"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Kelsey Davenport

‘More Active’ Talks Needed, Rouhani Says

Kelsey Davenport

Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, said he hopes for “more active negotiations” with six world powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program after he takes office on Aug. 3.

In a June 17 press briefing, Rouhani said that the nuclear issue can “only be resolved through negotiations” and that the parties can find “mutual trust” to reach a solution. Rouhani was elected June 14.

In a June 24 interview, a former Iranian official said Rouhani will be better placed than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to make a deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Iran’s economy is under considerable pressure from sanctions primarily imposed by the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States for failing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions requiring Iran to suspend sensitive nuclear activities. The former official said Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei still will have the final say but that Khamenei is more likely to trust Rouhani than Ahmadinejad and give him latitude to negotiate.

In a June 15 press release acknowledging Rouhani’s victory, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the United States is ready to “engage the Iranian government directly” to reach a diplomatic agreement that will “fully address” international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005 and is widely considered supportive of the clerical regime, even though he was cast as the most moderate of the six contenders on the presidential ballot.

Iran is negotiating with six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—over the nuclear program, which it claims is entirely peaceful. The six powers, or P5+1, are concerned that Iran is progressing toward a capability that would allow the country to develop nuclear weapons rapidly if it chose to do so.

Iran and the P5+1 held two rounds of talks in February and April, but have been unable to reach an agreement. No further talks have been scheduled, although officials from several P5+1 countries expressed support for resuming talks in August after Rouhani takes office.

According to U.S. and Iranian sources familiar with the negotiations, Iran wants the P5+1 to recognize its right to pursue uranium enrichment and to provide sanctions relief. A principal P5+1 concern is halting Iran’s production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and limiting the size of its stockpile of that material. (See ACT, May 2013.)

Uranium enriched to 20 percent is more easily converted to weapons grade than reactor-grade uranium, which is enriched to less than 5 percent.

Rouhani will not give up uranium enrichment, but as long as the United States “does not expect too much” and is willing to put meaningful sanctions relief on the table, a deal could be made that limits enrichment to reactor grade and increases transparency, the former official said. Such a deal would allow Rouhani and Khamenei to “claim a victory” in the negotiations while meeting the most pressing concerns of the West, said the former official, who now lives in the United States.

At his June 17 press conference, Rouhani pledged greater openness. Although he maintained that Iran’s nuclear plans are “fully transparent,” he said that Tehran is “ready to show more transparency” to make clear to the world that its nuclear program is in line with international standards.

Iran-IAEA Talks Stalled

Two weeks before Rouhani’s press conference, Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the organization’s Board of Governors at its quarterly meeting that talks with Iran are “going around in circles.”

Iran and the IAEA are negotiating an approach for the agency’s investigations into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities. The two sides have met 10 times since January 2012 in an attempt to reach agreement on the scope and sequence of the investigations.

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.)

In the U.S. statement to the board at the June meeting, Joseph Macmanus, U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA, said Amano’s assessment that talks between the agency and Iran are not making progress was convincing. If there is no progress before the next board meeting, which is in September, the United States will work with other board members “to consider further action” against Iran, he said.

Macmanus did not specify what actions the United States would pursue, but the board could request that the UN Security Council take further action to censure Iran or impose additional sanctions.

The United States has made similar statements in the past. At the board meeting last November, the United States said it would urge action at the next meeting, in March, if no progress was reported on the Iran-IAEA negotiations. Despite Amano’s statement to the board during the March meeting that Iran and the IAEA had not made any progress, no action was taken. (See ACT, April 2013.)

IAEA Report

The IAEA’s most recent report to the board, dated May 22, found that Iran is continuing to move forward with its nuclear program, while failing to provide information on the possible military dimensions.

According to that report, Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent was 182 kilograms. Experts estimate that approximately 250 kilograms of uranium enriched to this level, when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one bomb.

Iran has an additional 113 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent that has been converted into powder, which Tehran claims it will use for fuel to produce medical isotopes. The powder can be converted back into gas form for further enrichment, but experts say it is unclear how much material would be lost in the process.

Iran is continuing to install advanced centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment plant, although they are not yet producing enriched uranium. Iran had installed casings for nearly 700 machines, the May 22 report said.

According to a June 3 UN panel report on the implementation of Security Council sanctions on Iran, there is little public information on Tehran’s ability to indigenously produce components, including centrifuges, for its nuclear activities.

The panel, established in 2010 by Security Council Resolution 1929 to monitor compliance with UN sanctions and provide recommendations on implementation, noted that several states reported attempts by Iran in recent months to buy goods prohibited by UN sanctions because of their potential use in sensitive nuclear activities. These items included ring magnets and high-quality aluminum alloys, which can be used for centrifuges. The panel found that Iran continues “to seek items for prohibited activities from abroad” through “increasingly complex” methods of procurement.

The UN Security Council first voted to impose sanctions on Iran in December 2006 with Resolution 1737, after Tehran failed to comply with an earlier resolution to halt certain nuclear activities. Subsequent resolutions in 2007, 2008, and 2010 expanded these sanctions, primarily targeting Tehran’s ability to procure items that could be used in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, said he hopes to negotiate a settlement to end the international controversy over Tehran’s nuclear program.

