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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Kelsey Davenport

Iran Nuclear Brief: Options for a Diplomatic Solution

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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.

Description: 

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.

Iran Moves Forward on Nuclear Facilities

Kelsey Davenport

Iran installed additional centrifuges in its underground uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow and increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, according to a Nov. 16 quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a Nov. 18 statement, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh said the report “confirms” that Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful and that “each gram of uranium” is monitored by the IAEA.

The IAEA, however, concludes in the report that it is “unable to provide credible assurance” that all nuclear material in Iran is in “peaceful activities.”

The report, prepared for the Nov. 29-30 IAEA Board of Governors meeting, found that Iran installed 644 centrifuges at Fordow since the previous report on Aug. 30, bringing the total number of centrifuges there to 2,784, which is the maximum capacity for the facility. The number of centrifuges currently enriching uranium to 20 percent, however, remained unchanged at 696 since the previous report. Since August, nearly 1,000 additional centrifuges also were installed at Natanz, Iran’s second enrichment facility, in the area of the plant that produces reactor-grade uranium, although they too are not yet operational.

The report noted that Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent. The size of this stockpile is a principal concern of the international community because this material is more easily enriched to weapons grade. Iran maintains that the material will be used to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes. Resolutions adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council, however, have called on Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities, including enrichment.

In total, Iran has produced 232 kilograms of the 20 percent material, of which 135 kilograms are stored and could be enriched further should Tehran decide to pursue nuclear weapons. The remainder of the material has been slated for conversion from uranium hexafluoride gas into uranium oxide, a solid powder from which nuclear fuel is made. Although the powder can be returned to the gas form, experts say this process would take several months.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to comment on the contents of the IAEA report during a Nov. 16 press briefing. She said that the State Department had seen the report and would discuss it with other members of the IAEA board.

Reactors Face Difficulties

The IAEA conducted an inspection of Bushehr, Iran’s sole nuclear power plant, Nov. 6-7 and confirmed in the Nov. 16 report that fuel assemblies had been transferred to the spent fuel pond. Iran informed the IAEA of the transfer Oct. 15.

Mark Fitzpatrick, former deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 20 e-mail that the removal of the fuel “almost certainly indicates a technical problem.” Although it is “theoretically possible” for Iran to extract weapons-usable plutonium from the spent fuel, the IAEA would be “alert to any such misuse,” and speculation about the use of the spent fuel for developing nuclear weapons is “unfounded,” he said.

Russia provides the fuel for Bushehr and currently oversees the operation of the plant. Fereydoun Abbasi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Nov. 10 that the handover of the reactor to Iran will be “made in the near future.”

The Nov. 16 report noted that Iran is continuing to move forward on construction of a heavy-water reactor at Arak, despite resolutions adopted by the IAEA board and the UN Security Council calling on Tehran to halt construction. Iran has pushed back its anticipated date of operation for the reactor to the first quarter of 2014, the report said. IAEA reports earlier in 2012 said Iran had estimated that the operation of the reactor would begin in the third quarter of 2013.

Western governments have expressed concern that the Arak heavy-water reactor is far better suited for plutonium production for nuclear weapons than for the production of the medical isotopes Iran claims the plant is intended to make. In 2004, Iran declared it would not construct a facility that could have been used to reprocess the spent fuel.

Structured Approach

Iran and the IAEA are scheduled to meet again Dec. 13 in Tehran to continue negotiations on a so-called structured approach to resolve the agency’s concerns about Iran’s possible weapons-related activities, which were outlined in a November 2011 IAEA report. (See ACT, December 2011.) Negotiations on the framework agreement began in February.

The Nov. 16 report said there have been no “concrete results” from the agency’s attempts to work with Iran to resolve these issues and that, in the past year, the IAEA has obtained additional information that “further corroborates” the analysis from the 2011 report.

Soltanieh said that the Dec. 13 talks could “clear up ambiguities” if political provocation is avoided. Fitzpatrick, who is now at the International Institute for Security Studies in London, said progress was “unlikely” if there was no “positive movement” in talks between Iran and six world powers. He said Iran is “holding the IAEA hostage” to progress in those talks.

