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Kelsey Davenport

North Korea Conducts Nuclear Test

Kelsey Davenport

Defying warnings from the international community, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Feb. 12 at its underground testing site, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced. The blast prompted discussion of the need for a new policy toward North Korea, which had conducted a rocket launch two months earlier.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) confirmed seismic activity in the area “with explosion-like characteristics,” the organization said in a press release later the same day. In his State of the Union address, also on Feb. 12, U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Pyongyang’s “provocations,” saying they will only “further isolate” the country.

The nuclear test was not unexpected. On Jan. 24, North Korea announced that it would conduct a nuclear test, but did not give a specific date. The announcement came two days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution strengthening sanctions against Pyongyang in response to North Korea’s Dec. 12 satellite launch. UN Security Council resolutions prohibit Pyongyang from such launches because the technology required for a satellite launch is directly applicable to ballistic missile development.

North Korea conducted previous nuclear tests in October 2006 and May 2009, although the 2006 test likely misfired partially, according to experts. Pyongyang declared its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in April 2003. Other parties to the treaty have not formally recognized the move, and UN Security Council resolutions from 2006 and 2009 require Pyongyang to halt its nuclear activities and refrain from nuclear testing.

In the KCNA statement, which was issued shortly after the test, Pyongyang said it would continue testing and building its arsenal unless the United States recognized its right to launch satellites and develop its nuclear program.

North Korea is estimated to have enough plutonium for approximately four to eight weapons. As a result of a 2005 denuclearization agreement, Pyongyang currently does not have the ability to produce more plutonium, but has been developing the capabilities to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU). A key question about the February test is whether the device was made from HEU.

Experts say that determining which fuel was used for the nuclear core of the bomb will be very difficult even if the radioactive gases produced by the test are detected by remote monitoring systems. To date, CTBTO radionuclide stations have not detected signs of the test, nor have any national governments publicly reported radionuclide readings from their systems.

According to the CTBTO press release, the seismic activity picked up on Feb. 12 by the organization’s global monitoring system was 4.9 in magnitude, making the explosion about twice as large as the May 2009 test, which was estimated to have produced a yield of two to six kilotons. North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test explosion is estimated to have had a yield of less than one kiloton.

During the run-up to the test, experts had said another possible goal would be to test a miniaturized device so that North Korea eventually could place nuclear weapons on its missiles. The KCNA statement said the test had used a miniaturized device. That claim is difficult for outsiders to substantiate, and the statement did not provide additional details.

“The 2006 and 2009 tests demonstrated that North Korea can build a nuclear device, but that its nuclear arsenal is likely restricted to bulky devices that would need to be delivered by plane, boat, or van, thereby greatly limiting their deterrent value,” Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview published Feb. 14 on the website of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, where Hecker now is a senior fellow.

“This test makes Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal appear more threatening by taking it one more step closer to possessing a missile-deliverable nuclear weapon,” but the North Koreans “have yet to demonstrate that they have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile” (ICBM), he said. To develop an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear payload, North Korea would require much more flight-testing of its long-range missiles and additional nuclear tests, Hecker said.

Calls for New Policy

Following the most recent nuclear test and satellite launch, many experts and government officials are calling for a new policy toward North Korea.

The current U.S. policy, which administration officials have dubbed “strategic patience,” calls for increasing pressure on North Korea through sanctions while waiting for it to indicate that it is willing to come to talks with a serious intention to follow through on its earlier commitments to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Only then will talks with North Korea resume, according to U.S. officials.

Talks between North Korea and five other countries—China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States—broke down in April 2009 when North Korea indicated that it no longer would participate. Additionally, on Jan. 23 of this year, North Korea formally voided a 1992 joint declaration with South Korea that pledged to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Speaking on Feb. 19 at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies’ conference in Seoul, Robert Gallucci, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said that U.S. policy toward North Korea has “failed to reduce the threat posed by North Korea to the security of the region.”

To move forward, Gallucci said, it is necessary to determine the intentions of North Korea’s nuclear program. If Pyongyang’s purpose in developing its nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack by the United States or South Korea, there is “hope for diplomacy,” and the right combination might be found to defuse the situation and build trust, he said. In this case, talks should “address a range of political, economic, and security issues” rather than focusing solely on the nuclear program, but the “endgame” must envision North Korea abandoning its nuclear program, Gallucci said.

On the other hand, if North Korea’s purpose is to threaten the United States with ICBMs or to unify the Korean peninsula by force, then “constant avoidance of conflict,” rather than easing tensions, may be the best that can be achieved, said Gallucci, who now is president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. (The Arms Control Association, which publishes Arms Control Today, receives funding from the foundation.)

Also speaking at the Asan Institute conference, Chung Mong-joon, a member of the South Korean National Assembly, said it is very unlikely that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons. Therefore, he said, the United States, which withdrew all its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, should strengthen extended deterrence by returning those weapons to South Korea.

In South Korea, there appears to be growing public support for that move after the third test. A Feb. 13-15 poll by the Asan Institute indicated that two-thirds of South Koreans favored the return of these weapons to the country. A similar number supported the idea of South Korea building its own nuclear arsenal, according to the institute.

Another former U.S. policymaker with experience negotiating with North Korea, Joel Wit, argued Feb. 19 that the United States and other countries should continue diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang regardless of whether an agreement can be reached. Diplomacy “provides clarity” about North Korea’s intentions and helps build diplomatic coalitions, particularly with China, he said.

Further Sanctions

The latest North Korean nuclear test is likely to produce further sanctions, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Feb. 12. The Security Council is considering a number of measures, including financial sanctions, she said. North Korea already is subject to a wide range of Security Council and U.S. sanctions designed to impede Pyongyang’s progress on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Further unilateral action by the United States appears likely. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a Feb. 12 press release that he is working on legislation aimed at ensuring that North Korea “pays a price for its continued reckless behavior.”

