"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
May 2008
Edition Date: 
Thursday, May 1, 2008
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Editor's Note

Miles A. Pomper

With oil prices high and concerns about global warming on the rise, more than a dozen countries in the Middle East have expressed an interest in pursuing nuclear energy. But recent U.S. claims about an alleged Syrian nuclear facility attacked by the Israeli Air Force illustrate one reason why these energy plans may be dangerous. The Middle East is the only region where countries have attacked and destroyed nuclear reactors.

Fortunately, none of these attacks to date has led to the deadly release of radiation from the targeted facilities. Yet, as Bennett Ramberg warns in this month's issue, that would not likely be the case if regional rivals or terrorists were able to mount a successful attack on Israel's Dimona reactor, which produces plutonium and tritium for its suspected nuclear weapons program. Ramberg urges Israel to shut down the reactor and use the closure as an opportunity to win regional support for efforts to prevent nuclear or radiological attacks.

One of the more hopeful trends in recent years has been the growing support for nuclear disarmament among the nuclear-weapon states and across the political spectrum. If such efforts are to take root, however, states need to have confidence that agreements to dismantle nuclear weapons can be accurately verified. This month's issue includes two articles that focus on this question. Andreas Persbo and Marius Bjørningstad, participants in a Norwegian-British research project on the subject, take a broad look at the issues that designers of a nuclear weapons disarmament verification regime have to tackle. Thomas E. Shea recounts the experience of the Trilateral Initiative, which was a six-year U.S.-Russian-IAEA initiative to address many of these questions.

The European Union has been seeking to become a bigger player on nonproliferation and disarmament issues. In another feature article, Oliver Meier, Arms Control Today's international correspondent, takes stock of the limited success EU efforts have had to date and examines the possibility for the union to play a larger role in the future.

In addition to a news analysis on Middle Eastern nuclear energy issues, Peter Crail reports on the Bush administration's disclosures about the attack on the Syrian facility and the responses to those claims from Congress and abroad. Wade Boese takes a look at decisions on missile defense made at a NATO summit in Bucharest and the final summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin.

Our "Looking Back" this month reviews events surrounding the 1998 Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests that brought those programs into the open and spurred a strategic arms race in South Asia. In it, Michael Krepon recounts how a few small decisions in negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty helped spur those tests, as well as scuttled hopes that the treaty itself would quickly enter into force.


Key GNEP Decision Left to Next President

Miles A. Pomper

With its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) already facing resistance from Congress, the Bush administration has decided to leave to the next president key decisions affecting the domestic leg of the controversial program.

Administration officials have claimed that GNEP, which seeks to develop new nuclear technologies and new international nuclear fuel arrangements, will cut nuclear waste and decrease the risk that an anticipated growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide could spur nuclear proliferation. Critics assert that the administration's course would exacerbate the proliferation risks posed by the spread of spent fuel reprocessing technology, be prohibitively expensive, and fail to significantly ease waste disposal challenges without any certainty that the claimed technologies will ever be developed.

 Congress has largely sided with the critics and last year sharply cut the administration's proposed budget for the program and restricted it to research. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

Current reprocessing technologies yield pure or nearly pure plutonium that can be used in fuel for nuclear reactors or to provide fissile material for nuclear weapons. GNEP proposes to build facilities that would retain other elements in the spent fuel along with the plutonium, making it less attractive for weapons production than pure plutonium. But critics note that this fuel would still not be as proliferation resistant as if the spent fuel were left intact.

In April 10 testimony before the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, Dennis Spurgeon, assistant secretary of energy for nuclear energy, said that Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman would put off to the next administration a key decision, previously expected for this summer. Bodman had been set to pick a "technology path forward" for the program that could lead to the construction of reprocessing-related facilities.

"I would look to the end of this year and this being more of a transition document that would be the secretary's recommendation as to ‘This is where we are and this is how I think we ought to proceed,'" Spurgeon said. "But by no means are we going to be in a position to recommend any major demonstration-scale facilities or their construction at this time."

In particular, Spurgeon said that Bodman did not plan to make a decision on whether to build a nuclear fuel reprocessing center or a prototype fast reactor. Fast reactors rely on "fast neutrons" to fission plutonium and other elements in the spent fuel. These neutrons differ from "thermal neutrons" that have been slowed down by a moderator in a reactor, such as the water used in many North American nuclear plants that rely on fresh uranium fuel.

Spurgeon said that if a reactor were built, it would "very likely" be financed by an international partnership that included France and Japan. In February, the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in the development of prototype sodium-cooled fast reactors.

In the meantime, the Department of Energy is looking to gather more information about the cost, feasibility, and technical aspects of the proposed plants. A March 28 press release said that the department had awarded $18.3 million to four industry teams to further develop plans for the facilities. In addition, Spurgeon said that the department hoped to offer more definitive plans by this summer for constructing a new research and development facility for all nuclear fuels, including those that would be used in fast reactors.

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Senate Mulls CCW Edits; Cluster Munitions Debated

Jeff Abramson

As negotiators met in Geneva in April to discuss a proposed new protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) that would address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally began to consider several other additions to the convention that had long languished on Capitol Hill. Military and diplomatic officials expressed hope that Senate action on the long-stalled and apparently uncontroversial measures could provide additional leverage to the U.S. effort to shape the international debate on cluster munitions.

Senate Committee Looks at CCW

On April 15, the foreign relations panel heard testimony from officials of the Departments of Defense and State urging support for three additional CCW protocols and an amendment to the treaty. The 1980 CCW seeks to restrict or ban the use of "indiscriminate and excessively injurious weapons." The United States ratified the treaty in 1995 and its first two protocols, prohibiting the use of weapons that wound or kill using fragments that cannot be detected by x-rays and regulating the use of landmines and booby traps.

