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"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
Kelsey Davenport

New Iranian President May Prolong Deal Talks

Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi has expressed support for returning Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. sanctions are verifiably lifted. Raisi’s election, however, appears to be responsible for delaying the resumption of talks in Vienna to restore the accord as the president-elect’s advisers are reviewing the progress that negotiators made in the first six rounds of talks. The sixth round concluded June 20, two days after the election, and it is still unclear when the seventh round will commence. Raisi’s position on the nuclear deal is consistent with the position taken...

New Iran President May Complicate Nuclear Talks


July/August 2021
By Kelsey Davenport and Julia Masterson

Iran’s election of conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi to be the country’s next president may complicate efforts to restore the United States and Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, but is unlikely to alter Tehran’s interest in reviving the accord.

Ebrahim Raisi is pictured June 21 during his first press conference since his election as Iran's next president. The victory of the hardline cleric could complicate efforts by Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.  (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)Raisi, the former head of the judiciary and a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposed the nuclear deal in 2015, but during the campaign voiced his support for restoring it. Although Raisi will not take office until August, he is expected to weigh in on the ongoing negotiations to restore the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Raisi’s election was expected after a number of possible challengers were ruled ineligible to run by the 12-member Guardian Council, which vets and approves all presidential candidates.

Raisi won 62 percent of the vote, but less than half of eligible voters cast ballots, suggesting low enthusiasm for the candidates. In the 2017 presidential election, when Raisi ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Hassan Rouhani, 73 percent of the population voted.

Prior to the election, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, told al-Jazeera that if Raisi were elected, “there will be no disruption” in talks to restore the nuclear deal. He said that Iran’s policies are “unchanging, irrespective of different administrations.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan similarly said that Iran’s position on talks to restore the JCPOA is unlikely to change with Raisi’s election. Sullivan told ABC on June 20 that the “ultimate decision” to return to the deal will be made by the supreme leader and “he was the same person before the election as he is after the election.”

In a June 21 press conference, Raisi reiterated Iran’s position on restoring the deal, saying that U.S. sanctions must be lifted and their removal verified.

The sixth round of indirect talks between the United States and Iran on restoring the JCPOA wrapped up June 20, two days after the election.

Araghchi told journalists that day that progress has been made in all areas, but some “major differences” have not been resolved. He said the remaining issues “require serious decisions in the capitals.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on June 17 that progress was made during recent talks on one of the most controversial issues, the sequencing of steps each side needs to take. He also noted that “difficult and time-consuming topics” remain unresolved.

One of the outstanding issues appears to be Iran’s demand that the United States provide some guarantee that it will not withdraw from the nuclear deal again and reimpose sanctions, as President Donald Trump did in May 2018. Araghchi told Iranian state TV on June 20 that Iran seeks “guarantees that assure” that “what the previous [U.S.] administration did…will not happen again.” He said some progress has been made on this issue but it requires more work.

Another issue that does not appear to have been resolved is the U.S. desire for Iran to agree to future talks on a range of issues once the nuclear deal is restored. U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled his determination to pursue further negotiations with Iran to build on the nuclear deal and to address regional security issues.

Raisi’s election may complicate those goals. In his June 21 press conference, Raisi said Iran seeks a balanced relationship with the outside world and the country’s foreign policy does not begin and end with the nuclear deal. He said that Iran’s ballistic missile program will not be a subject of negotiations. Raisi also asked why Iran should engage with the United States on a broader range of issues when Washington has not met its obligations under the nuclear deal.

U.S. policymakers have frequently raised concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activities, which are limited by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 but not covered by the nuclear deal. Biden is also under pressure to force Iran to end support for its militant proxies such as Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a June 21 press briefing that the administration is confident that if the nuclear deal is restored, the United States will have “additional tools” to address issues outside of the nuclear deal, including ballistic missiles. He said Iran has “no doubt” about where the United States stands on follow-on diplomacy.

 

Iran’s election of Ebrahim Raisi to be the country’s next president could complicate efforts to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.a

Iran Nuclear Talks Head to Sixth Round

The fifth round of talks on restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal wrapped up June 2. Negotiators appear optimistic about the prospects for success while acknowledging that some issues remain unresolved. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Abas Araghchi said that the next round of talks, slated to begin June 10, “logically could and should be the final round.” He told the press June 2 that the remaining differences are “not unresolvable.” Enrique Mora, the EU official coordinating the indirect talks between the United States and Iran, was similarly...