U.S. Seeking Unity for N. Korea Talks

Kelsey Davenport

The U.S. special representative for North Korea policy outlined Washington’s current strategy for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program, saying last month that the United States will place a high priority on efforts to coordinate with partner countries in the region so they speak with “one voice” before negotiating with Pyongyang on denuclearization.

Glyn Davies, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on June 14, said Washington has not tried a “concerted multilateral effort” that will send “common signals” to Pyongyang from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, the countries that had negotiated with North Korea in the so-called six-party talks. Those talks began in 2003 and continued intermittently until April 2009 when Pyongyang withdrew without having completed the dismantlement of its nuclear program. North Korea had committed to the dismantlement in 2005 in return for steps including economic cooperation, a U.S. guarantee not to invade or attack North Korea, energy assistance, and possible future assistance on a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Davies said the current U.S. approach for multilateral talks differs from the six-party process, which he described as a looser “umbrella” for negotiations with less coordination among the countries negotiating with Pyongyang.

Under the new approach, when multilateral negotiations with North Korea begin, Pyongyang will not be able to “exploit” any differences of opinion between the countries involved, Davies said.

Davies met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Washington June 18-19. During a June 19 press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the parties had agreed to continue “very close coordination on North Korea” and that U.S. consultations with China and Russia would “deepen.”

In a June 21 interview, Joel Wit, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said that the United States is pursuing this strategy because Washington thinks it has China “in its corner.”

Wit cautioned against this assumption, saying that although there have been changes in China’s policy toward North Korea, it is “too early to judge the significance” of these changes.

Generally, Beijing is seen as more supportive of North Korea than other countries in the region are, providing much-needed economic assistance, despite Pyongyang’s failure to comply with UN sanctions calling for it to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. At their June 7 meeting in California, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to “deepen” their countries’ cooperation on North Korea and continue to apply pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon said in a June 8 press briefing.

Wit described the current situation as a “struggle for China’s heart and mind.” The United States is trying to encourage China to increase pressure on North Korea, he said, while Pyongyang is attempting to maintain Chinese support, as evidenced by the May 22 visit of a high-level North Korean official to Beijing and a June 16 North Korean request for talks with the United States.

Pyongyang’s Proposal

In a June 15 statement from the National Defense Commission, which controls the armed forces, a North Korean official said that bilateral talks with the United States would “ease tensions” on the Korean peninsula and “establish regional peace and security.” The statement reaffirmed that Pyongyang is committed to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but warned that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons until “the nuclear threat from the outside is completely terminated.”

Davies said that although there are no plans “at the moment” for the United States to talk with North Korea bilaterally or multilaterally, Washington is not opposed to future diplomatic engagement. But there must be a “sufficient basis to make progress,” Davies said.

Referring to North Korea’s June 15 offer of talks, Psaki said in a June 17 press briefing that the United States has seen “no evidence” that North Korea will participate in negotiations that “produce credible denuclearization actions.” The United States will meet with North Korea as part of the six-party process only when Pyongyang takes “credible steps” toward denuclearization, she said.

Wit said if the United States sets preconditions for talks, North Korea will respond with its own preconditions, “and that is going to lead nowhere.”

In 2012 the United States did attempt to make a deal directly with North Korea that was not based on denuclearization. Known as the Leap Day agreement because it was concluded on Feb. 29, North Korea agreed to refrain from nuclear and missile testing in exchange for aid from the United States. (See ACT, April 2012.) The deal broke down in April 2012 after Pyongyang attempted to launch a satellite. The failure of the agreement led the United States to set tougher conditions for negotiations to begin, Davies said.

Since the Leap Day agreement fell through, Pyongyang successfully launched a satellite into orbit last December and tested a nuclear device Feb. 13.

Bilateral Talks

Davies said that the United States will not get to a “better place” with North Korea until the relationship between that country and South Korea improves.

North and South Korea were set to hold their first high-level talks in six years in Seoul, but Pyongyang pulled out of the June 12 talks at the last minute.

According to a statement run by the official North Korean news agency June 13, Pyongyang was insulted that Seoul chose its vice unification minister, Kim Nam-sik, rather than Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae to lead the South Korean delegation. Pyongyang’s delegation was to be led by Kang Ji Yong, director for the secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

In a June 13 press release, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification said that the cancellation was “regrettable.” Seoul chose the vice minister to “reach parity” between the chief delegates from the two sides after North Korea said it would not send a ministerial-level official and chose Kang, the spokesman said, declaring that the “attitude of the North” derailed the talks.

In the June 13 statement, North Korea said Seoul’s impolite and “provocative behavior” would prevent dialogue in the near future.

The United States will focus on coordinating with partner countries in the region before negotiating with North Korea over dismantling its nuclear program, the U.S. special representative for North Korea said.

New Report Finds Gaps in Nuclear Materials Security Effort



States Must Fill Gaps in Nuclear Materials Security Effort, Report Finds

For Immediate Release: July 1, 2013           
Media Contacts:
Michelle Cann, Senior Budget and Policy Analyst, PGS (+1 609 668-2930); Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst, ACA (+1 317-460-8806); Sarah Williams, Nuclear Policy Analyst, PGS, (+1 202-332-1412).