Iran installed additional centrifuges in its underground uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow and increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, according to a Nov. 16 quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran Says Talks to Resume in November

Kelsey Davenport

High-level negotiations between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program will resume in November after the U.S. presidential election, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at an Oct. 21 press conference. An exact date and venue for the negotiations have not yet been determined, he said.

A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, lead negotiator for the six countries, said they hoped to “pick up discussions soon,” but he did not give a time frame.

In interviews, experts said that although little has changed in the official negotiation positions that Iran and the countries, known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), discussed during prior negotiating rounds (see ACT, June 2012), there are still diplomatic paths to resolving international concerns over the nuclear program, which Iran maintains is entirely peaceful.

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 stalled after a June 18-19 meeting in Moscow, the third top-level round of negotiations in as many months. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) Although the lead negotiators for each side remained in contact and the two sides held a technical-level meeting in July, a fourth round of high-level talks was not scheduled due to a lack of progress in the first three rounds. (See ACT, September 2012.)

According to The New York Times, there also is a possibility of bilateral talks. An Oct. 20 Times story cited senior administration officials as saying that Tehran and Washington had agreed “in principle” to hold bilateral negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program after the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election.

Although it was unclear whether administration officials were referring to a separate track of meetings between the two countries or a bilateral meeting in the context of P5+1 negotiations, both the United States and Iran denied the report.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an Oct. 20 statement that although no “one-on-one talks” have been agreed to, the United States is “prepared to meet bilaterally” with Iran and has held this position since P5+1 talks resumed. During his Oct. 22 debate with his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama said the reports of bilateral talks “are not true.”

Salehi said Oct. 21 that there is “no talk of negotiations” with the United States and that Iran will hold talks “within the framework” of the P5+1.

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian told Arms Control Today on Oct. 16 said that rather than discussing the specific proposals from past negotiations, the two sides each should recognize a point that is important to the other. Specifically, he suggested that Iran recognize that the “concerns held by Western countries” over its nuclear program must be addressed and the P5+1 recognize Iran’s “legitimate rights” to uranium enrichment.

After this reciprocal recognition, the parties could move to practical steps, taking actions that would address P5+1 concerns on Iranian transparency and “breakout capabilities,” Mousavian said. This would include actions such as increased inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and resolution of questions about possible past activities related to developing nuclear weapons. In return, the P5+1 should be prepared to take proportionate steps in return for “each positive step” that Iran takes, namely in the form of sanctions relief, he said.

In the ideal “end state,” the P5+1 would be convinced that all “technical ambiguities are removed” and that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, Mousavian said. In return, Iran’s enrichment rights would be recognized, and all sanctions removed.

Former U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan James Dobbins also identified the importance of considering some form of a suspension-for-suspension arrangement in future talks. He told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 18 e-mail that a proposal under which Iran would halt some enrichment activities in return for the suspension of some sanctions should be considered for future negotiations.

Dobbins identified two key questions that must be examined to move talks forward. First, he said it must be determined whether Iran is willing to make “further positive moves to meet international demands.” Second, Dobbins said that Obama’s ability to respond positively to an Iranian concession is key, such as by supporting international recognition of Iran’s enrichment rights in return for an Iranian pledge not enrich uranium to a level higher than 5 percent uranium-235.

Mousavian said that Tehran has been willing to voluntarily cap enrichment at 5 percent and that point is now being “accurately reported by Western media.” He said Iran “never wanted high-level enrichment.”

Future U.S. Sanctions

In the absence of progress in the negotiations, several U.S. senators are considering further U.S. unilateral sanctions, which could be introduced when Congress reconvenes in November.

In an Oct. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an aide to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said the senator is working on legislation that would build on the previous round of Iran sanctions, which were co-authored by Kirk and signed into law last Dec. 31. The new sanctions legislation could be offered as an amendment to the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill.

The aide said that the legislation could include provisions that prohibit all international financial institutions from conducting transactions with Iranian financial institutions that are “in any way affiliated with the Central Bank of Iran” and all transactions with “any Iranian entity related to energy.” Exceptions would be made for humanitarian purposes and oil exports from Iran authorized under current laws.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the co-author of previous sanctions legislation, told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 17 e-mail that he also intends to pursue further sanctions, identifying a “robust multilateral sanctions regime” and a “credible military threat” as the main tools for dealing with Iranian nuclear program. He also said it is “simultaneously crucial” to pursue negotiations by passing additional U.S. and multilateral sanctions to “force Iran to enter real negotiations” over the “termination of its nuclear weapons program.”