Missile Proliferation Poses Global Risk

June 2021
By Kelsey Davenport and Sang-Min Kim 

Even as world leaders raise alarms about accelerating missile proliferation, the primary multilateral initiative designed to check this trend is struggling to keep pace with the changing technologies that are making these weapons more accessible and more attractive. 

South Korea's Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile is fired during an exercise aimed to counter North Korea's nuclear test on September 4, 2017 in East Coast, South Korea. (Photo: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images.)In an April 19 statement, the nonproliferation directors for the Group of Seven (G7) countries expressed grave concern over the “accelerating proliferation of ballistic and other missile technologies, including at the hands of non-state actors.” The spread of these systems is a “threat to regional and global security,” the statement said. 

It exhorted all states to “unilaterally adhere” to the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary export control regime designed to prevent the spread of missiles and materials used for missiles that could deliver weapons of mass destruction (see page 29). 

The MTCR is credited with slowing advances in a number of programs for ballistic missiles in the years after it was created, including a joint development project among Argentina, Egypt, and Iraq, as well as missile programs in Brazil and South Africa. The regime has also prompted member states to put in place export controls on missiles and related technology. But the initiative’s consensus-based decision-making has made it difficult to admit new members and update the regime’s guidelines to adapt to new technologies. 

Moreover, new acquisitions of missiles and related materials by countries such as China, India, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States, as well as nonstate actors such as Hamas and the Houthis, pose serious challenges. 

MTCR chair Thomas Hajnoczi of Austria told Arms Control Today in a May 17 email that he sees “missile-based power projection on the rise.” An increasing number of states and nonstate actors are producing missiles or missile components, making the MTCR “more relevant than ever,” he wrote.

Hajnoczi, speaking in his personal capacity, said the MTCR needs to make a concerted effort to address these developments in order to be effective. The “proliferation of technology becomes increasingly challenging to control—both in terms of concrete goods and components, as well as knowledge knowingly or unwittingly being transferred,” he said. 

Timothy Wright, a research analyst and program administrator at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Arms Control Today in a May 17 email that the MTCR “remains a useful tool for countering missile proliferation” but the “regime is creaking in places” and reforms will be necessary to sustain and strengthen it. 

Wright said that “more states than ever possess ballistic and cruise missiles” and many are diversifying and improving their conventional missile capabilities but that it is debatable whether missile proliferation is accelerating. He noted, for example, that new types of land-attack cruise missiles were introduced at the same rate from 2000 to 2010 as from 2010 to 2020. 

As states develop new missile systems, they contribute to a risk of “proliferation through imitation,” as other states seek to acquire similar capabilities, Wright said. This trend is particularly evident among states pursuing new hypersonic glide vehicles, he added. 

The MTCR at a Glance

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a voluntary export control initiative established in 1987 to limit the proliferation of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of more than 300 kilometers. Since then, the MTCR has expanded its mandate to cover missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering biological and chemical weapons. 

The MTCR divides missile-related materials and technologies into two categories. Category I items include complete missiles, rockets, UAVs, major components of these systems, and production facilities. According to the regime guidelines, “[T]here will be a strong presumption to deny” Category I transfers. 

Category II items include specialized materials and technologies relevant to building missiles or UAVs, such as propellants. Export of these items should be considered on a case-by-case basis, given the applicability of these materials and technologies for civil uses, such as space exploration. Factors that states should take into account prior to exporting Category II items include the credibility of the stated purpose of the purchase and their potential contribution to nuclear-capable delivery systems. 

Prior to exporting any item listed in either category, MTCR members are supposed to obtain assurances that the materials in question will not be reexported and that the recipient will only use the materials for the original purpose. 

Because the MTCR is voluntary, there are no penalties for transferring controlled items outside of the approved guidelines. The United States, for instance, has transferred Category I systems to allies and partners, citing security needs. 

Initially comprising seven states, the MTCR has expanded to include 35 members.