(Vienna, Austria) A new report released today by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and Partnership for Global Security (PGS), finds that the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process has catalyzed action to secure nuclear weapons-usable materials, but the largely nationally-focused efforts to date are inadequate, and leading governments must begin building the framework for a cohesive international nuclear security governance system.

While the two previous reports from ACA and PGS assess the national commitments made at the 2010 summit, the 2013 edition of The Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report provides a comprehensive overview of the progress states have made to improve nuclear security since the NSS process began in April 2010.

"The 2010 Washington summit and the 2012 Seoul summit focused primarily on accelerating incremental efforts at the national level, rather than building consensus for bold new actions," said Michelle Cann, senior budget and policy analyst at PGS and co-author the report.

"Ahead of the 2014 summit in The Netherlands, states must begin outlining a global strategy to address the structural deficiencies of the current nuclear security regime," she added.

"Although all 53 participating countries have taken steps since the 2012 summit to strengthen nuclear security, the current system lacks universal reporting requirements and standards, making it difficult to assess the overall progress of the summit process," said Kelsey Davenport, nonproliferation analyst for ACA and co-author of the report.

"At the 2014 summit, participating countries should agree on a standard reporting framework. This will make it easier to determine what progress has been achieved and where gaps remain," Davenport suggests.

"President Obama's announcement that the United States will host a fourth Nuclear Security Summit in 2016 provides an opportunity for states to agree upon a global framework for nuclear security with greater transparency and higher common standards," she said.

The 68-page report describes actions each of the 53 participating countries have pursued since the Nuclear Security summit process began. Highlights since 2012 include:

  • Australia, Hungary, Japan, and Vietnam announced pledges to return stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) before the 2014 summit.
  • In April 2013, the Czech Republic became the 10th country to eliminate its entire HEU stockpile since the four year effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide was articulated in April 2009.
  • 44 countries hosted nuclear security workshops, conferences, exercises, and centers. Several of these states are building long-term nuclear security training infrastructure by establishing centers of excellence, often in cooperation with the European Union, IAEA, or the United States.
  • 22 countries took steps to prevent the smuggling of illicit radioactive materials by enhancing transport security, expanding border controls, and developing new detection and monitoring technologies.

The report also tracks commitments made by states to minimize their use of HEU by 2013 and to approve the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) by 2014.

  • 18 of 22 NSS participants that possess at least a kilogram of HEU announced plans in Seoul or have taken actions since to minimize HEU usage, repatriate fuel, and convert reactors.
  • Since the summit process began in 2010, 18 NSS participants have ratified the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM, while 17 NSS participants still need to act. When in force, the amendment will extend protection requirements for nuclear materials to the domestic use, storage, and transport of nuclear materials and sets new legal consequences for misuse and sabotage.

"Four years ago, states pledged to improve the security of the most vulnerable nuclear materials around the world. Our report shows that much has been accomplished but it is far too early for states to declare the four-year effort 'complete.' Rather, they must work together to close the gaps in the global nuclear material security system," said Sarah Williams, nuclear policy analyst a PGS and co-author of the report.

"For example, while the 2012 Seoul summit spurred states to take significant steps to reduce their stockpiles of HEU, more must be done in 2014 to encourage minimization of plutonium stockpiles," Williams said.

"In addition, the United States is one of the 17 participating countries that have not ratified the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM. Action by Washington will be critical to meet the goal of this treaty entering into force in 2014," Williams added.

"The Nuclear Security Summit process brought high-level attention to the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. However, the current patchwork of voluntary initiatives and recommendations are not sufficient to sustain progress and guard against nuclear terrorism in the years ahead. We urge all states to work toward building a stronger and more effective international nuclear security governance system," Cann said.

The full report, The Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report, is available online here.


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.

The Partnership for Global Security mounts a global effort to strengthen global nuclear security governance and promotes practical policies to ensure all nuclear material and facilities are secure.


A new report released today by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and Partnership for Global Security (PGS), finds that the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process has catalyzed action to secure nuclear weapons-usable materials, but the largely nationally-focused efforts to date are inadequate, and leading governments must begin building the framework for a cohesive international nuclear security governance system.

U.S., Canada Boycott Disarmament Forum

Kelsey Davenport

Citing Iran’s violations of UN Security Council resolutions calling on Tehran to end certain nuclear activities, U.S. and Canadian officials announced last month that the heads of their delegations at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) would be boycotting the body while Iran presides over it from May 26 to June 23.

Presidency of the CD rotates alphabetically among the 65 member states. The position is largely ceremonial because the CD has failed to reach consensus on a program of work for the past 15 years. (See ACT, December 2012.)

In a May 13 press release, Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said that Iran’s presidency of the disarmament forum is “highly inappropriate” and the United States would not be represented at the ambassadorial level during Iran’s term. She said the United States believes that any country under UN sanctions for weapons proliferation should be “barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in UN bodies.”

The following day, Rick Roth, spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, said Canada would join the U.S. boycott. In his statement, Roth said Iran is “working directly against disarmament goals” and the principles of the CD.

A spokesman for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations defended Iran’s presidency of the forum in a May 14 statement. Alireza Miryousefi said that it is Iran’s right under the “established practice and rules of procedure” to chair the CD.

Canada boycotted the CD in 2011 for the four weeks that North Korea presided over the forum, saying that Pyongyang’s noncompliance with its disarmament obligations undermined the work of the body. The United States did not join the Canadian boycott.

