output remained steady at about 85 kilograms between May and November, increasing to about 113 kilograms between November and January.

The reasons behind Iran’s reduction in centrifuge operations are unclear, but experts and Western diplomats said in February that Iran has continued to face technical hurdles in consistently operating large numbers of machines.

Update: March 5, 2010

During a March 1 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Iranian envoy to the agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that Iran had moved the vessel containing most of its LEU stockpile back from its pilot facility to its commercial-scale facility underground. The move suggests that Iran may not enrich the entire stockpile to a level of 20 percent.

Soltanieh appeared to indicate that Iran originally moved the 1,965 kilograms of LEU to the pilot facility because the material was stored in a single container vessel and moving the entire vessel was necessary to enrich any amount of the LEU further.

Iranian technicians “just moved the capsule because technically they needed it and they have put it back,” Reuters quoted Soltanieh as saying March 1. “We used the material which we needed for the Tehran Research Reactor,” he added.

IAEA officials contacted by Arms Control Today could not confirm that the move had occurred.

 

 

 

Iran has moved nearly its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to a plant where it has begun further enrichment to up to 20 percent, a Feb. 18 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. Tehran’s move has escalated international tensions over its nuclear program, putting it in a position to dramatically reduce the time in which it can enrich a significant amount of material to weapons grade.

Iran claims that the additional enrichment is aimed at refueling a research reactor in Tehran that operates on about 19.75 percent LEU and is expected to run out of fuel later this year.

IAEA Cites Possible Iran Warhead Efforts

Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the first time raised a warning flag last month that Iran may be currently working to develop a nuclear warhead.

In a Feb. 18 report, the agency said it has “concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Previous reports have focused on alleged nuclear weapons-related activities occurring in the past.

In the February report, the IAEA says its concerns are based on information that countries have given the agency over the past several years on suspected Iranian nuclear activities.

The new assessment was contained in the first full report issued by IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano, who took the helm of the agency Dec. 1. It appears to indicate a subtle shift in the way the agency presents its appraisals under its new head.

Experts and former IAEA member-state officials have noted that the language in the report, as well as in a separate report on Syria issued the same day, is more direct than that of Amano’s predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei. Commenting on the agency’s latest reports on Iran and Syria (see box), for example, a former Western representative to the IAEA said that they are “refreshingly straightforward and factual.”

“The IAEA seems to be returning to its roots as a technical agency charged with verification,” the former diplomat said.

Iranian officials responded by criticizing Amano, claiming that he did not show “independence” in his report. “Unfortunately, Mr. Amano is relenting to the pressure of the U.S.,” Kyodo News quoted Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying Feb. 22.

Beyond raising questions about ongoing warhead development, the new report detailed a variety of additional IAEA concerns, including Iran’s failure to cooperate with agency inspectors to clarify a number of nuclear activities and Iran’s recent efforts to further enrich most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 20 percent.

The agency’s 35-member Board of Governors is expected to consider the report when it meets March 1-5. The report has also been submitted to the UN Security Council, which is currently discussing a potential fourth round of sanctions on Iran.

Investigating Military Dimensions

The assessment that Iran may be currently working on developing a nuclear warhead comes about two years after the agency provided its first public assessment of information it has been receiving from states on suspected Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. A February 2008 report detailed a number of weapons-relevant activities Iran is known or believed to have pursued. (See ACT, March 2008.) IAEA officials have since described the agency’s efforts to confirm or clarify those activities as a “stalemate.” (See ACT, October 2008.) The new report states that, since August 2008, Iran has refused to discuss these issues or provide information to prove its assertion that allegations of weapons work are “baseless” and “based on forgeries.”

Addressing these questions by providing access to documentation, sites, and personnel “is important for clarifying the agency’s concerns about these activities…which seem to have continued beyond 2004,” the report said.

A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed “with high confidence” that Iran suspended its weapons-related activities in 2003, but judged with “moderate confidence” that the halt continued to mid-2007. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) U.S. officials have indicated that a new NIE is expected in the coming weeks.

