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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Kelsey Davenport

Chinese President Visits North Korea


July/August 2019
By Kelsy Davenport

China and North Korea sought to shore up their alliance at a June summit in Pyongyang between Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It was their fifth meeting, held as U.S.-North Korean negotiations remain stalled one year after Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump met for the first time in Singapore.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) wave during a June 21 welcome parade Xi received on his visit to Pyongyang. The two leaders focused on their talks on economic development and cooperation.  (Photo: Korean Central News Agency)The June 20–21 summit, Xi’s first trip to North Korea, focused on economic development and cooperation between the two countries. The leaders emphasized the importance of stability in the region, but there were few explicit references in official statements from China and North Korea regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or advancing denuclearization.

Xi spoke highly of North Korean efforts to “safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and promote the denuclearization of the peninsula,” according to a June 20 statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. He also expressed his hope that talks between the United States and North Korea “will move forward and bear fruit.”

Xi praised North Korea’s “active measures to avoid tension” and expressed concern that North Korea has not received “a positive response from the concerned side,” likely referring to the Trump administration’s reluctance to pursue an incremental approach to denuclearization and peace-building.

The Chinese statement reported that Kim said North Korea is “willing to stay patient” and hopes that the United States will meet North Korea “halfway to seek solutions that accommodate each other’s legitimate concerns.”

The talks likely included discussions on sanctions relief, given North Korea’s frustration with Washington’s unwillingness to lift or waive economic restrictions before North Korea completes denuclearization. China has supported limited sanctions relief in exchange for North Korean steps toward denuclearization in the past.

Prior to arriving in Pyongyang, Xi published an article in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s state party, outlining his ambitions for a “grand plan” that would lead to “permanent peace in the region.” Xi’s article appears to be the first piece by a foreign leader run by the paper, which focuses on a domestic audience.

He did not offer details on the plan or mention North Korea’s nuclear weapons or denuclearization, but said that Beijing is looking to strengthen “strategic communication” and cooperation with North Korea. He also praised North Korea for its restraint and commitment to dialogue, saying that Beijing supports Pyongyang’s “adherence to the right direction of politically solving the issues” through negotiations.

Xi’s visit to Pyongyang preceded the Group of 20 summit in Japan in late June and may have been intended to gain leverage in contentious trade talks between Washington and Beijing by reminding Trump that China has influence in North Korea, although the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied any connection between the meetings. In a June 18 phone call, Xi told Trump that he was prepared to meet with Trump during the summit, but did not say if North Korea would be a topic of discussion.

Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, did not seem concerned that Xi’s visit to Pyongyang was indicative of Chinese frustration with the U.S. approach to negotiations or that Beijing would attempt to leverage its relationship with North Korea during trade discussions. “China agrees with us 100 percent” on North Korea policy, Biegun said June 19, adding that he was confident that Xi would “send constructive and appropriate messages” to Kim during the visit.

Negotiations between the United States and North Korea remain stalled, but Kim and Trump recently exchanged letters. Trump received another “beautiful” letter from Kim, he said on June 11, adding that “something will happen that’s going to be very positive.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un examines a letter from President Donald Trump in June. (Photo: Korean Central News Agency)The Korean Central News Agency reported on June 23 that Trump’s response to Kim “contains excellent content.” Photos of the letter shared by North Korean media indicate that it was dated June 12, the first anniversary of the Singapore summit.

Despite the positive characterization of Trump’s letter, North Korean media continues to criticize the U.S. approach to negotiations. (See ACT, May 2019.) In a June 4 statement, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said the United States needs to “cogitate” on the “correct strategic choices before it is too late.”

The statement said that, in the year after the 2018 Singapore summit, progress could have been made on the goals agreed by the leaders “had the United States done anything” to “help in addressing the issues on the basis of serious position and sincere attitude.”

Biegun defended the Trump administration’s approach to negotiations in a June 19 speech at the Atlantic Council. Biegun said talks with North Korea remain in a “holding pattern,” but noted “an uptick in activity” over the past week, likely referring to the exchange of letters.

Stressing the importance of flexibility, Biegun said the United States will continue to pursue agreement on the end state of negotiations before pursuing incremental steps in tandem with North Korea, an approach that Kim rejected during the second summit with Trump in Hanoi in February. (See ACT, March 2019.)