Mousavian, however, warned that the imposition of further sanctions and new restrictions would have adverse effects on Iran’s ability to negotiate in any further talks by making it more difficult for Tehran to show “flexibility and cooperation” because the regime would be forced to take a tougher stance so as not to appear to be capitulating to Western demands.

He said that as further restrictive measures are implemented, it becomes more difficult for the United States and the European Union to offer sanctions relief as incentives for Iranian compliance and concessions, as the sanctions become more difficult to dismantle.

New EU Sanctions

During an Oct. 15 meeting, EU foreign ministers agreed to impose further sanctions on Iran for failing to implement resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors.

According to an Oct. 15 EU press release, the new restrictions will target the energy, financial, trade, and transport sectors, including “all transactions between European and Iranian banks” that are not authorized in advance for humanitarian purposes.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an Oct. 15 interview with Radio Free Europe that these new sanctions are “exclusively about the nuclear program” and not regime change.

In a press briefing the same day, White House spokesman Jay Carney described the EU sanctions package as “significant,” saying that the United States “welcomes” the adoption of these measures.

China, however, opposed the new measures. During an Oct. 16 press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the imposition of unilateral sanctions makes the situation “more complex” and “cannot fundamentally resolve the Iran nuclear issue.” He called on all of the parties to “push” for a new round of talks as soon as possible.

Iran’s foreign minister said negotiations between Tehran and six world powers over Iran’s controversial nuclear program would resume in late November, but a spokesman for the six-country group’s lead negotiator was less specific.

Arab States Look to WMD Meeting in 2012

Kelsey Davenport and Daria Medvedeva

The Arab League expects all countries in the Middle East to attend a December 2012 conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in that region and demonstrate a commitment of “political will” despite current destabilizing developments in the region, the group said in an Oct. 8 statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee.

The statement, delivered by Egyptian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil on behalf of the 21 Arab League member countries, said that any delay will “impede progress in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation” and could cause members of the Arab League to “review their policies” in this area.

But an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official told Arms Control Today on Oct. 4 that “domestic concerns and regional unrest” are diverting Egypt’s attention away from the planned December conference and that political will within the region to establish the zone is weaker now than in 2010.

Diplomats from countries outside the Middle East, such as the United States, whose support is considered necessary for negotiations on the zone to move forward, also have expressed concern that the regional upheaval caused by the Arab Spring could disrupt or delay the 2012 conference. (See ACT, June 2012.)

During the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation (NPT) Review Conference, member states committed themselves to holding a conference on the WMD-free zone in 2012 and reaffirmed their commitment to “full implementation” of a 1995 resolution calling for the establishment of the zone. (See ACT, June 2010.) Finland was designated as the host of the conference in October 2011, when Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava was named as facilitator. (See ACT, November 2011.)

The Arab League statement called for international support that would enable the meeting “to result in a practical outcome coupled with clear implementation mechanisms” set to “a specific timetable” for establishing the zone.

Laajava said in May that progress has been made in the organization for the conference, but further efforts were needed, particularly from conference conveners Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general.

In an Oct. 10 statement at the First Committee, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Department for Security Affairs and Disarmament in the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that the co-conveners already had completed much of the work for the conference. He said that ensuring attendance is a “vital task” and urged countries in the region to confirm their participation.

An October 1990 UN General Assembly resolution on the establishment of the zone proposed that it include the Arab League, which currently has 22 members although Syria’s membership has been suspended; Iran; and Israel. Diplomats and experts maintain that Iranian and Israeli participation in the conference will be key to its success, but neither country has confirmed that it will participate.

Israeli Reservations

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor did not make reference to attending the December meeting during his Oct. 16 remarks to the First Committee, but he said that Israel does support the “annual endorsement” of the committee’s yearly resolution on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone in spite of his country’s “substantive reservations regarding certain elements.” He did not expand on those reservations, but in past statements, Israel has said that negotiations can move forward on the zone only when there is peace within the region and Israel’s national security concerns are considered.

In a statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference on Sept. 19, Shaul Chorev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said the establishment of the zone would require a “significant transformation of the regional trend” toward volatility and that any initiative to promote such a zone in “complete disregard” of the current regional realities, such as violent responses to uprisings and noncompliance with nonproliferation agreements, is “futile.” Chorev also highlighted Iran’s and Syria’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA as obstacles to the establishment of a WMD-free zone.

Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 16 e-mail that Chorev’s statement should not be interpreted as a rejection of Israel’s attendance at the December conference, but rather a message that the “realities of the Middle East are very far from being conducive” to the establishment of a WMD-free zone.

Israel will not agree to address these issues in a forum that “singles it out for condemnation” or “promotes a hostile atmosphere,” she said. Keeping the conference within the context of the NPT, to which Israel is not party, also is an obstacle because the proposal for the zone covers not only nuclear issues, but all weapons of mass destruction and delivery vehicles, she said.

Landau went on to say that identifying a “common interest” shared by all parties is a major challenge but that measures that “enhance communication” and lower tensions, while difficult to articulate, could be mechanisms for crafting a common goal.

Israel has attended meetings convened to support the process of creating a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. Prosor noted in the Oct. 15 statement that Israel participated in a July 2011 EU seminar on creating the zone and intends to participate in a second seminar scheduled for November.

Iran Urges Action

Iran also has yet to confirm whether it will attend the conference. In his Oct. 15 statement to the First Committee, Iranian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Eshagh Al Habib said that Tehran “strongly calls” for “immediate implementation” of the NPT resolution on establishment of a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

In an Oct. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Alireza Nader, an analyst for RAND Corporation, said Tehran typically views its participation in meetings on this subject as “diplomatically beneficial” as it “highlights the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal” and eases pressures on Iran. Nader said, however, that Iranian participation should not be viewed as producing any “immediate and lasting solutions to the nuclear crisis,” as “nearly intractable issues” shape Tehran’s “quest” for a nuclear weapons capability.

Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Arab League reaffirmed its commitment to holding a conference in December on the establishment of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction and called on all countries in the region to participate.

South Korea Extends Missile Range

Kelsey Davenport

South Korea announced on Oct. 7 it had reached an agreement with the United States that will allow Seoul to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload, an increase the governments of both countries say is necessary to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

Under a 2001 agreement with the United States, South Korea was limited to developing ballistic missiles with ranges of no more than 300 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload. (See ACT, March 2001.) That agreement increased South Korea’s ballistic missile range from the 180-kilometer restriction that the two parties had negotiated in 1979.

Under the new guidelines, South Korea will be able to target any site in North Korea from anywhere in its own territory.

In an Oct. 7 press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney described the extension as a “prudent, proportional, and specific response” that is designed to improve South Korea’s “ability to defend” against North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

In an Oct. 12 interview, however, Leon Sigal, a Korea expert at the Social Science Research Council, said that the increased range is “exceedingly dangerous given the state of the military balance” on the Korean peninsula and that South Korea and the United States need to clarify whether the U.S. commander in South Korea will be consulted about any use of these weapons. If the decision on use rests solely with the South Koreans, there is a greater concern for escalation in the event of an incident, Sigal said.

North Korea is believed to have several varieties of operationally deployed ballistic missiles, including the Nodong, which has a range of approximately 1,300 kilometers. North Korea also is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, although it has yet to conduct a successful test of a missile in that category. The last of these tests, which North Korea maintains was a satellite launch on an Unha-3 rocket, took place in April. (See ACT, May 2012.)

Michael Elleman, who was a missile expert for the UN team conducting weapons inspections in Iraq, said in an Oct. 15 e-mail that although Seoul’s “symbolic and psychological need to ‘mirror’” North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities is understandable, it could be done using space launchers and that theater missile defenses “to defeat or blunt” North Korean threats would have “greater utility.” Space launchers use technology applicable to longer-range ballistic missile development.

If striking targets throughout North Korea is Seoul’s priority, developing cruise missiles is a better option because they are “more accurate, militarily effective and less vulnerable to pre-emption,” said Elleman, who now is with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 18 e-mail that, under the new guidelines, South Korea also will be able to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with “greater range and payload capabilities” for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The official did not provide a figure, but South Korean media reported that the new agreement raises the UAV payload limit from 500 kilograms to 2,500 kilograms with an unlimited range. There was no change from the existing guidelines for cruise missiles, the official said.