Uranium Metal Activities

Tehran also appears to be engaged in declared activities that could be relevant to weapons development. In particular, Iran is constructing or is planning to construct a number of process lines at its uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan intended to produce uranium metal. Nuclear weapons experts say that such work can be useful for converting highly enriched uranium (HEU) into a form usable in nuclear weapons.

Former U.S. nuclear weapons designer Richard Garwin told Arms Control Today Feb. 19 that “working with 20 percent uranium-235 in these forms is not only good experience for dealing with 80 or 90 percent HEU, but if the equipment is made sufficiently small in diameter or total volume, it could be used intact for HEU” for a weapon.

According to the report, Iran has also initiated work on pyroprocessing research and development “to study the electrochemical production of uranium metal.” Siegfried Hecker, former head of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Feb. 19 that uranium pyroprocessing could be used to extract uranium-235 unburned from reactor fuel. “It should also be of concern,” he said.

Iran did not inform the IAEA that it was carrying out its pyroprocessing research until the agency conducted inspections at the Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran, where the work was being done, the February report said. The IAEA has asked for additional information on those activities.

Safeguards Requirements Still Resisted

Adding to concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions is its continuing refusal to fully implement its IAEA safeguards agreement and cooperate with agency inspectors, as described in the new report. Key among Iran’s safeguards failures is its nonadherence to the requirement that countries provide design information on new nuclear facilities as soon as the decision is made to construct them. The requirement is designed to give the IAEA enough time to develop and implement appropriate safeguards for those facilities. That obligation is contained in a safeguards provision called Code 3.1, which was modified in 1992 by the IAEA board.

In March 2007, Iran announced it was reverting to a pre-1992 version of the code that requires the submission of design information only six months prior to the introduction of nuclear material into a new facility. The agency has disputed Iran’s right to take that step. In a report to the board last November, the IAEA secretariat said Iran could not unilaterally suspend implementation of the modified Code 3.1, which Iran agreed to carry out in 2003. Following that report, the board adopted a resolution urging Iran to reimplement the provision. (See ACT, December 2009.)

That resolution also called on Iran to confirm that it has not taken a decision to authorize or construct any nuclear facilities not yet declared to the agency. Shortly after the resolution was adopted, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Tehran had authorized the construction of 10 additional uranium-enrichment facilities and that five sites for those facilities had already been determined. The recent IAEA report indicated that when the agency sought to confirm that such a decision was made and acquire design information for any such facilities, Iran referred to its reversion to the out-of-date version of Code 3.1, stating in a Dec. 17 letter that it would “provide the agency with the required information if necessary.”

Iran’s ability to construct 10 additional enrichment facilities, however, is in serious doubt. According to a Feb. 8 Institute for Science and International Security report, Iran may be able to lay the groundwork for such facilities, “but outfitting them with centrifuge equipment is far-fetched.”

The IAEA also said that Tehran’s failure to provide design information on two additional facilities is “inconsistent with” its safeguards obligations.

Those facilities are an announced nuclear power reactor to be located at Darkhovin and an enrichment facility called Fordow under construction near the city of Qom. Iran declared the Fordow facility to the agency last September, shortly before the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States held a joint press conference claiming that Iran had been constructing the plant in secret for several years and that it was intended to produce material for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 2009.)

The new report says the IAEA has sought to clarify the purpose and time frame for the construction of the Fordow facility and has asked for access to documents and companies involved in the design of the plant. Iran has not cooperated with agency requests.

In addition, the agency cites Iran for a lack of cooperation in explaining the presence of several drums of heavy water at its uranium-conversion facility, where uranium ore concentrate is prepared for enrichment by being converted into uranium hexafluoride. In a January visit, the agency said it counted 756 50-liter drums said to contain the heavy water.

