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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Kelsey Davenport

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, November 12

12 Days and Counting... The United States and Iran wrapped up two days of talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement in Muscat, Oman on Monday. Lead P5+1 negotiator Catherine Ashton joined U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif. A full meeting of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran at the political director level followed the trilateral session in Muscat on Tuesday. Negotiators did not give much away about what was accomplished during the two days of talks. Although there was no press...

One Year Later: IAEA Reports on Iranian Implementation of Interim Agreement

Iran is making progress on the additional measures it agreed to take in July to roll back parts of its nuclear program, according to the most recent quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While some of these actions are not yet completed, it may be possible for Iran to meet these requirements by the Nov. 24 deadline. According to the Nov. 7 report, Iran is continuing to comply with the conditions of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), an interim deal that Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) reached in November...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, Nov. 6

Focused on Reaching an Agreement The schedule is now set for the last few weeks of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) on a comprehensive nuclear agreement before their Nov. 24 target date. The P5+1 will meet on Nov. 7 for a coordination meeting, followed by a trilateral meeting between the United States, Iran, and lead P5+1 negotiator Catherine Ashton in Oman on Nov. 9-10. Then, all seven countries will return to Vienna on Nov. 18 for talks through the Nov. 24 deadline. The Arms Control Association will be on the...

Images Suggest N. Korea Reactor Shutdown

November 2014

By Kelsey Davenport

Satellite images suggest that North Korea may have shut down a nuclear reactor that has been a key part of the county’s nuclear weapons program, according to an analysis by a Washington think tank.

In an Oct. 3 brief, David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini of the Institute for Science and International Security wrote that images of the Yongbyon site from August and September show that there is no longer steam venting from the reactor or water being discharged from the secondary cooling system. These observations led the two analysts to conclude that the reactor may have been shut down “possibly for either partial refueling or renovations.”

Steam and water discharge are typical indications that a reactor is operating. These signatures were present in past satellite images that the authors analyzed in April and June.

North Korea has not issued any statement on the operational status of the reactor, but a spokesman for the National Peace Committee of Korea said on Oct. 7 in Pyongyang that the North Korean government was continuing to “bolster its nuclear deterrent.”

The reactor produces plutonium, which, when separated, can be used for nuclear weapons. Built in the 1980s, the reactor was shut down and disabled in 2007 as a part of Pyongyang’s negotiations over its nuclear weapons program with six countries, including the United States. Before being shut down, the reactor produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for North Korea’s estimated arsenal of eight to 12 nuclear weapons.

In April 2013, North Korea announced its intention to restart the reactor. (See ACT, May 2013.) Analysis of satellite images from August 2013 indicated that the reactor was likely operational again. (See ACT, October 2013.)

Albright and Kelleher-Vergantini said the reason for the shutdown is unknown but it is unlikely that North Korea is removing the entire core of the reactor. Cores typically last several years, but a partial refueling could have caused the shutdown, the authors wrote. North Korea could also be performing maintenance on or renovating the reactor, they said.

If the reactor was shut down for any of these reasons, it is likely that North Korea will restart it in the future, Albright and Kelleher-Vergantini said.

Satellite imagery from September also shows that North Korea has completed an upgrade to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, Nick Hansen said in an Oct. 1 piece published by 38 North, a website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Hansen, a former military imagery analyst, wrote that satellite images of the Sohae site show the completion of a “major construction program” that began in early 2013, including an upgrade of the launch pad. The upgrade will enable North Korea to launch rockets that are larger than the Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle, Hansen said. North Korea launched two Unha-3 rockets, which have three stages and are liquid fueled, from the Sohae facility in 2012.

Citing modifications that increased the height of the tower and widened the access road to the launch, Hansen said rockets that are up to 50 meters tall can now be launched from the site. The Unha-3 is about 32 meters tall.

There is no evidence of preparations for another rocket launch, Hansen wrote, but North Korea is “ready to move forward” and could launch a rocket by the end of 2014 if it chose to do so.

Hansen also said the satellite images indicate the completion of several other construction projects at the site, such as new roads, a railroad spur to the main launch pad, and an underground data cable network that links the major facilities at the site.

