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Kelsey Davenport

South Koreans celebrate summit anniversary, but N. Korea’s a no-show

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Stars and Stripes
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April 28, 2019 -04:00

Trump admin mulls more sanctions that could threaten safeguards on Iran's nuclear program

[INTERVIEW] 'Phased steps can build trust with North Korea'

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The Korea Times
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April 22, 2019 -04:00

New Attempt to Tackle Nuclear Proliferation Threat in the Middle East

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April 21, 2019 -04:00

U.S. and North Korea Say Changes Must Precede Third Summit | North Korea Denuclearization Digest, April 19, 2019

U.S. and North Korea Say Changes Must Precede Third Summit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have both said they are willing to meet for a third summit but are looking for certain conditions to be met ahead of any meeting. Kim said the United States must be more flexible and Trump is looking for North Korea to demonstrate its willingness to give up nuclear weapons. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an April 17 interview with Bloomberg that Washington is looking for a “real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to...

North Korea Stays in Focus Amid Talk About Next Summits

This Op-ed originally appeared in InDepthNews , April 19, 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have both said they are willing to meet for a third summit but are looking for certain conditions to be met ahead of any meeting. Kim said the United States must be more flexible and Trump is looking for North Korea to demonstrate its willingness to give up nuclear weapons. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an April 17 interview with Bloomberg that Washington is looking for a “real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision...

Trump won’t budge on North Korea sanctions, thwarting South Korean president’s hope for progress

IAEA Reportedly Inspects Iranian Warehouse | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, April 5, 2019

IAEA Reportedly Inspects Iranian Warehouse The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently inspected a warehouse that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the agency to visit in September, three diplomats told Reuters in an April 4 piece . Netanyahu called on the IAEA to “immediately” inspect a warehouse in Tehran that he described as “storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program,” including an unspecified radioactive material, in his September speech to the UN General Assembly. One diplomat told Reuters that inspectors visited...

An Uncertain Future for North Korean Talks

April 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be losing interest in diplomacy with the United States, according to officials in Pyongyang, creating uncertainty around the future of U.S.-North Korean negotiations. If the two sides do resume talks, diplomats will need to overcome persistent differences that contributed to the abrupt end of the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi Feb. 28.

National Security Advisor John Bolton said the United States would take no step-by-step measures to achieve North Korea's denuclearization. (Photo: Mandel Ngab/AFP/Getty Images)Trump and Kim initially expressed interest in continuing diplomacy after the Hanoi meeting, but Choe Son Hei, North Korea’s vice minister for foreign affairs, said on March 15 that Pyongyang might halt negotiations because Kim may have “lost the will” to continue talks. She also raised the prospect of North Korea resuming intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, which are prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions, if Washington does not reward the North’s current testing freeze with a reciprocal step that addresses North Korean concerns.

North Korea announced in April 2018 a voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests. Trump has highlighted the testing suspension as an indicator of successful talks and announced on Feb. 28 that Kim had agreed to continue abiding by the moratorium.

Choe’s remarks implied that North Korea would undo additional steps it took as part of the process, including the partial dismantlement of its satellite launch facility and nuclear test site, if the United States refuses to take any actions. Satellite imagery from early March reportedly appears to show that North Korea has already reconstructed elements of the Sohae Satellite Launch facility that were dismantled last year. Imagery also suggested that North Korea may be preparing for a launch at the site, but South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said on March 18 that the activity at the site “should not be judged as activity preparing for a missile launch.”

Despite North Korea casting doubt on the future of negotiations and raising the prospect of future ICBM tests, U.S. officials have said the Trump administration remains committed to diplomacy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on March 15 that he is “hopeful” that the United States and North Korea “can continue to have conversations, negotiations.”

The Hanoi summit exposed that the United States and North Korea still prefer different approaches to advancing the goals agreed by Trump and Kim at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.

North Korea has consistently stated its preference for a step-by-step process in which the United States takes reciprocal actions for progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization. North Korean officials also have made clear that Pyongyang wants the initial U.S. steps to include sanctions relief. The proposal that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho discussed publicly after the Hanoi summit called for lifting the majority of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in 2016 and 2017 in return for North Korea dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear complex under U.S. inspections and solidifying its voluntary testing moratorium.

U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton in a March 3 interview with CBS, rejected the step-by-step approach outright.

