"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Kelsey Davenport

WEBINAR: "The Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the NPT"



Thursday, October 1, 2020
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time
via Zoom webinar 


The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has led Iran to retaliate by exceeding key nuclear limits set by the deal. The U.S. strategy has hobbled but not unraveled the agreement and increased tensions with Iran and the international community. Unless Washington and Teheran return to compliance, however, the deal could collapse entirely creating a serious new nuclear crisis in the region.

In this edition of the “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Arms Control Association, our panelists will review the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the global nonproliferation system and the upcoming 10th Review Conference of Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.


  • Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association;
  • Ellie Gerenmyah, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; and
  • Emad Kiyaei, Director, Middle East Treaty Organization (METO)

A question and answer session will follow the speakers' presentations.

Future webinars in the Critical NPT Issues series will address steps to fulfill Article VI of the NPT, including the uncertain future of the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.



In this edition of our “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series, we will review the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the upcoming NPT Review Conference.

Country Resources:

UN Defies United States on Sanctions Snapback | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

UN Defies United States on Sanctions Snapback The United States threatened to penalize any country that fails to enforce UN sanctions on Iran that the Trump administration claims were reimposed Sept. 19, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that he would not take steps to implement the UN measures, which were lifted as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal. In a letter to the Security Council reported on by Reuters, Guterres said there is “uncertainty” over the status of the sanctions and that “pending clarification,” he will not take any action. Despite...

Iran’s Nuclear Program Remains on Steady Trajectory

A Sept. 4 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran continues to exceed limits on its uranium enrichment program imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) and is incrementally expanding its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 4.5 percent. While Iran’s persistent violations of the deal are troublesome, its rate of enriched uranium production has not increased over the course of 2020, indicating that Tehran is not actively dashing toward a bomb nor accelerating its production of fuel. This carefully calibrated approach supports assertions by Iranian leaders that...

IAEA Report Notes Progress on Investigation

The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s safeguards confirmed that inspectors have already accessed one undeclared site in Iran and will visit a second location in September. This is an unsurprising, but positive, confirmation that Iran and the IAEA are following through on the terms of an Aug. 26 agreement to finally allow agency inspectors access to follow up on evidence of possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities. While it is unfortunate that the dispute over access between the IAEA and Iran took nine months to resolve and that the IAEA’s Board...

Nations Rebuff U.S. on Iran

September 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

UN Security Council members dismissed the Trump administration’s August attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, saying that the United States has no standing to do so after Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal that capped Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2019. Zarif recently criticized U.S. efforts to snap back UN sanctions that have eased as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)Iran threatened to take action if the Trump administration attempted to snap back UN sanctions, but Tehran might refrain from doing so after a number of council members, including the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, rejected the U.S. move as illegal.

On Aug. 20, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified UN Security Council President Dian Triansyah Djani of Indonesia that the United States was demanding all UN sanctions on Iran be reimposed under a mechanism in the Security Council resolution that supports implementation of the nuclear deal.

Resolution 2231, passed unanimously by the council in July 2015, endorses the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and modifies UN sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo that is set to expire in October. It contains a provision that allows participants in the nuclear deal to snap back sanctions on Iran within 30 days if Tehran is not meeting its obligations under the agreement. The provision is written in such a way that the snapback cannot be vetoed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Aug. 20 letter to Djani that “the reckless and unlawful U.S. position disregards well-established rules of international law,” requesting that Djani “refrain from receiving and circulating the inadmissible U.S. notification” on snapback.

The Trump administration notified the Security Council of its intent to snap back sanctions after a U.S. resolution extending the arms embargo on Iran failed to pass the council on Aug. 14. Only the Dominican Republic voted with the United States. Russia and China voted against the resolution. The remaining 11 members abstained, including JCPOA participants France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who have traditionally supported the United States in security matters.

Pompeo said the council’s failure to pass the resolution is “inexcusable,” whereas Zarif described the vote as “miserable failure of U.S. diplomatic malpractice.”

Pompeo said in an Aug. 20 press briefing that triggering the snapback of UN sanctions is now necessary because the United States will “never allow” Iran to freely buy and sell conventional weapons. He said the United States is confident that the sanctions will come back into effect in 30 days and that “we’re going to do everything we can to enforce them.”