Satellite images suggest that North Korea may have shut down a nuclear reactor that has been a key part of its nuclear weapons program, according to an analysis by a Washington think tank.

Iran, P5+1 Press for Deal in November

November 2014

By Kelsey Davenport

Negotiators for Iran and six world powers are focused on reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal by Nov. 24 and are not discussing extending the talks, officials representing the two sides said last month after three days of meetings in Vienna.

After little progress was made during talks in September to narrow the remaining gaps between the positions of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1, some officials and analysts said a deal may not be possible by the Nov. 24 deadline. (See ACT, October 2014.)

But that sentiment seemed to shift after talks in October. In an Oct. 15 press briefing, a senior U.S. official said that negotiators “have not discussed an extension” and remain focused on a “full agreement” by Nov. 24.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Oct. 16 that there are “tough decisions” that must be made before the deadline but that there is “no need to even think about” an extension. In August, Zarif had said a deal by the deadline was unlikely.

In July, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal through Nov. 24. An interim deal reached by Iran and the P5+1 in November 2013 originally set a target date of July 20 for reaching a final agreement.

In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 23, Wendy Sherman, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that “this is the time to finish the job.”

Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator, said that Iran “will have no better time” than between now and Nov. 24 if Iran “truly wants to resolve its differences with the international community” and bring about a lifting of sanctions.

Since July, members of the Iranian and P5+1 delegations have met in a variety of formats, including bilateral talks between the United States and Iran in August. The P5+1 and Iran also met for more than a week in New York in September.

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna on October 15. Ashton and Zarif are the lead negotiators in the talks between six world powers and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program. (U.S. Department of State)Most recently, on Oct. 15, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the P5+1. A meeting of representatives from all seven countries took place the following day.
 
Shift in Iran

According to an Iranian analyst following the talks, there is a “change in tone” and an “increased optimism” in Iran that a deal will be reached by the November deadline.

In Iranian media coverage and political commentary, there are positive signs regarding the prospects for reaching an agreement that were not present after the September round of talks, the Iran-based analyst said in an Oct. 20 interview. Now, he said, it appears that political leaders in Iran are laying the groundwork to prepare the public for an announcement of an agreement.

But he cautioned that an agreement would be reached only if it “respects the rights of Iran and its nuclear vision.” The analyst was referring to Iran’s plans to build additional nuclear power plants.

Throughout the talks, the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program has been the most significant issue.

Iran says it needs to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity to provide fuel for nuclear power reactors it plans to build. Under a contract that runs through 2021, Russia is supplying the fuel for Iran’s only currently operating power reactor, at Bushehr.

The P5+1 wants to reduce Iran’s enrichment capacity and put limits on other elements of its nuclear program, including the stockpiles of enriched material that Iran maintains and the types of new centrifuges that Tehran is developing. These limits would increase the amount of time it would take for Iran to enrich uranium to provide enough weapons-grade material for one bomb. In such material, more than 90 percent of the material is uranium-235. Iran currently is enriching uranium to less than 5 percent U-235, an enrichment level that would make the material usable in power reactors.

In his Oct. 16 comments, Zarif said progress is being made on “all the issues.”

Sherman said in her Oct. 23 remarks that the United States is ready to reach an agreement and that the P5+1 has put forward a “number of ideas that are equitable, enforceable, and consistent with Tehran’s expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program and that take into account that country’s scientific know-how and economic needs.”

Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs and the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks on Iran’s nuclear program, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on October 23 in this video image. (U.S. Department of State)She said that the United States hopes that “leaders in Tehran will agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that this program will be exclusively peaceful” and thus end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation. If an agreement is not reached, “the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran,” she said.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Uranium Proposals

Citing diplomatic sources, the Associated Press reported on Oct. 17 on a U.S. proposal that would allow Iran to retain a larger number of operating centrifuges than the P5+1 originally proposed if Tehran shipped out a significant portion of its stockpile of reactor-grade uranium for storage in Russia.

Iran currently has about 10,200 operating first-generation centrifuges and an additional 9,000 installed machines that are not enriching uranium. The country has a stockpile of about 7,500 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to reactor grade.

A spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Oct. 22 that options for defining the dimensions of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program are being discussed, including the numbers of centrifuges and the transfer of the stockpile out of Iran.

An official based in Vienna said on Oct. 17 that a number of options are being “considered and tweaked” to find a solution. He said there is no “single proposal” on the table for uranium enrichment. An agreement that “everyone can sell” domestically on this issue is possible, the official said. He declined to elaborate on the description of the U.S. proposal in the press.

In an Oct. 23 interview with Bloomberg, Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, said that Iran’s last proposal on uranium enrichment was to “keep what they have right now” and have an option to scale up when its nuclear power program expands.

That position is not acceptable to the international community, Araud said. Araud, who served as the French negotiator for nuclear talks with Iran between 2006 and 2009, said that if Iran does not change its position on the centrifuges, it is difficult to see how a deal can be reached by Nov. 24.

In that case, Araud said that the “preferred scenario” would be prolonging the interim agreement reached last November. (See ACT, December 2013.)

The Iranian analyst, however, said that gathering support for extending the talks will be difficult in Iran. Some political factions do not want Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to succeed in reaching a deal because it could increase his popularity, he said.

In addition, Iran is concerned that the upcoming U.S. elections could result in Republican control of both chambers of Congress, he said. The Republicans currently control the House of Representatives and are seen as having a good chance of gaining a majority in the Senate. This will make some in Iran “less sure that the United States will follow through” on sanctions relief in a deal, he said.

Negotiators for Iran and six world powers are focused on reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal by Nov. 24 and are not discussing extending the talks, officials said

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, Oct. 31

Amano in Town The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano will be in Washington today, Oct. 31, to talk about the challenges in nuclear verification and the agency's role in monitoring the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). You can watch it live, online at 10:30 a.m., Washington time. Yesterday, Amano met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the IAEA's work with Iran and the nuclear negotiations. Back in Vienna, the technical teams remain hard at work as the...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, October 23

"Chipping Away"? Technical level talks between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) resumed this week in Vienna after negotiators announced last week that they are still focused on reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal by Nov. 24. The expert talks follow last week's trilateral meeting in Vienna between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and P5+1 lead negotiator Catherine Ashton. A short meeting of the P5+1 and Iran at the political-director level followed the trilateral talks. Afterwards, both...

A Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement and Possible Military Dimensions to Iran's Nuclear Program

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Volume 6, Issue 9, October 17, 2014         

Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) are working to negotiate a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 that ensures that Iran does not use its nuclear program to build nuclear weapons.

As they do, some U.S. policymakers are calling for resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation into possible nuclear weapons-related activities that Iran is believed to undertaken before a nuclear deal with the P5+1 is reached.

Emphasis on a quick resolution to the IAEA's investigation and insistence that it is resolved before a comprehensive agreement is concluded, threatens to derail talks with the P5+1 and sabotage the progress made to date. A comprehensive agreement is still within reach if the two sides can agree on limits to Tehran's uranium-enrichment and plutonium-production capabilities, combined with more stringent international monitoring, in return for phased sanctions relief--but both sides must be flexible and keep extraneous issues from spoiling the talks.  

The concerns motivating U.S. lawmakers to call for resolution of the IAEA investigation in advance of a deal appear to have been spurred by the news that Iran missed an Aug. 25 deadline to submit information on two areas of activities that could be related to the development of nuclear weapons. These activities are part of a larger set of allegations that the IAEA listed in an annex to its November 2011 Board of Governors report about Iran's past activities related to nuclear weapons development, referred to as the possible military dimensions (PMDs). Iran is cooperating with the IAEA to resolve these concerns and has met with the agency twice since missing the deadline to determine a path forward.

Resolving the PMD issue is important but is not a prerequisite for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Nor is it realistic or necessary to expect a full "confession" from Iran that it pursued nuclear weapons in the past.

While it is vital that Iran cooperate with the investigation in a timely manner, the IAEA will need time to pursue leads, conduct a thorough review of the evidence, and assess whether activities with possible military dimensions took place and if they have been halted. It would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines or to hold up the conclusion of the talks in order to wait months, or even years, for the IAEA to wrap up its work.