Hajnoczi noted that not all hypersonic technology is covered by the MTCR and that could be an area for further discussion by member states. One of Austria’s priorities this year, he said, is “keeping pace with technological progress” to ensure the regime remains effective. He stressed the G7 commitment in the statement to “review the material and technology that we control . . . supporting work to update multilateral export control regime lists” and sharing expertise to address new technologies. 

Hajnoczi also cited the “unprecedented surge in interest and activity in space” that makes satellite technology more accessible. This poses a challenge because of the “substantial technological overlap between the technology used to transport satellites into space and that used to deliver weapons of mass destruction,” he said. The MTCR should work with other relevant international organizations to address this development, he said. 

The most recent annual report of the U.S. National Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee, published in January, concluded that countries “view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power.” Advances in missile technology also drive state interest in these systems, the report determined.

Wright also cited technical developments as a factor increasing state interest in missile systems. Developments in guidance and propulsion technologies have made cruise and ballistic missiles “more accessible and affordable” and “increased the utility of missile systems as long-range precision strike weapons and as a means of regional deterrence,” he said.

Perceived regional threats appear to be spurring missile proliferation in Asia. Taiwan, which is not a member of the MTCR, is modernizing and diversifying its missile arsenal in order to bolster its deterrence posture against China. Although Taiwan’s missile force historically contained defensive anti-ship cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles, the island has begun developing and producing longer-range missile systems. 

In January, Taiwan deployed a new cruise missile with a range of 1,200 kilometers. In addition, as Li Shih-Chiang, director of the Department of Strategic Planning in the defense ministry, stated on April 19, the U.S. AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which has a range of more than 370 kilometers, remains on “Taiwan’s arms wish list.”

MTCR members Australia and South Korea also have been increasingly investing in their missile forces. Although MTCR members do not commit to forgo missiles and UAVs capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, their acquisition and development of these systems, sometimes with the assistance of other MTCR members, contributes to missile race dynamics. 

When South Korea joined the regime in 2001, it negotiated a new bilateral missile agreement with the United States that limited the country’s missiles to systems below the MTCR threshold, a modest extension to the range restrictions imposed by the original 1979 deal. In a series of agreements beginning in 2012, South Korea negotiated less stringent limitations on the payload and range of its missiles. (See ACT, June 2020.) Most recently, President Moon Jae-in announced May 21, after meeting with President Joe Biden, that the United States agreed to terminate the remaining restrictions. 

Australia, whose relationship with China deteriorated in 2020, announced on May 11 that its next fiscal year plan includes $212 billion over the next decade for upgrading defense capabilities, including building its own guided missiles with U.S. help.

Perceived changes in the strategic and security environment have impacted Australia’s decisions. In its 2020 Defence Strategic Update, the Australian Department of Defence reported new investments in an “enhanced integrated air and missile defence system and very high-speed and ballistic missile defence capabilities for deployed forces.” It tied the decision to the destabilizing effects of regional military modernizations, such as North Korea’s missile programs.

Nonstate actors are also pursuing missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Houthi attacks using ballistic missiles on Saudi Arabia demonstrate the group’s ability “to design and manufacture missiles and UAVs domestically and their professional technical expertise,” according to the January 2021 report by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen. 

The United Nations also found evidence of Iran providing missile systems to the Houthis, which highlights another proliferation challenge, namely that as states develop new capabilities, they could choose to sell their systems, driving further proliferation. 

The G7 call for all states to adhere to the MTCR could be useful in encouraging states to adopt more comprehensive and effective export control guidelines to prevent the transfer of dual-use materials and technologies. 

Hajnoczi said that “outreach to relevant countries” is important as the MTCR and Austria seek to expand the regime beyond the current membership. The pandemic halted outreach, but he hopes to resume those efforts later this summer. 

In the past, MTCR chairs have conducted outreach visits to nonmember states to provide updates on MTCR guidelines and learn about states’ export control legislation. Recent outreach visits in 2020 and 2018 included Israel, Jordan, and Pakistan.

Austria is committed to making more information about MTCR activities available to the public when appropriate, Hajnoczi said, noting that “increasing understanding of the objectives and work of the MTCR” could be beneficial to the regime. 