In a Feb. 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today, George Lopez, a former member of a UN panel that assessed the implementation of sanctions against North Korea, said that it is unlikely that instituting new financial sanctions will have the same impact that they did in the past.

Lopez said that there is no “low-hanging illicit financial fruit”—equivalent to Banco Delta Asia, whose assets the U.S. Treasury Department froze in 2005 after an extensive investigation into the bank’s activities—that could be targeted by financial sanctions. Nevertheless, the United States may put particular banks in China and in the region on “extra warning” and issue statements that they are “off limits” to U.S. and U.S.-related financial entities if they are suspected of dealing with certain North Korean entities, he said. Lopez suggested that the financial sanctions passed by the European Union, including restrictions on the use of gold, can be instructive for “newer and creative measures.”

Furthermore, he said, additional sanctions do not solve the problem of Chinese enforcement of existing sanctions. Chinese leaders may be more likely to support increased enforcement efforts if they believe that there is a potential for Japan and South Korea to move forward with the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, Lopez said.

Defying warnings from the international community, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Feb. 12 at its underground testing site, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced. The blast prompted discussion of the need for a new policy toward North Korea, which had conducted a rocket launch two months earlier.

Iran Installs Advanced Centrifuges

Kelsey Davenport

Iran announced last month that it began installing advanced centrifuges at its production-scale uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the installation of 180 advanced centrifuges had begun.

Fereydoun Abbasi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in Tehran on Feb. 13 that Iran is “carrying out the installation” of the new centrifuges and would be “starting them up gradually.” When operational, they would be used to produce uranium enriched to 3.5 percent, he said. Uranium enriched to this level is suitable for nuclear power reactors, but Iran’s sole nuclear power reactor is fueled by enriched uranium provided by Russia.

For that reason and others, some countries have said Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. With further enrichment, the reactor-grade fuel could be made suitable for use in a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.

Tehran notified the IAEA on Jan. 23 of its intention to start installing the new machines, known as the IR-2M, according to the IAEA quarterly report on Iran released Feb. 21. The IR-2M is a second-generation model based on Iran’s original gas centrifuge, the IR-1. According to IAEA reports from 2012, Iran has been testing the IR-2M in its research and development area at Natanz for years, but the advanced centrifuges had not been introduced into the facility there that produces enriched uranium.

The IAEA report did not state how many of the new machines Iran planned to install, but it said that the Jan. 23 letter mentioned installing them in a particular unit at the Natanz enrichment plant. That unit can hold approximately 3,000 centrifuges. When operational, these centrifuges could significantly increase Iran’s ability to produce enriched uranium, as they are likely to be more efficient that the IR-1s. According to the IAEA report, Iran was producing uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and 20 percent at Natanz, using approximately 9,300 IR-1 centrifuges.

In Feb. 8 remarks in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Iran’s intention to install the advanced centrifuges “disturbing,” but affirmed the U.S. commitment to negotiating with Iran. (See "P5+1 Revises Proposal Ahead of New Talks.")

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful and that the uranium enriched to 20 percent is necessary to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes. The international community is concerned about the growing stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which can be transformed relatively easily into weapons-grade material.

Iran also produces uranium enriched to 20 percent at its facility at Fordow, but there is no indication that Tehran plans to install the advanced centrifuges at that facility. In its November report on Iran, the IAEA said approximately 2,800 IR-1 centrifuges, Fordow’s maximum capacity, had been installed at the facility already.

Increased Efficiency

According to Abbasi, the new centrifuges are “more durable” and “more efficient.”

R. Scott Kemp, a former science adviser in the State Department’s Office of the Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, said that it is difficult to predict how the new centrifuges will perform because a centrifuge’s performance in a cascade could be “significantly different” from its performance as an individual machine. In an enrichment plant, numerous centrifuge machines are linked together into cascades.

In a Feb. 14 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Kemp said that although Iran can make the IR-2M and therefore understands its characteristics, the real question is whether Tehran “can supply or obtain the needed raw materials,” particularly carbon fiber, to mass-produce the new centrifuges. A June 2012 report by a UN Security Council panel of experts that monitors the implementation of sanctions against Iran identified high-quality carbon fiber as a material that Iran was unlikely to be able to produce domestically.

According to former IAEA Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen, now a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the installation of 3,000 advanced centrifuges could double Iran’s output of uranium enriched to reactor grade.

Speaking at a Feb. 6 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Heinonen said the IR-2M optimally is about six times more efficient than the IR-1. Because of sanctions, however, Iran is unlikely to have obtained the highest-grade materials for manufacturing the centrifuges and therefore is unlikely to reach that level, he said. A tripling or quadrupling in efficiency might be a more realistic estimate, he said.

Iran-IAEA Talks

Also on Feb. 13, IAEA representatives met with Iranian officials in Tehran to continue negotiating an approach for the agency’s investigations into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran and the IAEA have been meeting for more than a year in an attempt to reach agreement on the scope and sequence of the investigations.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, led the Iranian delegation. In remarks after the meeting, he said that the parties had made progress and agreed on “some points,” but he did not specify what the points were.

IAEA Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts, the agency’s top safeguards official, said the parties “could not finalize” an agreement and did not comment on whether they had made progress. He said that the IAEA “will work hard to try and resolve the remaining differences.” The two sides did not agree on a date for another round of talks, Nackaerts said, adding that “time is needed to reflect on the way forward.”

Iran announced last month that it began installing advanced centrifuges at its production-scale uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the installation of 180 advanced centrifuges had begun.

P5+1 Revises Proposal Ahead of New Talks

Kelsey Davenport

For an analysis of the Feb. 26-27 Almaty talks, click here.