Furthermore, it is more likely that the IAEA would be able to obtain the cooperation and the information it needs to resolve the outstanding PMD questions if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement because the sanctions relief that is so important to Iran will be tied to the satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA probe. Moving forward on a comprehensive agreement that assures Iran that its future peaceful nuclear activities will not be penalized or further restricted if it discloses information about the PMDs could also serve as a motivator for Iran to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation in a more timely manner.

What Are the PMDs?
Although much of Iran's nuclear program consists of dual-use technology that can be dedicated to civil nuclear energy and nuclear weapons use, Tehran is widely believed to have pursued activities relevant to the development of a nuclear warhead in an organized program prior to 2003. According to evidence provided to the IAEA, some PMD activities may have resumed.

In November 2011, the IAEA released information in an annex to its quarterly report that detailed Iran's suspected warhead work based on intelligence it received from the United States and several other countries, as well as its own investigation. According to the report, Iran was engaged in an effort prior to the end of 2003 that spanned the full range of nuclear weapons development, from acquiring the raw nuclear material to working on a weapon that could eventually be delivered via a missile.

This judgment is consistent with the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Assessment on Iran, which assessed "with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons" and that the program was halted in the fall of 2003. It assessed "with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program."

According to the November 2011 IAEA report, however, some information from IAEA member states suggests that some activities that would be "highly" relevant to a nuclear weapons program have resumed since 2004. Subsequent IAEA reports indicate that the agency received further information about periodic activities related to weapons development.

The series of projects that made up what the IAEA's November 2011 report called "the AMAD Plan," appears to have been overseen by senior Iranian figures who were engaged in working-level correspondence consistent with a coordinated program. Among the key components of this program were the following:

  • High-explosives testing. Iran's experiments involving exploding bridge wire detonators and the simultaneous firing of explosives around a hemispherical shape point to work on nuclear warhead design. Iran admits to carrying out such work, but claims it was for conventional military and civilian purposes and disputes some of the technical details.
  • Warhead design verification. Iran carried out experiments using high explosives to test the validity of its warhead design and engaged in preparatory work to carry out a full-scale underground nuclear test explosion.
  • Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle. Documentation reviewed by the IAEA has suggested that as late as 2003, Iran sought to adapt the payload section of a Shahab-3 missile for accommodating a nuclear warhead.
Iran has denied pursuing a warhead-development program and claims that the information on which the IAEA assessment is based is a fabrication.

The agency's investigation, however, is not limited to PMD issues. The IAEA is also seeking clarification from Iran on its nuclear declaration to the agency. This includes providing the IAEA with greater access to sites, individuals, and information about nuclear activities, such as centrifuge development.

The information and access provided to the IAEA as part of these actions gives the agency a more-complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities, and allows the IAEA to verify the completeness and accuracy of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Resolving the PMDs
Prior to the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran resisted cooperation with the IAEA on its investigation into the PMD issues and other areas of concern related to the clarity and completeness of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Rouhani, however, promised greater transparency on Iran's nuclear program, although his government continues to dispute the validity of the PMD evidence in possession of the IAEA and refutes the allegations that work was done to develop nuclear weapons.  On November 11, 2013, Iran and the IAEA concluded a framework agreement for moving forward to resolve the outstanding concerns.

Under the terms of the framework, Iran and the IAEA agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including PMDs, in a step-by-step manner.

In the past year, under this framework, Iran has agreed to three sets of actions and in total has provided the IAEA with information and access on 16 areas of concern, including one PMD issue. In May, Iran provided the IAEA with information regarding its experiments with exploding bridge wire detonators and has since provided additional information based on further questions from the IAEA. Iran maintained that its work with these detonators was for civilian purposes. Bridge wire detonators are used for drilling in oil and gas fields.  

In May, as part of a set of five more actions under the framework, Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with information on two more PMD issues.

These two actions, which were to be completed by Aug. 25, include providing the IAEA with information on the initiation of high-explosives and studies on neutron transport, related modeling and calculations, and their alleged application to compressed materials. These activities are relevant to developing nuclear weapons.

