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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili,
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Greg Thielmann

Iran Nuclear Policy Brief: Breaking Down Iran's Breakout Capacity

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As efforts intensify to bring the Iran nuclear negotiations to a successful conclusion by November 24, the issue of breakout continues to occupy center stage.

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By Greg Thielmann
October 2014

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As efforts intensify to bring the Iran nuclear negotiations to a successful conclusion by November 24, the issue of breakout continues to occupy center stage. Setting limits on Iran’s nuclear program to dissuade the leaders in Tehran from breaking out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and possibly building nuclear weapons is a central objective of the P5+1 powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Consideration of the effect of agreed limits on the time it would take Iran to build nuclear weapons is, therefore, a necessary step in formulating the P5+1 negotiating position, but is not sufficient for navigating the appropriate course toward a comprehensive agreement.

Relying on the narrow definition of the term “breakout”—obtaining enough weapons-grade uranium gas for one bomb—does not fully capture the path that would have to be traveled. It is also necessary to consider “effective breakout”—the time needed to build a credible nuclear arsenal—in order to ensure that the proper balance between verification and limitations can be achieved.

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Iran Nuclear Brief: Iranian Missiles and the Comprehensive Nuclear Deal

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The international community has been acutely concerned for many years about Iran's increasing capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons. With sufficient fissile material and a warhead design, Iran could use its existing ballistic missiles to pose a credible nuclear threat throughout the region. Consequently, after repeatedly directing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, the UN Security Council decided in 2010 that Iran also had to halt all activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

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By Greg Thielmann
May 2014

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The international community has been acutely concerned for many years about Iran's increasing capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons. With sufficient fissile material and a warhead design, Iran could use its existing ballistic missiles to pose a credible nuclear threat throughout the region. Consequently, after repeatedly directing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, the UN Security Council decided in 2010 that Iran also had to halt all activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Now that serious negotiations are under way to curtail Iran's ability to dash for a bomb, seeking ballistic missile limits as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal would be unwise. Getting adequate and verifiable constraints on Iran's nuclear program remains the highest priority. The best way to address Iran's potential to exploit nuclear-capable missiles is to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is sufficiently limited and transparent. To also demand severe limits on conventional weapons that Iran regards as vital to its self-defense would jeopardize the negotiations' key objective.

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The "Cold Peace:" Arms Control After Crimea

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As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

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Volume 5, Issue 5, March 20, 2014

As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

American politicians and pundits have presented an array of policy response options, including intensified NATO military activities in Russia's "near abroad" and retreat from cooperative endeavors in U.S.-Russian arms control. At such times, there is a critical need for prudence, rationality, and historical perspective, and for avoiding actions that are counterproductive to the interests of the United States and our European allies.

Russia's actions certainly require a strong response, including international condemnation and measured sanctions against key Russian figures. The fragile new government in Kiev also needs assistance to put the country's economy on a more stable footing and to help counter any Russian efforts to intimidate Ukraine or seize additional territory.

However, U.S. policymakers should recognize that despite the severe differences with President Putin over Ukraine, it is clearly in the national interests of the United States to

  • scrupulously implement existing arms control treaty verification measures, which provide vital information and help to ensure compliance with treaty limits regarding Russian and U.S. military capabilities;
  • reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility and continue to seek further reductions in the still oversized nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States;
  • refrain from using strategic weapons to make political gestures;
  • redouble efforts to maintain dialogue between U.S. and Russian nongovernmental experts and organizations.

A Cold Peace, Not a New Cold War
It is also important to avoid facile comparisons with the four-decade-long, post-World War II confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. As Cold War veteran Jack Matlock, the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow during the Gorbachev era, recently observed, "The tensions between Russia and the West are [now] based more on misunderstandings, misrepresentations and posturing for domestic audiences than on any real clash of ideologies or national interests."

By the end of the second term of President George W. Bush, Russia's relationship with the United States and Western Europe was already troubled; Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 had cast a particular chill over a range of diplomatic undertakings. Although the Obama administration's "reset" in 2009 facilitated negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a new "Cold Peace" had settled over bilateral relations.

Today, Russia's behavior often appears to be driven by President Putin's interest in maintaining a strong grip on power inside Russia and to prevent more of the states of the former Soviet Union from integrating into the European economic and political sphere.

