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Former IAEA Director-General
Kelsey Davenport

Iran to Give IAEA Details on Detonators

Kelsey Davenport

Iran will provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information about its past development of a detonator that could be used to as a trigger in nuclear weapons, according to an agreement reached by the two sides last month.

In a Feb. 9 joint statement, Iran and the IAEA described the two days of talks in Tehran as “constructive” and announced seven actions for Iran to take by May 15 to further the agency’s investigations into its unresolved concerns about Iran’s current nuclear program and past actions.

One of the actions requires Tehran to provide the IAEA with information on exploding bridge wire detonators, which can be used to trigger nuclear weapons. They can also be used in civilian applications, including drilling for oil and gas, and for conventional military explosives.

The Feb. 9 announcement follows an agreement reached last Nov. 11, in which Iran and the IAEA pledged to cooperate to “resolve all present and past issues.” (See ACT, December 2013.) The IAEA laid out these concerns, including allegations of activities with possible relevance for developing nuclear weapons, in detail in its November 2011 report to the agency’s Board of Governors. (See ACT, December 2011.) In early 2012, the IAEA began negotiating an approach to its investigation with Iran, but did not make any progress until President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.

The other actions Iran agreed to take during the February talks include providing the IAEA with access to the Saghand uranium mine and to Iran’s uranium-concentration plant for refining uranium ore, information on the heavy-water reactor at Arak, and access to a center that was used in the past for laser uranium-enrichment experiments.

In the Feb. 9 announcement, Iran and the IAEA also reported that the six initial actions that Iran agreed to take as part of the Nov. 11 agreement had been completed on schedule.

IAEA Deputy Director-General Tero Varjoranta told reporters Feb. 10 that Iran took “all the initial pragmatic measures” and that “everything has gone as planned” since November. Varjoranta led the IAEA delegation to Tehran for the February talks.

The initial six measures from the Nov. 11 agreement included a Dec. 8 IAEA visit to the Heavy Water Production Plant at the Arak site, which produces heavy water for a reactor under construction, and a Jan. 29 visit to the Gchine uranium mine. The agency has not been able to visit either site for years despite requests for access.

Iran also provided the IAEA with information on its planned construction of nuclear power reactors, research reactors, and uranium-enrichment facilities.

In its Feb. 20 quarterly report on Iran, the IAEA summarized the contents of two letters that Tehran sent to the agency Feb. 8 regarding its future activities. Iran wrote that it had identified 16 sites for nuclear power reactors and was planning to build a light-water reactor fueled by 20 percent enriched uranium for medical isotope production and nuclear research. The site selection process for the reactor is in its “preliminary stages,” according to a passage from the letter that appeared in the IAEA report.

In a Jan. 18 letter to the agency also quoted in the IAEA report, Iran said it had begun the site selection for five of 10 planned uranium-enrichment sites but that there would be no progress on constructing these facilities during the following six months. Iran committed not to build any new enrichment facilities as part of a Nov. 24 agreement reached with six world powers (see).

Although these initial actions provided the agency with information on Iran’s future nuclear plans and access to several facilities, they did not address the activities with potential nuclear weapons applications—“possible military dimensions,” in IAEA parlance.

Past Cooperation

Iran previously has provided the agency with some information on nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

These prior discussions included exchanges between Tehran and the IAEA on information regarding bridge wire detonators in 2008, which the IAEA summarized in its November 2011 report.

During the 2008 exchanges, Iran said that it was developing them for “civil and conventional military applications.” The IAEA, however, maintained in the report that given their “limited civilian and conventional military applications,” Iran’s work on developing the detonators is a “matter of concern.”

The IAEA also said in the November 2011 report it had information that Iran conducted practical tests of the bridge wire detonators to see if they would “perform satisfactorily over long distances between a firing point and a test device located down a deep shaft.” This information would be useful if Iran were to carry out a nuclear test, the agency stated in the report.

Even after the information on the detonator development is given to the IAEA, the agency has other unresolved concerns about alleged Iranian activities related to nuclear weapons development. In a list of topics requiring further investigation that the agency presented to Iran in February 2012, the IAEA included neutron initiation, tests of warhead integration with missiles, hydrodynamic experiments, and the possibility of past explosive testing at the Parchin military facility.

At his Feb. 10 press conference, Varjoranta said “a lot of work” remains to be done on the possible military dimensions. He said that there will be “new steps” after May 15.

Iran has maintained that the IAEA allegations of activities with possible military dimensions are baseless. On Feb. 7, the day before the meeting began, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that Iran is ready to “answer all the questions” about its “peaceful nuclear activities.”

Laser Enrichment

As part of the Nov. 11 agreement, Iran provided the IAEA with information on its experiments with laser-based uranium-enrichment technology and an explanation for Tehran’s February 2010 statement that it possessed this technology.

According to a second Jan. 18 letter quoted in the Feb. 20 IAEA report, Iran said that these experiments ended in 2003 and the February 2010 statement referenced that earlier work. Since 2003, “there had not been any especially designed or prepared systems, equipment and components for use in laser-based enrichment plants in Iran,” the letter was quoted as saying.

As a follow-up action, Iran agreed Feb. 9 to allow the IAEA to visit its Lashkar Ab’ad laser center where the enrichment experiments are known to have taken place prior to 2003.

Varjoranta said the IAEA has a plan for proceeding with the issue of laser-based uranium enrichment and that he felt confident that the IAEA will “find out” what it needs to know about Iran’s work in this area.

Iran agreed to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on its past development of a detonator that can be used for nuclear weapons.