The three other protocols considered at the hearing, some of which were submitted by President Bill Clinton and others by President George W. Bush, regulate the use of incendiary weapons, ban the use of blinding laser weapons, and address the effects of explosive remnants of war (ERW). The amendment would expand the scope of the treaty to apply to intrastate conflict, not just interstate conflict.

Clinton submitted the CCW's third and fourth protocols to the Senate in 1997. Protocol III regulates incendiary weapons, those designed to set fire to or burn their target, and prohibits their use against civilians. Protocol IV bans the use and trade of lasers designed to cause permanent blindness. The Senate has not provided advice and consent to either protocol although it did so for a 1996 amendment to Protocol II, which was submitted by Clinton at the same time.

In June 2006, Bush submitted to the Senate two additional changes to the convention. The first, an amendment to CCW Article I, which was concluded in 2001, eliminates the distinction between international and noninternational armed conflicts for the purposes of the convention. The second, Protocol V concluded in 2003, deals with ERW, the unexploded and abandoned ordnance left behind after fighting ends. That protocol defines the responsibility of parties to mark and clear such ordnance as well as provide assistance to victims.

The CCW measures are already a part of U.S. military practice and are not expected to be controversial. Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), the only senator in attendance, chaired the hearing and noted that the measures "carry broad support within the United States and bridge any partisan divide." Brigadier General Michelle Johnson, deputy director for the war on terrorism and global effects for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that U.S. operations are already consistent with the treaty. State Deparment legal adviser John Bellinger added in his written testimony that "[t]hese treaties are widely supported and are not contentious in our view. This administration, including the State and Defense Departments, strongly supports these treaties."

It is unclear when the Senate panel or the full Senate will act on the measures. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer told Arms Control Today in an April 23 e-mail that the committee "will submit questions for the record to the [e]xecutive branch and is working on the text of resolutions that would provide the Senate's advice and consent to U.S. ratification of the amendment and protocols. When that work is complete, the committee will schedule a markup." If the full Senate provides its consent, the president can complete the steps necessary for U.S. ratification.

All three protocols and the amendment to Article I have entered into force for those countries who have agreed to be bound by them. International acceptance is uneven, however, as 86 countries have accepted Protocol IV but only 38 are bound by Protocol V. A recent State Department white paper conservatively estimates that more than 5,000 casualties occurred worldwide in 2006 as a result of the landmines and ERW, weapons that would be covered in the existing and proposed CCW protocols.

International Efforts Continue in CCW, Oslo Processes

Administration officials contend that ratifying the treaty measures might give the United States greater leverage in the global debate on the use of cluster munitions, which are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas and sometimes fail to explode. Bellinger wrote that, "after ratification, the United States will be able to participate fully in meetings of states-parties aimed at implementation of these treaties and, thereby, more directly affect how the practice under these treaties develops." During the hearing, the panel explicitly pointed to the ongoing effort in the CCW to create a "Protocol VI" that would address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions. (See ACT, March 2008.)

During April 7-11, a group of experts convened in Geneva for the second time this year to discuss that topic. In an April 22 interview with Arms Control Today, Katherine Baker, a member of the U.S. delegation, said that "the tone has been very positive" and that there was "good movement forward." She particularly commended the efforts of delegations from Australia, Austria, and Japan in consolidating ideas on international cooperation and assistance, victim assistance, and international humanitarian law, respectively. In total, 97 states and 10 nongovernmental organizations took part in the meeting.

More detailed negotiations are expected to take place at the next CCW-related session July 7-25, the longest scheduled meeting of the year. Those and subsequent negotiations may result in a new protocol that could open for signature at the November 13-14 meeting of states-parties to the CCW.

At the same, a separate effort launched in Oslo last year continued with regional meetings on cluster munitions in Zambia March 31-April 1 and in Mexico April 16-17. As of May 2, 104 countries had endorsed the Oslo process's Wellington Declaration calling for a "prohibition on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians." The declaration also affirms the objective of "concluding the negotiations of such an instrument" at a conference in Dublin scheduled for May 19-30.

The United States is not participating in the Oslo process in part because it worries that the final instrument may ban what it sees as legitimate uses for the weapons. At the Senate hearing, Charles Allen, Defense Department deputy general counsel, said that a U.S. review of future needs for cluster munitions should be completed within weeks.

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Taiwan Fuse Shipment Reveals Nuclear Security Gaps

Jeremy Patterson

In the second major nuclear security lapse to be revealed in a year, the Pentagon admitted March 25 that it had mistakenly shipped four nuclear-weapon fuses to Taiwan in August 2006. The fuses had been shipped instead of four replacement helicopter batteries, which Taipei had ordered. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne acknowledged in a March 25 news briefing that the fuses do not even bear a physical resemblance to the batteries Taiwan ordered.

The fuses, which contain no fissile material themselves, are a component of the Mk-12 re-entry vehicle, which carries nuclear warheads for the Minuteman III ICBM. Minuteman missiles with Mk-12 re-entry vehicles compose a significant portion of the U.S. force of 460 ICBMs.

According to Wynne and Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry at the March 25 briefing, the specific items shipped to Taiwan were battery-powered fuses that send an electric signal to trigger the nuclear warhead when it reaches the appropriate altitude above its target. Although the Mk-12 system was introduced in 1954, making its technology quite dated today, its design remains classified due to its continued use as part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates immediately charged Admiral Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, with conducting a full investigation of the incident within 60 days. Donald gave a classified briefing to Gates with the preliminary findings of his investigation on April 15. A final public report is scheduled to be completed May 24.