In contrast, the Cold War was a global struggle involving the near constant threat of a direct military confrontation and frequent proxy wars. Throughout much of the Cold War, more than 250,000 Soviet troops were positioned along the border of West Germany to seize isolated West Berlin and drive toward the English Channel. That border divided not only a nation, but two powerful military alliances, each possessing vast nuclear arsenals maintained on high alert and targeted against each other. At the time, many American politicians depicted a growing Soviet superiority--not only in conventional forces in Europe, but in continent-spanning strategic missiles and ballistic missile defense systems, which allegedly enabled Moscow to pose the threat of a disarming, first-strike attack on the United States.

The Cold War also demonstrated dramatically the extent of nuclear dangers in the ideologically driven confrontation between Moscow and Washington. Indeed, the world came far closer to a nuclear exchange in 1962 (during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and in 1983 (following the Soviet shootdown of the Korea Airlines passenger plane and during NATO's "Able Archer" military exercises) than was publicly known at the time.

The striking dissimilarity between the present and that earlier era is captured by comparing the Cold War Soviet Threat Assessments of the U.S. intelligence community with its 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, whose 27-page public summary did not even mention Russia's nuclear arsenal.

At the same time, there are two elements of conspicuous continuity between the past and present.

First, Washington and Moscow still possess huge nuclear arsenals, far larger than those of all other nuclear weapons states combined. These arsenals contain thousands of warheads--each one of which dwarfs the destructive power of those that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki--far more than are needed for any rational requirement of nuclear deterrence and beyond any possible utility for political leverage in the current crisis over Ukraine.

Second, as was the case during the Cold War, reducing nuclear dangers rightly trumps other issues. During the lowest points of the U.S.-Soviet relationship, arms control agreements helped prevent a complete collapse of bilateral communication. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty survived the Vietnam War and crises in the Middle East; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty survived the 1981 declaration of martial law in Poland and the 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.

The conflicting interests of the United States and Russia in Ukraine or Syria today do not erase their joint interests in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons accidents or unauthorized nuclear weapons use, curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, securing vulnerable nuclear weapons usable material to avoid terrorist acquisition, and reducing their own costly nuclear arsenals, which still vastly exceed common-sense deterrence requirements. These and other common concerns make it imperative that Washington and Moscow continue pursuing efforts to achieve reductions in and limitations on nuclear weapons - independent of the health of the bilateral relationship at a particular point in time.  

Russia's provocative actions in Crimea and the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations certainly make the pursuit of a cooperative agenda even more challenging and there is more than a theoretical danger of backsliding. Yet, even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union shared a common interest in reducing nuclear risks and found ways to overcome ideological differences to pursue joint initiatives and agreements designed to reduce those risks and strengthen strategic stability.

The rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine makes it difficult to offer a detailed formula for preserving and promoting advantageous U.S.-Russian arms control and nuclear security outcomes, but some general principles can be outlined:

Continue to scrupulously implement existing treaty verification measures. No matter what their differences on the Ukraine crisis, it is not in the interest of either the United States or Russia to suspend inspections required by New START or to otherwise walk away from a treaty, which establishes clear, verifiable limits on each side's strategic nuclear arsenal--a measure of stability in an otherwise strained bilateral relationship. Weakening the implementation of verification measures would simply reduce the confidence levels of national threat assessments, leading to higher "worst case" projections and increased strategic spending.

Furthermore, according to Part Five, Section IX of the Protocol of the New START Treaty, the only basis for the cancellation of inspections are "circumstances brought about by force majeure," which do not apply to political differences over events in Ukraine.

Continue to reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility. Even at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions, Washington can and should reduce spending for those nuclear weapons that have no utility as instruments of power in dealing with political crises like Ukraine. The new Quadrennial Defense Review says that the United States can cut strategic warheads by one-third below New START and still provide more than sufficient nuclear firepower to deter nuclear attack. Now is the time to avoid squandering tens of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons projects that the United States does not need and cannot afford.

Refrain from using strategic weapons to make aggressive political gestures. U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are not militarily useful for the defense of NATO allies. Some have recently suggested that such weapons should be deployed further east into the newer NATO members bordering on Russia. However, such action would be politically divisive inside the NATO Alliance and would likely provoke dangerous responses by Moscow.

Some have suggested accelerating the ongoing deployment of U.S. missile defenses to Europe under the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), reviving the "third-site" deployment of strategic missile interceptors to Poland, or deploying missile defense cruisers to the Baltic and Black Seas. Such moves would be extremely counterproductive, since they would seem to validate Russian suspicions that U.S. missile defenses in Europe have either been oriented against them all along, or at least would provide the infrastructure for rapidly adding a capability to threaten Russia's strategic deterrent.