Six world powers revised their proposal for negotiating with Iran over its controversial nuclear program ahead of a new round of talks, which were scheduled to resume in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Feb. 26 after an eight-month hiatus.

Negotiations between Iran and the six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), known as the P5+1 because the group comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, stalled in June after three rounds of talks in three months. At the time, negotiators from the two sides said they had addressed critical issues during the meetings but that gaps remained, preventing the scheduling of another round of talks. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Feb. 6 that the P5+1 would approach the talks at the next meeting with an “updated and credible offer for Iran.” A U.S. State Department official confirmed Feb. 7 that the proposal that the P5+1 brought to the negotiations for the 2012 meetings has been updated to “reflect developments that occurred since June” in Iran’s nuclear program, but did not provide details on the changes.

A Reuters news report on Feb. 15 quoted Western officials as saying that the United States might consider lifting sanctions that prevent countries from paying Iran for oil and other commodities with precious metals if Iran stops its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and closes the Fordow enrichment plant. At a press briefing that day, a White House spokesman declined comment on that issue.

It is unclear if Iran updated its proposal prior to the Almaty talks. On Feb. 4, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran was “ready to offer objective guarantees compatible with all legal standards and international conventions that Iran will never deviate from the peaceful purposes it is pursuing in its nuclear program.”

The talks come amid growing concern that the opportunity for negotiations may be limited because of internal Iranian politics preceding the country’s June presidential elections. In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the Iranians “must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations.”

The P5+1 proposal discussed during the 2012 talks required Iran to shut down the Fordow facility, halt the process of enriching uranium to 20 percent, and ship its stockpile of uranium that had already been enriched to 20 percent out of the country. The stockpile and continued production of 20 percent-enriched uranium are a primary concern for the P5+1 because uranium at this enrichment level can be turned into weapons-grade material more quickly than uranium prepared for power reactors. Iran maintains that it needs uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.

In return, under the 2012 proposal, Iran would receive fuel plates for that reactor, international assistance in nuclear safety and for construction of a light-water reactor, and spare parts for civilian aircraft.

Iranian officials rejected the proposal, saying that it did not address their principal concerns, namely, sanctions relief and recognition of the right that Iran claims it has under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to continue enriching uranium.

Since the June negotiations, Iran’s nuclear program has continued to make progress. The international community, concerned over the advances, has increased pressure on the regime by passing further sanctions.

On Feb. 6, a new U.S sanctions measure went into effect. It requires that non-Iranian banks facilitating payments for Iranian oil hold the funds and use them only for bilateral trade between Iran and the country in which the bank is located. If a non-Iranian bank allows the payments to go to an Iranian bank or transfers them to another country, it could face U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. measure also tightened controls against payment to Iran in precious metals. That measure particularly had an impact on Turkish trade with Tehran, as Ankara had been paying for imports from Iran with precious metals such as gold.

Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium also has increased, although Tehran apparently does not have enough to make a nuclear weapon. Iran has a known stockpile of about 167 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Experts estimate that, with further enrichment, about 250 kilograms would be sufficient to make a bomb.

Additionally, Iran announced that it would begin installing its next-generation centrifuges at its Natanz uranium-enrichment plant on Jan. 23, a development that could dramatically increase Iran’s ability to produce enriched uranium once those centrifuges are operational. (See "Iran Installs Advanced Centrifuges.")

Six world powers revised their proposal for negotiating with Iran over its controversial nuclear program ahead of a new round of talks, which were scheduled to resume in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Feb. 26 after an eight-month hiatus.

EU Urges Middle East Meeting in 2013

Kelsey Davenport

The European Parliament passed a resolution Jan. 17 calling for a conference to be held in 2013 on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The meeting was supposed to be held last December, but was postponed.

The resolution “deplores the postponement” of the meeting and urges the conveners and the member countries of the European Union to ensure that the conference takes place “as soon as possible in 2013.” The resolution said that key elements of the zone should include compliance by all countries in the region with comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, including adherence to an additional protocol that gives the agency greater latitude to carry out inspections; a ban on fissile material production for weapons; and accession by all states in the region to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The commitment to hold the 2012 meeting was a key part of the final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were named the conveners of the conference; Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava later was chosen as the facilitator.

The meeting was scheduled for December in Helsinki, but the conveners announced Nov. 23 that the conference would be postponed due to disagreements on “core issues” and to “present conditions in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. statement. At the time of postponement, no deadline was set for rescheduling or holding the meeting, although Russia called for it to be held as soon as possible in 2013.

Before the postponement announcement, all of the countries except Israel that are expected to be part of the proposed zone verbally committed to attending the meeting, although there were indications that Iran said it would attend only after learning that the conference would be postponed. (See ACT, December 2012.)

In a Jan. 22 statement to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Wafaa Bassim, the Egyptian representative to the CD, called on the co-conveners “to set, without further delay,” a date for the conference before the NPT preparatory committee meeting that is scheduled to be held in Geneva from April 22 to May 3.

According to news reports, the ministerial statement issued at the end of a Jan. 13 Arab League meeting in Cairo said that the group would consider boycotting the NPT preparatory meeting if action was not taken.

In a Feb. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official also called for action but without referring to the boycott. He said “steps should be taken” to encourage Israeli participation, but “not at the cost of further delay.” He also said the current domestic situation in Egypt made pushing for the conference “less of a priority issue” for the foreign ministry than it has been in the past.

The U.S. State Department did not respond by press time to a request for information on the steps the United States is taking to reschedule the conference, but Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the CD, said in a Jan. 22 statement that the United States stands by its commitment to hold a conference that is “meaningful” and “includes all states of the region.” The statement urged the states to “engage directly with each other to bridge conceptual differences.” The EU resolution also referenced the importance of all countries in the zone participating in the conference when it is convened.