Citing Iran’s violations of UN Security Council resolutions calling on Tehran to end certain nuclear activities, U.S. and Canadian officials announced last month that the heads of their delegations at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) would be boycotting the body while Iran presides over it from May 26 to June 23.

Park Lays Out Korean Trust-Building Plan

Kelsey Davenport

South Korean President Park Geun-hye last month laid out a process for building trust on the Korean peninsula, an approach she said she hopes will lay the groundwork for “durable peace” and eventually unification.

In a May 8 address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Park said South Korea would never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and that provocations, like Pyongyang’s Feb. 13 nuclear test, would be “met decisively” but that humanitarian aid will not be linked to the political situation. Seoul and Pyongyang gradually would develop trust “through exchange [and] cooperation,” she said.

Park’s approach has three parts, according to Victor Cha, a former deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program: it begins with keeping promises, then builds a process, and finally creates institutions between the two sides. At a May 17 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Cha cited several impediments to this process, which he labeled “trustpolitik.” He said that emotion has affected decision-making on both sides and that it could be difficult for South Korea to signal good intentions when many confidence-building measures have failed in the past.

During her trip to Washington, Park also called for an international peace park inside the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Cha suggested this could be an attempt by Park to signal her good intentions to North Korea. Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said May 9 that it is not possible to build a peace park in the demilitarized zone while the two countries remain at war. The two countries never have signed a peace treaty ending the Korean War.

Park emphasized the importance of the regional parties speaking “with one voice” on North Korea and sending a “clear and consistent message.”

In a joint press conference with Park on May 7, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the United States and South Korea would engage with North Korea diplomatically and, “over time, build trust” but that Pyongyang must first take “meaningful steps” to abide by its international commitments, particularly giving up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The Obama administration has consistently stressed that North Korea must recommit to denuclearization for talks to begin. (See ACT, May 2013.)

Although bellicose rhetoric out of North Korea has decreased over the past several months, Pyongyang remains insistent that it will not commit to giving up its nuclear arsenal to begin talks.

More dramatically, Pyongyang tested six short-range ballistic missiles May 18-20 in what the KCNA said May 21 was part of “a regular military exercise.” South Korea denounced the action as “provocative.” A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said at a May 21 press briefing that the launches could be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, which prohibit missile launches.

In a May 20 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said he was not aware of the missile launches violating any UN Security Council resolutions but that the United States urged North Korea to “exercise restraint.”

North Korea has several types of short-range ballistic missiles, which have a range of less than 1,000 kilometers. Pyongyang regularly tests these missiles.

North Korea had moved several Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles to one of its test sites, but appears to have moved the missiles to another location.

In a visit to Washington, South Korea’s president laid out a process for building trust on the Korean peninsula, an approach she said she hoped would be a step toward unification.

Egypt Protests Inaction on WMD Meeting

Marcus Taylor and Kelsey Davenport

The Egyptian delegation walked out of a meeting of member states of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on April 29 to protest the failure to convene a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, and an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said May 17 that other steps may follow.

In his April 29 statement explaining the walkout, Hisham Badr, who led the Egyptian delegation at the April 22-May 3 NPT meeting in Geneva, decried the “unacceptable and continuous failure” to schedule the conference on the WMD-free zone. Badr, Egyptian assistant foreign minister for international organizations and institutions, said Cairo is insisting that an “exact date” be set for convening the conference.

The Geneva meeting was the second of three preparatory sessions for the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

In a May 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said that continued delay in rescheduling the conference may cause Egypt to take further actions to “increase pressure” on the United States and other conveners, which may include a boycott of next year’s NPT meeting by “more members of the Arab League.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were designated as the organizers of a 2012 conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. The decision to hold the conference was critical to the NPT parties’ agreement on the final document of the 2010 conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava was later appointed as conference facilitator.

The 2012 meeting on the WMD-free zone was supposed to be held last December, but the conveners announced Nov. 23 that the conference would be postponed due to disagreements on “core issues” and “present conditions in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. statement. In making the announcement, the conveners did not set a deadline for rescheduling or holding the meeting. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Before the postponement was announced, every country in the region except for Israel had verbally committed to attending the meeting in Helsinki, although some observers said Iran may have committed to attending the conference only after learning that it would be postponed. (See ACT, March 2013.)

An Arab League ministerial statement released after the group’s Jan. 13 meeting said that the group would consider boycotting the Geneva preparatory meeting because of concern that the rescheduling of the conference on the WMD-free zone was not being taken seriously, according to several news reports.

The Egyptian official said there was an attempt to hold an informal meeting during the NPT conference to work on an agenda for the meeting on the WMD-free zone, but not all of the countries in the region agreed to attend.

A former member of the Israeli Knesset told Arms Control Today in a May 24 e-mail that Israel was unlikely to agree to attend any preliminary meeting without assurances that “core regional security issues” would be included on the agenda of the conference on the WMD-free zone. He said the Arab League’s “unreasonable insistence” that Israel could attend informal meetings on crafting an agenda only if it agreed to attend the conference was preventing more proactive Israeli participation.

He said that the Arab League is not taking Israel’s “unique security concerns” into account in its planning for discussions on the zone.