Gates also ordered a full inventory of the Pentagon's nuclear weapons and related materials and informed Chinese officials of the error. China has long been sensitive to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province. At the March 25 news briefing, Henry stressed that the shipment of the nuclear fuses to Taiwan was "an error in process only and is not indicative of [a change in] our policies."

In response, Qin Gang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said March 27 that the Chinese have expressed serious concern and strong dissatisfaction over the incident. President George W. Bush also discussed the incident personally during a March 26 phone conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

According to information released by the Department of Defense, the four fuses were declared as excess and shipped March 2005 from Warren Air Force Base (AFB) in Wyoming to a central Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) warehouse at Hill AFB north of Salt Lake City, Utah. At some point during or after the transfer, the fuses were apparently mislabeled as helicopter batteries and incorrectly placed in unclassified storage. They remained in that state until they were shipped to Taiwan in August 2006. Taiwanese officials stated that they immediately informed the United States that they had not received the batteries but did not indicate that they had received nuclear fuses. Henry stated that Defense Department officials simply assumed at the time that they had shipped an incorrect type of battery. It was not until March 20, after a series of communications with Taiwan, that Pentagon officials first became aware Taiwan had not simply received the wrong batteries, but classified nuclear weapon components.

The private contracting firm EG&G manages operations at the DLA warehouse that received the fuses in March 2005 and later shipped them to Taiwan.

On April 6, The Deseret Morning News obtained and posted on its website a May 2007 Air Force Audit Agency report on Hill AFB's logistics center managed by EG&G. That report found that 20 of 21 sampled line items were not properly accounted for at the facility. The report identified the cause of the problem in the specifications of EG&G's contract with the DLA, which allows obsolete and excess material to be excluded from mandated quarterly inventory reconciliations. It does not appear that the fuses, which had been shipped to Hill AFB as excess material, would have been inventoried in those quarterly checks.

The incident is the second recent embarrassment for the U.S. nuclear establishment and led to strengthened calls for a more thorough re-evaluation of the nation's nuclear security than will be provided by the currently scheduled report. In August, live nuclear weapons were accidentally flown across the country. A Defense Department report investigating that incident acknowledged a "marked decline in the level and intensity of focus on the nuclear enterprise and the nuclear mission" (see ACT, March 2008), although a separate blue-ribbon report commissioned in response to the incident found that "accountability of nuclear weapons in the [U.S. Air Force] is sound."

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U.S., NK Seek Compromise on Nuclear Declaration

Peter Crail

During an April 8 meeting in Singapore, U.S. and North Korean nuclear envoys appeared to make headway toward resolving a stalemate regarding North Korea's declaration of its nuclear activities.

Disagreement over this declaration has stalled implementation of an October 2007 agreement of the six-party talks involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, and the United States in which North Korea agreed to provide "a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs" and disable its Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex by the end of 2007. (See ACT, November 2007. ) In return for these efforts, the six parties agreed that Pyongyang would receive economic assistance, and the United States agreed to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list and to stop punishing it under Trading with the Enemy Act.

The meeting followed an inconclusive March meeting in Geneva in which Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan were unable to find a compromise to address the declaration. (See ACT, April 2008. )

The key disagreement relates to how the declaration will address suspicions that North Korea pursued a uranium-enrichment program and provided covert nuclear assistance to other countries, in particular Syria. North Korea continues to deny ever having engaged in such activities while Washington believes that both activities continue. The October 2007 agreement specifically requires North Korea to address these two issues as part of its declaration. The proposed compromises have been aimed at ensuring that Washington's and Pyongyang's accounts of these two activities are not in contradiction.

For example, in regard to Pyongyang's apparent nuclear cooperation with Syria, a senior administration official stated during an April 25 background briefing that Washington hopes "at a minimum" that the North Koreans "do not try to deny it."

U.S. officials have indicated that Washington expects the declaration to focus on North Korea's plutonium-based weapons program. Dennis Wilder, senior director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council, told reporters April 17 that what Washington expects in the declaration is an accounting of "the plutonium cycle that led to nuclear weapons." He specifically noted that this expectation includes Yongbyon, as well as other facilities "from the iron ore enrichment all the way to the nuclear test sites."

Following the Singapore meeting, Hill briefed a number of congressional committees in mid-April regarding the declaration process tentatively agreed to with Pyongyang.

Reuters reported April 11 and Arms Control Today confirmed with congressional sources that the declaration process described by Hill would consist of three parts: a declaration provided by North Korea regarding its plutonium program, a U.S. "bill of particulars" detailing Washington's suspicions of a North Korean uranium-enrichment program and Pyongyang's nuclear proliferation to other countries, and a North Korean understanding of the U.S. concerns.

During an April 14 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino stated that she believed President George W. Bush agreed to the deal made in Singapore.

It is unclear whether the U.S. bill of particulars and North Korea's accounting regarding the uranium-enrichment and proliferation issues will be a public arrangement. When asked April 17 whether the handling of these two issues would be part of a public accounting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded that "not everything in diplomacy is public." She added that there would still be a means to account for and verify the claims.

In order to begin negotiations on ways to verify North Korea's declaration regarding its plutonium program, an interagency U.S. delegation traveled to North Korea April 22-24 to meet with Kim and other officials. Following the talks, the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that "progress was made" during the discussions.