Russia will continue to work actively toward convening a meeting, Alexey Borodavkin, Russia’s representative to the CD, said Jan. 22.

The European Parliament passed a resolution Jan. 17 calling for a conference to be held in 2013 on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Prospects for Iran-IAEA Deal Fluctuate

Kelsey Davenport

The outlook now “is not bright” for promptly finalizing an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran to allow the agency to begin investigating key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said Jan. 11.

Amano’s comments in Tokyo, which were reported by Reuters, are the latest in a series of agency officials’ up-and-down assessments of prospects for the agreement, which is intended to address IAEA concerns about the Iranian program, including possible weapons-related activities,

On Dec. 14, a day after a meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran, IAEA Deputy Director-General of Safeguards Herman Nackaerts told reporters in Vienna that he expected to “finalize the structured approach” at the next meeting and begin “implementing the plan shortly after that.” Nackaerts, the agency’s top safeguards official, said the parties had agreed to meet again on Jan. 16.

Over the past year, the IAEA and Tehran have been negotiating a framework agreement to resolve the agency’s concerns over Iran’s possible weapons-related activities. In an annex to a November 2011 IAEA report, the agency outlined its evidence of activities related to Iranian development of nuclear weapons, including experiments with high explosives, detonator development, and fitting a warhead onto a missile. (See ACT, December 2011.)

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.

In a Dec. 14 statement, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh confirmed his country’s participation in the Jan. 16 meeting, but did not say if he expected a deal to be finalized at that time. He said that “good progress” was made during the Dec. 13 meeting.

The new momentum in the talks came a week after Amano said that the agency had “intensified dialogue” with Iran over the past year but that “no concrete progress” had been made.

In Dec. 6 remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Amano said that the agency is committed to continuing negotiations but that talks with Iran should not continue endlessly “without producing any concrete result.”

Until Tehran responds to the IAEA’s outstanding concerns about possible weapons-related activities, the agency is still not in a position to declare that all of Iran’s nuclear materials are being used for peaceful purposes, he said.

Deal Uncertain

This is not the first time that IAEA officials have announced that they had nearly concluded their negotiations with Iran.

On May 22, after a meeting in Tehran on the structured-approach document, Amano said that a deal was “quite close.” (See ACT, June 2012.) Subsequent meetings in June and August, however, did not result in an agreement.

Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, said that it “remains to be seen” why the hopes for a deal “have not materialized.” In a Dec. 17 interview, he said that the “creation of hope” that an agreement is within reach could be an Iranian negotiating tactic to “buy time for the P5+1 talks, to build enriched-uranium stocks and capabilities, or to do both.”

The P5+1 talks are a parallel set of negotiations between Iran and six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on Tehran’s nuclear program. Those talks, which are expected to resume in January, have been on hold since June (see box).

Talks With P5+1 Not Finalized, Iran Says

Iran and six world powers are discussing the time and venue for resuming negotiations on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator told reporters during a Jan. 2 trip to India.

Saeed Jalili said Tehran “accepted that these talks should be held in January.” The European Union “offered dates and a venue,” but has not heard back from Iran, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Jan. 4. Ashton is the lead negotiator for the six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—in the talks with Iran.

Negotiations between Iran and the six countries, known as P5+1, were halted in June after three rounds of talks in as many months failed to make concrete progress on a resolution. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Amid the discussions of resuming negotiations, new EU sanctions, which EU foreign ministers had approved at an Oct. 15 meeting, went into effect Dec. 22. The new measures expand on previous sanctions, in part by further restricting EU countries’ financial transactions with Iranian banks and imports of natural gas. (See ACT, November 2012.)

The United States adopted new sanctions Jan. 2, when President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. An amendment by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) expands on existing sanctions, targeting international companies doing business with Iran’s shipping sector. The legislation also imposes sanctions on the sale of certain commodities, such as graphite, aluminum, and steel, that are used in shipbuilding but also can be used to develop Iran’s nuclear program. The sanctions must be put in place by July 1.

A U.S. measure set to go into effect Feb. 6 further limits Iran’s ability to repatriate payments from its oil exports. The provision, which is part of legislation that was signed into law Aug. 10, requires that non-Iranian banks facilitating payments for Iranian oil hold the funds and use them only for bilateral trade between Iran and the country in which the bank is located. If a non-Iranian bank allows the payments to go to an Iranian bank or transfers them to another country, it could face U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department also added seven companies and five individuals to its list of sanctioned entities for providing Iran with goods or services related to Tehran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. This designation prohibits transactions between any of the sanctioned individuals or companies with the United States and freezes their assets held under U.S. jurisdiction. The list of individuals included the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi. The organization was added to the list in 2005.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Heinonen added that progress on the IAEA talks with Tehran is “tied with the progress of the P5+1 talks with Iran.” He said that the IAEA’s work would advance if there were “real progress” in P5+1 talks.

Concerns About Parchin

In his Dec. 6 comments, Amano reiterated the IAEA’s interest in obtaining access to Parchin, an Iranian military installation where some of the alleged weapons-related activities may have taken place. Iran has denied the IAEA access to the site; satellite imagery of Parchin indicates activity that Amano described as “quite intensive” and that he said could “severely” undermine the agency’s “capacity to verify” what occurred at the site. Amano said that the activities observed by the agency included the demolition of buildings, the removal of soil and fences, and an abundant use of water. According to experts, Iran could be attempting to use water to wash away traces of explosives.

Despite these activities, access to Parchin would still give the agency a “better understanding” of Iran’s past work at the site, Amano said.

In his Dec. 6 remarks, he said that the IAEA delegation traveling to Tehran for the Dec. 13 meeting would visit the Parchin site “if possible.” On Dec. 14, Nackaerts said that the IAEA had not been given access to the site so far.