Moreover, as the U.S. Government has continually insisted, none of the specific U.S. missile defense systems considered for deployment in Europe would be capable of defending Europe (or the United States) from Russian strategic forces.  NATO should therefore maintain its steady course in implementing the first three phases of the EPAA, which do not include defenses against ICBMs, in response to evolving missile threats from the Middle East. Moreover, NATO should articulate more clearly its readiness to adapt downward its EPAA deployments if no Iranian IRBM/ICBM threat materializes.

Redouble efforts to maintain "Track 2" dialogue between American and Russian interlocutors. At a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Russian governments, it is even more important to use unofficial channels of communication to better understand the differing national perspectives and to search for policy options that would constitute acceptable compromises by both sides. One such ongoing effort is the German/Russian/U.S. Commission on "Challenges to Deep Cuts in Nuclear Arms," www.deepcuts.org, which is scheduled to release an interim report in late April.

Above all, the United States and Russia need to maintain a realistic perspective about the limits of hostility imposed by the existence of each other's nuclear weapons and an active appreciation of the mutual benefits they are now enjoying from cooperative endeavors - such as the generation of electricity in the United States from Russian-supplied fissile material and the security provided by a northern route of supply (through Russia) for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

When the current tensions subside, there will be other cooperative opportunities to exploit in the bilateral relationship and none will be more important for the world than finding the elusive path to mutual reductions in Cold War-sized U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.--GREG THIELMANN

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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New Sanctions Now Would Torpedo Iran Nuclear Negotiations

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In nuclear negotiations, as in medicine, the first principle is: "Do no harm." Yet a bill authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by 58 of his colleagues, threatens to pull the plug on the patient just as the Iran nuclear negotiations are entering their most delicate phase.

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Volume 5, Issue 2, January 13, 2014

In nuclear negotiations, as in medicine, the first principle is: "Do no harm." Yet a bill authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by 58 of his colleagues, threatens to pull the plug on the patient just as the Iran nuclear negotiations are entering their most delicate phase.

On Jan. 20, Iran and its six negotiating partners (the P5+1) will begin implementing the "Joint Plan of Action" agreed to in Geneva on Nov. 24. This six-month-long, first-phase deal includes a number of specific measures that will verifiably halt and, in some areas, roll back advances in Iran's capabilities of greatest proliferation concern and reduce its potential to produce material for nuclear weapons. The agreement will also significantly enhance the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iranian nuclear activities. Although the P5+1 agreed, in turn, to suspend peripheral sanctions, the core sanctions (on Iranian oil sales and financial transactions) would be retained.

The first-phase deal is intended to set the stage for negotiating specific terms of a final deal. The Joint Plan also outlines a framework for the ultimate agreement, but the details have yet to be negotiated. Although Iran will remain a nuclear weapons-capable state, the P5+1 will be seeking a deal that provides high confidence that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and denies Tehran the option of quickly breaking out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to build a nuclear weapon.

Scrupulous adherence to the terms of the first phase will be essential for building confidence that the terms of a comprehensive accord can be negotiated and implemented. Yet the bill advanced by Menendez and his colleagues anticipates the failure of the negotiating phase that is about to begin. It dictates changes in the terms of the agreement already concluded and establishes nonnegotiable preconditions for reaching an ultimate accord.

For these reasons, introducing the bill at this time is opposed not only by President Obama's team of negotiators, but also by 10 committee chairs in the U.S. Senate and even by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Both the U.S. intelligence community and leading former U.S. diplomats assess that passage of the bill would hinder, if not thoroughly sabotage, the prospects for a successful outcome.

Hard-liners in the Iranian parliament have already promised retaliation for the Menendez bill by undoing the concessions made Nov. 24 and intensifying Iran's uranium-enrichment activities. Passage of the bill would thus constitute a gift to those on both sides who oppose a negotiated outcome.

If the parties in the negotiations do not overreach, diplomatic engagement carries the potential to produce a fundamental transformation in the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. But getting to the finish line will be a major challenge; many obstacles will have to be surmounted.

The best way to maximize chances for success is to carry out the letter and the spirit of measures agreed to thus far. For Iran, this means honoring all of the "halts" required by the accord and, most important, moving steadily to eliminate Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium gas, which poses the most serious and urgent "breakout" threat.

For the United States, this means not only moving expeditiously to suspend the peripheral sanctions specified, but also to respect the P5+1's consensus formula for framing a future accord.