Heavy water is a substance used to moderate certain types of nuclear reactors, including a research reactor Iran is constructing at Arak. Due to concerns that reactor could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, the IAEA requested—and the UN Security Council demanded—that Iran suspend all heavy-water-related projects. UN sanctions prohibit the export of heavy water to Iran.

According to the recent report, when asked by the agency about the origin of the heavy water, Iran merely replied that it was the origin. Tehran has since prohibited the agency from carrying out the requested sampling analysis of the material to verify its claims.

 

IAEA: Still No Syrian Explanation of Uranium Traces

Peter Crail

Syria has continued to obstruct a nearly two-year investigation into suspected nuclear weapons efforts, a Feb. 18 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report indicates.

The agency has determined that features of a building at a site called Dair al Zour, which Israel destroyed in 2007, and Syrian procurement activities could be consistent with a nuclear reactor. The West has claimed that Syria was building a nuclear reactor on the site in secret as part of a nuclear weapons program; Syria has claimed the structure was a nonnuclear military installation. Following a June 2008 investigation of the site, the IAEA uncovered uranium particles of a type that is not in Syria’s declared inventory, the agency reported later that year. The agency said that Syria has not yet provided an adequate explanation for these particles or provided additional access to the site or debris from the destroyed facility.

The IAEA is also continuing to investigate the presence of uranium particles at Syria’s sole declared nuclear research reactor, which is in Damascus. A November 2009 IAEA report said the agency’s findings did not support Syria’s initial explanations for the uranium. Syria has since provided new explanations, which the agency is continuing to assess, the new report said. One point the agency is trying to determine is whether there is any link between the particles at the Damascus reactor and the ones found at the Dair al Zour site.

The IAEA said in the February report that the presence of the uranium particles at both sites “calls into question the completeness and correctness of Syria’s declarations concerning nuclear material and facilities.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the first time raised a warning flag last month that Iran may be currently working to develop a nuclear warhead.

In a Feb. 18 report, the agency said it has “concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Previous reports have focused on alleged nuclear weapons-related activities occurring in the past.

U.S. Envoy Holds Talks in North Korea

Peter Crail

The Obama administration held its first senior-level meetings with North Korean officials Dec. 8-10 in an attempt to restart multilateral denuclearization talks Pyongyang abandoned in April.

The U.S. interagency delegation was led by Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, who described the talks during a Dec. 16 press briefing as “quite positive.” He added, however, that it was not yet clear when and how the multilateral talks would be restarted. Bosworth met with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju and nuclear envoy Kim Gye Gwan.

Following a UN Security Council rebuke of North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch, Pyongyang renounced the six-party talks in which it had participated intermittently with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States since 2003. (See ACT, May 2009.) North Korea declared at that time that it would “never participate in such talks” again but appeared to back away from that position last summer. (See ACT, October 2009.)

According to Bosworth, North Korea indicated that it would like to resume the six-party talks and “agreed on the essential nature” of a September 2005 joint statement by the six countries. In the statement, North Korea committed to abandoning its nuclear weapons programs in return for a normalization of relations and economic aid. Bosworth noted that Beijing, as the chair of the multilateral talks, would lead further consultations to restart them. “I would expect that this process will move forward,” he said. No further talks between Washington and Pyongyang are currently scheduled.

While in Pyongyang, Bosworth delivered a letter from President Barack Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Dec. 16 that the letter sought to convince Kim to “come back to the table and ultimately live up to” his country’s disarmament agreements.

Bosworth’s visit came just days before law enforcement authorities in Thailand seized about 35 tons of smuggled arms aboard a North Korean plane. Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters Dec. 14 the cargo was bound for “a destination in the Middle East.”

Reportedly acting on a tip from the United States, Thai authorities inspected the plane Dec. 12 after it made an unscheduled landing in Bangkok. The authorities said the weapons included rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air rockets, and other heavy weapons. Panitan said that Thailand detained the crew of five, who were charged with the possession of heavy weapons and false cargo manifests. Police spokesman Pongsapat Pongcharoen told reporters Dec. 14 that the crew said they believed they were transporting oil drilling equipment.