Impact on the MTCR

With the 2001 ballistic missile restrictions in place, the United States then supported South Korea’s admission to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The 34 member countries of the MTCR follow export control guidelines designed to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 300 kilometers carrying payloads larger than 500 kilograms.

Although the MTCR guidelines are voluntary and do not restrict countries from indigenously developing their own longer-range systems, it has been the U.S. practice to request that non-nuclear-weapon states joining after 1993 adhere to those guidelines for their own missile programs as well as their exports.

Elleman said that the damage done to the MTCR by the South Korean exception is “troublesome” but “should not be overestimated.”

In the Oct. 18 e-mail, the State Department official dismissed the possibility that the new South Korean missile guidelines would have an adverse effect on the MTCR, saying that the extension will have “no implications for other countries’ missile-related export behavior” and that it does “not impact the export control commitments” to which South Korea agreed when it joined the MTCR.­­­­

 

North Korean Response

The North Korean Foreign Ministry responded to Seoul’s announcement in an Oct. 10 statement saying that the United States “discarded its mask of deterring” missile proliferation by supporting South Korea’s increased missile ranges and killed efforts to restrain the development of long-range missile launches on the Korean peninsula.

The statement alluded to future North Korean launches of long-range missiles for “military purposes.” Sigal said the wording of the statement was significant because North Korea’s statements on its most recent test launches have not acknowledged a military purpose, claiming that they were for satellites.

South Korea and the United States reached an agreement allowing Seoul to extend the range of its ballistic missiles. Both countries say the increase is necessary to counter the threat posed by North Korea’s missile capabilities.

Pakistani Security Called Adequate

Kelsey Davenport and Marcus Taylor

Pakistan’s security is adequate to deal with the recent attacks on its military installations, including a Sept. 5 threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear complex, according to former Pakistani and U.S. officials.

Naeem Salik, former director of arms control and disarmament for Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority, told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 16 e-mail that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are “very well protected” and security arrangements at sites such as the Dera Ghazi Khan complex are “adequate” to deal with threats such as the one last month. He said that nuclear weapons are not stored at that complex or Minhas air base, which was attacked on Aug. 16. (See ACT, September 2012.)

According to The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper, the threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan complex was discovered when Pakistani intelligence services intercepted a Sept. 5 phone call between two suspected members of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Pakistani newspapers quoted a military officer as characterizing the plans for this attack as the “first-ever serious security threat” to the Dera Ghazi Khan military facilities.

According to Salik, the Dera Ghazi Khan complex includes facilities for uranium mining and processing and for the fabrication of fuel elements for civilian power plants, but contains “no fissile materials or weapons related facilities.”

Pakistani newspapers reported that suicide bombers were planning to gain access to the complex using three or four vehicles. The government responded by deploying forces from the Pakistani army and the local Punjab police. No actual attack on the facility was reported. If such an attack had occurred, it would have caused “more of an embarrassment than any real damage,” given the nature of the nuclear facilities and the remote location of the complex, Salik said.

In a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Christopher Clary, who worked on South Asia issues in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said the record of such incidents over the past two years “does not suggest any dramatic worsening in Pakistan’s stability.” He said that Pakistan’s “remarkable ability to muddle through” is “often missed by outsiders.”

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center and director of its South Asia program, agreed that Pakistani security forces have been “up to the task” of defending against both of the “primary patterns of attack”: attacking “soft targets, like buses, near military installations” and entering “sensitive sites.” In a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Krepon said the security forces must take into account the possibilities of “more attacks, and attacks by larger numbers.”

The Obama administration also voiced its confidence in Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear arsenal after the attack on Minhas air base. In an Aug. 16 press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States and Pakistan have been discussing nuclear security issues “for quite a long, long time” and that Washington has “confidence” that Islamabad is “well aware” of the threats to its nuclear weapons and has “secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.”

Clary said that concerns over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, however, are “understandable and appropriate” because it is difficult for nuclear weapons security in any state to “function perfectly all the time.” Such concerns are even more acute in the case of Pakistan, where the militant and terrorist threat makes the situation “more dangerous” than in any of the other countries that possess nuclear weapons, he said.

At an Aug. 14 press briefing, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that if terrorism is not controlled in Pakistan, the country’s nuclear weapons could be at risk.