Libyan Uranium Stocks Flagged for IAEA

Kelsey Davenport

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team planned to visit Libya in December to verify the country’s stockpile of uranium yellowcake, a UN official reported to the Security Council.

Tarek Mitri, head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, told the Security Council on Dec. 9 that he received information from the Libyan government indicating that 6,400 barrels of uranium yellowcake are being stored at a former military facility in the south under the control of an army battalion. He said an IAEA inspection team was to visit the site in December to verify the “conditions of storage” and size of the stockpile.

The IAEA did not respond to a request for confirmation that the visit took place. A team from the agency last visited the site in 2011.

The announcement of the IAEA visit came a month after Russia expressed concern over the security of the Libyan yellowcake. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, told Russian news outlets Nov. 4 that he “mentioned the problem” of security for the stockpile of yellowcake during Security Council consultations and requested that the body ask Libya to take “practical steps to remedy the situation.”

Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN, Eugene-Richard Gasana, who chairs the Security Council committee that oversees sanctions imposed on Libya, told the Security Council on Dec. 9 that a UN panel of experts concluded that the yellowcake “posed no significant security risk” because it would require “extensive processing” before it could be used for civil or weapons purposes. The panel is charged with overseeing the implementation of sanctions imposed on Libya in connection with the civil war in February 2011 under UN Security Council Resolution 1970.

Yellowcake, which is concentrated uranium ore, represents an early step in the process of creating fuel for power reactors or nuclear weapons. Once natural uranium ore is mined, it undergoes a milling process to turn it into yellowcake, which then must be processed into a gaseous form, uranium hexafluoride, before it can be enriched.

Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Libya ratified in 1975, the country is prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi covertly pursued a nuclear weapons program that began in the 1970s and lasted until 2003. In December of that year, Libya agreed to dismantle its covert nuclear weapons facilities and disclose information about its other programs for nonconventional weapons. As part of that agreement, Libya released information about the importation of 2,263 metric tons of uranium yellowcake from Niger between 1978 and 1981. Of that amount, only 1,000 metric tons were declared to the IAEA.

The remainder was for use in covert uranium-enrichment activities. Yellowcake stockpiles must be declared if a state has an additional protocol as part of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. An additional protocol expands the scope and access that the agency has to a state’s nuclear facilities.

Although the last of Libya’s enriched uranium was removed in 2009, the stockpiles of yellowcake remained in the country.

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team planned to visit Libya in December to verify the country’s stockpile of uranium yellowcake, a UN official reported to the Security Council.

New Iran Sanctions Bill Introduced

Kelsey Davenport

A bipartisan group of 27 senators on Dec. 19 introduced legislation that would impose further sanctions on Iran, despite warnings by the Obama administration that additional sanctions will harm ongoing negotiations with Tehran over its controversial nuclear program and derail an interim agreement reached on Nov 24.

In a statement announcing the introduction of the bill, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the co-authors of the legislation, said that the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 proposes “prospective sanctions” if Iran violates the terms of the Nov. 24 initial deal or if the negotiators “fail to reach a final agreement.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a Dec. 19 press briefing that the administration has made it “very clear” to Congress that “it is not the time” to pass any additional sanctions and that such a move could “proactively undermine American diplomacy.” He said enacting the legislation is unnecessary because if Iran does not comply with the first-phase agreement, the administration could work with Congress “to very quickly pass new, effective sanctions.”

Iran and six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have been negotiating over Tehran’s nuclear program for more than a decade. Iran maintains that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful, but the international community is concerned that Iran may choose to pursue nuclear weapons.

On Nov. 24, Iran and the six countries, or P5+1, reached an interim deal, which will limit Iran’s nuclear activities over six months in exchange for relief from some sanctions and a commitment that no new sanctions will be imposed. (See ACT, December 2013.) This deal will go into effect when the negotiators work out the details of the joint committee that will monitor implementation of the agreement (see). The six-month time period can be extended if the two sides agree to an extension.

Iranian Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Dec. 7 interview with Time magazine that the “deal is dead” if the United States imposes more sanctions, even if they do not go into effect during the six-month time frame of the first-phase agreement.

A summary of the bill released on Dec. 19 by the sponsors says that the legislation “does not violate” the agreement because the sanctions detailed in the legislation “would only be imposed if Iran violates the interim agreement” or the negotiators fail to reach a comprehensive deal.

But Carney said that the administration is concerned about how Iran and the international community would react to new sanctions “no matter how they’re structured.”

The bill would allow the president to suspend the sanctions imposed by the legislation for six months if he certifies to Congress every 30 days that Iran is complying with the Nov. 24 interim agreement. In addition, the president must certify that Iran has not supported or financed any acts of terrorism against the United States or tested a ballistic missile with a range greater than 500 kilometers.

These measures are not included in the steps that Iran must take as part of the agreement.

A Senate staffer familiar with the legislation told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 19 interview that although some of the provisions in the legislation may be dropped in the course of negotiations on a final bill, the legislation “may have the support” to override a presidential veto. That requires a two-thirds majority of each chamber of Congress.

Proposed Sanctions

If passed into law, the legislation would require countries importing oil from Iran to reduce their imports by 30 percent within the first year and to near zero within two years. In a Dec. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a European official said the legislation “is a concern because it threatens international support for the sanctions.” He said that it “may not be feasible” for all countries to meet the oil import limitations required under the legislation, which could “erode support” for U.S. sanctions.