The Egyptian official stressed that the United States must play “a more proactive role” to ensure that all countries in the region agree to schedule and attend the conference. At the time of the postponement, the United States said it remained committed to holding a conference, but did not specify a time frame. Russia called for the conference to be held no later than April of this year.

Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said April 30 that he regretted the Egyptian decision to leave the NPT conference but that it does not affect the U.S. commitment to convening a conference on creating the zone.

Countryman, who led the U.S. delegation to the NPT preparatory meeting, added that “leadership must also come from states of the region.”

In his April 29 statement at the Geneva meeting, Laajava said that there is nothing preventing the rescheduling of the WMD-free-zone conference and that it can “be convened without delay.”

Laajava said that he had suggested that the conference should be “relatively brief” and should aim to reaffirm the “common objective of a WMD-free zone.” He said follow-up steps, such as regional cooperation and expert-level work on arms control issues, could then create a sustainable process for establishing the zone.

Egypt walked out of a meeting of member states of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to protest the failure to schedule a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

U.S. Considers More Sanctions on Iran

Kelsey Davenport

Congress and the Obama administration are considering expanding sanctions against Iran, as negotiations between Tehran and six world powers over Iran’s controversial nuclear program appear to have stalled again.

Legislation sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and passed by that panel May 22 would further restrict trade with Iran and limit Iran’s access to overseas currency reserves.

An amendment added to the legislation would require that the six countries still importing oil from Iran—China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey—reduce their combined purchases of Iranian oil by one million barrels per day within a year. This reduction would result in a de facto oil embargo because Iran is currently exporting just more than one million barrels per day.

The legislation, which has more than 350 co-sponsors, will “increase the costs” on Iran for continuing to move forward with its nuclear program, Royce said May 22.

But Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, warned Congress in testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing May 15 that if the United States wants to require further reductions in the oil imports, it has to “work very carefully” with the six importing countries.

Under a provision of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, countries must receive exemptions from the U.S. government to continue importing oil from Iran or face U.S. sanctions, which include restrictions on their access to U.S. financial markets. The U.S. government grants exemptions for 180 days. To renew them, countries must demonstrate that they have significantly reduced their purchases of Iranian oil. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

In her May 15 testimony, Sherman stressed the importance of maintaining unity and international pressure on Iran during negotiations and cautioned against imposing any sanctions that would further limit oil imports by the six countries beyond the reductions required by current law.

China, the largest importer of Iranian oil, is one of the six countries collectively known as the P5+1 negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Its exemption will be up for renewal in June. The other five countries in the negotiations are France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

A congressional staffer familiar with the legislation told Arms Control Today in a May 20 e-mail that the legislation introduced by Royce would likely pass the House of Representatives and the Senate before the August congressional recess, with possible Senate amendments imposing further sanctions.

Sherman said the administration is considering additional executive orders that would increase pressure on Iran, but did not provide details. At the same hearing, David Cohen, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the administration is looking at a “variety of different means” to target Iran’s revenues, Iran’s access to currency reserves in foreign countries, and lower the value of Iran’s currency, the rial.

Cohen noted that on July 1, current sanctions on anyone selling gold and other precious metals to the Iranian government will be expanded to cover sales to private Iranian individuals. Cohen said that due to the decline in the rial’s value, Iranians are “dumping their rials to buy gold.”

Talks Stall

As Washington ratchets up the pressure on Tehran, negotiations between Iran and the six world powers over Iran’s nuclear program appear to have stalled.

On May 15, Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the P5+1, met with lead Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul. Ashton said that she and Jalili discussed the proposal put forward during the last round of negotiations and would “reflect” on how to move on to “the next stage of the process.” No date was set for further talks between Ashton and Jalili or the resumption of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1.

Jalili described the meeting as “fruitful” and said that he and Ashton would talk again soon to set a date for the next round of negotiations.

The P5+1 and Iran have met twice this year in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to continue negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program after an eight-month hiatus. The last round of negotiations took place April 5-6. During these negotiations, the P5+1 offered some sanctions relief, including allowing gold sales, but the Iranian negotiators said the sanctions relief was not commensurate with the P5+1 demands on Tehran. (See ACT, May 2013.)

Tehran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the international community is concerned that Iran might choose to pursue nuclear weapons.

No Progress in Iran-IAEA Meeting

Also on May 15, Iran met with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to continue negotiations on the so-called structured approach, which will define the scope and sequence of the agency’s investigations into Iranian nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

IAEA Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts, who led the agency delegation, said May 15 that the parties “could not finalize the structured approach document.” He said that the agency’s commitment to dialogue was “unwavering” but a date for the next meeting had not been set.

In a November 2011 report to its Board of Governors, the IAEA laid out the evidence of the alleged activities. The meeting on May 15 was the 10th meeting between the parties since the beginning of 2012.

Director-General Yukiya Amano said in a Dec. 6 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington that the talks should not continue “without producing any concrete result.” In her May 15 testimony, Sherman seemed to make a similar point, saying that, “at some point,” Amano will have to tell the UN Security Council that it must take further action because of the lack of progress.

The Obama administration and Congress are considering measures to expand sanctions against Iran, as negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program appear to have stalled again.

North Korea Sets Conditions for Talks

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea spelled out its conditions for resuming negotiations over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but U.S. officials say that they are unacceptable and reiterated that Pyongyang must make clear its commitment to denuclearization in order to resume talks.