North Korea has been subject to an extensive arms embargo since June, when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1874 in response to that country’s May nuclear test. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) The resolution calls on states to inspect suspect North Korean transports and seize and destroy goods that violate the UN sanctions, including major military armaments and materials that could be used to produce missiles or nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. North Korea relies on such sales to obtain foreign currency.

The seizure was the second one under the resolution’s authority to be made public since passage of the resolution, following a similar interception of a North Korean arms shipment by the United Arab Emirates last August. (See ACT, September 2009.) India inspected a suspicious North Korean vessel in its territorial waters in August, but it was not found to be carrying contraband. The Thai interdiction was the first reported incident involving air cargo.

The arms seizure does not appear likely to influence discussions with North Korea. When asked about the incident, Bosworth said the issue will be handled by a UN committee overseeing the sanctions on North Korea, but that it shows how the sanctions are effective and important. He also said that, in his meetings with officials in Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, and Moscow, the other six-party talks participants expressed strong support for continuing the sanctions on North Korea.

Following meetings in Seoul Dec. 17, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin told reporters that “the sanctions against North Korea must be fulfilled” until North Korea has halted its nuclear program.

 

 

The Obama administration held its first senior-level meetings with North Korean officials Dec. 8-10 in an attempt to restart multilateral denuclearization talks Pyongyang abandoned in April.

The U.S. interagency delegation was led by Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, who described the talks during a Dec. 16 press briefing as “quite positive.” He added, however, that it was not yet clear when and how the multilateral talks would be restarted. Bosworth met with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju and nuclear envoy Kim Gye Gwan.

House Adopts Iran Oil Sanctions

Peter Crail

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Dec. 15 to penalize companies that provide refined petroleum to Iran, advancing congressional efforts to strengthen sanctions against Tehran.

The Senate is considering similar measures in more expansive sanctions legislation approved by the Senate Banking Committee in October. House and Senate committee leaders indicated in April that they would delay moving the legislation forward to allow the Obama administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran. (See ACT, June 2009.)

The House adopted the measure by a vote of 412-12, with four voting “present.”

The legislation, called the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, amends the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which imposes trade and financial penalties on foreign firms that invest $20 million in Iran’s energy sector in one year. The new legislation is intended to apply similar penalties to companies that supply refined petroleum to Iran or help it to construct petroleum refineries.

The legislation is intended to take advantage of Iran’s reliance on foreign sources for about 30 to 40 percent of its refined petroleum. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill in April, said in an October 2009 press release that Iran’s need to import such a significant percentage of its refined petroleum was its “Achilles’ heel.”

Iran’s suppliers of refined petroleum include firms in a variety of countries in Europe and Asia, but its European suppliers have reduced their exports in recent years under pressure from the United States and their own governments. Tehran has therefore increased its supply of gasoline from Asian countries, particularly China, and in September signed a deal with Petróleos de Venezuela to import 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day.

To date, no firms have been sanctioned under the Iran Sanctions Act although several firms have met the $20 million investment criterion, according to an October report by the Congressional Research Service. Due to concerns that such penalties on foreign firms may hinder international cooperation to address Iranian proliferation, previous presidents have often not made the official determination that a firm is violating the law, skirting the need to issue a waiver or impose sanctions.

The House bill seeks to limit this practice by requiring that the president investigate suspicions of violation and imposing a time frame for making a determination. The bill also makes the conditions under which the president can issue a waiver more stringent by requiring that the waiver be used only when it is “vital” to U.S. national security, rather than just “important.”

Concerns Over Senate Bill

Although the sanctions bills have received strong bipartisan support, administration officials have expressed some concern about the potential timing of the passage of the Senate bill as well as some of its provisions. In a Dec. 11 letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), first published on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that he is concerned that the current version of the Senate bill “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for” efforts to “impose significant international pressure on Iran.”

Steinberg said the administration’s substantive concerns related to “the lack of flexibility, inefficient monetary thresholds and penalty levels, and blacklisting that could cause unintended foreign policy consequences.”