Under current law, the president can waive the sanctions on countries that continue to import Iranian oil after he has certified that they have “significantly reduced” their purchases from Iran. Waivers are granted for six-month periods, but can be renewed. (See ACT, January/February 2012.) On Nov. 29, the State Department renewed waivers for several countries that continue to import oil from Iran, including China, India, South Korea, and Turkey.

The European official said that the European Union has “done its part” to demonstrate its commitment to the deal and that the draft legislation sends a signal that the United States cannot “fulfill its part of the agreement.”

In a Dec. 16 statement following a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the council “made a commitment to refrain from additional sanctions for the [six-month] implementation period.” Ashton, who leads the P5+1 negotiating team, said that parties should “refrain from actions that could delay” implementation of the Nov. 24 agreement.

If adopted, the legislation would expand business and financial sanctions on Iran’s mining and construction sectors. It also would block access to foreign assets by individuals who enable Iran to evade sanctions. This would also apply to companies that work in Iran or with its government to bypass sanctions. The bill also would increase the number of senior officials, including those working in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Ministry of Defense, and the Office of the Supreme Leader, who would be denied access to assets outside of Iran.

Senate Opposition

Prior to the introduction of the bill, which had 48 co-sponsors as of Jan. 6, a group of 10 senators sent a letter to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urging that no new sanctions be imposed on Iran. The Dec. 18 letter said that, during negotiations, “new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.” All 10 senators that signed the letter are committee chairmen, including Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who heads the banking committee.

During a Dec. 12 hearing on Iran by that committee, Johnson said that the panel, which often has jurisdiction over sanctions bills, would not move forward on new sanctions legislation against Iran because it would be “counterproductive” and could “shatter Western unity” on the nuclear issue. Johnson said that he and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the banking committee, had crafted legislation to be introduced if Iran does not comply with the interim agreement or if negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement fail.

The letter also called for vigorous implementation of existing sanctions and periodic updates from the administration on the implementation of the Nov. 24 plan. If negotiations fail or Iran is not complying with its obligations under that agreement, new sanctions should be passed, the letter said.

Final Agreement

The new sanctions bill sets conditions for the comprehensive deal that the P5+1 is to negotiate with Iran. The Nov. 24 agreement sets out the basic parameters for that deal, including a “mutually defined” Iranian uranium-enrichment program and the lifting of all U.S. and UN nuclear-related sanctions.

Yet, the bill will allow the president to suspend the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran for only one year once a comprehensive deal is reached. The president can continue suspending the sanctions for one-year periods if Iran continues complying with the comprehensive deal. Under the bill, the deal must include dismantlement of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capabilities and its heavy-water reactor. Additional verification measures, including continuous on-site inspections, would also be required.

The European official said this is a “non-starter” for negotiating the comprehensive agreement” because it “violates the parameters laid down on Nov. 24.”

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would impose further sanctions on Iran, an approach opposed by the Obama administration.

Iran, P5+1 Prepare to Implement Deal

Kelsey Davenport

Iran and a group of six world powers could begin implementing an initial six-month agreement on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program on Jan. 20 if the two sides reach agreement on the remaining issues, Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator told Iranian media Jan. 6.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran and the six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are “making preparations” to begin implementing the agreement on Jan. 20 if there is a “mutual agreement.”

During a separate Jan. 6 briefing, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the parties “just have to finalize some of the details.” The “last step in the process” is for negotiators to go back to their capitals for consultations, she said. The parties are scheduled to meet again Jan. 9-10.

Implementation of the interim agreement would allow the parties to move forward on negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal.

That meeting was the third since Iran and the six countries, known as the P5+1, agreed Nov. 24 on a framework that includes an interim six-month deal to halt Iran’s most sensitive nuclear activities and increase international monitoring of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy.

In the three meetings, Iran and the P5+1 discussed technical details of the November agreement, including the creation of a joint commission to monitor implementation.

The November agreement also lays out the parameters of a comprehensive deal on Tehran’s nuclear program that Iran and the P5+1 will continue negotiating during the implementation of the interim agreement. (See ACT, December 2013.)

In Dec. 12 testimony to the Senate banking committee, Wendy Sherman, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said the discussions on implementing the interim agreement were “to make sure the sequence happens in the order in which we all believe it should.” Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation for the talks, said implementation would begin “in the next few weeks.”

The joint commission also will coordinate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will play a role in the monitoring and verification measures set out in the interim agreement.

Meanwhile, Iran met with the IAEA on Dec. 11 to discuss ongoing implementation of an agreement the two parties reached Nov. 11. They also talked about further steps that Tehran could take to help the agency’s investigations into Iran’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Both parties described the meeting as productive.

The Nov. 11 agreement included six initial actions for Iran to take by mid-February that will provide the IAEA with access to two nuclear sites and with information on Iran’s planned nuclear power plants and research reactors.

On Dec. 8, the IAEA was able to visit one of the complexes mentioned in the Nov. 11 agreement, the heavy-water production plant at the Arak complex. The plant, which began operating in 2010, produces heavy water that will be used to operate a reactor Iran is constructing at the site. The plant is not under IAEA safeguards, although Iran did allow the agency to inspect the facility in August 2011.

Under the terms of Iran’s interim agreement with the P5+1, however, Tehran agreed to halt construction of the Arak reactor.

Before beginning the talks Dec. 11, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said that the parties would discuss the date for the IAEA’s inspection of the second facility named in the agreement, the Gchine uranium mine. But there was no announcement on that point.

The Nov. 11 agreement stated that the parties would “strengthen their cooperation and dialogue” to “resolve all present and past issues.” This is understood to include the nuclear activities with possible military dimensions that Iran is alleged to have undertaken.