In the interview, Heinonen said that access to the site would help the agency establish if Iran’s activities are a “normal reconstruction effort” or “actual sanitation” designed to obscure evidence of weapons-related work.

The outlook now “is not bright” for promptly finalizing an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran to allow the agency to begin investigating key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said Jan. 11.

Global Partnership Revamped in 2012

Kelsey Davenport

A coalition of countries fighting the spread of nonconventional weapons identified new project areas and expanded its geographical focus over the past year to address emerging threats, the U.S. representative to the group said Dec. 20.

The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction also improved coordination among its members and with international organizations, Bonnie Jenkins, coordinator for U.S. threat reduction programs and the 2012 chair of the partnership, said in an interview in her State Department office. The United States has handed off leadership of the group to the United Kingdom for 2013.

The Global Partnership began in 2002 as an initiative by the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to prevent terrorists from acquiring or developing nonconventional weapons. The eight countries pledged $20 billion over 10 years, with half of the money coming from the United States. During that period, the partnership focused primarily on large projects in Russia and other former Soviet states, including the dismantlement of nuclear submarines and the destruction of chemical weapons.

The coalition, now 25 countries, is developing an identity that is broader than the G-8, Jenkins said. Nevertheless, the country holding the rotating annual presidency of the G-8 also chairs the partnership for the year.

During the G-8 May 2011 summit in France, the group agreed to extend the original 10-year mandate of the partnership and expand the scope of the work to include nuclear and radiological security, biosecurity, further opportunities in civilian research for scientists with weapons expertise, and assistance to countries in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1540. Adopted in 2004, Resolution 1540 requires all countries to enact legislation to prevent the proliferation of nonconventional weapons and their means of delivery.

The partnership countries also expressed an interested in working in regions beyond the former Soviet Union and funded projects in 2012 in countries including Brazil, Libya, and Nigeria.

The United States pledged another $10 billion to support the coalition’s work from 2012 to 2022, although the funding is subject to congressional approval. Other participating countries said they would continue to support the partnership financially, but did not set an overall funding level as they did in 2002.

In the interview, Jenkins said that the 2011 decisions to expand the mandate and to work in new regions were important because the “threat keeps evolving” and the concerns of the 1990s and early 2000s are “not the same as those faced today.”

During discussions among the G-8 about the extension of the partnership, Germany expressed concern that continuing to fund the coalition could be difficult due to the global economic recession and that, with smaller projects planned for the future, it would be more difficult to determine if the funds were used effectively. (See ACT, June 2011.)

A Canadian official, however, told Arms Control Today in a Jan. 8 e-mail that he felt that the concerns in 2011 over extending the partnership had “largely abated” during the past year because countries are continuing to provide funds for new projects that are achieving “measurable results.” While chairing the partnership in 2010, Canada pledged to work toward the extension.

German officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The expanded mandate meant that the partnership needed in 2012 to provide a platform to inform countries of the opportunities that exist for projects addressing the new priorities, Jenkins said, noting that some countries did not have much experience funding projects in these areas. To accomplish this information exchange, she oversaw a change in the format of the partnership’s meetings, including increasing the number of days that the members met and inviting international organizations to participate. The attendance of these organizations also helps ensure that the partnership is complementing their work and not duplicating it, she said.

In the past year, there was increased involvement by partnership countries that are not G-8 members, Jenkins said. Prior to 2012, such countries typically were invited to two of the four meetings held each year. Now they participate in each meeting, the 2012 yearly report on the Global Partnership’s activities said. The report is written by the country that chairs the group and agreed to by the other participating countries.

In 2012 the partnership established five subgroups to work on specific issues. Three of them—focusing on biosecurity, membership expansion, and so-called centers of excellence, which assist states in meeting international obligations to prevent proliferation threats—began meeting last year. Two additional subgroups, on chemical security and nuclear and radiological security, were approved last October and are to begin meeting this year, the report said.

Increased Coordination

With the partnership’s expanded mandate and broader geographical focus, improving coordination among its members was one of the primary U.S. goals during Washington’s chairmanship, Jenkins said. The biosecurity subgroup oversaw two “flagship” programs, which represent a new form of coordination and collaboration with international organizations, she said.

Although all Global Partnership decisions are made by consensus, flagship projects involve a number of countries working together and are designed to foster “collective decision-making,” Jenkins said. The partner countries’ funding limitations have created a need to find “new and innovative ways to address” threats, and the flagship projects are a way to meet that need, she said.

One of the flagship projects, support for post-eradication efforts for rinderpest virus, a deadly disease that affects cattle and similar species, “highlighted collaboration” between partnership members and international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health, the 2012 report said. Rinderpest was eradicated in 2011, but remaining stockpiles of the virus must be destroyed or safely stored in laboratories. Although it does not infect humans, introduction of the disease into communities that rely on cattle has caused famines in the past.

Jenkins said this type of biosecurity is a priority for the United States because it is necessary to bridge the “divide between heath and security.” She said that bringing together health and security officials to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats is vital because it is not always immediately clear whether outbreaks of disease are natural or intentional.

Further Expansion Planned

Increasing the number of member countries in the Global Partnership was another focal point for the United States, Jenkins said. The subgroup on membership expansion identified 18 countries to target as potential new members; several of these countries are considering membership and could join the group in 2013, Jenkins said.

Adherence to the principles established when the Global Partnership was formed in 2002, which include commitments to six actions to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and related materials, remains the first criterion for membership, she said. In 2012 the subgroup also looked for countries that are regional leaders or have expertise in areas related to the group’s nonproliferation efforts, Jenkins said. A financial commitment is not a prerequisite for joining, she said.