Pompeo cited Iran’s violations of the accord as the rationale for the snapback.

Iran announced in May 2019 that it would “reduce compliance” with its obligations under the JCPOA in response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions in May 2018.

Iran’s breaches have been well documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the European parties to the JCPOA triggered the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism to try and address them in January. However, the remaining parties to the nuclear deal argued that the United States does not have standing to reimpose UN sanctions using Resolution 2231.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Djani, the three European participants in the JCPOA—France, Germany, and the UK, known as the E3—said they do not consider the U.S. notification effective because the United States “ceased to be a JCPOA participant in 2018.”

They argued that the U.S. notification is “incapable of having legal effect” and that any outcome from the U.S. request to snap back “would also be devoid of any legal effect.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said on Aug. 20 that Russia “will challenge” the Trump administration because the United States does not have “the legal right or the reason” to initiate snapback.

An Aug. 20 statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the United States has “no legal ground” to reimpose sanctions, and therefore China does not consider the snapback to have been invoked. The move is “nothing but a political show,” it said.

The Trump administration argues that it is entitled to snap back because the United States is still listed as a JCPOA participant in the text of Resolution 2231 even though the United States is no longer party to the nuclear deal.

When U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, however, he said that the United States is no longer a participant. Then-National Security Advisor John Bolton also dismissed a snapback as an option, noting that the United States is no longer in the JCPOA. He reiterated his opposition to a snapback in a Wall Street Journal commentary on Aug. 16, saying that “[i]t’s too cute by half to say we’re in the nuclear deal for purposes we want but not for those we don’t.”

In May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised a “crushing” response if the arms embargo is extended. Iran views the lifting of the arms embargo as one of the few remaining benefits of staying in the JCPOA.

Yet, at an Aug. 20 press conference, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iranian ambassador to the UN, appeared to downplay the likelihood of Iran responding by taking further action on its nuclear program. Although he said Iran has legal options on the table to respond to a snapback, he noted that the United States is isolated within the Security Council on this issue and expressed confidence that the U.S. request for reimposition will be rejected.

The E3 did express “serious concerns about the implications for regional security” when the arms embargo expired and said they are ready to work with the Security Council to address those concerns. The E3 sought a compromise solution to the arms embargo issue, but Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, appeared to rebuff those efforts in June, saying the U.S. position was that the embargo needed to be extended indefinitely.

Pompeo accused the E3 of choosing to “side with ayatollahs” in his Aug. 20 remarks and said their actions “endanger” people in the region and their own citizens.

Trump also turned down a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin for a virtual heads-of-state meeting to “in order to outline steps that can prevent confrontation” at the UN and to “facilitate the emergence of reliable mechanisms in the Persian Gulf region for enduring security and confidence building.”

Bloomberg revealed in August that Iran informed the IAEA of its intention to install three cascades of advanced centrifuges at its underground fuel-enrichment facility at the same location.

A July 21 report from the IAEA seen by the Arms Control Association stated that the three cascades in question were being moved from the pilot plant at Natanz. Iran has installed and is operating advanced machines in violation of JCPOA limits, but given that these machines were already enriching uranium, the move does not appear likely to increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program.


U.S. Names New Special Representative for Iran

Elliott Abrams will take over as U.S. special representative for Iran following the departure of Brian Hook, who will be leaving the State Department soon, according to an Aug. 6 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Appointed to the position more than two years ago, Hook has “achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime,” Pompeo said, setting in motion “a range of new strategies that advanced the national security interests of the United States.” Hook played a prominent role in pushing the U.S. maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which has not led to new negotiations with Tehran, the stated aim of the policy.

Abrams currently serves as special representative for Venezuela, a role he will retain in addition to his responsibilities on Iran. Abrams served as deputy national security advisor during the George W. Bush administration and worked at the State Department during the Reagan administration. While at the State Department in the 1980s, he became embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved a secret attempt to sell arms to Iran, which was subject to an embargo, and divert funds from the sale to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Seyyed Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, tweeted on Aug. 7 that there is “no difference” between Hook and Abrams regarding U.S. policy toward Iran.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States found nearly no support in its efforts to sanction Iran.