“We will never get to our destination if we don’t know where we are going,” Biegun said.

Biegun also said that his North Korean counterparts must be empowered to “negotiate on all of the issues,” adding that working-level talks must address more than peace-building and transforming relations. “We also have to talk about denuclearization,” Biegun said.

 

Kim Jong Un hosts China’s president as U.S.-North Korean talks continue to lapse.

Pentagon Warns of Chinese Nuclear Strength


July/August 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre and Kelsey Davenport

China may have tested its new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in June, but Beijing has not confirmed the launch. Chinese media first reported that a JL-3 missile was tested in the Yellow Sea’s Bohai Bay on June 2. The JL-3 is an SLBM with an estimated range of more than 9,000 kilometers that is designed for China’s next-generation submarine, which is not under construction. The first test of the JL-3 took place in Bohai Bay in November 2018.

A Chinese Jin-class nuclear submarine participates in a naval parade on April 23. (Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AFP/Getty Images)The People’s Liberation Army tweeted a photo of the June 2 test, but did not name the missile. The South China Morning Post quoted two military sources saying that the missile test was designed to check an improved guidance system on a deployed land-based ballistic missile and that Bohai Bay was closed for an unrelated military exercise.

When deployed, the JL-3 will extend the range of China’s sea-based nuclear weapons. Beijing currently uses the JL-2, which has a range of about 8,000 kilometers.

According to an annual U.S. Defense Department report released in May, China has invested significantly in its sea-based nuclear forces in recent years.

China completed construction of two more JIN-class ballistic missile submarines, up from four last year, the report says, noting that four of the six submarines are operational.

A fleet of survivable nuclear submarines could reduce China’s incentive to expand its nuclear arsenal, but it also could lead China to increase the alert level of its nuclear forces, Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in an October 2018 report.

This year’s Pentagon report also finds that China has deployed more intermediate-range ballistic missiles
while developing new capabilities, such as air-launched ballistic missiles.

Titled “Annual Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” the Pentagon’s analysis found that China possesses 80 to 160 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, a jump from the 2018 estimate of 16 to 30 missiles, including nuclear-capable DF-26 missiles with a 4,000-kilometer range that were first fielded in 2016.

China’s DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) remains under development, according to the report, which reaffirmed its 2018 assessment that China is exploring road-mobile, rail-mobile and silo-based launch options for the missile. It is expected to carry multiple warheads.

The 2019 report indicates that China has now fielded the DF-31AG, an improved variant of the DF-31A ICBM.

The report asserts with more certainty that China’s H-6K bomber could have a nuclear mission, claiming that “since at least 2016, Chinese media have been referring to the H-6K as a dual nuclear-conventional bomber.”

As it did last year, the report finds that China is still developing two new air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may include a nuclear payload. Once China is able to deploy these missiles, it would possess a viable nuclear triad—the ability to launch nuclear weapons from the land, air, and sea.

China tests new ballistic missiles, part of a growing arsenal, according to a U.S. assessment.

U.S. and Iranian Actions Put Nuclear Deal in Jeopardy

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Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 27, 2019

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102 (print/radio only); Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. reimposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

Description: 

An increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the JCPOA-mandated limits does not in itself pose a near-term proliferation risk, and it is critical that the Trump administration does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Country Resources:

Experts fear 'snowball effect' as Iran abandons nuclear deal

News Source: 
Associated Press
News Date: 
June 26, 2019 -04:00

Explainer: How Serious Is Iran's Nuclear Deal Violation?

News Source: 
Radio Free Europe
News Date: 
June 20, 2019 -04:00

The Trump Administration’s Failing Iran Policy Is Spurring Troubling Retaliatory Actions by Iran

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Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy 
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2019

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Iran announced Monday that in 10 days it will exceed a limit on enriched uranium set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.

Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced June 17 that Iran has quadrupled its production of 3.67 percent enriched uranium and will cross the limit of 300 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to that level set by the nuclear deal in 10 days. Iran first threatened to breach this cap May 8, one year after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the agreement.

While any violation of the deal is concerning, breaching the limit on low-enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Currently, as a result of restrictions put in place by the deal, it would take Iran about 12 months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. That timeline will decrease if Iran produces enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms, but it takes roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent in gas form to produce enough weapons-grade uranium (over 90 percent enriched uranium-235) for one bomb.