Wright also expressed support for expanding membership, particularly in regions where missile production and proliferation are prevalent. Some of the more troubling missile proliferation developments are taking place in the Middle East and Asia, where few states have joined the MTCR.

Even as missile proliferation accelerates, the primary initiative designed to check this trend is struggling to stay relevant and effective.

Global Partnership Flags HEU Stocks

June 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

In a further effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the United Kingdom is making it a priority to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) around the world in its new role as chair of a multilateral initiative. 

The G7 foreign ministers meeting in London on May 5 was their first face-to-face talks in more than two years on pressing global threats, including fissile material security. (Photo: Ben Stansall/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)HEU contains at least 20 percent of the fissionable isotope uranium-235. Uranium enriched to this level and greater poses a risk because it can be used for nuclear weapons or nuclear terrorism. Twenty-two countries possess at least one kilogram of HEU. 

Efforts to minimize, secure, and dispose of HEU in civil nuclear programs have slowed since 2016, when U.S. President Barack Obama’s six-year-long initiative of convening annual nuclear security summits ended. The summits focused high-level political attention on the threat of nuclear terrorism and efforts to reduce weapons-usable materials worldwide. 

The UK seeks to “reinvigorate” HEU minimization efforts in 2021, according to an official statement laying out the goals for the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Reducing the production and use of HEU “enjoys broad support but requires more solid political support,” the statement said.

The partnership was created by the Group of Eight, now the Group of Seven (G7), in 2002 to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Initially focused on disposing of weapons of mass destruction and dismantling production facilities for those weapons in the former Soviet Union, the partnership has expanded to 31 member states and implements projects worldwide to reduce the risks of nonstate actors acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The initiative uses a matchmaking process to pair states looking for assistance in mitigating WMD-related threats with states looking to donate funds or relevant expertise.

The partnership is also one of five international initiatives charged with continuing the work of the nuclear security summits. At the 2016 summit, the 52 participating states agreed that the partnership should provide assistance for the “safe, secure and timely consolidation of nuclear materials inside countries, removal of such material to other countries for disposal…and minimizing HEU” where feasible. The state leading the G7 also chairs the Global Partnership and sets yearly priorities for the initiative. 

The G7 affirmed the UK’s decision to prioritize HEU minimization in an April 19 statement, pledging to “accelerate national and international steps to manage the risks posed” by nuclear and radioactive materials and to encourage states with civil stocks of HEU to “further reduce or eliminate them where economically and technically feasible.”

The UK statement did not contain any details about specific projects or activities for 2021, but said the UK hopes to “secure new or increased financial and non-financial contributions for practical programming initiatives.” 

Nickolas Roth, director of the Stimson Center’s Nuclear Security Program and International Nuclear Security Forum, told Arms Control Today in a May 18 email that although “significant hurdles to further progress” on HEU minimization remain, there are things the partnership can do to advance the effort. 

Roth recommended encouraging states to “support and implement INFCIRC 912,” an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) document that advocates reporting the status of HEU national stockpiles and the reduction or disposal of them to the agency. Roth also said the partnership could facilitate dialogue about the “technical and political hurdles to further progress” on minimization. 

One drawback is that the partnership is not currently working with Russia, which has “more nuclear material in more facilities than any other country,” so other initiatives are needed to engage Russia, he stated. 

There are already two ongoing, multiyear projects that address HEU minimization as part of the partnership’s nuclear security working group, according to an annex released in March 2021 that details the initiative’s activities over the prior year. One is a collaborative project among the United States, Japan, Kazakhstan, and four European countries to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuels that can be used in research reactors to produce medical isotopes. The project also aims to convert reactors using HEU for that medical purpose into using LEU as an alternative. 

Roth said the partnership can advance this effort by “identifying opportunities for international collaboration that can speed up the process for converting research reactors” to run on LEU fuel.

There are 72 research reactors that still use HEU fuel worldwide, according to the IAEA. Seventy-one others have already been converted to use LEU fuel, and 28 were shut down. 

A second multiyear project is a collaboration among the United States, Japan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to dispose of weapons-usable nuclear materials. 