North Korea’s National Defence Commission said in an April 18 statement that before the talks can restart, the UN Security Council must lift sanctions placed on Pyongyang for its past nuclear and ballistic missile activities. Additionally, the United States must withdraw all “nuclear war means” from the vicinity of South Korea, and Washington must stop joint military exercises with Seoul because “dialogues and war games can never go together,” the defense commission said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Pyongyang’s terms “unacceptable” as a basis for negotiations. Kerry said on April 18 that he was prepared to look at the announcement as a “beginning gambit,” but that Washington needs to see “clear evidence” that Pyongyang is willing to live up to its international obligations to resume negotiations.

North Korea’s announcement of preconditions came after several weeks of escalating rhetoric from Pyongyang in response to joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea.

Multilateral negotiations between North Korea and China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, known as the six-party talks, began in 2003. In 2005 the parties reached an agreement under which Pyongyang said it would abandon and dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for possible future assistance on a peaceful nuclear energy program.

In April 2009, however, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from the 2005 accord and the six-party talks. (See ACT, May 2009.) The announcement came in response to a UN Security Council statement on expanding sanctions against North Korea for attempting to launch a satellite. A prior council resolution banned North Korean satellite launches because satellite launch vehicles use technology directly applicable to ballistic missile development.

During a trip to South Korea last month, Kerry reiterated the U.S. position on negotiations, saying on April 12 that Pyongyang must be willing to make it clear that it will “move to denuclearization as part of the talks.”

The April 18 statement from the North Korean defense commission said that denuclearization of “the Korean Peninsula” remains “the unshakable will” of North Korea.

New Nuclear Strategy

In an April 16 interview, Leon Sigal, a Korea expert with the Social Science Research Council, said that North Korea will not return to negotiations under conditions that require it to abandon and dismantle its nuclear program. Referring to a March 31 statement on a new policy laid out by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Sigal said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons might now be more important to the regime.

Evidence of N. Korean Nuclear Test Grows

Monitoring stations in Japan and Russia detected radioactive gases that likely came from North Korea’s declared Feb. 12 nuclear test, the organization tasked with detecting nuclear explosions announced April 23.

Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said in a speech in Geneva that the timing of the detection “coincides very well” with the Feb. 12 event.

The CTBTO maintains a worldwide monitoring system to detect nuclear explosions. Of the system’s 337 planned stations, 275 are currently operating. The system monitors seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide activity to detect nuclear explosions. The CTBTO detected seismic activity consistent with a nuclear explosion in the area of North Korea on Feb. 12. (See ACT, March 2013.) The detection of radioactive gases is the “ultimate proof” of a nuclear explosion, according to the organization.

A separate April 23 statement issued by the organization said that the CTBTO was in the process of “eliminating other possible sources” of nuclear activity that could have released the gases.

A monitoring station in Canada detected radioactive gases from North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006, two weeks after the explosion occurred. The monitoring system did not detect any gases after the second test in May 2009, but the organization said seismic activity was indicative of an explosion.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    According to the statement, published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim is planning to emphasize building up North Korean nuclear forces along with economic development. Sigal said this could indicate that Pyongyang will spend less money maintaining its aging conventional forces and increase its reliance on nuclear deterrence for national security.

    Sigal said Pyongyang’s commitment to this new policy is unclear and should be tested in negotiations. He suggested, however, that North Korea would not give up its nuclear weapons for economic aid or seek international recognition as a nuclear-weapon state. Pyongyang will retain its nuclear weapons as long as it perceives a “hostile policy” from the United States and South Korea, he said.

    Sigal suggested that the United States should rethink its position to focus negotiations on impeding the development and expansion of North Korea’s nuclear program. A process that prevents Pyongyang from testing further nuclear devices or ballistic missiles is more likely to be successful and would prevent North Korea’s nuclear arsenal from growing, he said.

    As an example of such a process, he cited the February 2012 Leap Day agreement between North Korea and the United States. Under that accord, North Korea agreed to refrain from nuclear and missile testing in exchange for aid from the United States. The deal broke down in April 2012 after Pyongyang attempted to launch a satellite. (See ACT, April 2012.)

    Since the Leap Day agreement fell through, Pyongyang successfully launched a satellite into orbit last December and tested a nuclear device Feb. 13. The UN Security Council unanimously expanded the sanctions against North Korea after each incident. (See ACT, January/February and March 2013.)

    Reactor Restart

    Recent actions by North Korea also appear to support its policy of expanding its nuclear arsenal. On April 2, Pyongyang announced its intention to restart the heavy-water reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility that produced the plutonium that North Korea later separated to use in nuclear weapons.

    The reactor was shut down in July 2007 and dismantled later that year as part of the 2005 action plan concluded during the six-party talks. The International Atomic Energy Agency verified the shutdown.

    An April 2 KCNA article quoted a spokesman for the North Korean General Department of Atomic Energy as saying that restarting the reactor would solve the critical tasks of “expanding and reinforcing nuclear forces” and resolve development constraints caused by the “strained electricity supply.”

    Mark Fitzpatrick, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told Arms Control Today in an April 17 e-mail that it is difficult to determine how long it may take North Korea to restart the reactor. The reactor could be “too old and defective” to operate or may require “extensive renovation” after six years of lying dormant, he said.