In particular, Jenkins said, incorporating more perspectives from underrepresented regions is important for the expanding focus of the initiative. Until Mexico attended a meeting in Stockholm last August, the partnership had never had a Latin American participant, she said, noting the importance of Mexico’s perspective as an observer during a meeting focused on work in that region. Mexico joined as a full member in December.

She added that in her view the partnership could continue to expand but should remain “an action-oriented initiative.”

Supporting Nuclear Security

Jenkins said the Global Partnership has a “synergy” with the biennial nuclear security summit process that began in Washington in 2010, where national leaders endorsed President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all nuclear material in four years. Promoting the goals of the summit process will be a U.S. priority for the subgroup on nuclear and radiological security, she said.

The 2012 report said that the subgroup in this area could “raise the profile” of nuclear security efforts and help provide funding and technical assistance for projects that are within the summits’ priorities, including protecting nuclear materials and facilities, improving countries’ capabilities to prevent nuclear smuggling, and enhancing national export control systems.

Some experts have identified the partnership as a possible high-level forum to continue advancing the goals of the nuclear security summit once that process ends. Officials from the United States and other countries have said that the 2014 summit in the Netherlands could be the last. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Jenkins said no decision had been made on that point. She said the role of the nuclear security summit process probably would have to be filled by several organizations, one of which could be the Global Partnership.

A coalition of countries fighting the spread of nonconventional weapons identified new project areas and expanded its geographical focus over the past year to address emerging threats, the U.S. representative to the group said Dec. 20.

N. Korea Launch Spurs Talk of New Policy

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea put a satellite into orbit Dec. 12, marking its first success in five tries over 14 years in launching a rocket with technology directly applicable to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development.

Following the launch, official statements from key countries called for new engagement with North Korea, but it is unclear if this will lead to a resumption of talks over dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

In interviews since the launch, some current and former officials said that a return to the so-called six-party talks, which involve China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and United States, was unlikely to lead to a comprehensive agreement on Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, but they differed on what the next steps should be.

Some experts said the test indicates that the policy of the United States and North Korea’s neighbors is not working. Under that policy, dubbed “strategic patience” by the Obama administration, the United States is prepared to resume talks if Pyongyang indicates a willingness to negotiate seriously. At the same time, Washington is working to hobble North Korean nuclear and missile programs through U.S. and international efforts to prevent the import and export of proliferation-sensitive materials.

The six-party talks began in 2003 with the goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The multilateral negotiations were held intermittently until North Korea announced in April 2009 that it would no longer participate.

On Dec. 12, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that a rocket was launched at 9:49 that morning and entered orbit about nine-and-a-half minutes later. KCNA described the satellite as being fitted with “survey and communications devices essential for the observation of the earth.”

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a joint U.S.-Canadian organization for detecting and tracking aerospace threats, confirmed that the missile “deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.” In its statement, NORAD said that U.S. missile-warning systems detected the launch and tracked its course.

The earlier North Korean launch attempts, all failures, took place in 1998, 2006, 2009, and last April. All but the 2006 launch were publicized by North Korea as attempts to put satellites into orbit. The last two of these attempts, like the December launch, were prohibited under UN Security Council Resolution 1718, passed in October 2006, and Resolution 1874, passed in June 2009, because the technology of a space-launch vehicle can be used in the development of ballistic missiles.

Both of the 2012 launches took place at North Korea’s Sohae launch facility in the northwest region of the country and used a three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket, the Unha-3, as the satellite launch vehicle.

Michael Elleman, who served as a missile expert for the UN team that conducted weapons inspections in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, cautioned against concluding that the satellite launch was a success, noting that it is not clear if the satellite has transmitted data back to earth.

Elleman, who is now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the launch does not “significantly move North Korea closer to an ICBM capability.” He said the launch vehicle used for the satellite is “too large and cumbersome and would be too vulnerable to a pre-launch interdiction,” meaning that it would be easy to destroy the missile before it was launched.

Elleman said that the launch is one step in approximately 15 to 20 steps that would be necessary for North Korea to “operationalize a nuclear-armed ICBM.” Although Pyongyang did learn something from this launch, it remains a “handful of years away” from being able to strike the continental United States from North Korean territory, he said.

During the launch last April, the rocket failed approximately one to two minutes after it lifted off. Elleman pointed to several modifications to the Unha-3 that he said successfully delivered the satellite into orbit. For example, he noted that the aerodynamic fins that were used during the first stage were “larger and more seamlessly affixed” to the rocket. The North Koreans could have made other modifications that were not observable, he said. Elleman said it is unknown whether the adjustment to the fins and any other modifications were made on the basis of data accumulated from the April launch.

After the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in December 2011, Pyongyang and Washington negotiated a bilateral deal that was concluded last Feb. 29. Known as the Leap Day agreement, the deal required Pyongyang to suspend uranium enrichment and institute a moratorium on testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons in return for food aid from the United States. The agreement broke down after the April launch attempt, which Washington said was a violation of the missile-testing moratorium. (See ACT, May 2012.)

International Response

Officials from countries involved in the negotiations with North Korea condemned the December satellite launch and separately called for Pyongyang to abide by UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit missile launches and nuclear activities. It is unclear if these countries will actively pursue a resumption of the talks.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said at a Dec. 12 press conference that North Korea would have to “demonstrate clearly and without equivocation [its] commitment to denuclearization” as a foundation for a “credible resumption” of the six-party process.

The following day, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that he could not offer a “preview of next steps.” He said that there is a path for North Korea to “end its isolation,” but that requires “abiding by its international obligations, abiding by United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye said in a Dec. 20 speech that she would pursue new talks with North Korea, but she did not indicate if she would conduct the talks in the six-party framework. Park also called for an increase in humanitarian aid that is not tied to progress in resuming negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak drastically cut assistance to North Korea during his presidency.