He requested that the Senate wait until 2010 so that U.S. diplomatic efforts were not undermined. The Obama administration had set a Dec. 31 deadline for Iran to make progress in negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany, pledging to seek additional UN sanctions on Iran if there was insufficient progress by then.

Congressional sources said in December that although the Senate legislation was approved by the banking committee, Kerry’s committee also has jurisdiction over the issue, and Kerry’s approval is important for its potential passage. A Senate source said in December that Senate members sought to seek approval for the bill before the holiday recess under a unanimous consent rule. That rule would allow the bill to be put to a vote in its present form so long as no senator objected. The attempt to acquire unanimous consent was not successful.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones Dec. 15 as saying that Kerry’s office is “working with the administration to reach a solution that achieves the minimum all parties” are seeking.

The administration does not appear to have weighed in on the House bill. Berman told reporters Dec. 15 that the administration neither told him to “go ahead” or “not to go ahead.” He said he is willing to work with the administration to address some of its concerns in a conference committee reconciling the House and Senate bills, including the possibility of exempting the firms of certain countries from sanctions if those countries already impose strong sanctions against Iran.

Over the past several months, administration officials have frequently stressed their preference for pursuing multilateral measures rather than expanding U.S. sanctions. Discussing the passage of the House bill Dec. 15, Department of State spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that the administration wants to make sure that “the right kind of package” is being considered with respect to sanctions. He added that “any kind of pressure is going to be more effective if it’s implemented broadly and not simply bilaterally.”

Berman appeared to agree during a July hearing, when he said the legislation should be “plan C,” following administration efforts to pursue diplomatic engagement and stronger UN sanctions.

Diplomatic and congressional sources said in December that some of the multilateral sanctions the administration is considering are similar to those contained in the legislation, including restrictions on providing refined petroleum to Iran or helping it construct refineries.

In December, the European Union signaled its intent to strengthen its own sanctions on Iran. A Dec. 11 statement by the EU Council said that it would support additional UN sanctions “if Iran continues not to cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program,” adding that it is ready to take steps to implement any such additional measures as well.

Banks Paying Fines for Iran Assistance

As the consideration of sanctions on foreign entities doing business with Iran intensifies, two major international financial institutions settled legal challenges with U.S. authorities over violations of U.S. sanctions.

The Department of the Treasury announced on Dec. 16 a $536 million settlement by Credit Suisse, the largest sanctions settlement in the history of the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, told reporters the same day that Credit Suisse had concealed the involvement of foreign entities sanctioned by the United States in transactions with U.S. banks for more than 20 years, adding that “the great majority of the transactions involved Iran.”

“Banks that do business with Iran expose themselves to the risk of becoming involved in Iran’s proliferation and terrorism activities,” he said.

The Treasury Department also announced a $217 million settlement by Lloyds TSB Bank. According to a Dec. 22 press release, beginning in the mid-1990s, “Lloyds developed a policy of intentionally manipulating and deleting information about U.S. sanctioned parties in wire transfer instructions,” in league with Iranian banks.

 

 

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Dec. 15 to penalize companies that provide refined petroleum to Iran, advancing congressional efforts to strengthen sanctions against Tehran.

The Senate is considering similar measures in more expansive sanctions legislation approved by the Senate Banking Committee in October. House and Senate committee leaders indicated in April that they would delay moving the legislation forward to allow the Obama administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran.

Peter Crail Discusses U.S. and Russian Nuclear Arsenals

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On September 24th, during an interview with Russia Today, Peter Crail discussed Russian and American efforts to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

 

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On September 24th, Peter Crail discussed Russian and American efforts to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

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Peter Crail Discusses North Korea on Russia Today

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In May 2009, ACA analyst Peter Crail discussed the North Korean nuclear program with Russia Today.


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In May 2009, ACA analyst Peter Crail discussed the North Korean nuclear program with Russia Today.

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