    Fitzpatrick, now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korea already could have begun preparing fresh fuel for the reactor. In that case, replacing the cooling system, which could take about three months, would determine the time frame for restarting operations, he said. North Korea blew up the original cooling tower in June 2008 as part of its commitment to dismantle its nuclear program.

    North Korea is estimated to possess enough separated plutonium for four to eight warheads. Pyongyang could have additional uranium-based warheads, but it is unclear how much weapons-grade uranium, if any, North Korea has produced.

    Also at the Yongbyon complex, North Korea is constructing a light-water reactor. Although such reactors are not typically used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, they can be configured for that purpose. (See ACT, October 2012.)

    Missile Threat

    North Korea’s ability to deliver its nuclear weapons using ballistic missiles remains unclear. U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast April 16 on NBC that the United States does not believe that North Korea has the capacity to fit a warhead onto a missile, although Washington must deal with “every contingency.”

    Obama’s remarks qualified a conclusion reached by the Defense Intelligence Agency in March, which said in a written report that it had “moderate confidence” that North Korea could miniaturize a warhead to fit onto a ballistic missile. This statement, made public April 11 by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, was mistakenly labeled as declassified, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during an April 18 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Clapper said only that it is unknown if North Korea actually has the ability to “make a weapon that will work” for use on missiles.

    Although North Korea has tested and deployed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the status of its longer-range systems is unclear. Pyongyang’s Musudan missile, which is estimated to be able to carry a 500-kilogram warhead approximately 3,000 kilometers, has not been tested. Experts say the road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea unveiled in April 2012 are mock-ups, rather than actual missiles.

    North Korea announced its conditions for resuming negotiations over its nuclear program. U.S. officials called the terms unacceptable.

    P5+1 Package Seeks Transparency in Iran

    Kelsey Davenport

    The proposal six world powers brought to the April 5-6 talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program contains transparency measures, including provisions that would require Iran to give inspectors increased access to facilities and provide information to address allegations of possible activities related to making a nuclear bomb, according to a former Iranian nuclear negotiator and two Western diplomats.

    In an April 17 e-mail, Seyed Hossein Mousavian said that the proposal presented by the six countries known as the P5+1 would require Iran to address International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands for transparency. The inclusion of these transparency elements in the P5+1 proposal has not previously been reported. Two officials from P5+1 countries who are familiar with the negotiations confirmed the accuracy of Mousavian’s description.

    In March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium in the future under “very strict conditions” and IAEA inspections if it responded to international concerns regarding weapons activities and “irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.”

    The State Department did not respond by press time to a request for comment on whether the provisions in the proposal would meet the conditions for uranium enrichment laid out by Clinton in her 2011 testimony or if further transparency measures would be required.

    The proposal by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States would give the IAEA access to certain Iranian facilities so that its inspectors could obtain information to address questions about possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.

    The IAEA laid out its concerns about Iranian nuclear activities with military dimensions in a November 2011 report. Iran and the IAEA have been negotiating an agreement to allow the agency to investigate these allegations in talks separate from the P5+1 process. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

    Iran and the IAEA have met nine times, but have failed to make any progress negotiating a document that outlines the scope and sequence of the agency’s investigations, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said March 4. They will meet again May 15, the IAEA said April 23.

    Mousavian and the two officials said the transparency measures for Iran in the P5+1 proposal also include committing to an additional protocol, which supplements the basic IAEA safeguards agreement with a country and gives agency inspectors increased access to facilities, and to the modified version of the subsidiary arrangement to Iran’s safeguards agreement known as Code 3.1, which requires notification to the IAEA of any planned nuclear facilities at the time the country makes the decision to build them. Iran agreed to a modified Code 3.1 provision in its subsidiary arrangement in 2003 and negotiated an additional protocol with the IAEA the same year, but has not completed ratification of the protocol, despite having voluntarily implemented it for a period between 2004 and 2006.

    The package offered by the six countries during negotiations in 2012 was updated before talks in February in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The April 5-6 meeting was the second high-level meeting between Iran and the P5+1 to take place this year, after negotiations resumed in February following an eight-month hiatus. (See ACT, March 2013.)

    Other provisions in the new proposal require Iran to stop producing 20 percent-enriched uranium, but would allow Iran to keep part of its stockpile of that material to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor. Iran may also be allowed to produce enriched uranium at its Fordow facility in the future, Mousavian and the two officials said. The previous P5+1 proposal from the 2012 talks required Iran to shut the Fordow enrichment plant permanently and ship its entire stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium out of the country. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

    Because of worries within the P5+1 that Tehran is moving toward a nuclear weapons capability, the stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent is a primary concern. Starting from material enriched to that level—rather than reactor-grade material, which typically is enriched to 3.5 percent—would make it much easier for Iran to reach weapons-grade uranium-enrichment levels if it chose to do so. Iran says it requires the 20 percent material to make fuel plates for its research reactor, which produces medical isotopes.

    In return, Iran would receive some sanctions relief, according to press reports from the February Almaty talks. The P5+1 would offer to relax sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals with Iran and petrochemical sales. Additionally, the P5+1 would modernize and provide fuel for the research reactor, provide Iran with medical isotopes and with spare parts for aircraft, and cooperate with Tehran’s acquisition of a light-water reactor to produce medical isotopes.