Although no new commitments were made at the Dec. 11 meeting to address the remaining issues, Tero Varjoranta, IAEA deputy director-general and head of the Department of Safeguards, said that the parties “began to discuss the next practical steps.” Varjoranta, who leads the IAEA negotiating team, said that the agency and Iran “aim to reach an agreement” on these steps at the next meeting.

The two sides are to meet again Jan. 21 in Tehran.

Iran and a group of six world powers could begin implementing an initial six-month agreement on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program as soon as January 20.

IAEA: N. Korean Reactor Likely Restarted

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea probably has restarted a reactor that produces plutonium suitable for weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Independent analysts reached a similar conclusion in September.

In a Nov. 28 statement at the quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director-General Yukiya Amano said that activities at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear site captured on satellite imagery are “consistent with an effort to restart” the reactor. But lack of access makes it impossible to “conclusively determine” that the reactor was restarted, Amano said. North Korea currently does not permit the IAEA to inspect its facilities.

Last April, Pyongyang said it intended to rebuild and restart the reactor at the Yongbyon site. (See ACT, May 2013.) The reactor, built in the 1980s, provided North Korea with the plutonium that it separated for use in its nuclear arsenal, an amount estimated to be sufficient for six to 12 warheads.

North Korea disabled the reactor in 2007 and destroyed the reactor’s cooling tower in 2008 as part of an agreement reached in 2005 with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States in the so-called six-party talks. It was unclear if North Korea would be able to operate the reactor after these actions. Satellite images taken in August, however, indicated to independent analysts that Pyongyang was able to restart the reactor. (See ACT, October 2013.)

The activities at Yongbyon “indicate a continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons,” said Joseph Macmanus, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, in a Nov. 28 statement to the board. He said if North Korea does not comply with its international obligations to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Pyongyang will “continue to face the consequences of this defiance.” The United States will work to “maintain and enhance, as necessary, the pressure to compel North Korea” to abandon these activities, which damage the global nonproliferation regime, Macmanus said.

A week after the IAEA meeting, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that North Korea “needs to understand that it cannot return to the old pattern of seeking rewards for bad behavior.” Speaking in Seoul on Dec. 6, Biden reiterated U.S. policy, saying that Washington will return to the six-party talks only after Pyongyang “demonstrates its full commitment to complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.”

The six-party talks began in 2003 and continued intermittently until April 2009, when Pyongyang withdrew without having completed the dismantling of its nuclear program.

Analysis of satellite photos of the Yongbyon site by independent experts indicates that North Korea is expanding the building that houses its centrifuges for uranium enrichment. A Dec. 5 report by the Institute for Science and International Security concluded that North Korea is expanding a centrifuge plant believed to be producing enriched uranium. According to the report, there are signs of construction, including renovation of a roof, at the facility.

Pyongyang announced in June 2009 that it had uranium-enrichment capabilities. In November 2010, it unveiled an enrichment plant to several former U.S. officials and academics. One of the visitors, former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker, said that the plant had about 2,000 centrifuges, but he was unable to confirm if the centrifuges were operational. (See ACT, December 2010.)

The International Atomic Energy Agency says satellite imagery shows activities at Yongbyon that are “consistent with” restarting of a reactor shut down since 2007.

Iran, P5+1 Sign Nuclear Agreement

Kelsey Davenport

Iran and six world powers last month achieved an apparent breakthrough in negotiations over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program when the parties reached a first-phase agreement on a six-month deal that will halt Iran’s most sensitive nuclear activities and increase international monitoring of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy.

The deal was signed in Geneva in the early hours on Nov. 24 after four days of talks.

“For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back,” President Barack Obama declared shortly after the agreement was announced. Obama said the agreement “cut[s] off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb” and “creates time and space” to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also welcomed the deal. He said Nov. 24 that Iran’s nuclear program, including its “right to enrichment,” was recognized and the deal could serve as a basis for further negotiations.

Iran and the six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), known as the P5+1, reached the agreement after three rounds of talks with Tehran’s new negotiating team. (See ACT, November 2013.)

Rouhani appointed the new team after he took office in August. Iran maintains that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful, but the international community is concerned that Tehran is keeping open the option to pursue nuclear weapons. The international community began negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program in 2003.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif led the Iranian team. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton led the negotiating team for the P5+1. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined the negotiations Nov. 23, as did the foreign ministers from the other P5+1 countries.

The First-Phase Agreement

The first-phase agreement is a four-page document that lays out specific actions for Iran and the P5+1 to take over the course of six months and sets the goal of reaching a “comprehensive agreement” during that time (see box). The first-phase agreement can be extended beyond six months if the parties agree to do that.

The six-month time period will begin once the verification and enforcement mechanisms have been established, including creation of a joint committee to monitor implementation of the agreement. Implementation will begin after the committee is set up.

In a Nov. 24 press conference, Kerry said the course that Iran is required to take “locks the most critical components of a nuclear program into place and impedes progress in those critical components in a way that actually rolls back the stockpile of enriched uranium and widens the length of time possible” for Iran to move quickly toward a bomb.

According to the text of the agreement, Iran is required to eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent and maintain its stockpile of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium at its current size. Over the next six months, Iran is to convert the 3.5 percent-enriched uranium that it produces to a form less suitable for further enrichment. Iran says it produces uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel its research reactor and to 3.5 percent for power reactors that it plans to build in the future.

Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium is a primary concern for the P5+1 because it can be more easily enriched to weapons grade. Iran currently has about 200 kilograms of uranium enriched to this level in its stockpile, according to a Nov. 14 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Independent experts estimate that 250 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched material, when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one weapon.

The agreement also freezes installation or production of further centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, and construction of a heavy-water reactor at Iran’s Arak site. The reactor, when operational, would produce plutonium suitable for use in a nuclear weapon. But Iran is not known to have the facilities to separate plutonium from spent fuel.

Monitoring and verification would be increased under the agreement. International inspectors would have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and be permitted to visit other nuclear sites, such as Iran’s centrifuge production facilities. The IAEA had limited access to the Natanz and Fordow facilities prior to this agreement, but was not permitted to visit the centrifuge production plants and other sites that are part of Iran’s nuclear program.

In return, Iran would be able to gain access to about $4.2 billion in frozen assets from its oil sales. Among other benefits for Tehran, the United States would suspend certain sanctions on Iran’s auto sector, petrochemical exports, and trade in gold and other precious metals. The “core architecture” of the sanctions regime, namely sanctions on the oil and banking sectors, “remains firmly in place” as negotiations continue, Kerry said.

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Right to Enrichment

In a Nov. 26 interview, an official familiar with the negotiations said the language dealing with recognition of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capabilities was one of the more difficult parts of the negotiations, as both sides hold “entrenched positions” on enrichment rights.

Iran maintains that it has the right to uranium enrichment under Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which guarantees states-parties access to nuclear technology as long as they adhere to their treaty obligations. Article IV does not specifically mention uranium enrichment. U.S. policy does not interpret access to enrichment technology as a right under Article IV.

The first-phase agreement allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to a level suitable for use in a power reactor. In outlining the general framework for the comprehensive deal, the agreement does not explicitly recognize Iran’s right to enrichment, but says that the “comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein.” Iran would be allowed to maintain “a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme,” the agreement says.

Washington and Tehran made statements interpreting the language used in the first-phase agreement as supportive of their respective policy positions.

Zarif told the press following the signing of the agreement that the deal “recognizes Iran’s right to enrichment.” Kerry, however, in a Nov. 24 interview with ABC reiterated that there is “no inherent right to enrich” and that the first-phase deal says Iran can enrich based on “mutual agreement.”

Further Sanctions

Under the first-phase agreement, no new sanctions on Iran would be imposed during the six-month term of the pact.

In his remarks following the signing of the agreement, Obama said that “now is not the time to move forward on new sanctions,” adding that it would “derail this promising first step.” If Iran does not meet its commitments under the agreement, however, the United States “will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure,” Obama said.

In an interview with NBC on Nov. 24, Zarif said that the “deal would be over” if there are any new sanctions passed during the next six months.

In Washington, senators are split on whether Congress should move ahead with more sanctions legislation.

In a Nov. 24 statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the preliminary agreement a “giant step forward” and said it “should not be undermined” by an immediate move toward further sanctions. If Tehran upholds the terms of the agreement, “we will know that Iran is serious about reaching a final agreement,” she said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said that additional sanctions pressure should be placed on Iran. In a Nov. 25 interview with ABC, Chambliss said that there is a “strong movement” in the Senate to move ahead to tighten sanctions. But Chambliss, vice chairman of the intelligence panel, said that, in light of the agreement, Congress might have to delay the effective date for the sanctions until after the six-month first-phase agreement ends.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in July that would expand restrictions on Iran, including a de facto oil embargo. Although the Senate has not moved forward on a bill similar to that one, several proposed amendments to the Senate version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act would impose further sanctions on Tehran. Those amendments could be considered when the Senate resumes debate on the defense bill in December.

A Senate staffer told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 25 e-mail that there is a great deal of skepticism in Congress about Iran’s intention to follow through on the deal. He said it is likely that the Senate will consider passing sanctions as stand-alone legislation or as an amendment to the defense bill, which would likely include language “delaying imposition of the restrictions for six months.” The legislation also could include language to allow the sanctions to be imposed immediately “if Iran doesn’t follow through on the deal,” he said.

Even if the legislation included language delaying imposition of further sanctions, moving forward on a sanctions bill would be “extremely damaging” to unity within the P5+1 and “send the wrong signals” to Tehran, the official familiar with the negotiations said in the Nov. 26 interview.

Regional Perspectives

In the Middle East, attitudes toward the deal were also mixed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps the most vocal critic, described the deal as a “historic mistake” in a Nov. 24 statement. The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a press release criticizing elements of the deal, saying that the first-phase agreement represented “unprecedented international recognition of Iran’s enrichment program” and “international acceptance” of the heavy-water reactor at the Arak site.

But in a separate Nov. 24 statement, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the agreement should be judged based on “the outcome, not on words alone.”

In a Nov. 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a former Israeli official said that Israel would continue pressuring the United States over the next six months to negotiate a “better comprehensive deal” with Iran that requires it to “dismantle its nuclear facilities.” Unilateral military action by Israel is “unlikely to occur if the agreement is properly implemented,” he said.

The deal could serve Israeli interests in the short term because the increased monitoring and access could give a “clearer picture of the state of the program,” the former official said. He added that gaining a more complete understanding of how Iran obtains and produces the materials it needs for building centrifuges could aid the international community in “properly enforcing international sanctions designed to control the sale and purchase of materials that could be used for nuclear weapons.”

Saudi Arabia, historically at odds with Iran, issued a statement Nov. 24 saying that if there are “good intentions,” this agreement could be a first step toward a comprehensive deal.

Final Deal

The framework lays out the goal of reaching a “mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful” and the broad outlines of a final deal.