Demanding that Iran permanently halt all uranium enrichment - even for peaceful purposes - is unrealistic. Such a deal would be unsustainable politically inside Iran. It would spell the end of outreach efforts by President Hassan Rouhani, dooming prospects for a negotiated agreement and greatly increasing the chance of both war and an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

Instead of seeking Iran's capitulation at the negotiating table, the six powers need to insist on the elements of an agreement necessary to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful. As former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have said, this means limiting Iran's nuclear capacity "to plausible civilian uses and to achieve safeguards to ensure that this level is not exceeded."

Senators should stop trying to reopen deals that have already been struck and demanding the impossible for deals yet to be made.--GREG THIELMANN

This essay is based on an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 12, 2014.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Greg Thielmann is ACA's senior fellow.

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Iran Nuclear Brief: Iran's Nuclear and Missile Programs as P5+1 Talks Resume

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As negotiations are poised to resume between Iran and the six powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear program, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu.

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September 20, 2013
By Greg Thielmann

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As negotiations are poised to resume between Iran and the six powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear program, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu.

For years now, the UN Security Council has demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment. Tehran continues to expand its nuclear program and insists it will never compromise its right to enrich, the United States continues to tighten sanctions on Iranian trade and finances, and alarms are raised about Iran being able to sprint to a nuclear bomb with little warning.

Yet, with a new Iranian president and negotiating team, there are grounds for cautious optimism that talks this time can be different. Although Iran continues to enrich uranium and add to its nuclear complex, time remains to negotiate an agreement that adequately guards against Iran building nuclear weapons.

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Senators' Exhortations Complicate Iran Solution

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By mid-September, P5+1 diplomats (from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will likely resume talks aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program with President Hassan Rouhani's new negotiating team. The talks represent an important opportunity to finally reach a deal that limits Iran's most worrisome uranium enrichment activities, obtains more extensive inspections to guard against a secret weapons program, and shows Iran a path toward phasing out international sanctions.

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Volume 4, Issue 9, August 8, 2013

By mid-September, P5+1 diplomats (from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will likely resume talks aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program with President Hassan Rouhani's new negotiating team. The talks represent an important opportunity to finally reach a deal that limits Iran's most worrisome uranium enrichment activities, obtains more extensive inspections to guard against a secret weapons program, and shows Iran a path toward phasing out international sanctions.

Unfortunately, in their attempt to encourage President Obama "to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process," a group of 76 Senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has sent a letter on August 2 to Obama that could undermine efforts to resolve the long-running dispute. The letter's prescriptions may prompt the same kind of counterproductive impact by Iran, which Paul Pillar predicted in The National Interest in response to House passage of H.R. 850, the "Nuclear Iran Prevention Act."

The Menendez-Graham letter emphasizes toughening sanctions and making military threats more credible, just as Iran installs a president elected on a platform of renewing diplomatic engagement and putting an end to international isolation. The senator's approach represents a serious misunderstanding of political realities in Iran and the nature of upcoming nuclear negotiations.

The June 2013 election results show that Iranians are dissatisfied by outgoing President Ahmadinejad's handling of the economy and the international isolation that has resulted from his confrontational policies. Newly-elected President Rouhani has signaled a willingness to accept greater transparency in Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for acceptance of Iran's rights to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This is the basic framework within which a negotiated resolution to the Iran nuclear crisis is possible.

With the tough economic sanctions now in place, and a broad political consensus holding among the six powers negotiating with Iran, the international community has the leverage it needs to achieve an acceptable agreement. However, the Senators' letter argues that more sanctions and more credible military threats will persuade Tehran to make a deal.

Sanctions have certainly affected Iran's economy and the government's risk/benefit calculations, but they will not by themselves halt Iran's nuclear program. It is fantasy to believe otherwise. The implementation of still tougher sanctions at the outset of renewed talks would harden Iran's resolve, fracture the P5+1 coalition, and dim the prospects for persuading Tehran to compromise.

Overt threats of military attack would be even more likely to undermine P5+1 solidarity and reduce the likelihood of Iran foregoing the nuclear weapons option. In any case, military action--short of a permanent occupation--cannot prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. In fact, military and intelligence experts agree that striking Iran's nuclear facilities would only delay Iran's program by two to three years and trigger an Iranian decision to openly build nuclear weapons.

Advances in Iran's enrichment capabilities and the start up of a new heavy water reactor next year make it important to reach a deal that limits Iran's bomb-making potential as soon as possible.