    Mousavian characterized the P5+1 proposal as “extremely unbalanced” because it did not include any “substantive sanctions relief” or recognition of Iran’s “right to enrich” uranium under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which he identified as the two key demands for Iran.

    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks for the P5+1, said April 6 that although the negotiations were detailed and substantive, they reflected the wide gap between the substantive positions of each side.

    No date was set for the next meeting, but Ashton said she would remain in contact with her Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili.

    In an April 11 statement, Ali Bagheri, undersecretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the delay in setting a date to resume negotiations was due to the need of the P5+1 delegates need to consult with other officials in their respective governments. Bagheri said there were “serious disagreements” among the representatives.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at an April 8 press briefing that the P5+1 was “very united.”

    It is unclear if negotiations will resume before Iran’s presidential election on June 14. Mousavian said that sanctions relief and recognition of enrichment rights will remain Iran’s key concerns regardless of who is elected but that “a moderate figure with international respect and loyal to the [Supreme] Leader would be instrumental for a broader deal” with the United States on issues beyond Tehran’s nuclear program.

    The proposal that six world powers brought to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program contains transparency elements that would require Tehran to address allegations of possible activities related to making a nuclear bomb, sources said.

    U.S. Cites Evidence of Syrian Sarin Use

    Kelsey Davenport

    The U.S. intelligence community has determined with “varying degrees of confidence” that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against its own people, the White House said last month.

    The April 25 letter, sent to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that the nerve agent sarin may have been used “on a small scale” in Syria but that the United States cannot confirm “how exposure occurred and under what conditions” because the “chain of custody” for the evidence, which included “physiological samples,” is “not clear.” More evidence is needed to provide “some degree of certainty” to inform U.S. decision-making, said the letter, which was signed by Miguel Rodriguez, President Barack Obama’s director of legislative affairs.

    Last summer, Obama said that the use or movement of chemical weapons in Syria is a “redline” for the United States and there would be “enormous consequences” in the event of either action. (See ACT, September 2012.)

    A White House official reaffirmed this redline in a April 25 press briefing, but in an apparent reference to erroneous intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons program prior to 2003, said that the United States has learned from its “recent experience that intelligence assessments are not alone sufficient” and “credible and corroborated facts” are necessary to determine if chemical weapons were used. If such a determination is made, “all options are on the table” for a U.S. response, the official said.

    Obama said in April 26 remarks that the United States will work with the international community to obtain “strong evidence” of chemical weapons use, which he said would change the calculus of how Washington approaches Syria.

    Because Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which requires member states to declare and destroy their chemical weapons, the exact size and composition of its program is unknown. However, according to the U.S. intelligence community’s most recent “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” Syria possesses a “large, complex, and geographically dispersed” chemical weapons program, which includes a stockpile of chemical warfare agents, such as sarin, sulfur mustard, and VX, that can be delivered by “missiles, aerial bombs, and possibly artillery rockets.”

    The April 25 letter said that the administration believes that the Assad regime “maintains custody” of Syria’s chemical weapons and that any use of chemical agents “very likely” would have been by the regime.

    The U.S. statement follows similar allegations made by France, Israel, Qatar, and the United Kingdom. In an April 26 interview with the BBC, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there is increasing evidence that chemical weapons have been used, likely by government forces. Three days earlier, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence research and analysis division, said that, “to the best of our understanding,” there was lethal use of chemical weapons in Syria.

    UN Action

    In the April 25 letter, the Obama administration said it would push for a comprehensive UN investigation to evaluate the evidence of chemical weapons use.

    After allegations that chemical weapons were used near Aleppo on March 19, Assad requested that the United Nations investigate the claims. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the UN would investigate in conjunction with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees implementation of the CWC, and the World Health Organization. (See ACT, April 2013.)

    The team planned to begin investigations in Syria early last month, but in an April 17 statement, Ban said that Syria has not allowed investigators into the country due to a disagreement over the scope of the UN inquiry. Syria wants the UN investigation restricted to the March 19 incident, which it blames on the rebels, whereas Ban said the mission must be to investigate “all the allegations” made by member states.

    Paul Walker, a former senior adviser for the House Armed Services Committee, told Arms Control Today in an April 25 e-mail that the first step is to allow UN inspectors to visit all the sites they requested to see, meet possible victims of the alleged attacks, and review the medical reports from the injured and dead. He said any samples taken should be “strictly controlled and analyzed by OPCW licensed labs.” Laboratories on the territories of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council could also be used “in order to bring in the Russians and Chinese,” said Walker, who now is director of security and sustainability at Global Green USA.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a April 25 statement that, on the basis of the intelligence assessment, the redlines “have been crossed” and action must be taken to prevent large-scale use of chemical weapons. She said the UN Security Council should take “strong and meaningful action to end” the conflict in Syria.

    If new accusations are referred to the Security Council, Russia, a main ally of Syria, will be the “big elephant” in the room because Moscow will feel it is being outmaneuvered by Ban, the United States, and Israel, said Walker, who is a board member of the Arms Control Association.

    The U.S. intelligence community has tentatively concluded that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, but is seeking further evidence.


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