North Korea told U.S. officials in November 2007 that it separated about 30 kilograms of plutonium using its Yongbyon facilities. Estimates of North Korea's separated plutonium amounts range from 30 to 50 kilograms, enough for six to 12 weapons. Pyongyang has agreed to provide the production records of its Yongbyon reactor in order to verify its plutonium-production claims.

Congress Set to Influence U.S. North Korea Policy

The U.S. agreements with North Korea will require that Congress appropriate funds to allow Washington to dismantle Pyongyang's plutonium-based weapons program once the disablement process is complete. Current U.S. legislation bars U.S. agencies from funding major nonhumanitarian assistance efforts in North Korea. (See ACT, January/February 2008. ) The administration is also required to notify Congress of its decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would then occur so long as lawmakers do not block this removal.

Amid this need for congressional support, the administration has come under increasing fire, in particular from Republicans, for its approach to North Korea. Some supporters fear that the opposition could jeopardize some of the U.S. concessions to Pyongyang and the negotiating process.

One of the most vocal opponents to the administration's North Korea policy, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has opposed removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Congressional Quarterly quoted Ros-Lehtinen April 24 as stating that removal from the terrorism list would only give North Korea "a lot of leverage in negotiations with other countries." Ros-Lehtinen introduced legislation in September 2007 that would maintain North Korea on the terrorism list until a number of additional conditions were met by Pyongyang.

This opposition became more pronounced following congressional briefings by the intelligence community April 24 regarding suspected North Korean assistance for a covert Syrian nuclear reactor. Reacting to the administration's briefings on North Korean-Syrian nuclear cooperation, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, argued that the administration's delay in more broadly sharing information on Pyongyang's proliferation to Syria with Congress "jeopardizes any type of the agreement [the administration] may come up with" in regard to North Korea.

Nonetheless, majority Democrats appear largely supportive of the administration's dealings with Pyongyang. A Democratic congressional source told Arms Control Today April 24 that Democrats "will remain generally supportive" due to their personal regard for Hill and their criticism of the administration for "ignoring diplomacy" during its first five years in office.  

Several Democratic lawmakers remarked following the briefings on the apparent Syrian reactor that the evidence of North Korean assistance demonstrated the need to address the issue in the six-party talks. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a press statement April 24 saying that the North Korean assistance to Syria "underscores the need for pursuing the talks," to address North Korea's nuclear program and its proliferation, and called for Congress to waive the legislative restrictions that would limit the U.S. ability to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear facilities. He cautioned against lifting sanctions against North Korea, however, unless the United States was able to confirm that Pyongyang "is no longer in the proliferation business."

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African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Nears Realization

Brittany Griffith

Mozambique on March 26 became the 26th country to ratify the Pelindaba Treaty, which means that the treaty needs only two more ratifications before an African nuclear-weapon-free zone enters into force.

Currently, there are three regions with nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties in force: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. Central Asia has developed the Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, but it has yet to enter into force. The Pelindaba Treaty opened for signature in Cairo on April 11, 1996, after being approved by African heads of state and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1995. Countries that adhere to the treaty commit not to possess, acquire, or develop nuclear weapons or encourage the development of nuclear weapons by any state. At present, all African countries are already non-nuclear-weapon states and parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which has the same requirements.

Ratifying countries are required to declare all capabilities that could be used for the manufacture of nuclear explosive devices. Each party agrees to comply with comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and inspections. Additionally, the treaty establishes the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), another mechanism to monitor compliance. AFCONE will work with the IAEA to oversee and encourage programs using nuclear science and technology for peaceful ends.

The treaty text notes that the existing nuclear-weapon-free zones enhance the security of parties to the Pelindaba Treaty and that the establishment of other nuclear-weapon-free zones, especially in the Middle East, would further promote security.

Like other nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, the Pelindaba Treaty includes a negative security assurance protocol, a measure by which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states pledge not to use those arms against states in the zone. The negative security assurances protocol drafted in the Pelindaba Treaty requires signing parties not to use, threaten to use, or aid other countries in using nuclear weapons against countries in the African nuclear-weapon-free zone. Additionally, each state to ratify the protocol agrees not to assist in or encourage the pursuit of nuclear weapons by a nuclear-weapon-free zone country. Thus far, China, France, and the United Kingdom have signed and ratified the negative assurances protocol while Russia and the United States have signed but not yet ratified. In the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack against the United States or its forces carried out by a state-party to the Pelindaba Treaty, the United States has warned that it might respond with any available option, suggesting possible nuclear retaliation. (See ACT, April 2005.)

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Corrected online January 21, 2009. See explanation.

Iran Starts New Centrifuge Installation Campaign

Peter Crail

Iran announced in April that it would install several thousand additional centrifuges at its commercial-scale uranium-enrichment facility, defying three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions demanding that it suspend such fuel cycle activities. Meanwhile, in an effort to offer carrots as well as sticks, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany met to reformulate an incentives proposal aimed at halting Iran's enrichment program, but failed to reach final agreement.

Against this less than promising backdrop, there was a glimmer of hope: Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement in late April to clarify the nature of studies that some states say show Iran has taken steps to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran Adding Centrifuges

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared April 8 that Iran planned to install an additional 6,000 centrifuges in its commercial-scale uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz. The declaration coincided with Iran's second annual "National Nuclear Day," commemorating an announcement a year earlier by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran that the country had enriched uranium for the first time. (See ACT, May 2007. ) Iran currently has about 3,000 centrifuges installed at the Natanz facility where it plans eventually to install about 54,000 machines.