But the Senators' implication that "the time for diplomacy is nearing its end" is naïve and unhelpful. Given the deep distrust on both sides of the negotiating table, negotiations will not likely produce immediate results. Furthermore, security experts assess that if Iran chooses to actually build nuclear weapons, it would take at least a year and probably two or more years to produce enough fissile material, manufacture the warheads, and integrate them on ballistic missiles to field a credible arsenal.

The Senators' letter also calls for demanding Iran "move quickly toward compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment." U.S. policymakers must recognize that, although total and permanent suspension of enrichment would be an ideal way to facilitate achievement of an ultimate agreement, it is no longer feasible. Realists know that the negotiating issue at stake is not whether to allow enrichment, but rather the circumstances under which enrichment can occur.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already testified to Congress in March 2011 that Iran had a right to enrich under "very strict conditions." Today, the P5+1 is insisting on sufficient transparency for nuclear activities inside Iran so that the International Atomic Energy Agency can be confident Tehran is not developing nuclear weapons and on placing sufficient limitations on enrichment that Tehran has no quick break-out options.

The Senators also argue that the goal of U.S. policy should be that "we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability." This assertion ignores the fact that Iran already has the capability to develop nuclear weapons, according to the 2007 and subsequent assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community, but that the Tehran government has not made a decision to do so. It is reasonable to assume that Tehran wants to have an ability to build nuclear weapons quickly, but does not necessarily intend to leave the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Opinion polls in Iran indicate strong public support for Iran's "right" to enrich uranium, but only a minority of Iranians favor the building of nuclear weapons.

President Rouhani told reporters on August 6 that "Iran has a serious political will to solve the nuclear problem while protecting the rights of the Iranian people at the same time as it seeks to remove concerns of the other party." He also said a "win-win" outcome is possible. Yet Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, clearly suspects that the real U.S. goal in negotiations over the nuclear program is to achieve regime change in Tehran.

Khamenei may ultimately insist on keeping more nuclear options open to Iran than any deal the P5+1 could tolerate. But if the Iranian negotiators can strike a compromise acceptable to the six powers, Rouhani will need to convince the Supreme Leader and other regime elements that Iran's honor has been preserved and its national interests protected.

The Menendez-Graham letter may be well intentioned, but its emphasis on threats and demands is misplaced and ill-timed. As President Obama argued in March 2009, "[the diplomatic] process will not be advanced by threats." The president was right then and the advice resonates now more than ever.

The United States would be wise to seize the opportunity presented by Iran's new president, reinvigorating diplomatic efforts to secure a verifiable agreement-on the basis of realistic and achievable goals. In this way, Washington can ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and the United States does not again go to war. --GREG THIELMANN

[An earlier version of this article appeared in The National Interest, August 6, 2013]

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

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The Naval Nuclear Reactor Threat to the NPT

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Preventing the production and accumulation of fissile material is an important objective of nuclear nonproliferation efforts. Unfortunately, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) exempts the fuel used in naval propulsion reactors from the constraints the treaty otherwise applies to enriching uranium beyond the levels used in civilian power reactors. As the number of countries with nuclear-powered submarines expands, this exclusionposes a growing risk to achieving the nonproliferation goals of the treaty.

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By Greg Thielmann and Kelsey Davenport
September 2013

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As negotiations are poised to resume between Iran and the six powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear program, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu.

For years now, the UN Security Council has demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment. Tehran continues to expand its nuclear program and insists it will never compromise its right to enrich, the United States continues to tighten sanctions on Iranian trade and finances, and alarms are raised about Iran being able to sprint to a nuclear bomb with little warning.

Yet, with a new Iranian president and negotiating team, there are grounds for cautious optimism that talks this time can be different.  Although Iran continues to enrich uranium and add to its nuclear complex, time remains to negotiate an agreement that adequately guards against Iran building nuclear weapons.

Understanding the 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report

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The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

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Volume 4, Issue 7, July 17, 2013

The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

Covering the period ending on December 31, 2012, the report provides no obvious basis for the conclusion rendered in a recent amendment adopted by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that Russia was "in active noncompliance with existing nuclear arms obligations."

The vague public charge repeatedly made by HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon appears to refer to more specific allegations in the press that a missile recently tested by Russia is a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Yet neither the Compliance Report nor the July 10, 2013 "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" assessment of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) identifies any Russian intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which the INF Treaty defines as missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km.