Japan and Russia also issued statements condemning the launch on Dec. 12 as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Diplomatic Options

An official from a country participating in the six-party talks said Dec. 14 that it was unlikely that resuming negotiations within that framework would be helpful in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. He said he believes the United States should seek bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang.

The current international strategy of sanctions and isolation is not effective because China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto council resolutions, the official said. China would be likely to block approval of further North Korean sanctions in order to prevent instability on the Korean peninsula, he said. Chinese leaders fear that a further worsening of economic conditions in North Korea could lead to a flood of refugees into China that would slow Beijing’s economic growth, the official said.

China’s past support for Security Council action was in reaction to nuclear testing, and Beijing will not respond as harshly to a satellite launch, he said.

Beijing “fears the impact of a revolution” in North Korea far more than it fears a nuclear-armed North Korea, he said, maintaining that this is why China did not condemn the satellite launch.

In its statement, China did not explicitly say that it considered the launch to be violation of Security Council restrictions. In a Dec. 12 press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said North Korea has the “right of peaceful use of outer space” but that the right is “subject to restrictions of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” Lei said North Korea’s decision to go ahead with the launch was “regrettable” in light of international concerns.

Meanwhile, two former officials with expertise in North Korea said they saw utility, though limited, in restarting the six-party talks. George Lopez, a former member of a panel of experts that advises the UN on implementing sanctions on North Korea, said that the six-party talks are the “only hope for sitting down with the new leadership” in Pyongyang in the near future and that restarting the negotiations would increase China’s “limited leverage” over North Korea. If Chinese leaders are concerned about North Korea, they will push to begin the talks as soon as possible so that “their own advisory and protective role would emerge in the consciousness” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he said in a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

The official from the country participating in the talks said the United States consistently overestimates China’s influence on Pyongyang. If the United States talks directly with North Korea, China will have less of a chance to intervene to protect its own interests, he said.

Victor Cha, deputy head of the U.S. delegation for the six-party talks under President George W. Bush, said that continuing the current policy is no longer an option and that the more progress North Korea makes on its nuclear and ICBM programs, the more difficult “rollback” in these areas will become. In a Dec. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he said that the six-party framework would “only serve the purpose of slowing or freezing” Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons activities and did not fully deal with uranium enrichment or deal at all with missiles.

Cha said that the Obama administration needs to decide whether North Korea is an existential threat to U.S. interests. If so, the Obama administration should adopt a “package of policies that does everything possible to emasculate the threat,” he said. If the United States decides that North Korea will not threaten to use the nuclear weapons that it possesses, Washington should pursue a strategy that ensures North Korea a “stake in the global community” to prevent proliferation, he said.

Lopez suggested starting with an exchange in which North Korea would agree to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections in return for international recognition of its nuclear status. Although he said he doubted that the West would agree to this process anytime soon, he said that North Korea’s success in living under sanctions and international condemnation brings Pyongyang “to the the table with a position of strength.”

Sanctions Unlikely

Further sanctions are widely seen as unlikely to change North Korea’s decision to continue developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Lopez said that North Korean officials are adamant in their resolve not to be “influenced by global carrots and sticks.”

Although sanctions have “put a dent in the pace of development,” they have not sufficiently curtailed the program, largely because of North Korea’s “very sophisticated and illicit” procurement networks, he said.

Lopez noted that the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the UN do not restrict the ability of scientists and engineers to travel to North Korea. He said there is some evidence that Iranian experts may be advising Pyongyang.

News outlets reported the presence of Iranian scientists in North Korea ahead of the launch, but Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Dec. 24 dismissed these reports as “speculation.” Iran and North Korea are widely believed to have collaborated on ballistic missile development in the past.

North Korea put a satellite into orbit Dec. 12, marking its first success in five tries over 14 years in launching a rocket with technology directly applicable to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development.

Iran Nuclear Brief: Options for a Diplomatic Solution


By Kelsey Davenport
January 2013

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Since President Barack Obama took office four years ago, diplomats from the P5+1 group of states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) and Iran have engaged in renewed but intermittent discussions aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program. So far, however, the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement that would bridge the differences between the proposals that have been exchanged during the talks.

With high-level political negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 likely to resume soon, negotiators will need to consider new variations on their earlier diplomatic proposals if they are to make progress to resolve the concerns about Iran's growing nuclear capabilities and nuclear weapons potential.

There is still time for diplomacy, but both sides need to move with greater urgency toward a lasting solution. If each side provides slightly more flexibility and creativity, it may be possible to bridge the gaps and reach a resolution that addresses the most urgent proliferation risks posed by Iran's nuclear program, as well as Iran's desire to continue some nuclear activities and begin to remove elements of the severe sanctions regime that has been put in place.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.


Since President Barack Obama took office four years ago, diplomats from the P5+1 group of states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) and Iran have engaged in renewed but intermittent discussions aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program. So far, however, the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement that would bridge the differences between the proposals that have been exchanged during the talks.

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Illicit N. Korean Exports Reported

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea may have sold proliferation-sensitive materials to Myanmar and Syria in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, news organizations reported in November.

UN Security Council resolutions from 2006 and 2009 prohibit Pyongyang from making weapons-related exports, including arms sales and transfers of nuclear and ballistic missile technology.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Nov. 24 that, on Aug. 22, Japan had seized a shipment of aluminum alloy bars that could be used in the manufacture of centrifuges or missiles. The shipment was destined for Myanmar, also known as Burma. Markings on the cargo led Japanese inspectors to conclude that the shipment originated in North Korea, although the voyage during which it was stopped originated in China.

In a Nov. 25 statement to The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar newspaper, a spokesman for Myanmar President Thein Sein denied knowledge of a deal with North Korea for the seized materials. The statement said that Myanmar would respect UN Security Council resolutions and had “no nuclear ambitions.”