As chair of the multilateral initiative in 2020, the United States focused on enhancing chemical security and building capacity to respond to biological incidents. (See ACT, July/August 2020.) According to the project annex released by the United States in March 2021, the partnership spent $669 million to implement 245 projects in 2020, several of which supported efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Canada, for instance, provided support for South Africa to acquire the necessary laboratory equipment to rapidly process COVID-19 tests and for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to acquire personal protective equipment to help respond to the pandemic in 2020, according to the project annex. 

The UK said the second major priority for the Global Partnership in 2021 will be biosecurity. Specifically, the partnership will look to build on a project proposed by Canada to work with the Africa Centers for Disease Control to mitigate biological threats, according to the UK statement. 

 

As the new chair of a multilateral initiative, the United Kingdom is trying to refocus international attention on minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium.

EU Confident in Iran Deal Restoration

June 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Talks to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal appear to be gaining momentum, as a number of negotiators believe that an understanding is within reach.

Josep Borell, European Union Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and his team report that “an agreement is shaping up” in talks on a U.S. return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and lifting of related sanctions, in conjunction with the resumption of nuclear commitments under the deal by Iran. (Photo:  Thierry Monasse#51SY ED/Getty Images)Enrique Mora, the lead negotiator for the European Union and coordinator of the indirect talks between the United States and Iran, said on May 19 that he is “quite sure there will be a final agreement” that restores the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, he said that the talks are “on the right track.”

The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran in violation of the accord. Beginning the following year, Iran began to take a series of retaliatory steps to breach its commitments under the nuclear deal. The two countries are now engaged in indirect talks to restore the multilateral agreement. The other parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—are also participating in the Vienna talks. 

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on May 19 that significant progress was made and the parties to the deal all believe an agreement is “within reach.” He expressed hope that the next round of talks “will be final.”

Iranian negotiators also struck a positive tone. Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, told Iranian state TV on May 19 that “the framework and structure of the agreement has been defined” but certain clauses are still being discussed. 

Other diplomats struck a less optimistic tone. In a May 19 statement, France, Germany, and the UK said that there are still “very difficult issues ahead” and warned against underestimating those challenges. 

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter said in a May 19 press briefing that the fourth round of talks “helped to crystalize choices that may be made by Iran, as well as by the United States,” to return to mutual compliance.

Although the United States and Iran have expressed support for returning to compliance with the nuclear deal, certain technical details have proved challenging.

Iran, for instance, has insisted that all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after the United States withdrew from the deal in May 2018, including the non-nuclear sanctions, be lifted. That is necessary, Iran has argued, for Tehran to receive sanctions benefits envisioned by the deal. Critics of the nuclear deal in the United States have opposed lifting these measures. 

On May 20, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on state television that the “main” sanctions issues “have been wrapped up,” including those affecting the oil, petrochemical, shipping, and banking sectors.

Another challenge has been the future of Iran’s advanced centrifuges. In response to the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of the nuclear deal, Iran has introduced into use hundreds of advanced centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, in excess of the nuclear deal’s limits. 

Advanced centrifuges pose a proliferation risk because they enrich uranium more efficiently. The machines can be dismantled or destroyed to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal’s limits, but Iran has gained knowledge from operating these machines that cannot be reversed. 

Officials did not comment on whether this issue has been resolved.

The E.U. reports an agreement is shaping up to return the U.S. and Iran to their 2015 deal.

Biden and Moon Discuss North Korea

U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to terminate U.S.-South Korea missile guidelines that capped Seoul’s missile development and announced the appointment of a career diplomat, Sung Kim, as the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea. While Biden did not provide new details about the results of his administration’s policy review toward North Korea, the two leaders reiterated the need for a calibrated, phased approach toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and stressed the importance of using dialogue and diplomacy toward North Korea in the news...

Parties Make Progress on Iran Deal Restoration

The United States, Iran, and the other parties to the 2015 nuclear deal expressed varying degrees of optimism over the progress made during recent talks in Vienna on the necessary steps to restore full implementation of the accord. The parties met April 15-20 and are set to return to Vienna next week for further discussions on the steps necessary to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The United States and Iran are still not talking directly, which has slowed the process, but EU political...

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