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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, March 21

Close But ... Iran and the P5+1 agreed yesterday to take a short break and resume talks on Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland after the two sides failed to bridge gaps on key remaining issues. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his team headed back to Tehran, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel first to London to meet with the British, French, and German foreign ministers before returning to Washington. The break will give the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) negotiators time to consult and coordinate their...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 19

And Then There Were Two... Talks continue in Lausanne, Switzerland with two issues emerging as the remaining obstacles for a deal; Iran's research and development of advanced centrifuge machines and resolution of the UN Security Council resolutions. Both Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) say that progress is being made and the gaps are real, but resolvable. However, it is unlikely at this point that a deal will be reached before the weekend. At this point, talks are anticipated to continue through Friday, break for a few days due to...

Cotton and GOP Senators Offer No Viable Option to the P5+1 Nuclear Deal with Iran

The international community is close to making a deal with Iran that will block its pathways to nuclear weapons–provided the U.S. Congress does not derail the best chance in over a decade to limit Iran’s nuclear program. In a blatant attempt to undermine U.S. foreign policy and the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran, 47 Republican Senators wrote to Iran’s leadership warning that the next president could revoke a nuclear deal or that Congress could change the terms. The March 9 letter , led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is denouncing a deal that has not been reached and threatening to...

Sanctions Relief Timing Key to Iran Deal

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

The sequence of sanctions relief is now the primary obstacle to a nuclear deal with Iran, a European diplomat familiar with the negotiations said last month.

In a Feb. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the official said Iran and the six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that are negotiating with Tehran have not reached a “compromise on the sequence of lifting sanctions.” Iran is pushing for more relief early in a nuclear deal, and the six-country group, known as the P5+1, wants to “phase in relief more gradually” based on Iran’s record of compliance with a final deal, he said.

The UN Security Council, the United States, and the European Union have imposed a number of sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear activities. Iran generally views these sanctions as illegal and maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Last November, when Iran and the P5+1 agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal for a second time, sanctions relief and the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program were the two main obstacles to reaching a comprehensive deal. (See ACT, December 2014.) At that time, the parties set the end of March as the target date for concluding a political framework agreement.

Progress on Enrichment Limits

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left foreground) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) cross a street while taking a walk in Geneva on January 14 during a break in their negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. (U.S. Department of State)According to the European official, the parties made substantial progress defining the size and scope of Iran’s enrichment program during several rounds of meetings in February, including two bilateral meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif at the annual security conference in Munich.

Zarif and Kerry said the meetings were positive, but did not provide details on the progress made during their discussions.

The European official said the progress made during meetings at the Feb. 6-8 conference was “remarkable,” particularly on defining the limits of Iran’s enrichment capacity, but that a deal is “still not a sure thing.” A number of details must be worked out on issues related to the enrichment program, including the duration of the limits, he said.

Currently, it would take Iran two to three months to produce enough material for one weapon, according to Kerry’s congressional testimony last year. U.S. officials have said their goal in the talks is to extend that timeline to at least 12 months.

A nuclear weapon requires about 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level at which 90 percent of the material is uranium-235. Additional time is required to weaponize the material.
Iran is currently enriching uranium to reactor-grade levels, at which less than 5 percent of the material is U-235.

To achieve the goal of 12 months, the P5+1 wants to reduce Iran’s enrichment capacity and place limits on other elements of its nuclear program, including the stockpiles of enriched material that Iran maintains and the types of new centrifuges that the country is developing.

Tehran says it needs to increase its enrichment capacity in the future 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.

New Extension Not Envisioned

Both sides in the negotiations have cast doubt on the possibility of a third extension if the two sides do not reach an agreement by June 30.

After meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tehran on Feb. 15, Zarif said that the current opportunity to reach a deal “must be seized.” Wang said China was not in favor of another extension.

At a Feb. 9 press conference, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he does not see “further extension being useful if [Iran has] not agreed to the basic formulation and the bottom line that the world requires.”

While in Munich, Zarif also met with Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on Feb. 7.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Amano said he and Zarif agreed to intensify high-level talks between Iran and the IAEA on the agency’s stalled investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities that could be related to nuclear weapons.

In November 2013, Iran agreed to cooperate with the agency’s investigation. Since then, Iran has provided the agency with information on the past activities of concern to the agency and access to several sites.

But Iran missed an August 2014 deadline for providing the IAEA with information on two areas of Iran’s nuclear program that have “possible military dimensions,” in the agency’s terminology. Iran also has not yet provided the IAEA with suggestions for new actions to continue moving the IAEA investigation forward. The agency requested that Iran provide it with this information last August. (See ACT, October 2014.)

Amano said it is essential for Iran to follow through on its commitments to the agency. He added that the IAEA investigation will not be an endless process and that, with “reasonable or full cooperation from Iran,” the IAEA can clarify the issue within a “reasonable time frame.”

The sequence of sanctions relief is now the primary obstacle to a nuclear deal with Iran, a European official said last month.