Ahmadinejad's announcement may have overstated Iran's current plans. A diplomatic source close to the IAEA told Arms Control Today April 18 that Iran only planned on installing an additional 3,000 centrifuges, for a total of 6,000. The diplomatic source also noted that those centrifuges consisted of older P-1 and more advanced IR-2 machines. It is unclear how many of each type Iran is currently installing.

The 3,000 centrifuges currently installed at Iran's enrichment facility are based on 1970s-era P-1 designs, which Iran acquired through the nuclear trafficking network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The IR-2 centrifuge is a recent modification of the P-2 centrifuge design, which Iran also acquired from Khan, and can enrich uranium about 2.5 times faster than the P-1 variety. (See ACT, November 2007. )

While boasting of Iran's enrichment plans, Iranian officials also issued a rare admission that their enrichment program was facing difficulties. The Associated Press April 3 quoted Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iranian envoy to the IAEA, stating that Iran's enrichment program was facing "ups and downs." This admission is consistent with the latest IAEA reports that describe the commercial-scale facility as running "well below its design capacity." (See ACT, March 2008. )

Proposals and Counter-Proposals Considered

As Iran expands its enrichment program, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany continue to pursue ways to convince Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and enter negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. In March, the Security Council passed a third sanctions resolution, Resolution 1803, demanding that Iran suspend its fuel cycle activities, including enrichment. (See ACT, April 2008. ) At the same time, the six countries declared that they would "further develop" incentives to Iran as part of a dual-track effort to alter Iranian behavior.

As part of this effort, the six countries met in Beijing April 15 to discuss how to repackage a series of incentives first proposed to Iran in 2006. These incentives entail a wide range of opportunities for technical, economic, and political cooperation with Iran, including European-Iranian nuclear cooperation that the six countries agreed to negotiate once Iran suspended its fuel cycle activities. (See ACT, July/August 2006. )

Following the Beijing meeting, He Yafei, China's assistant minister of foreign affairs, told reporters that the six countries "have agreed on most points in the proposal. However, there are some outstanding issues that remain to be resolved." He added that the proposal will be forwarded to Iran as soon as agreement is reached.

Although the six countries are engaged in discussions for enhancing the incentives package, significant modifications do not appear to be on the agenda. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters April 11 that, in regard to the consideration of the incentives package for Iran, "this is not the time...to expect major changes."

European diplomats expressed similar sentiments about the limited nature of such changes in the incentives package in conversations with Arms Control Today in March. (See ACT, April 2008. ) The diplomats indicated that this repackaging effort was primarily geared toward highlighting to the Iranian populace the potential benefits Iran would receive from the existing proposal if Tehran suspended its fuel cycle activities, rather than an effort to add significant new incentives to it.

Even before a new incentives package is offered, Tehran already appears poised to reject any proposal the six states are considering. Iran refused the 2006 incentives package because it did not provide for the continued development of an enrichment program in Iran. Iranian officials continue to insist on the possession of an enrichment capability as a redline. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini reiterated this position April 13, stating that any package "that might undermine or limit Iran's rights would not be accepted by Iran."

In response to the six-country repackaging effort, Tehran has announced that it is formulating its own proposal to resolve the nuclear issue. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated April 13 that the proposal would be directed toward "various parties," including the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany. He indicated that Tehran will announce the details of this package "in the near future."

Iran Agrees to Resolve Questions on Suspected Weapons Work

In addition to international concerns regarding Iran's continued uranium-enrichment activities, a number of states, as well as the IAEA, have sought clarification from Iran regarding suspicions of work Tehran carried out related to nuclear weaponization.

During an April 21-22 meeting between IAEA Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen and Javad Vaeedi, deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Tehran agreed to clarify a series of studies that point to possible work on nuclear weapons. The IAEA indicated in a Feb. 22 report that these studies, which have a "possible military dimension," constituted the "one major remaining issue" regarding the history of Iran's nuclear program. (See ACT, March 2008. ) Agency officials have since highlighted the need for Iran to address these concerns.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters April 23 that Iran's agreement to address this issue is "a milestone" and expressed hope that the agency will clarify the issue with Iran "by the end of May." This time frame comes just before the June 2-6 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, when ElBaradei is expected to provide a report on Iran's nuclear program to the IAEA board and the UN Security Council.

Iran argues that the allegations that the studies were part of a weaponization program are "baseless and unfounded" and has previously rejected calls to address them with the agency. During a Feb. 22 interview on Iran's official "Press TV" network, Soltaniyeh asserted that Iran provided the agency with its explanation and the "issue of alleged studies is over."

These alleged studies primarily surround a claim by Western intelligence agencies that they acquired a laptop and other documentation that once belonged to an Iranian nuclear technician and that contained research relevant to a nuclear weapons program. This research included work on the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride, using high explosives in a manner similar to that of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead. Uranium tetraflouride is the precursor to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock used in centrifuges to enrich uranium to low levels for nuclear power reactors or high levels for nuclear weapons.

Heinonen held a briefing Feb. 25 for IAEA member states, describing the agency's technical concerns regarding the studies. According to notes obtained by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, Heinonen indicated that the IAEA's assessment of the weaponization allegations stem from the agency's own information, documentation provided to the agency by Iran, and information provided by other states, including  the laptop.

The notes also highlight that the various research projects related to weaponization all were overseen by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, former head of Iran's Physics Research Center. The IAEA continues to investigate Fakhrizadeh's nuclear-related procurement activities in connection with work carried out at the military-related site at Lavizan-Shian. Iran has not allowed agency officials to meet with him.