Clary expressed greater concern over Pakistan’s decision to pursue battlefield nuclear weapons and the country’s “rapid production” of fissile material. He said that the battlefield weapons are the “most worrisome” and if deployed during a conflict would increase risks in several ways.

During a war, they are more likely to be used, he said. Also, he said, “in the event of a war or a crisis, they are more likely to be assembled, mated, and dispersed, increasing the risk of accidents, unauthorized use, or loss of control.”

Pakistan’s security is adequate to deal with the recent attacks on its military installations, including a Sept. 5 threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear complex, according to former Pakistani and U.S. officials.

North Korea Makes Progress on Reactor

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea’s continued construction of a light-water reactor (LWR) that experts say could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium is “deeply troubling,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano said last month.

Addressing the IAEA Board of Governors at the start of its quarterly meeting on Sept. 10, Amano said Pyongyang has made “significant progress” on the reactor since the IAEA submitted its previous findings on the status of North Korea’s nuclear program in September 2011. Citing its monitoring through satellite imagery, the agency said in its latest report, dated Aug. 30, that a dome has been installed over the facility and a system for pumping water up to the reactor building has been put in place.

In a Sept. 5 statement, a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry denounced the IAEA report, saying that the agency does not have the “qualifications to intervene” in the country’s “nuclear activities.” The IAEA has not been able to implement safeguards in North Korea since April 2009 when Pyongyang decided to cease cooperation with the agency.

The LWR is one of the two known facilities that North Korea has not declared to the IAEA. In his speech to the board, Amano also expressed concern over statements issued by North Korea regarding its second undeclared facility, which houses centrifuges for uranium enrichment. In the report, the agency said it had “no new information” and is “unable to determine the facility’s configuration or operational status.” However, in an Aug. 31 letter to the UN Security Council, North Korea said it started “the production of enriched uranium” to provide fuel for the LWR.

On the basis of satellite imagery of these construction activities, experts say the reactor could be completed in mid- to late 2013. North Korea announced plans for the facility in 2009.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been plutonium based, and the construction of the uranium-enrichment plant was widely seen as an effort to develop the means to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons.

North Korea’s Intentions

LWRs, while typically not used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, can be configured for this purpose, although the IAEA report draws no conclusion about the eventual purpose of the facility. The agency said that, without access to the site, it cannot assess the facility’s “design features.”

North Korean statements about the purpose of the facilities appear to have shifted in the past year. In a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry Nov. 30, a spokesman said that the country’s nuclear activities were peaceful and that the LWR would be used to solve the “acute electricity problem” in North Korea. However, in an Aug. 31 submission to the UN Security Council, North Korea said it would be “expanding its nuclear deterrent capability” in response to what it perceives as “increased hostile moves” by countries such the United States and had redirected its “peaceful nuclear power industry for producing electricity to the building-up of a self-defensive nuclear deterrent.”

The statement is the latest twist in the history of Pyongyang’s changing actions and rhetoric in connection with its nuclear program. North Korea is building the reactor near the site of its previous plutonium-production reactor and plutonium-separation plant, which it clandestinely built in the late 1980s and 1990s to produce weapons-grade plutonium, despite having signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985.

In 2007, with assistance from the United States, Pyongyang dismantled the reactor and separation plant as part of the denuclearization framework for North Korea being negotiated through the six-party talks, which also included China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. (See ACT, March 2007.) After the negotiations stalled in December 2008, North Korea resumed some nuclear activities (see ACT, May 2009) and began new ones, such as construction of the new LWR.

Shortly after the United States and North Korea reached the Feb. 29 agreement on a uranium-enrichment moratorium in exchange for food aid, North Korea issued an invitation to the IAEA in a letter dated March 16 to visit the country to “discuss technical issues” related to the moratorium. (See ACT, April 2012.) After the agreement between the United States and North Korea broke down following a failed April 13 satellite launch by North Korea, Pyongyang withdrew its offer to the IAEA.

U.S. Response

Addressing the IAEA board Sept. 12, U.S. envoy Robert Wood echoed Amano’s concern over North Korea’s recent nuclear activities, saying that the country “continues to engage in nuclear activities and expand its nuclear infrastructure.” He said that the U.S. “core objective” remains “verifiable denuclearization” and North Korea’s “return to the NPT and IAEA safeguards.” North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003.