Congress Poised to Move on Iran Bills

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Two senators introduced legislation in January that would impose sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is not reached by July 6.

Introduced on Jan. 27, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would revoke sanctions waived under the November 2013 interim deal between Iran and six world powers and put in place additional sanctions every 30 days for five months if a deal is not reached.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a press conference at the White House on January 16. Cameron said additional sanctions on Iran would “set back our chances for a diplomatic solution” to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)President Barack Obama said on Jan. 20 in his State of the Union address that he would veto any congressional sanctions bill passed while negotiations are ongoing. Obama said such sanctions “will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.”

Under the 2013 interim deal, Iran agreed to limit certain nuclear activities, and the six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) granted limited sanctions relief and pledged that they would not impose additional sanctions while talks on a final agreement were continuing. (See ACT, December 2013.)

Negotiations on a final deal were extended last July and again in November. As part of the second extension, negotiators set the end of March as a target date for a political framework agreement and June 30 as the date for a complete deal. (See ACT, December 2014.)

As of Feb. 19, the bill had 43 additional co-sponsors—seven Democrats and 36 Republicans.

The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee approved a version of the bill on Jan. 29. Eighteen senators voted to approve the bill, including six Democrats. Four Democrats voted against the measure.

Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a Jan. 29 press release after the vote that the bill would be reported to the Senate for consideration. Shelby said it is “clear that further action is necessary to compel Iran to reach an acceptable agreement.”

The additional sanctions contained in the bill would begin entering into force in August. From then through December, new measures would be imposed every 30 days. The additional restrictions would close loopholes in existing sanctions on Iranian exports of petroleum products and impose further sanctions on senior Iranian government officials and additional individuals for involvement in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, sponsorship of terrorism, and other illicit activities. The legislation would also slap additional sanctions on Iran’s shipbuilding, automotive, construction, engineering, and mining sectors and enhance sanctions on Iran’s oil trade and financial transactions.

If a comprehensive deal is reached, the legislation calls for the president to submit the deal to Congress within five days. It also calls for a 30-day period for congressional review of any agreement before the president can waive or suspend any sanctions.

The Senate appears unlikely to vote on the bill before March 24. In a Jan. 27 letter to Obama, Menendez and nine other Democrats said they oppose moving forward with the legislation until after March 24, in “acknowledgement” of the president’s “concern regarding congressional action” during the talks.

The letter said the March 24 deadline is a “critical test of Iran’s intentions” and that Tehran must address “all parameters of a comprehensive agreement” or the 10 senators would vote for the sanctions bill.

Washington’s negotiating partners have expressed concern about the impact of new sanctions while talks are ongoing. In a joint press conference with Obama at the White House on Jan. 16, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said additional sanctions “would undermine...international unity and set back our chances for a diplomatic solution” with Iran.

Several senators expressed support for additional sanctions if the talks break down. A resolution introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Jan. 26 expressed support for the current diplomatic negotiations with Iran, but said that the Senate is prepared to enact additional sanctions if efforts to reach a deal fail.

The resolution was introduced with nine co-sponsors—eight Democrats and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

In a Jan. 26 statement, Murphy said that a diplomatic agreement is the “best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” But the resolution “makes clear that if Iran walks away from the table” or is not negotiating in good faith, the United States will “respond with debilitating new sanctions,” he said.

Feinstein said that enacting new sanctions while talks are in progress would “gravely undermine” efforts to reach an agreement and that the resolution offers “an option to support diplomacy” with Iran.

The resolution also “affirms support” for the reimposition of suspended sanctions if Iran violates the interim deal or any final nuclear agreement.

Senators introduced legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is not reached by July.

U.S. Rejects N. Korean Offer on Testing

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, testifies at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 13. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea offered in January to halt nuclear testing if the United States would cancel an annual spring military exercise with South Korea, but Washington rejected the proposal.

The Jan. 9 offer was reported in Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which said that the joint military exercises are a “root cause of escalating tension” on the Korean peninsula. According to the KCNA article, Pyongyang called on the United States to contribute to easing tensions by suspending the exercise. The article said that North Korea would “take a responsive step” in exchange and suspend nuclear testing.

North Korea communicated the offer to the United States using a “relevant channel,” according to the news agency.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a Jan. 12 press briefing that the joint exercises will continue and that North Korea’s offer is an “implicit threat” that “inappropriately links” the exercises to the possibility of a nuclear test.

A nuclear test is a “clear violation” of North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions, while the joint military exercises are “transparent, defense oriented, and have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years,” Harf said.

Washington is open to dialogue with North Korea, but Pyongyang must take “steps toward denuclearization” before credible negotiations resume, Harf said.

As part of the so-called six-party talks, which began in 2003 and include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, North Korea pledged in 2005 to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and facilities. In 2009, however, the talks broke down when North Korea said it would no longer participate.

A Chinese analyst said in a Feb. 20 interview that Beijing is “critical of the U.S. decision to reject outright” North Korea’s proposal. The analyst said Washington’s “blindness and arrogance” will not lead to meaningful talks with North Korea. Pyongyang may not offer additional opportunities in the future, he said.

Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said in Jan. 13 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States has made it clear to North Korea that “the door is open to meaningful engagement” but better bilateral relations must be based on “a willingness” by North Korea to “fulfill its denuclearization commitments.”

North Korea has “consistently rebuffed or ignored” U.S. offers for dialogue and instead responded with provocations, he said.

Since the six-party talks fell apart in 2009, North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and restarted a heavy-water reactor that produces weapons-grade plutonium.

Experts on North Korea questioned the U.S. assertions that suspending the military exercise is not possible.

Robert Carlin, a former senior policy adviser to the U.S. special representative, said on Feb. 11 that the North Korean proposal has a historical basis because the United States suspended joint military exercises with South Korea in 1992. The United States said at the time that the exercise, dubbed “Team Spirit,” was intended to promote North Korea’s cooperation with international nuclear inspectors.

Carlin, now a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said refusing North Korea’s offer because UN Security Council resolutions already forbid nuclear tests ignored the 2012 Leap Day agreement.

In February 2012, the United States and North Korea negotiated a deal under which North Korea agreed to a nuclear and missile testing moratorium in exchange for food aid. (See ACT, April 2012.)

The agreement disintegrated when North Korea attempted to launch a satellite in April 2012. The United States said satellite launches were prohibited under the agreement, but North Korea disagreed. (See ACT, May 2012.)

Carlin said that North Korea knew its latest proposal would be rejected but it was meant as a “starter engine” for talks. Given the recent expansion of North Korea’s production of material for nuclear weapons, Carlin said that talks are opportunities to “uncover what is possible” in negotiations and that the consequences for choosing not to talk with North Korea “could be dire.”

The Chinese analyst also criticized President Barack Obama’s Jan. 22 comments on YouTube, during which he predicted that North Korea would collapse.

The analyst said that such comments would only “instigate additional provocative actions” by North Korea.

The KCNA said on Feb. 4 that it saw no reason to negotiate with the United States, given Washington’s intention to “bring down” North Korea’s government.

The United States rejected North Korea’s offer to halt nuclear testing in exchange for a suspension of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

India’s Agni-5 Closer to Deployment

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

India’s January 31 test launch of the Agni-5 is shown in this video image. (DRDO)India successfully tested its Agni-5 ballistic missile from a road-mobile canister for the first time in January, moving the missile one step closer to deployment, according to an Indian official.

Avinash Chander, director-general of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said in Jan. 31 statement that the success of that day’s test from the mobile canister is “a new milestone,” allowing the Indian armed forces to “stop anywhere and launch” the Agni-5.

The Agni-5 is a nuclear-capable ballistic missile first tested by India in April 2012 and then again in September 2013. (See ACT, May 2012; October 2013.)

The three-stage missile is solid fueled and can carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers, according to news reports of past tests and information released by the DRDO. A 5,000-kilometer range puts all of China within reach.

A range of 5,500 kilometers is generally considered the threshold between intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. A missile’s range can be extended by lightening its payload.

Chander said that the road-mobile canister for the Agni-5 makes it “highly survivable” and provides an assured retaliatory capability. Such a capability is important, given India’s no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons, he said.

In a Jan. 31 statement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the DRDO on the successful test and said the Agni-5 is a “prized asset” for India’s forces.

The Modi government terminated Chander’s contract as head of the DRDO earlier in January. Chander left the organization on Jan. 31, after the test was completed.

Chander said that one more test is necessary before the Agni-5 can be deployed as part of India’s nuclear arsenal. After that, “the objective is to begin induction by the end of this year” if possible, he said.

Chander said the DRDO is not currently working on missiles with ranges longer than the Agni-5. Although technically possible, the Agni-5 “takes care of our existing threat perceptions,” he said.

India successfully tested its Agni-5 ballistic missile from a road-mobile canister for the first time in January, moving the missile one step closer to deployment, according to an Indian official.

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 2

March Arrives: Negotiations Advancing; Debate in DC Intensifying Bilateral talks between Iran and members of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) will resume in Montreux, Switzerland beginning today, March 2, and culminating with a full meeting of the political directors from all seven countries on March 5. The U.S. delegation will include Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz. They will meet again with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, February 23

Talks in Geneva Intensify; Another Round Next Week Negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran over the weekend focused on key technical issues, with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joining U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for talks with Iran on a comprehensive nuclear deal. The Feb. 22-23 meetings were Moniz's first as part of the U.S. team negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal. If an agreement is reached, Moniz will be a key validator. The technical expertise of the Department of Energy will play a critical role in assuring the international community that the limits on Iran's...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, February 17

Getting Closer.... Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran on Feb. 15 for discussions that included the negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). The talks come soon after Zarif met with a number of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the Feb. 6-8 Munich security conference. Progress was made in Munich, particularly on uranium enrichment, but there are still gaps on that issue and the sequence of sanctions relief that need to be...

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