No Russian INF Missiles
With regard to the INF Treaty, the 2013 Compliance Report registers no issues of concern during the reporting period. This month's NASIC missile threat report says explicitly that "neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM [1,000-3,000 km range] or IRBM [3,000-5,500 km range] systems..." The NASIC report lists no Russian SRBM [<1,000 km range] with a range over 280 km.

Moreover, the missile threat report, the product of three Defense Department intelligence agencies, covers missiles under development, as well as those deployed. The absence of any Russian INF-category missiles in the report strongly implies that those observed in flight tests from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan (in October 2012 and June 2013) were the "New ICBM" NASIC lists with a range of 5,500+ km, and as "not yet deployed ."

With regard to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the 2013 Compliance Report certifies that Russia is in full compliance with the terms of the 2010 treaty. As in the case of every previous U.S.-Soviet or U.S.-Russian nuclear limitation treaty, implementation-related questions have been raised by both sides in the designated commission for discussing these issues, according to the report, and discussions are ongoing.

Russian Skies Not Completely Open
The 2013 report identifies four concerns, two of them new, regarding Russia's fulfillment of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty. This treaty establishes a regime for conducting unarmed observation flights by States Parties over the territories of other States Parties.

Specifically, the State Department report says that Russia has imposed: 1) restrictions on access by Open Skies aircraft to three areas: over Chechnya; in an air traffic control zone around Moscow; and along the border of Russia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions of Georgia that only Russia recognizes as independent countries; 2) air traffic control restrictions around Moscow that prevented flights or flight segments from taking place; and 3) airfield closures in support of holidays. Russia, the report notes, has also failed to provide a first generation duplicate negative of processed photographic film. Only the latter concern appears headed toward resolution, anticipating that Russia's future use of digital cameras will eliminate the need for negatives.

Through a Glass Darkly: BWC/CWC
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) section raises concerns about compliance with a number of countries, but conclusions are usually tentative or qualified. For example, "It remains unclear if Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article II..." and  "Syria may be engaged in activities that would violate its obligations under the BWC if it were a State Party to the Convention." These constructions are not surprising given the absence of a verification mechanism for the treaty.

As in last year's report, the United States assesses that Russia's Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) declaration is incomplete with respect to chemical agent and weapons stockpiles. In the absence of additional information from Russia, the United States is unable to ascertain whether Russia has declared all of its CW stockpile, all CW development and production facilities. Both the United States and Russia were unable to meet the convention's deadlines for eliminating chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles and facilities. In the "U.S. Compliance" section of the 2013 report, the authors artfully report only that the United States "continues to work towards meeting its CWC obligations with respect to the destruction of...[CW] and associated CW facilities."

Rogue's Gallery
Although the vast majority of states parties to arms control agreements are said to be complying with their commitments, the actions of North Korea, Iran, and Syria are   conspicuous for including multiple instances of noncompliance.

As in last year's report, the 2013 report again found North Korea to be in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in noncompliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement before its announced withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. North Korea's continued nuclear program development was judged to be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and of Pyongyang's commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.

Iran and Syria were said to be in violation of their obligations under the NPT and their IAEA Safeguards Agreements. As before, Iran was also cited for violating its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

In light of the U.S. assessment that Syria has used nerve gases against its domestic opposition in recent months, it is worth mentioning that Syria is not a party to the CWC, which prohibits such use. Moreover, although Syria is a party to the 1925 Protocol Against the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, that treaty does not prohibit use of chemical weapons within a state's own borders in a civil conflict. The Syrian case provides a dramatic reminder that absent arms control treaties and their verification mechanisms, the prospects for deterring, detecting and reversing behaviors unacceptable to the international community are much diminished.

An Encouraging Word on Burma
The concern expressed in last year's report about Burma's compliance with the NPT has eased. The 2013 report notes that Burma announced in November 2012 that it agreed to sign on to more intrusive IAEA inspection procedures, such as the Additional Protocol and that it would abide by certain UN Security Council resolutions on nonproliferation.

Compliance with the Global De Facto Nuclear Test Moratorium
The 2013 Compliance Report notes North Korea's 2013 nuclear weapons test explosion, but does not report any violation of the nuclear test moratoria, which have been declared by each of the five NPT nuclear weapon states since 1996, and by India and Pakistan beginning in1998.

Taking Arms Control Compliance Seriously
Compliance reports provide not only an important snapshot of contemporary issues regarding the implementation of arms control agreements; they also supply a valuable measure of progress over time and of relative performance between states parties. It is encouraging to see the Obama administration re-establishing executive branch fidelity to the congressional mandate for yearly reports--particularly after the previous administration managed to produce only two over an eight-year period.