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Middle Eastern States Seeking Nuclear Power

Peter Crail and Jessica Lasky-Fink

In recent years, more than a dozen states in the Middle East have expressed an interest in developing nuclear energy. These states have offered a number of official rationales for their interest, including powering water desalination plants, diversifying their energy industry in the face of increasing energy demands, and furthering economic and scientific development. The timing of this renewed interest, which coincides with suspicions regarding Iran's nuclear aspirations, suggests that security interests also provide a motivating factor for at least some states in the region.

States in the region have held an interest in developing nuclear energy, in particular for water desalination purposes, for more than a decade. Egypt proposed the construction of nuclear plants for desalination first in 1964, then again in 1974 and 1983. Cairo cancelled those plans due to safety concerns following the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Turkey has also considered the construction of nuclear plants since 1970. In addition, in 1996, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia requested that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conduct a feasibility study on nuclear desalination in North Africa.

Beyond the renewed interest in nuclear energy expressed by these states with prior nuclear energy pursuits, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen have indicated their intent to develop nuclear energy.

Among the Arab states, this renewed interest not only relates to national prerogatives, but also comes as part of broader regional calls to develop nuclear power. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mousa stated during the March 2006 league summit in Khartoum that "[t]he Arab world's quick and decisive entry into the field of peaceful use of nuclear power is necessary." Months later in December 2006, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, ordered a GCC-wide study for the development of a "joint program in the field of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes." The first stage of this study was completed in late 2007.

A Response to Iran?

Although the expansion of any nuclear energy program can pose challenges for preventing nuclear proliferation, analysts and policymakers have expressed particular concern that the expansion of nuclear energy in the Middle East is laying the foundation for a regional nuclear arms race.

The New York Times April 15, 2007, quoted Robert Joseph, the U.S. special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation, stating that, in regard to the nuclear expansion in the Middle East, "it is becoming urgent for us to shape the future expansion of nuclear energy in a way that reduces the risks of proliferation, while meeting our energy and environmental goals."

The Arab states have issued mixed messages regarding the implications of nuclear expansion in the region. Although maintaining that these programs are solely for the purpose of nuclear energy, Arab officials have warned that an unchecked Iranian nuclear program may lead to regional nuclear proliferation. The New York Times, in the same article, reported that Arab officials at a March 2007 Arab League summit meeting stated that Iran's nuclear aspirations may result in "a grave and destructive nuclear arms race in the region." Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy echoed this sentiment April 11, telling a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars audience that he "guaranteed" that there would be greater proliferation in the region if the security motivations behind Iran's proliferation are not addressed and a regional arms control mechanism were not pursued.

Egypt, as well as other Arab states, have frequently called for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, largely in response to Israel's suspected nuclear arsenal.

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report released in February examined in particular how Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey would respond to the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon or capability to produce nuclear weapons. The study concluded that, of those three states, Saudi Arabia is the most likely to seek nuclear weapons to counterbalance Iran's nuclear capabilities. Riyadh, however, does not have as developed a technological base for a nuclear weapons program as the other two states.

According to the study, Egypt's relations with the United States and the potential Israeli response to an Egyptian weapons program would dissuade Cairo from pursuing nuclear weapons. Likewise, it concluded that Turkey's NATO membership, its interest in EU membership, and a popular domestic sentiment against nuclear weapons would lead decision-makers in Ankara away from a weapons program. Turkey also maintains U.S. tactical nuclear weapons as part of a NATO arrangement.

Fuel Assurances or Fuel Cycles?

In order to develop nuclear weapons, a state would need to develop uranium-enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing capabilities, which, respectively, can produce either the highly enriched uranium or the plutonium necessary for nuclear weapons. Although some states have shown no interest in these sensitive technologies, others may want to keep their options open.

Two states, Bahrain and the UAE, have indicated their intention to forgo enrichment and reprocessing technologies and purchase their nuclear fuel on the international market.

On April 20, the UAE issued a white paper on its nuclear energy plans that explained that its decision not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing was based on the "economic infeasibility" of such pursuits, proliferation concerns by the international community, and "the dual-use nature" of components related to such activities.

Similarly, a March 24 Department of State press release regarding the U.S.-Bahraini memorandum of understanding (MOU) on nuclear energy stated that Bahrain "affirmed its intention to forgo sensitive fuel cycle technologies and rely on existing international markets for nuclear fuel." The release noted that this decision stood "in direct contrast to Iran's nuclear activities."

With the exception of Iran, which is developing an enrichment and reprocessing capability, and Israel, which has a reprocessing capability, no other state in the region has expressed an intention to develop such fuel cycle activities. However, some of the region's more influential states may not wish to follow the approach of Bahrain and the UAE and voluntarily give up the right to such technologies, particularly if other states in the region have such programs.

For example, when asked by Arms Control Today April 11 whether the approach by the UAE and Bahrain may be appropriate for the broader region, including Egypt, Fahmy responded that this would be acceptable only if it applied "to the region as a whole," adding that such an approach would not be acceptable if it were aimed at "only limiting the rights of the Arab states."

Lack of Regulatory Capacity

In addition to the concern that an expansion of nuclear energy may lead to state proliferation, the development of a nuclear industry in states with little regulatory capacity and a history of illicit trafficking points to a vulnerability for the smuggling of nuclear materials and technology.

A September 2007 study commissioned by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories on the expansion of nuclear energy in the region claimed that, in the case of several states in the region, the threat from illicit nuclear trafficking is a greater proliferation concern than the potential development of nuclear weapons by states. The study cites in particular Egypt's defense collaboration with states such as Russia and North Korea, and the UAE's history as a transshipment point for illicit nuclear technology aiding nuclear weapons programs in Libya and Iran.