Additionally, although Trump and Kim agreed to the general goals of the negotiating process during their meeting in Singapore, the Trump administration appears to be seeking a more detailed understanding of the term “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” and the end-state of the negotiations before agreeing on steps to advance the process.

Pompeo made clear in July that the United States and North Korea did not share the same definition of denuclearization. Bolton’s comments March 3 clarified that U.S. officials define denuclearization as the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its means of production, plus an end to the North’s “ballistic missile program, and its chemical and biological weapons programs.”

Trump had made statements indicating the United States would pursue dismantling these programs as part of negotiating process, but it had been unclear if the United States was actually including chemical and biological weapons in its definition of “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” The expanded definition puts further distance between the U.S. and North Korean understandings of the term.

North Korea and the United States are also at odds over the sequencing of sanctions relief. Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, stated in January that Washington is “prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries and advance further progress in parallel on the Singapore summit objectives.” U.S. officials have made clear that those actions do not include sanctions relief, which will not be offered until denuclearization is complete.

The Trump administration has not explicitly stated what steps Washington would be willing to take “in parallel” to North Korean actions to denuclearize, but they may include establishing better ties between the two countries with liaison offices and discussions to bring a formal end to the Korean War. Reportedly, both topics were on the agenda for the Hanoi summit.

In her March 15 remarks, Choe appeared to reject the Trump administration’s approach and said that North Korea has “no intention to yield to U.S. demands” and Pyongyang is not willing to “engage in negotiations of this kind.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been working to bring the United States and North Korea back to negotiations and bridge the divide between their positions. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on March 4 that South Korea is looking to “create a venue for the resumption of the North Korea-U.S. dialogue.”


North Korea Continues to Evade UN Sanctions

North Korea persistently and successfully defies a range of UN sanctions, according to a March report from a UN panel of experts. The seven-member panel was established by a 2009 Security Council resolution to report on violations of North Korea sanctions and make recommendations for improving implementation of UN measures. The Security Council began sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear weapons activities in 2006, shortly after the country conducted its first nuclear test.

“The nuclear and ballistic missile programs of [North Korea] remain intact and the country continues to defy Security Council resolutions,” the report says.

The panel provided details on certain North Korean efforts dating back to 2013 to procure materials for its nuclear program in violation of Security Council measures. The panel said it continues to investigate attempts by designated individuals to obtain prohibited materials such as pressure transducers and vacuum equipment that can be used for nuclear activities and requested information from Beijing on Chinese companies that did business with the designated individuals.

To better ensure that these technologies do not end up in North Korea, the panel is currently surveying manufacturers that produce similar items in order to share best practices for internal screening and end-use verification.

The report notes North Korean efforts in 2018 to continue dispersing its ballistic missile assembly and storage locations, likely to prevent a decapitation strike, according to information provided to the panel by a UN member state.

The panel is also investigating North Korean efforts to sell military equipment to a number of states and nonstate actors, including the sale of ballistic missiles to Houthi forces in Yemen through a Syrian company, and requested information from a Houthi general and a Syrian national alleged to be involved in the transfer.

North Korea is also continuing to cooperate with the Scientific Studies and Research Center and the Army Supply Bureau in Syria, according to information provided to the panel by a member state. The Scientific Studies and Research Center in Syria is generally thought to be responsible for research on the country’s chemical weapons program. The panel of experts requested a full list of activities involving North Korean individuals in Syria in December 2018. Syria responded to the request Jan. 11, saying that the information provided by the panel was not objective and that all relations between Syria and North Korea are “in harmony with international law.”

The report also covers the sectoral sanctions imposed on North Korea in 2016 and 2017 and notes the “massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers” to evade caps on petroleum imports and the ban on North Korean coal exports. The panel noted that these transfers “involve increasingly advanced evasion techniques.”

The panel could not conclude definitively that North Korea exceeded its annual cap of 500,000 barrels of imported petroleum products, but it detailed sophisticated efforts to conceal oil purchases, including falsely flagging ships and transmitting false signals to obfuscate the location of a vessel. North Korea used similar methods of deception to continue selling coal, which it is banned from doing under a 2017 Security Council resolution.

The report raises concerns about the implementation of financial sanctions and said these “remain some of the most poorly implemented and actively evaded measures of the sanctions regime.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

U.S. officials make tough demands, but insist diplomacy continues.