South Korea to Pursue Military Satellites

September 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea and the United States agreed to new guidelines in July allowing Seoul to develop solid fuels for space launch vehicles, which officials say they will use to launch military satellites to monitor North Korea.

South Korea's Naro space launch vehicle rockets successfully to orbit in January 2013. A new U.S.-South Korean agreement will allow Seoul to import solid-fuel rocket technology for its space launch vehicles. (Photo: Korea Aerospace Research Institute/Getty Images) South Korea had been previously prohibited from solid-fuel development under a 1979 agreement between Seoul and Washington that limited South Korean missile and rocket activities. Those guidelines have been revised several times to allow South Korea to extend the range and increase the payload of its ballistic missiles, but this is the first time Seoul will be able to develop and produce solid and hybrid fuels.

Although the use of solid fuel is restricted to space launches and cannot be used for ballistic missiles under the agreement, South Korea intends to use the more powerful rockets for launching satellites with military surveillance capabilities.

Kim Hyun-chong, deputy national security adviser, said in a July 28 press conference that the South Korean military needs “unblinking eyes” to monitor the Korean peninsula. South Korea has launched observational satellites in the past, but it does not have any military satellites in orbit and relies on satellite images shared by the United States.

Kim said Seoul “will soon have many low-orbit military satellites with excellent surveillance capabilities” allowing for 24-hour monitoring of the region.

North Korea criticized South Korea for its “evil intentions” on Aug. 2 and accused the country of increasing tensions. Pyongyang said Seoul’s steps to enhance its military power and increases in military spending are incompatible with pursing peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

The agreement has led to speculation that South Korea may use the solid-fuel technology for ballistic missiles down the road. Solid-fueled rocket motors can be launched more quickly, making preemption more difficult, and the fuel is more cost effective.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for “missile sovereignty” on July 29, the day after the revised guidelines were announced, but did not detail what that means for the future of the country’s ballistic missile program.

Kim indicated that South Korea may pursue an extension of the current range limits for its ballistic missiles, noting that the question will be “resolved in due time.” The original 1979 agreement limited South Korea to ballistic missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload to a range of 300 kilometers. In 2012 the two countries agreed to extend the range to 800 kilometers, and the payload restriction was eliminated in a 2017 agreement. (See ACT, November 2012.) The 800-kilometer range allows South Korea to target any part of North Korea.

South Korea also announced plans to pursue a new system to intercept North Korea’s long-range artillery, according to the country’s recently released defense blueprint for 2021–2025. The system will be indigenously developed, but based on Israel’s Iron Dome.

North Korea is believed to have stationed large caliber artillery along the border between the two countries that is capable of targeting Seoul.

The new system will “focus on protecting the capital area,” according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.


Under a revised U.S.-South Korean agreement, Seoul will be allowed to developed solid-fueled space-launch vehicles.

Iran, IAEA Reach Agreement

September 2020

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement that will allow inspectors to access two sites in Iran as part of the agency’s investigation into possible undeclared nuclear activities and materials.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to reporters in Vienna on Aug. 26 after returning from Iran, where he and Iranian officials agreed to resolve an inspections dispute.  (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The agreement was announced Aug. 26 during IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi’s trip to Tehran. The agency first requested access to the two locations, which are not part of Iran’s declared nuclear program, in January 2020.

According to IAEA reports issued in February and May, the nuclear activities and materials at the two undeclared locations pertain to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear weapons program and are not ongoing. The IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors passed a resolution in June calling upon Iran to cooperate with the agency’s investigation.

Iran told the IAEA in June that it was willing to comply with the agency’s requests, but certain legal ambiguities needed to be addressed.

The joint IAEA-Iran statement said that Iran will voluntarily provide IAEA inspectors with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA and will facilitate “the IAEA verification activities to resolve these issues.” The statement said a date for the inspection was set, but did not provide any detail on when the IAEA visits will occur.

The Aug. 26 statement said that in the “present context” the IAEA does not “have further question to Iran and further requests for access,” but looking forward, Grossi told reporters in Vienna the same day that “if we have information that warrants asking questions and, if necessary, access, we will do it.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran, IAEA Reach Agreement


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