Reviewing the content of the 2013 Compliance Report offers a reminder that adequate verification provisions and consultative mechanisms are prerequisites to meaningful monitoring and resolution of compliance issues. There is thus a symbiotic relationship between verifiable arms control agreements and conscientious efforts to monitor and report on compliance.

Although the U.S. Government's contributions to evaluating compliance are invaluable, any report by an individual national government can be subject to inherent limits on objectivity. Additional insights can be gained from such independent elaborations as the "2010-2013 Report Card" of the Arms Control Association on progress made by 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories. In this assessment, there are no straight "A"s to be seen. --GREG THIELMANN

1. 2013 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments; Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; Washington, DC, July 2013.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

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Sorting Out the Nuclear and Missile Threats From North Korea

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Following condemnations by the international community of North Korea’s December satellite launch and February nuclear test, Pyongyang unleashed a furious barrage of rhetorical threats in March and April against the United States and South Korea. Now, the hot air war of the early spring appears to be over, despite the exercise launch of six short-range missiles by North Korea off its east coast in recent days and the ongoing visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to South Korea.

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By Greg Thielmann
May 2013

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Following condemnations by the international community of North Korea’s December satellite launch and February nuclear test, Pyongyang unleashed a furious barrage of rhetorical threats in March and April against the United States and South Korea. Now, the hot air war of the early spring appears to be over, despite the exercise launch of six short-range missiles by North Korea off its east coast in recent days and the ongoing visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to South Korea.

Yet North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear and missile capabilities continues, its political isolation from the international community deepens, and the United States is now stuck with a commitment to spend an additional billion-dollars on strategic missile defenses in Alaska. It is time to sort out what the threat actually is and what can be done about it.

 

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Panel Discussion “Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran”

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I’m very happy to help launch the latest publication of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force.  I want to thank the Council for this report, as well as the “issue briefs” and panel discussions, which preceded it.

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the launch of the Atlantic Council Task Force report on U.S. immediate and long-term strategy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. (To watch the complete event online go to  C-Span.org).
Washington, D.C.
April 4, 2013

I’m very happy to help launch the latest publication of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force.  I want to thank the Council for this report, as well as the “issue briefs” and panel discussions, which preceded it.

Today’s release is the latest in a number of quality reports on the Iran nuclear issue that have been published in the first quarter of 2013.

The Arms Control Association released a “briefing book” in February: “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”  I would also mention: the International Crisis Group’s “Spider Web” report on the Iran sanctions; the National Iranian-American Council’s report on how Iranian stakeholders view the sanctions; and the Carnegie Endowment’s report on the “Costs and Risks” of Iran’s nuclear program.

Building on its own previous findings, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force now recommends a long-term strategy to guide our policies on Iran.  I believe this report makes an important contribution to shaping an emerging consensus on how we should deal with Iran.

I will be offering some of my own perspectives today on the very difficult policy decisions we face in trying to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons.

In deference to proclivities developed during seven years as a State Department intelligence analyst, I will also try to register at least one dissenting footnote to the views of the majority.

Obstacles to negotiating a solution

It’s easy to get discouraged by recalling the history of our bilateral relations with Iran.  Both sides have missed opportunities.  Some of Iran’s grievances toward the United States predate any arguments over the nuclear program, but they are still obstacles to a nuclear solution.

If the historical baggage is heavy, contemporary concerns don’t seem very light either.  We are constantly reminded by the press and commentators that the sanctions have failed to convince the Iranians to change their policies and that time is running out.  Every quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency informs us how many more centrifuges Iran has installed, how much more enriched uranium Iran has accumulated and how uncooperative Iran has been in addressing the agency’s questions about suspicious past activities.

A political consensus seems to have formed in the United States around the notion that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be “unacceptable,” even as a debate rages about how close Iran should be allowed to get.

Although even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have extended his red line to next year, a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored by David Albright warns that Iran on its current trajectory will be able, by mid-2014, to assemble sufficient fissile material for a bomb within one to two weeks of an order from the Supreme Leader.

Some of you may have heard this past Monday at Brookings of the low expectations for the next round of negotiations from former White House official Gary Samore.  Samore predicted that there would be no agreement before Iranian elections in June, commenting that we have a long way to go before even a confidence-building-measure is possible.  Former EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana opined at the same event that it will be very difficult to resolve the nuclear issues while the Syrian political crisis rages.

Where are we now in negotiating a solution?