In response to this concern, some states have begun to develop their regulatory capacity as they move forward with their nuclear plans. The UAE white paper states that the country is committed to "the highest standards of nonproliferation," citing recent efforts to implement export control laws and the establishment of oversight bodies to monitor radioactive material.

Another regulatory concern for states in the region relates to the low level of IAEA safeguards implementation. Many of the states that have expressed interest in nuclear energy either maintain limited or no IAEA safeguards. As these states move forward with their nuclear energy plans and construct nuclear power reactors, they would need to conclude or strengthen their IAEA safeguards procedures.

Three states do not have a comprehensive safeguards agreement currently in force, which allows the IAEA to ensure the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Qatar has not signed a safeguards agreement, and Bahrain has not ratified the comprehensive safeguards agreement and IAEA Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) it signed in September 2007. The SQP allows the state to forgo certain inspection and reporting requirements due to the absence of significant nuclear activities. Saudi Arabia has an SQP in force but has not signed a comprehensive safeguards agreement.

Jordan, Oman, the UAE, and Yemen have comprehensive safeguards agreements but have also concluded an SQP.

An IAEA official told Arms Control Today April 15 that an SQP would cease to become operational once the country obtained a sufficient amount of nuclear material, as defined in their safeguards agreement, or once they introduced nuclear material into a nuclear facility. Morocco, for example, rescinded its SQP in November 2007 due to the construction of a research reactor. By rescinding their SQPs, these states will provide the IAEA with greater authority to collect information on their nuclear programs and ensure their peaceful use.

Although the IAEA amended the SQP in 2005 to stipulate that the protocol is no longer operational once a nuclear facility is planned or constructed, none of the states in the region with operational SQPs have agreed to the amended version.

Libya and Turkey are the only regional states that have concluded an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreement, providing the agency with a more thorough inspections authority than the standard comprehensive safeguards. Morocco signed an additional protocol in 2004.

Suppliers Eye Nuclear Market

Nuclear suppliers have already sought to take advantage of the potentially profitable new market for nuclear energy in the Middle East. China, France, Russia, and the United States have concluded nuclear agreements with some states in the region. Other potential nuclear cooperation partners include South Korea and Pakistan.

France has been the most active supporter of Middle Eastern nuclear energy plans. Its first and most controversial MOU on nuclear energy was signed with Libya in July 2007. Under the cooperation agreement, France committed to assist Libya's civil nuclear program, in part by providing Libya with a nuclear reactor for water desalination. Germany, as well as other European countries, criticized the agreement as threatening the nonproliferation regime, especially in light of Libya's past efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Libya maintained programs to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons for decades but agreed to give up these programs in 2003 following negotiations with the United Kingdom and the United States.

France has signed similar nuclear agreements with Algeria, Morocco, and the UAE, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to extend offers of cooperation to Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. In January 2008, three French energy companies, Areva, Suez, and Total, indicated their intent to provide the UAE with two reactors for energy production and desalination.

The United States has sought to conclude its own agreements with states in the region. On April 21, the United States and the UAE signed an MOU similar to the ones the United States already has in place with Algeria and Bahrain. State Department press releases in March and April accompanying the U.S.-Bahrain and U.S.-UAE agreements cited them as expressions of "the United States' desire to cooperate with states in the Middle East, and elsewhere, that want to develop nuclear power in a manner consistent with the highest standards of safety, security and nonproliferation."

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U.S. Shares Information on NK-Syrian Nuclear Ties

Peter Crail

Breaking nearly eight months of official silence, Bush administration and intelligence officials briefed Congress and the public in late April on the details of a Sept. 6, 2007, Israeli airstrike on a suspected Syrian nuclear facility. (See ACT, October 2007. ) U.S. officials asserted that the facility, named al-Kibar, was a covert nuclear reactor built with North Korean assistance that was intended to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The briefings were held at a time in which Washington was seeking to iron out a compromise with North Korea regarding its declaration of its nuclear activities. That declaration is meant to address in part North Korea's nuclear assistance to Syria. Although the revelations of the details of North Korea's nuclear aid to Syria have raised questions on Capitol Hill regarding the administration's approach toward Pyongyang, the administration asserts that making this information public will serve to bolster its leverage in negotiations with North Korea.

Many lawmakers criticized the administration for failing to brief Congress much earlier on the airstrike. Two who were briefed after the Sept. 6 attack, Reps. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in October 2007 arguing that all members of Congress should receive information about the incident. When questioned about the lack of such a briefing, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino asserted that the administration briefed 22 lawmakers in September and October 2007 as part of its obligations to Congress.

A senior administration official remarked during an April 24 background briefing for reporters that Washington hoped that revealing the U.S. understanding of North Korea's nuclear cooperation with Syria "will convince them that there is no point in trying to cover up not only proliferation activity" but activities regarding enrichment and plutonium as well. The official asserted that "now is a good time" because of the ongoing negotiations regarding the declaration.

Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack indicated April 25 that Pyongyang was aware that the Washington was going to raise publicly the issue of its nuclear cooperation with Syria. Since the administration made this information public, North Korea has not issued any response in relation to the issue. This silence seems to mirror a tentative U.S.-North Korean agreement that Pyongyang would not deny the U.S. understanding of its nuclear proliferation activities.

The administration also shared its information with the Syrian ambassador in Washington, Imad Moustapha. Syria denies that the facility was a nuclear reactor, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Qatar's Al-Watan newspaper April 27 that the facility was "a military site under construction."