The final agreement would include “practical limits and transparency measures” for Iran’s enrichment program. It would lift sanctions “related to Iran’s nuclear program” imposed by individual countries, the European Union, and the UN Security Council and would provide for international cooperation on civilian nuclear projects, including nuclear fuel and light-water power and research reactors.

An official involved with the negotiations said in a Nov. 24 interview that Iran was “satisfied by the language” in the first-phase agreement and by verbal assurances from the P5+1 that if Iran follows through on implementation of the deal, it will be permitted to continue “limited enrichment with intrusive monitoring” under the comprehensive agreement.

But the official also said that the P5+1 is likely to insist on “partial dismantlement” of Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities. That could include “shutting one of the enrichment facilities, and/or dismantling some of the installed centrifuges,” but “a final decision about enrichment limits has not yet been made,” the official said.

In a preliminary accord, Iran agreed to halt some of its nuclear activities in return for some sanctions relief. Reactions on Capitol Hill and in the Middle East were divided.

Iran, IAEA Sign Framework Agreement

Kelsey Davenport

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month signed a framework agreement outlining future cooperation on the agency’s investigations into Tehran’s past activities that are suspected of having been part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons. The agreement included six initial actions for Iran to take by mid-February 2014 that will provide the IAEA with access to two nuclear sites and information on Iran’s planned nuclear power plants and research reactors.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, signed the agreement in Tehran on Nov. 11.

In a statement following the signing, Amano said that “subsequent steps” under the framework would address issues that the six actions do not cover.

In a separate statement, Salehi said the agreement represented Iran’s “will to resolve the dispute” over its nuclear program because Tehran is not formally required to grant the IAEA access to some of its nuclear sites. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA first laid out its suspicions about Iranian nuclear efforts allegedly relating to weapons development in a November 2011 report to its board. (See ACT, December 2011.) Between January 2012 and June 2013, the two sides met 10 times in an attempt to reach agreement on the scope and sequence of the investigations, but were unable to make progress on a document drafted by the IAEA, which outlined the agency’s approach to the inquiry. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

Less than three months after Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration as president of Iran on Aug. 3, Tehran made a new proposal to the IAEA on how to proceed with the agency’s investigations. The proposal was presented to Tero Varjoranta, the IAEA deputy director-general and head of the Department of Safeguards, during an Oct. 28-29 meeting in Vienna. In an Oct. 29 statement, Varjoranta described the proposal as a “constructive contribution” with a “view to future resolution of all outstanding issues.”

The framework agreement that was signed Nov. 11 was based on the progress made at the October meeting. It stipulated that the parties would “strengthen their cooperation and dialogue” to “resolve all present and past issues.”

Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with “timely information” on its nuclear facilities and the implementation of “transparency measures.” The IAEA agreed to “take into account Iran’s security concerns” through managed access to Iranian information and sites and the protection of confidential information.

The parties agreed to meet again on Dec. 11 to continue discussing the actions that remain to be taken to address the agency’s outstanding concerns.

Iran’s Six Actions

As part of its six actions, Iran is to provide the IAEA with access to the Gchine uranium mine and the Heavy Water Production Plant at Arak and information about the facilities.

The Gchine mine, located in southern Iran, began operations in 2004. The IAEA was able to conduct inspections of the mine between 2003 and 2006 when Iran was voluntarily implementing an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the agency. Such protocols give the IAEA expanded access to information and sites related to a country’s nuclear activities. The IAEA has not had access to Gchine since Iran stopped implementing that protocol in 2006.

The mine produces uranium ore that serves as the raw material for enrichment. Uranium enriched to different levels can be used to fuel nuclear reactors and for nuclear weapons.

The IAEA requested access to the Gchine mine in its original proposal, in February 2012, for its investigation. The IAEA stated that access was necessary in order to address its questions “related to undeclared nuclear material and activities” in Iran.

The heavy-water plant at the Arak complex began operating in 2010. It produces heavy water that will be used to operate the reactor that Iran is constructing at the same site.

The plant is not under IAEA safeguards, although Iran did allow the agency to inspect the facility in August 2011. Iran has not allowed the IAEA back, despite the agency’s request to return to the site and take samples of the heavy water.

On Nov. 12, Iran allowed the IAEA to perform an initial analysis on the heavy water produced at the facility, according to a Nov. 14 IAEA report. In a Nov. 12 letter to the agency, Iran also agreed to provide further access to and information on the plant in the “near future.”

The Nov. 11 agreement requires Iran to submit information on the sites for 16 nuclear power plants that Tehran says it intends to build and design information for four new nuclear research reactors for medical isotope production.

November IAEA Report

The IAEA released its most recent quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program last month.

The Nov. 14 report said that Iran had dramatically slowed the expansion of its uranium-enrichment program, installing just four first-generation centrifuges since the last quarterly report was issued Aug. 28.

In comparison, the Aug. 28 report found that, from May to August, Iran installed 1,861 first-generation centrifuges and 319 advanced centrifuges.

In total, Iran has installed more than 18,000 IR-1 centrifuges at two facilities, Natanz and Fordow, of which about 10,000 are operational, and 1,008 advanced centrifuges, known as the IR-2M, in its enrichment facility at Natanz. According to the Nov. 14 IAEA report, none of the IR-2M centrifuges are enriching uranium.

Iran uses its IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent and 20 percent. Uranium enriched to 3.5 percent is used to fuel nuclear power plants, while uranium enriched to 20 percent is often used to fuel reactors that produce medical isotopes.