IAEA Says Iran Abiding by Nuclear Deal

April 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the international organization charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal said Iran is meeting its obligations under the accord and warned against states trying to influence verification activities. Less than three weeks later, the United States imposed sanctions against Iranian officials and institutions that Washington alleges are working to retain nuclear weapons-related expertise in Iran.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano cautioned in March that some nations' efforts to micromanage the nuclear agency's monitoring of Iran would threaten the credibility of its findings. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)“Iran is implementing its nuclear commitments,” said Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in March 4 remarks to the agency’s Board of Governors. Amano urged Tehran to continue adhering to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018, levied new sanctions on March 22 against Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, purported to employ staff from Iran’s past nuclear weapons research activities.

“This is a way for them to keep the gang together, as it were, and to provide a reconstitution capability for that weapons program,” said a senior administration official briefing the media March 22. The sanctions impose travel and commercial restrictions on 14 individuals and 17 entities.

The IAEA quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, released publicly just days after Amano’s statement, contains additional details demonstrating that Iran is abiding by the deal’s terms. It notes that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is below the 300-kilogram cap set by the JCPOA and that Iran has not enriched uranium above the limit of 3.67 percent uranium-235, far below the 90 percent level considered useful for weapons purposes.

The report notes that the agency has had access to “all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit.”

Amano also continued to defend the importance of the IAEA’s independence in evaluating information related to its efforts to monitor peaceful nuclear activities. He emphasized that the IAEA “undertakes analysis and takes action in an impartial, independent, and objective manner.”

Amano’s March 4 statement is not the first time that he has pushed back against attempts by some nations to direct the agency’s verification work. “If attempts are made to micromanage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counterproductive and extremely harmful,” he said, adding that “independent, impartial, and factual safeguards implementation is essential to maintain our credibility.”

Although Amano did not identify specific states, Israeli officials have called on the IAEA to visit undeclared sites in Iran and follow up on materials that Israel stole from an Iranian archive in January 2018 and shared with the agency later in the year. In September at the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically called on the IAEA to visit a site identified by Israeli intelligence as housing materials and documents related to Iran’s past nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, October 2018.)

Despite reports of the United States promising Israel that it would pressure the IAEA to follow up on the archival material, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. representative to the IAEA, appeared to defend the agency’s process during her March 5 remarks to the IAEA board. Wolcott said Iran must address questions raised by the archival material, but emphasized that the United States supports the “IAEA’s continued, careful assessment of the nuclear archive materials.” She said Washington has the “highest confidence that the agency will independently and professionally review these materials, in combination with all other available information, to appropriately inform its monitoring and verification activities in Iran.”

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, said on March 8 that, “despite the many efforts of certain enemies” to “divert the attention of the IAEA,” cooperation between the agency and Iran is “constructive.”

The IAEA report raised the need for additional budgetary contributions from IAEA member states to meet the cost of implementing the JCPOA. IAEA monitoring activities in Iran are projected to cost 9.2 million euros ($10.4 million) in 2019, of which 4 million euros ($4.5 million) is extrabudgetary. The report noted that the agency has 3.1 million euros ($3.5 million) in extrabudgetary contributions available to meet the costs of JCPOA-related activities for 2019.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request includes $106 million to meet the U.S. assessed contribution to the IAEA, down slightly from the $111 million request in fiscal year 2019, but more than the $103 million appropriated last year. The budget request also includes $88 million in voluntary contributions to the IAEA, similar to requests over the past several years.

Although Iran continues to abide by the nuclear agreement, Gharibabadi emphasized that the remaining parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—“must ensure Iran’s enjoyment of JCPOA-related benefits by adopting appropriate measures.”

Those parties to the deal have taken some steps to preserve trade with Iran after the United States reimposed sanctions in May 2018. These efforts, however, have provided few tangible benefits to date.

France, Germany, and the UK announced in February the creation of a financial mechanism to facilitate trade, known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), that will initially focus on humanitarian goods exempt from U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Per Fischer, the German official heading INSTEX, visited Iran in early March to discuss the mechanism. Following his visit, Iranian officials said on March 19 that Tehran set up a counterpart to INSTEX, the Special Trade and Finance Institute, which should allow the trade mechanism to become operational.

Iran does not appear to be expecting much economic benefit from INSTEX. Bahram Qassemi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said on March 19 that Iran does not expect the new mechanism to work “miracles” and will continue to pursue avenues of trade with other countries. He said that could include trade with China, Turkey, India, and Russia in their national currencies, bypassing the U.S. financial system.


Iran faces more U.S. sanctions as IAEA confirms its compliance with nuclear deal.


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