Separately, South Korea testified Oct. 24 to a UN committee that oversees sanctions on North Korea that inspectors last May had confiscated from a ship en route to Syria 445 graphite cylinders that could be used for ballistic missiles, according to a Nov. 14 Reuters report citing unnamed diplomats. The diplomats also said that a North Korean trading company had arranged for the shipment of graphite, which was declared as lead piping, on a Chinese registered ship, according to the article.

At a Nov. 15 press briefing, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said the ministry “could not confirm” the reports of this incident.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 14 press briefing that it “noted the report” in the media about the ship being detained and the nature of the cargo. He said that China “opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their launch vehicles” and “strictly abides” by relevant UN Security Council resolutions. China would “handle behavior that violates” the resolutions and its own laws regulating export behavior, he said.

The UN sanctions committee met Oct. 24 to discuss recommendations from an expert panel for improving implementation of sanctions against North Korea. The panel concluded in a June 14 report that North Korea continues “actively to defy” UN measures and has developed “elaborate techniques to evade” sanctions. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

According to the Reuters article, the panel also indicated at its Oct. 24 meeting that it is continuing to investigate North Korea’s acquisition of transport erector launchers and the role that a Chinese company played in facilitating the acquisition.

During an April 15 parade celebrating the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang unveiled what appeared to be road-mobile ballistic missiles mounted on transport erector launchers with eight axles. (Analysts have said some of the missiles may have been mock-ups.)The panel report concluded that North Korea had not previously demonstrated a capacity to build a vehicle with such “advanced features,” but did not indicate where North Korea may have acquired the vehicles. When the report was released, experts following North Korea’s missile program said they believed that the transport erector launchers originated in China.

According to the Reuters article, an official told the panel that a Chinese company sold six eight-axle vehicles to North Korea for logging. The panel report described the transport erector launchers from the parade as eight-axle vehicles.

North Korea may have sold proliferation-sensitive materials to Myanmar and Syria in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, news organizations reported in November.

Obama Pledges Push to Resume Iran Talks

Kelsey Davenport

President Barack Obama said last month that he would “try to make a push in the coming months” to resume talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, but did not specify when negotiations were likely to resume.

In comments during a Nov. 14 press conference, Obama added a note of caution, saying, “I can’t promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through.” But he also said, “[W]e want to get this resolved, and we’re not going to be constrained by diplomatic niceties or protocols.”

High-level meetings between Iran and six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) stalled in June when both sides said they felt that little progress was being made to close the gaps that existed between their differing positions. The June negotiations were the third round of talks in as many months.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Oct. 21 that talks could resume at the end of November. (See ACT, November 2012.) At the press conference, however, Obama dismissed the prospect of imminent talks as not true “as of today.”

The six countries, or P5+1, met in Brussels on Nov. 21 to discuss strategy for resuming negotiations with Iran. A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the P5+1, said Nov. 21 that the six countries agreed to hold a new round of talks “as soon as possible” and that Iran would be contacted “in the coming days.” The spokesperson did not say whether the P5+1 discussed modifications to its negotiating proposal.

Iranian Ambassador to Russia Reza Sajjadi said in a Nov. 19 press conference that he had conveyed to the Russian government that Iran is prepared for new negotiations. He said a priority for Iran when talks resume is to receive a “formal response” from the P5+1 to the negotiating proposal Tehran presented during the last rounds of high-level meetings. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said on Nov. 26 that the United States should consider supplementing the P5+1 talks by establishing a “parallel dialogue” with Iran. Speaking at an event sponsored by the National Iranian American Council and the Arms Control Association, Brzezinksi said one reason for pursuing that approach is that the long-range motives of P5+1 members China and Russia remain unclear. Although the official position of both countries is to pursue negotiations to resolve the Iranian nuclear controversy, there could be individual officials in China or Russia that may be ambivalent about pursuing an immediate settlement of this issue, he said.

Brzezinski also warned against pursing “strangling” sanctions that could increase the likelihood of conflict. He said there is a fine line between such sanctions and those that are “painful.” The latter kind creates openings for other options, he said.

Bilateral Talks

Although all parties in the talks, including Iran, have indicated that they remain committed to negotiating within the P5+1 framework, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told The Financial Times on Nov. 11 that Russia would “not have a word against” bilateral talks between Iran and the United States on the nuclear issue. He added that Russia would “hope to be informed on the content” of any talks.

The Obama administration has denied that there is any agreement for direct talks, saying that although it is open to bilateral meetings, Iran does not appear to be.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a Nov. 8 speech that Iran’s nuclear issues should be resolved bilaterally “through talks with the United States.” It is unclear how much power the president has in negotiations over the nuclear program, however, particularly given that Ahmadinejad is not eligible to run in Iran’s presidential elections in June. Western experts believe that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide whether Iran enters into bilateral negotiations with the United States.

Waivers Up for Renewal

In December, the Obama administration will have to decide whether to renew waivers that allow nine countries to continue importing oil from Iran. Under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, these countries were granted exemptions in June that allow them to continue purchasing Iranian oil without penalty after demonstrating that they “significantly reduced” the volume of such imports. However, the law stipulates that the waivers must be renewed every 180 days, during which the country must demonstrate again that it reduced its imports.

The waivers for four of Iran’s top oil importers—China, South Korea, India, and Turkey—all will expire before the end of the year if the administration does not grant renewals. The United States renewed the waivers for Japan and 10 European countries on Sept. 14.

As a result of the sanctions, Iranian oil exports are about half of what they were a year ago, and the country is being forced to cut its oil output due to a lack of storage space.

President Barack Obama said last month that he would “try to make a push in the coming months” to resume talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, but did not specify when negotiations were likely to resume.


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