Samore did not, however, rule out a narrowing of differences when the parties meet tomorrow in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  And this is exactly what I would like to discuss next.  Where are we in negotiating necessary constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities?

By all accounts, February’s six power talks with Iran and the March meeting between the parties’ technical experts in Istanbul were constructive.  In a real sense, these talks are beginning to resemble real negotiations.

The initial focus of the six powers is on halting the growth in Iran's stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium that would provide the fastest route toward producing the fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran's principal objectives are to establish the legitimacy of uranium enrichment and to gain as much sanctions relief as possible, while keeping its future options open.

With Iran’s presidential elections less than three months away, it does not seem likely Iran would be inclined to cut a deal – even on a small, interim step.  Nonetheless, it is reasonable to hope for a further narrowing of differences that would bring the sides closer to taking that first step – an agreement that would build confidence and buy time for a more comprehensive settlement.

Agreement on dates and venues for continued talks would be a minimum acceptable outcome.  I expect at least this to happen, because neither side has an interest in giving the impression that the negotiating process had stalled.

What kind of an agreement?

This brings us to the task of identifying the substantive and procedural requirements for an interim agreement.

I would first suggest conceding Iran’s conditional “right” to enrichment.  Anyone interested in a negotiated settlement of the Iran nuclear issue knows that we cannot successfully achieve exceptional transparency measures and exceptional limitations on Iran’s nuclear program without accepting Iran’s ability to enrich some uranium for civilian power reactor fuel.  It would be helpful to more clearly telegraph this willingness to accept the obvious.  Demanding a halt to all enrichment does not give the United States leverage when the Iranians know full well it will ultimately be withdrawn; it just gives Tehran an excuse for diverting attention from the real issue -- Iran’s noncompliance with its obligations to the IAEA.

We must, of course, continue to stress the conditionality of uranium enrichment rights.  Though inalienable, NPT Article IV rights must be “in conformity with Articles I and II” of the treaty.

I would also suggest trying hard to separate the perfect from the good.  As an interim measure, it is more important to quickly achieve a modest but useful agreement that can be easily monitored than seeking up-front a better, more extensive and permanent limitation.

For example, there appears to be agreement in principle to stopping expansion of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile.  I would argue that achieving this immediate goal is more important than Tehran agreeing to move its stockpile to another country.  While imperfect, even conversion of the existing stockpile of uranium gas to the solid form used for fuel in the Tehran Research Reactor, would be a step forward.

Similarly, it seems to me that ending the production of medium grade uranium anywhere in Iran is more important than winning agreement to shutter the deep underground facility at Fordow.  The key question is frequency and ease of IAEA access to uranium enrichment facilities, not their location.

Finally we should drop the demand to shut down Fordow. It’s not very persuasive to argue for closure “because Fordow is too difficult for Israel to destroy.”

Although details are sketchy, the six powers are offering some relief to the ever-expanding web of sanctions, relaxing restrictions on gold trading and the sale of petrochemical products.  Perhaps implementation of certain EU sanctions could also be suspended, but the core sanctions must be maintained until Iran is ready to seal the deal.

The key for an interim agreement will be to find a package of sanctions relief proportionate to the concessions offered by Tehran – both in scale and reversibility.

The Big Picture

When an interim agreement has been achieved, negotiations can begin in earnest on measures to ensure transparency, resolve questions about past military activities, and on unwinding the sanctions.

We need to dwell not on what we most want, but on what we must have.  Maintaining six power cohesion remains a priority.  And we need to spend at least a little time worrying about how Iran’s negotiators will sell a negotiated agreement in Tehran, not just how it will go over in the U.S. Congress.

Footnote

And now for the footnote I promised.

The “military option” section includes, on the one hand, thorough lists of “grave” implications for a nuclear Iran, and on the other, of  “dire” consequences for a “premature military strike.”  I’m sure I join everyone in our audience today in fervently wishing for neither rather than either.

But I personally think the consequences of a nuclear Iran are somewhat overdrawn and description of consequences a little too torrid.

-- Why would an Iranian success in violating UN Security Council resolutions “shred” the NPT when North Korean violations have not?

-- Why should we believe an Iranian bomb would “threaten the very existence of Israel” when Yehud Barak does not?

Moreover, I’m not sure what it means to “ensure that the option of military strikes remains credible.”  Given the ramifications of an attack that would delay but not even prevent an Iranian bomb, I doubt that the United States hitting first with a unilateral “preventive attack” can ever be very credible.  Constantly repeating that “the military option is on the table” won’t make it so.

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