The IAEA reported that Iran has not installed any “major components” at the Arak heavy-water reactor during the time frame covered by the Nov. 14 report. Although the IAEA is inspecting the Arak reactor during construction, Iran has not provided the agency with up-to-date information on changes to the reactor’s design since 2006.

Once operational, the reactor could produce enough plutonium for one to two nuclear weapons every year, although the plutonium would need to be separated from the spent reactor fuel to be used for weapons. At one time, Iran had plans to build a facility that could be used for separating plutonium, but Tehran notified the IAEA in 2004 that it did not plan to construct that facility. Iran maintains that the reactor will be used to produce medical isotopes, but independent experts say that it is poorly suited to that task.

Earlier this year, Iran told the IAEA the reactor would begin operations in early 2014. But in an Aug. 25 letter, Tehran said startup in the first quarter of 2014 was no longer feasible. The letter did not set a new start date.

In the Nov. 14 report, the IAEA said Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent is growing. The report measured the stockpile at 196 kilograms, up from the 186 kilograms cited in the Aug. 28 report.

A principal goal of the six-country group that is negotiating with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program is halting Iranian production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and limiting the size of its stockpile of that material (see "Iran, P5+1 Reach Nuclear Agreement," ACT, December 2013). Those talks are separate from the ones involving the IAEA.

Uranium already enriched to 20 percent is more easily enriched to weapons grade than reactor-grade uranium, which is enriched to less than 5 percent. Experts estimate that approximately 250 kilograms of uranium enriched to the 20 percent level, when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one bomb.

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency signed a framework agreement outlining future cooperation on the agency’s investigations into Tehran’s past activities that are suspected of having been part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons.

Arms Control Association Hails Breakthrough Deal Negotiated with Iran As "Net Plus for Nonproliferation"



For Immediate Release: November 23, 2013

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst, 202-463-8270, ext. 102.

(Washington, D.C.) Experts with the independent Arms Control Association called the agreement between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran an "historic breakthrough" in the decade-old impasse over Iran's nuclear program and a "net plus for nuclear nonproliferation and international security."

The framework agreement's first phase steps will verifiably freeze progress in all areas of acute concern regarding Iran's nuclear program, roll-back Iran's capabilities in some areas, and at the same time significantly increase International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring of its nuclear projects in exchange for limited, reversible sanctions relief.

"The limits on Iran's nuclear program are, unequivocally, a major success in reining-in Iran's nuclear potential and an essential stepping stone toward the negotiation of an even more effective, final agreement," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent, nongovernmental Arms Control Association, based in Washington, D.C.

"The additional transparency measures--including daily access by IAEA inspectors at Iran's two enrichment facilities--are unprecedented and will significantly improve detection time for any non-compliance," Kimball noted.

"The P5+1/Iran agreement deserves the full support of the international community and the U.S. Congress," Kimball urged.

"The limits on Iran's nuclear program required by the new agreement are tougher than those proposed by the P5+1 earlier this year," noted Kelsey Davenport, ACA nonproliferation analyst and a co-author of the 2013 ACA report Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.

"The implementation of the first phase of the agreement will significantly increase the time Iran would theoretically need to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. On the other hand, without the first phase limits in place, Iran's enrichment capabilities and low- and medium-enriched uranium stockpiles could significantly increase," she said.

"Since 2007, the U.S. Intelligence Community has assessed that Iran has a nuclear weapons capability--that is, 'Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so,' noted Greg Thielmann, ACA Senior Fellow and former State Department intelligence analyst.

"Current U.S. intelligence continues to assess that leaders in Tehran have not made such a decision and they assess that Iran is still more than a year away from being able to produce enough weapons grade uranium and possibly build nuclear weapons," Thiemann noted.

"This agreement enhances the security of the United States and our allies, including Israel, because it clearly increases the time it would take Iran to 'breakout' from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," he said.

"With the unprecedented transparency measures that will go in place, the international community will have near-constant monitoring capabilities that effectively prevent 'breakout' using the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities for the duration of the agreement," Kimball noted.

"The first phase deal provides the time and momentum to negotiate a more permanent, final phase agreement, which could significantly roll-back--but not zero-out--Iran's overall enrichment capacity and lead to even more intrusive IAEA inspections designed to guard against any possible secret nuclear weapons-related activities," Kimball said.

"Unfortunately, some Members of Congress believe further U.S.-mandated sanctions would improve the United States negotiating position in the next round of talks. Such a strategy is illogical and would be counterproductive. The existing, core sanctions regime provides more than sufficient leverage on Iran to take further concrete measures to restrain its nuclear potential," Kimball said.

"What's more, the framework agreement reached today is based on the presumption that there will be no additional sanctions levied upon Iran. Further sanctions would undermine the implementation of this critical agreement and jeopardize a final phase agreement," Kimball warned.

"Leaders in Washington, Tehran, and other key capitals must follow-through with implementation and the prompt negotiation of the final phase agreement based upon realistic and attainable goals," Kimball added.


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.



(Washington, D.C.) Experts with the independent Arms Control Association called the agreement between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran an "historic breakthrough" in the decade-old impasse over Iran's nuclear program and a "net plus for nuclear nonproliferation and international security."

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No Date Set for Middle East Zone Meeting

Kelsey Davenport

Middle Eastern countries gathered last month to discuss the agenda for a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, but made no announcement that they had made progress toward setting a date to convene the conference. The countries continue to disagree over the agenda, an official familiar with the process told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 29 e-mail.

Iran, Israel, and all the Arab League countries attended the meeting, which was held Oct. 21-22 in Glion, Switzerland.