However, Kamalvandi also reiterated that if the Europeans, Russia, and China do not take additional steps to secure sanctions relief envisioned by the deal by July 7, Iran will take actions that pose a more significant and immediate proliferation risk.

Kamalvandi noted that Iran is considering two scenarios for increasing the level of uranium enrichment beyond the 3.67 percent cap set by the deal. He said Iran may pursue five percent enrichment for its operating nuclear power reactor at Bushehr or 20 percent enrichment to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor. These steps would shorten the time it takes Iran to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.

While Iran’s frustration with Trump's reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal. It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement and to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s more intrusive monitoring and verification.

We also urge the Trump administration to rethink its failing Iran’s policy, which has put an effective nonproliferation agreement in jeopardy, increasing the risk of a new nuclear crisis and the threat of conflict in the region.

It may still be possible to save the nuclear deal, which has successfully blocked Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Doing so will require Tehran’s continued compliance with the accord and for the remaining parties to the agreement to ratchet up efforts to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran and to pressure the United States to return to compliance with its commitments. Such developments could serve as a foundation for the United States and Iran to engage in negotiations that address other areas of tension in the region.

Description: 

Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.

Country Resources:

U.S. Accuses Iran Prematurely of Violating Nuclear Deal | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 14, 2019

U.S. Accuses Iran Prematurely of Violating Nuclear Deal Tensions over the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran continue to rise after the Trump administration accused Tehran of violating one of its commitments under the agreement, but Iran’s decision to install additional advanced centrifuges appears to fall into a gray area not covered by the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Despite the lack of clarity, the United States urged Iran to return to compliance even though U.S. President Donald Trump violated the deal by reimposing sanctions in May 2018 and...

One year since the Singapore summit: what’s changed, and what could happen next?

Despite Threat to Breach Limits, Iran Remains Below the Nuclear Deal’s Caps

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) most recent report on Iran’s implementation of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal indicates that Tehran continues to adhere to the accord’s limits—a positive development after President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would reduce compliance with the agreement. Specifically, the Supreme National Security Council stated May 8 that Iran would no longer be bound by the stockpile limits on heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEU) put in place by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) . According to the May 31...

Iran Threatens to Breach Nuclear Deal


June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran will no longer adhere to certain limits of the 2015 agreement that restricts its nuclear activities, the government announced on May 8, threatening to breach other restrictions if the states party to the agreement do not deliver the deal’s envisioned economic benefits.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, shown here at a February meeting in Russia, announced May 8 that Iran would no longer be bound by certain limits under the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Sergei Chirikov/AFP/Getty Images)The announcement came exactly one year after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and began to reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement. Over the past year, U.S. President Donald Trump and other administration officials have escalated their use of bellicose language as they implement their strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described Iran’s proposed steps as a reduction in compliance with the deal and emphasized that Tehran is not withdrawing from the JCPOA. He said Iran made this decision because it has received little economic benefit under the deal despite its continued compliance. Rouhani said Iran has no interest in waging war but “will not give in to bullying.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the announcement as ambiguous and said the United States will “have to wait to see what Iran’s actions actually are” before responding. A State Department press release on May 8 called the decision “a blatant attempt to hold the world hostage” and said Washington would build on its pressure campaign.

The remaining five parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) urged Iran to continue complying with the agreement, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed the “irresponsible behavior” of the United States for creating an “unacceptable situation.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the three European countries party to the deal rejected “any ultimatums” from Iran and said they would continue to assess Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA based on whether the country is meeting its nuclear commitments. The statement did not indicate what actions the European Union and the three European states might take if Iran does breach the deal.

Iran’s announcement by the Supreme National Security Council said Tehran would begin to store more heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEU) than the nuclear deal allows. Specifically, the JCPOA permits Iran to stockpile no more than 130 metric tons of heavy water and 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 3.67-percent uranium-235.

Any breach of the JCPOA limits would violate the deal, but the initial steps Iran announced do not pose an immediate proliferation risk. Heavy water is used to moderate certain types of reactors that can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and Iran is far from completing such a reactor.