When asked at an Aug. 22 press briefing if placement of a dome on the LWR raised concerns in the administration about North Korea’s progress on its nuclear program, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the U.S. “concerns are the same as they have always been” and that the State Department would like North Korea to return to the six-party talks “ready to deal with the international community’s concerns.”

Although a resumption of the talks has not been announced, all six parties were present at this year’s Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, which was held Sept. 27-28 in Dalian, China. The group’s 2009 meeting in California was the last that all six countries attended. North Korea did not attend the 2010 meeting in Seoul or the 2011 meeting in Hawaii. Begun in 1993, the talks serve as an unofficial forum for discussions among the six countries on regional security issues.

North Korea’s continued construction of a light-water reactor (LWR) that experts say could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium is “deeply troubling,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano said last month.

Negotiators Mull Future of Iran Talks

Kelsey Davenport

Top negotiators representing Iran and six world powers met Sept. 18 in Istanbul for what both sides described as a “constructive” discussion on the future of high-level negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

According to a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the six powers in the talks, this meeting was not a “formal negotiating round,” but provided Ashton the “opportunity to stress” the urgent need for Iran to take a “meaningful confidence-building step.” The six countries, known as the P5+1, are China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Saeed Jalili, the lead Iranian negotiator, said that the two sides evaluated “common points” during the meeting. He said a decision to resume negotiations at the highest political level would be made after the P5+1 had a chance to confer during the UN General Assembly session, which opened on Sept. 18.

The Istanbul meeting was the first time that Ashton and Jalili had met since the last round of high-level diplomatic negotiations, which took place June 18-19 in Moscow. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) The Moscow meeting was the third round of talks in as many months since negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran resumed in April after a 15-month hiatus.

Although high-level diplomatic meetings stalled after the Moscow meeting due to what Ashton called “significant gaps” between the two sides’ proposals, communication continued through July and August in the form of an experts-level meeting and several phone calls between top and deputy negotiators. (See ACT, September 2012.)

In a Sept. 17 press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that the P5+1 would meet with Ashton during the UN General Assembly session and “consult” on whether Iran is “prepared to bring anything new” to negotiations. She said there is no plan for the six countries to meet with Iran during the UN session.

Redlines

The meeting between Ashton and Jalili came amid Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the lack of progress toward a diplomatic solution and a push for the United States to set “redlines” on the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu has accused President Barack Obama of failing to set a clear threshold for a military strike against Iran. In a Sept. 11 news conference, Netanyahu said that Iran will continue to move toward “obtaining nuclear weapons capability” if Tehran “knows that there is no redline.”

In a Sept. 12 press briefing, White House Spokesman Jay Carney defended the administration’s position and said that Obama had “made clear” to Netanyahu in a phone conversation the previous evening that there is “time and space” for diplomacy. Carney reiterated that the administration’s policy is to “use all tools of American power to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.” The administration has said repeatedly that the list of options includes the use of military force.

Many U.S. nonproliferation experts argue that Iran’s technical developments have already given it a nuclear weapons capability but that Tehran has not decided yet to build a nuclear weapon.

Tightening Sanctions

In the absence of diplomatic progress, policymakers in the United States and the European Union are considering tightening sanctions against Iran.

On Sept. 12, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging the administration to require countries purchasing Iranian oil to reduce imports by at least 18 percent to be eligible for continued exemptions from U.S. sanctions. Under the current law, which went into effect June 28, the administration can waive sanctions against countries that buy oil from Iran if they demonstrate a “significant reduction” in the quantities purchased. (See ACT, June 2012.) In total, 20 countries were granted waivers, which must be renewed every 180 days.

The administration announced the first round of waiver renewals Sept. 14, extending sanctions exemptions for Japan and 10 EU countries for a second 180-day period. Despite that action, the European countries are unable to import oil from Iran because they are under a separate EU oil embargo, which began on July 1.

The EU is considering new sanctions directed at Iran. Speaking to reporters after a Sept. 7 meeting of EU foreign ministers in Cyprus, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that “probably the next round [of sanctions] is necessary” if Iran does not “come back to the table.” Although specific details on the new sanctions were not mentioned, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said on Sept. 25 that measures targeting Iran’s finance and trade sectors would be included.

Top negotiators representing Iran and six world powers met Sept. 18 in Istanbul for what both sides described as a “constructive” discussion on the future of high-level negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

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