Iran missed the deadline, but has since met with the IAEA to determine a path forward. Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said on Sept. 18 that the actions have not been completed "due to their complexity" and because the IAEA allegations are based on invalid information. Najafi said that the IAEA was aware Iran might not complete the actions by that date.

Most recently, Iranian and IAEA officials met in Tehran Oct. 7-8.Najafi described the meeting as "constructive." Iran and the IAEA agreed to meet again, at a date yet to be determined, to continue talks on resolving these issues.

PMDs and the Final Nuclear Agreement
Tying a comprehensive nuclear agreement to a resolution of the IAEA's investigation into the PMDs is unnecessary and risks derailing a deal.

Expecting Iran to "confess" that it pursued a nuclear weapons program is unrealistic and unnecessary. After having spent years denying that it pursued nuclear weapons and having delivered a fatwa against nuclear weapons, Tehran's senior leaders cannot afford to admit that it hid a nuclear weapons program.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 354 members of Congress said that transparency on the PMD actions are necessary in order to establish a meaningful monitoring and verification system in a comprehensive deal.

Resolution of the agency's investigation is not necessary to put in place a comprehensive monitoring and verification regime that will prevent Iran from pursuing a covert program to build nuclear weapon or deviating from a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Establishing a baseline of Iran's nuclear program based on the agency's investigation will also take some time. In a best-case scenario, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano said last month that the IAEA will need 15 months to complete its investigation and assessment of Iran's nuclear declaration and PMDs. Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 have six weeks to reach a comprehensive deal. Rushing the IAEA to complete its investigation will not provide the agency with the appropriate amount of time it needs to assess the entire program.

The IAEA's investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities related to weapons development is a separate process, and conditioning a nuclear deal on completion of the agency's investigation would delay and likely undermine the prospect for the conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear deal that limits Iran's nuclear potential and improves the international community's ability to detect and disrupt any potential future nuclear weapons-related effort.

Stringent and intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms under the terms of the Additional Protocol would give the IAEA access to all of Iran's nuclear sites at short notice and access to additional sites if the agency suspects nuclear activities may be talking place. The IAEA and the international community will be able to quickly detect and deter any attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, whether through a covert program or by using declared facilities. Such measures are only possible with the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear agreement by the P5+1 and Iran.

Additionally, sanctions relief that is important to Iran is likely to be tied to a satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA's investigation. The covert nature of Iran's nuclear program in the last decade spurred the IAEA to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. Subsequent sanctions that prohibit Iran from important materials and technologies important to nuclear development were put in place because Iran was not cooperating with the IAEA. It is unlikely that all of these sanctions will be removed without  satisfactory completion of the IAEA's investigation..

A comprehensive nuclear agreement can also take Iran's compliance with its IAEA obligations into account. Any future expansion of Iran's nuclear program, particularly its uranium enrichment, could be contingent  on the IAEA's satisfactory conclusion of its investigations. A deal between Iran and the P5+1 could also assure Iran that it will not be penalized for disclosures about past PMD activities.

Understanding Iran's past nuclear activities related to weapons development is important, but the international community must remain focused on a the future and ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is transparent and limited. Focusing too much on the past will only jeopardize the best opportunity in a decade to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. --KELSEY DAVENPORT

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Iran and the P5+1 are working to negotiate a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 that ensures that Iran does not use its nuclear program to build nuclear weapons.

Country Resources:

Myths and Realities: Unraveling the Impact of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran

Between 2006 and 2010, the UN Security Council has passed six resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program. As Iran negotiates with the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) misconceptions abound about what the UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to do and how the resolutions impact conditions in a final nuclear deal. The Security Council resolutions were never intended to prevent an Iranian nuclear program in the future in compliance with the conditions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And the sanctions imposed by the resolutions...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, October 10

Negotiators for the P5+1 and Iran will return to the negotiating table in Vienna next week, as talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement are set to resume Oct. 14-15. A meeting between lead P5+1 negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is already on the books, along with a trilateral meeting that will include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The U.S. negotiating team will also be in Vienna for the talks and a bilateral meeting with Iran on Oct. 14. A spokeswoman for the Iranian foreign ministry said a full round of talks between the P5+1 could take...

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