If Iran exceeds the stockpile limit on LEU, it would reduce the time needed for Tehran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, known as the breakout time, but the 3.67-percent enrichment level is significantly below the 90-percent level considered to be weapons grade. Iran’s current breakout time is estimated at about 12 months. Prior to the JCPOA, it was two to three months.

Iran’s May 8 statement noted that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation” of the JCPOA.

Tehran attributed its decision to the systematic campaign by the United States to deny Iran sanctions relief provided by the deal. Most recently, the Trump administration announced on April 22 that it would no longer grant waivers permitting states to buy limited amounts of oil from Iran, cutting off Iran’s largest export commodity and a key source of currency.

Following that decision, on May 3, the United States announced it would end several waivers for nuclear cooperation activities, including provisions that allowed Iran to store excess heavy water overseas and ship out enriched uranium. Waivers for several other nuclear cooperation projects were granted and will proceed for now.

Rouhani implied that the U.S. decision to target the sale or storage of enriched uranium and heavy water was forcing Iran into breaching the limits. Although the JCPOA allows for Iran to sell excess heavy water and enriched uranium, the country has other options for staying below the caps set by the JCPOA.

The additional steps that Iran threatened, which would begin 60 days after the May 8 announcement if the remaining JCPOA parties are not able to facilitate further oil sales or establish banking relations, pose a more significant proliferation risk. Those steps include restarting work on Iran’s heavy-water reactor and enriching uranium to 20-percent uranium-235.

Uranium enriched to 20 percent is still far below what is considered to be weapons grade, but significantly less work would be required to enrich that material to the 90-percent level than is needed to enrich uranium from 3.67 percent to 20 percent, further shortening Iran’s breakout time.

Restarting construction on the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak would not pose a short-term risk, as the reactor is years away from operating, but would still create concerns because the facility’s original design was capable of producing enough plutonium for approximately two nuclear weapons every year.

The nuclear deal required Iran to modify the reactor to produce much less plutonium annually, to refrain from separating any plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel, and to ship out all spent fuel for 15 years. If Iran begins construction based on the modified design, it poses far less of a proliferation risk.

The remaining JCPOA parties have tried to preserve the economic benefits envisioned by the agreement, but efforts have been slow. Despite EU efforts to block the implementation of U.S. sanctions on European companies, the threat of U.S. sanctions and the risk of penalties has pushed most entities out of Iran. It is unclear if the EU, China, and Russia will be able to meet Iran’s demands.

The EU and Iran have set up a dedicated financial channel to facilitate transactions that are not subject to U.S. sanctions. When Mogherini first announced that such a mechanism would be created, she said it may be used to facilitate oil sales, but now European officials have stated that it will be limited to humanitarian trade. Although the mechanism has been set up, it is not yet functioning and is unlikely to be expanded to include oil trade within Iran’s 60-day timeline.

China appears to be the only state willing to risk U.S. sanctions by continuing to purchase oil from Iran. Beijing has been Iran’s largest oil customer, and China received a waiver from the United States in November to continue purchases for 180 days. The waiver ended May 2 and was not renewed, but an oil tanker owned by a Chinese bank left an Iranian port with 2 million barrels of oil on May 17. It is unlikely that this single shipment will be enough for Iran to refrain from following through on its threat to breach certain JCPOA limits, but it may indicate a willingness by some states to continue purchasing oil from Tehran.

If Iran does follow through on its threat to violate the deal, it will likely further escalate tensions between the United States and Iran.

National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in a May 5 statement that the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force were being deployed to the U.S. Central Command region in response to a number of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” Bolton said the move will “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

U.S. officials said Iranian-backed forces were behind May 12 attacks on oil tankers docked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, but offered little public evidence to support that assessment.

U.S. allies and members of Congress briefed on the intelligence have disagreed with Bolton’s characterization of it. British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, who serves as deputy commander of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State, said on May 15 there is no increase in the threat from Iran.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on May 21 that intelligence presented does not indicate that Iran is “taking unprovoked and offensive measures” against the United States and its allies.

Trump has repeatedly said that he does not want war with Iran, but tweeted on May 19 that “if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

Rouhani responded to Trump’s May 20 rhetoric, saying that the “situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that “economic terrorism and genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran.’”

One year after the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran says it will not abide by some of the agreement’s limits.

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