Progress on the agenda has been held up over disagreements as to what weapons the zone’s ban should cover because some countries favor expanding the ban to include limits on certain types of conventional weapons, the official said.

The countries might meet again this month, the official added, but it is unclear if all will attend given the “frustration” over the lack of progress.

At the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were designated as the organizers of a conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. The conference was originally scheduled for December 2012 in Helsinki, with Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava as conference facilitator. But the conveners announced the month before that the conference would be postponed. The United States attributed the postponement to disagreement among states in the region on core issues, including the agenda for the conference. (See ACT, December 2012.)

The decision to hold the conference was critical to the NPT parties’ agreement on the 2010 review conference’s final document. (See ACT, June 2010.)

In an Oct. 8 statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee, Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil, Egypt’s ambassador to the United Nations, outlined his country’s initiative for moving forward. The statement provided detail on an initiative presented by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy on Sept. 28 during the UN General Assembly debate.

The initiative includes two steps, according to the Oct. 8 statement. First, it calls on all countries in the region and the permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to submit letters to the UN secretary-general stating their support for creating the zone. Second, the countries are to simultaneously commit to signing and ratifying the relevant international conventions on weapons of mass destruction by the end of 2013, if they have not yet done so.

The relevant conventions include the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the NPT. Israel is the only country in the region not party to the NPT. Egypt and Israel are not party to the CWC, although Israel signed the convention in 1993. Syria officially became a party on Oct. 14. Egypt, Israel, and Syria also have not ratified the BWC, although Cairo and Damascus are signatories.

Egypt’s Sept. 28 initiative also called for the conference to be held by the end of the year or by the spring of 2014 “at the latest” and called on the facilitator and the conveners to “redouble their efforts” to hold the conference within that time frame.

In an Oct. 16 statement to the First Committee, David Roet, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Israel supports the “annual endorsement of this visionary goal” of creating the WMD-free zone but has “substantive reservations regarding certain elements.” Roet said that if “no progress has been made to date,” it is not due to a lack of cooperation by the Israelis, but because “Arab partners” have not made an effort to “engage with Israel directly on this issue and seek a consensual approach.”

N. Korea Lays Out Conditions for Talks

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea indicated last month that it may be willing to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests if abandoned talks with a group of five countries over Pyongyang’s nuclear activities resume.

In an official commentary released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 9, Pyongyang suggested that it would make this commitment after the talks restart, “not as a precondition” to resume negotiations. Satellite launches would also be exempt, KCNA reported.

The so-called six-party talks, which include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, began in 2003 and continued intermittently until 2008, when North Korea said it would no longer participate.

A South Korean official said in an Oct. 28 interview that North Korea made a similar offer at an informal meeting with former U.S. officials in Berlin in September, according to his briefing on the meeting. The South Korean government was not represented at the meeting, nor were any current U.S. officials present, he said. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho represented Pyongyang.

The official, however, expressed doubt about the sincerity of North Korea’s offer, saying that North Korea “often reneges” on verbal and written agreements.

In February 2012, North Korea and the United States reached a deal, known as the “Leap Day Agreement,” in which Pyongyang agreed to a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for food aid from Washington. The agreement broke down after Pyongyang attempted to launch a satellite in April of that year. The United States said that satellite launches were part of the moratorium on missile launches, but North Korea disagreed, and the agreement collapsed. (See ACT, May 2012.)

At a Sept. 26 press briefing, Cho Tai-young, deputy minister for public relations in the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said that it is “difficult to say” if the informal meeting, which brought together government officials from North Korea with former U.S. officials, “will immediately lead to the resumption” of the six-party talks, but that South Korea considers it an “occasion to exchange various opinions.”

When asked about the meeting and North Korea’s offer there, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said during an Oct. 10 briefing that “the onus” is on North Korea to “take meaningful steps” to live up to its commitments to “abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing programs.”

Harf said she would not “outline specifically what that might look like.”

North Korea committed to denuclearization in a 2005 joint statement with the other members of the six-party talks.

Reactor Restart Confirmed

The South Korean official also said that his country’s National Intelligence Service reported to the National Assembly on Oct. 8 that North Korea had restarted a reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear site.

Satellite imagery led independent U.S. analysts to conclude that North Korea was restarting the reactor in September, but neither Washington nor Seoul confirmed the initial reports. (See ACT, October 2013.)

The reactor produces plutonium, which, when separated, can be used for nuclear weapons. Experts estimate that it would be about 18 months before the first new plutonium produced by the reactor would be separated and available for weapons.

In April, North Korea announced its intention to restart the reactor. It had been shut down and disabled in 2007 as a part of Pyongyang’s negotiations over its nuclear weapons program with the other participants in the six-party talks. Prior to the shutdown, the reactor produced enough nuclear material for six to 12 warheads.

During an Oct. 9 press briefing, Harf declined to comment on reports of the reactor restarting, but reiterated that if Pyongyang has restarted the reactor, it would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions that require North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

Test Site Activity

Meanwhile, satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicates that Pyongyang is excavating new tunnels that could be used for future nuclear tests, according to an Oct. 23 analysis published by 38 North, a website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

38 North’s Nick Hansen, a former military imagery analyst, reported two new tunnel entrances at the site. The activities indicate that North Korea is preparing to conduct further nuclear tests, but there are “no signs” that Pyongyang plans to do so “in the immediate future,” he wrote. North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013.

An official commentary hinted that Pyongyang might suspend nuclear testing after six-party talks resume, but a South Korean official expressed skepticism.


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