Identifying the Suspected Reactor

Administration officials and senior members of the intelligence community held closed briefings for members of several congressional committees April 24, as well as a background briefing for reporters. The briefings featured a CIA-produced video that includes photographs taken from inside and around the facility at various times during its construction, as well as satellite images and digital renderings of certain elements of the reactor's operations.

According to the video, the information allowed the intelligence community to conclude that the facility was a gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor that "was not configured to produce electricity and was ill-suited for research." Several of the photographs seemed to show that the reactor was configured similarly to North Korea's five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, which was used to produce the plutonium for Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

The assessment that the reactor was not intended for peaceful purposes is based on the absence of power lines and switching facilities needed for a facility geared to providing energy. Intelligence officials were less specific regarding the reactor's lack of suitability for research, noting only that it was less well designed for research than existing facilities that "have been made public in Syria."

Senior intelligence officials explained, however, that the conclusion that the reactor was intended for a weapons program is a "low-confidence" judgment "based on the physical evidence." This low confidence level appears to be founded in part on the absence of an identifiable plutonium reprocessing capability, which would be necessary to separate plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel to use in nuclear weapons. The officials stated that there was "no evidence" of a reprocessing facility in the region of al-Kibar.

Also absent was an identifiable means for Syria to manufacture the uranium fuel needed to operate the reactor. Although a graphite-moderated reactor can operate on natural uranium and does not require the development of an enrichment facility, Syria would still need to manufacture or acquire uranium fuel in the form of fuel rods.

The intelligence community judged that the facility was "nearing operational capability in August 2007" based on its conclusion that there was no further visible need for construction. However, the absence of a source of fuel, which would have also required weeks or months of testing once inside the reactor, leaves unclear when the reactor might have started full-scale operations.

Syria, which maintains a limited nuclear research capacity, including a Chinese-provided research reactor, has engaged in some work that may be relevant to acquiring uranium fuel and separating plutonium. A 2004 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unclassified report to Congress on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction observed that Syria "continued to develop civilian nuclear capabilities, including uranium extraction technology and hot cell facilities, which may also be potentially applicable to a weapons program." Much of this work, however, was conducted as part of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) technical cooperation projects and was not carried out to any significant scale.

Syria's work on extracting uranium from phosphates might have yielded small amounts of natural uranium, but to be of use in a reactor, that uranium would still require fabrication into fuel rods. Syrian projects in this regard also did not advance beyond bench-scale efforts due to financial considerations.

In addition, Syria's work on hot-cell facilities may have had some uses as part of a reprocessing effort. Hot cells are shielded rooms that allow technicians to work with highly radioactive material, including the separation of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Establishing the North Korean Connection

Although North Korea and Syria have long cooperated in other defense areas, particularly in ballistic missile technology, the nature and extent of North Korean-Syrian nuclear cooperation has long been clouded.

During the April 24 background briefing, senior intelligence officials explained that they were able to conclude, based on information they began to collect in 2001, that nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria began "probably as early as 1997." They added that they did not receive information that led them to conclude that the facility was a nuclear reactor until the spring of 2007.

According to the intelligence officials, evidence of North Korean cooperation included multiple visits to Syria by senior North Korean nuclear officials, North Korean procurement of reactor components for Syria, and a suspected cargo transfer from North Korea to the reactor site in 2006. They did not specify if they were aware of the contents of this cargo.

The intelligence community has frequently indicated that it continued to "monitor Syrian nuclear intentions with concern." However, in its unclassified briefings to Congress on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction between 2001 and 2006, the CIA did not mention North Korea as a potential supplier of nuclear technology. In contrast, a 2004 report did express concern that Syria may have received assistance from the nuclear trafficking network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan.

In regard to North Korean motivations for providing such assistance, senior intelligence officials stated that the rationale was simply "cash," adding that they determined that the reactor was intended for a Syrian weapons program and not as a relocation of North Korea's own program.

Possible International Violations

In addition to the proliferation concerns posed by such a reactor and its potential for use in a Syrian nuclear weapons program, such cooperation would violate the international obligations of both countries.

Syria has a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA, and according to a February 1992 decision of the IAEA Board of Governors, Damascus is required to provide the agency with design information on any nuclear facilities "well before construction actually begins."

The Bush administration shared its information with the IAEA April 24, after which IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that the agency "will investigate the veracity of the information" provided regarding the Syrian reactor. The IAEA declared in October 2007 that it did not have any information regarding an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility and called on states with such information to share it with the agency. The IAEA examined satellite images of the site at that time, but its results were inconclusive. (See ACT, November 2007. )

ElBaradei also levied strong criticism of the decision to withhold information regarding the facility from the agency, citing the IAEA's responsibility to "verify any proliferation allegations" constituting a violation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). He also derided Israel's decision to destroy the facility, asserting that it undermined "the due process of verification that is at the heart of the nonproliferation regime."

U.S. officials said during the April 24 briefing that senior U.S. and Israeli officials discussed options to address the facility and that Israel, which considered a potential Syrian nuclear weapons program to be an "existential threat," decided to take action "without any green light" from the United States.

Damascus is also prohibited from receiving nearly any nuclear technology from North Korea due to the obligations imposed by Security Council Resolution 1718. Adopted Oct. 14, 2006, in response to North Korea's nuclear test, Resolution 1718 requires that all states prevent North Korean nationals from exporting or providing technical training, advice, services, or assistance related to items on the trigger list of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG is a group of 45 states that comprise the world's primary suppliers of nuclear technology and that are required to provide notification prior to transferring any of the items on a list of nuclear-related technologies. North Korea is also obligated not to transfer or provide any assistance regarding items on the trigger list.

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