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

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Greg Thielmann

Updated: Iran’s Overdue ICBM

Updated on February 2, 2015 Iran’s launch of a Fajr (Dawn) observation satellite into orbit on February 2 will undoubtedly confuse the debate over whether or not Iran will soon have an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). It should not; this was not an ICBM-related event. The space launch vehicle (SLV) used in this launch appears to have been a modified Safir, which is based on the Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile with an operational range of around 2,000 kilometers. The Simorgh SLV mockup displayed five years ago would, if built, be able to carry a payload 2-3 times heavier than...

Removing the Missile Defense Obstacle to Deeper Nuclear Cuts

It has been obvious for decades that advances in strategic ballistic missile defenses can complicate efforts to maintain a balance in strategic offensive forces while reducing overall nuclear arsenals. The two Cold War superpowers addressed this problem by negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, which limited the breadth and scope of ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployments. But U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and enthusiastic pursuit of BMD by the United States has again brought the negative impact of missile defense on nuclear arms control efforts to the...

U.S. and Russia Nuclear Numbers Up During Last Six Months

The deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States increased in size over the last six months, according to the latest data exchange under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Taken together, operational U.S. and Russian strategic missile warheads and heavy bombers rose by 188, an amount larger than that possessed by five of the seven remaining nuclear weapons states in their entire arsenals. The uptick in strategic arsenals revealed by the most recent data exchange constitutes a surprising and troubling milestone at the mid-point for the seven-year...

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

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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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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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Iran Nuclear Brief: Iranian Missiles and the Comprehensive Nuclear Deal

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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 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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The "Cold Peace:" Arms Control After Crimea

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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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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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New Sanctions Now Would Torpedo Iran Nuclear Negotiations

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

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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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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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Senators' Exhortations Complicate Iran Solution

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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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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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The Naval Nuclear Reactor Threat to the NPT

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By Greg Thielmann and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini
July 24, 2013

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The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has long been a critical bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons. Although preventing the production and accumulation of fissile material is an important part of this effort, the NPT does not explicitly regulate the production, use, and disposition of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for naval nuclear reactors. This exclusion poses a growing risk to achieving the nonproliferation goals of the treaty. While seeking to advance prospects for a fissile material cutoff treaty, the United States is continuing to design naval reactors for the world’s largest nuclear submarine fleet that are powered with weapons-grade uranium. While proclaiming its renunciation of any nuclear weapons ambitions, Brazil plans to build six nuclear submarines powered by uranium fuel that may be close to weapons grade. Neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor important NPT member states have fully confronted the proliferation implications of excluding naval reactor fuel from safeguards. The IAEA and NPT members should take steps to minimize the use of HEU for any reason—a goal they declared just this month at a nuclear security conference in Vienna.

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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 exclusion poses a growing risk to achieving the nonproliferation goals of the treaty.

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