Myths and Misconceptions: The Right to Enrich

By Kelsey Davenport

As talks between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) resume in New York this week, myths and misconceptions about Iran’s nuclear program still persist, and threaten to derail negotiations.

Until the Nov. 24 deadline, the Arms Control Association will publish a weekly post debunking some of the most commonly held “myths” about Iran’s nuclear program and what a comprehensive agreement will seek to achieve.

Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility (image source: BBC).

Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility (image source: BBC).

MISCONCEPTION: An Iranian uranium-enrichment program in a final nuclear agreement goes against U.S. policy on the right to enrich.

Although Iran and the P5+1 have yet to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement, the parties have already agreed that Tehran will maintain a uranium-enrichment program as part of the final agreement.

The Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Plan of Action laid out the broad parameters for a final deal, including agreement by the United States and its partners that Iran would retain an enrichment program based on its “practical needs.”

This has caused some concern that the United States has reversed its long standing policy opposing an inherent “right to enrich” under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT.) Iranian leaders making inaccurate statements that the agreement recognizes Iran’s right adds to that confusion.

Acknowledging that a program exists, however, is not the same as acknowledging that a treaty affords a “right.” The United States has done the former, not the latter. And, after reaching the agreement last November, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that U.S. policy remains unchanged by the agreement. In an interview with ABC he adamantly said, “there is no inherent right to enrich.”

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, September 18

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert will suspend its daily update until talks resume in August, but will update readers of the latest developments as necessary.  

Off to the Races

Ministerial-level negotiations during July 2014 meetings between the P5+1 and Iran on its nuclear program. (Reuters)

Ministerial-level negotiations during July 2014 meetings between the P5+1 and Iran on its nuclear program. (Reuters)

Talks between Iran and the P5+1 resume today with the first full plenary since negotiations were extended in July. Negotiators are meeting in New York City on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and may remain through Sept. 27. While talks at the political-director level are on the books, it is likely that meetings will continue at the ministerial level next week, with Secretary of State John Kerry expected to join in and meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

U.S. President Barack Obama, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are also expected to travel to New York to speak at the opening of the 69th UN General Assembly session next week. The three leaders are likely to address the status of the nuclear talks. Speculation abounds about a possible meeting between Obama and Rouhani after last year’s historic phone call, but it seems unlikely at this point.

–KELSEY DAVENPORT,  Director of Nonproliferation Policy 


Clock is Ticking

With just over two months to the Nov. 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement, negotiators have their work cut out for them. While negotiators made progress on key issues leading up to the decision to extend the talks, gaps remain.

One of the most significant gaps that remains is over the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. Iran has said repeatedly that it wants to scale up its uranium-enrichment capacity to provide reactor fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power reactor in 2021 and other reactors it plans to build in the future. The P5+1, however, wants to limit Iran’s current capacity (10,200 IR-1 centrifuges) in order to increase the amount of time it would take for Iran to dash to a nuclear weapon, if Tehran chose to do so.

In a Sept. 16 speech at Georgetown University, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, and lead negotiator for the United States, said that she expects Iran to “try to convince the world” that the status quo or its equivalent should be acceptable on uranium enrichment, but it is not. The P5+1 has presented ideas to Iran that are “fair, flexible, and consistent with Iran’s civilian nuclear needs and scientific knowhow,” she said.

These goals, however, are not mutually exclusive. The right formula can meet the core concerns of both sides. The Arms Control Association and the International Crisis Group formulated a proposal to demonstrate that a solution is possible. A write up of the proposal is available online.

Negotiators also believe that the uranium-enrichment gap can be bridged and that a good deal is achievable by Nov. 24.

In a Nov. 17 interview with NPR, Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran is “ready for a good deal, and we believe a good deal is in hand.” Iran is willing to “stay with the negotiations until the very last minute,” he said.

Despite remaining gaps, progress has been made on a number of key nuclear issues. To recap, there is general agreement that

  • the Arak heavy-water reactor will be  modified to produce less weapons-useable plutonium;
  • the Fordow facility will likely be transitioned from producing enriched uranium to a research and development facility; and
  • increased monitoring and verification measures will be put in place, including the  Additional Protocol, which grants increased access to the International Atomic Energy Agency for monitoring and verification.

Rewind 12 Months….

On the sidelines of last year’s UN General Assembly, newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani’s negotiating team met with the P5+1 for the first time. At that time, Iran’s nuclear program was advancing and the international community was ramping up sanctions pressure. A decade of diplomacy had thus far failed to achieve concrete results.

But by November 24, 2013, just two months after the historic meeting, Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action.

Under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, Iran’s nuclear program has remained frozen. Iran has not installed any further centrifuges and halted construction on the Arak heavy-water reactor.

Key elements of proliferation concern were also rolled back under the agreement. Iran stopped producing uranium enriched to 20 percent and its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium was blended down or converted to powder form. Iran agreed to daily access to its uranium enrichment facilities and allowed the IAEA to visit facilities it had been denied access to for years. In exchange, Iran received sanctions relief.

In short, over the past year, both sides followed through on their commitments. Twelve months from now, hopefully, we can look back and see what progress has been made on a comprehensive deal.


Looking Ahead …

September 15-19 – IAEA Board of Governors Meeting

September 18 – P5+1 – Iran talks resume at the political director level

Week of September 22 – Iran P5+1 Ministerial level meeting (likely)

September 22-26 – IAEA General Conference

November 24 – Target date for the conclusion of the comprehensive nuclear deal

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Myths and Realities: Iranian ICBMs?

By Jonah Aboni

The Iranian nuclear program is a source for international concern. The concern genuinely stems from the suspicion that the Iranian nuclear program might not be exclusively peaceful. Consequently, the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) have engaged in diplomatic talks to ensure Tehran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

A comprehensive deal is within reach if the diplomats continue to engage in creative trade-offs and move towards bridging the gaps that exist and move away from their entrenched positions. However, myths and misconceptions about the negotiations and Iran’s nuclear program persist that threaten to derail the talks. Until the November 24 deadline, the Arms Control Association will publish a weekly post debunking some of the most commonly held “myths” about Iran’s nuclear program and what a comprehensive agreement will seek to achieve.

Iran tests a Shahab-3 during exercises in 2012. Photo Credit: AFP

Iran tests a Shahab-3 during exercises in 2012. Photo Credit: AFP

MYTH: Iran is developing long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads

As the negotiations progress toward a comprehensive deal, rhetoric that is used by critics of the talks implies that Iran is developing long-range rockets to be armed with nuclear warheads. This is sometimes used to muddy the waters during the on-going negotiations.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was categorically wrong during a July 29, 2014 Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Iranian nuclear program when he said that Iran is “developing a long-range rocket that will be able to reach the United States and other places in Europe. That is what they’re developing and that’s what they head towards.’’

Rhetoric like this has the potential to damage the negotiations because in reality the facts don’t seem to support the claims.

There is no serious evidence to back up all the claims that have been made about Iran developing long-range rockets to deliver nuclear warheads. The U.S. intelligence community assess that Iran may be technically capable of developing an ICBM with sufficient foreign assistance, not that they are doing so. Iran has never tested any long-range rockets. Iran’s longest-range missiles are medium-range ballistic missiles, not the intercontinental-range missiles as critics will have us believe.

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IAEA Report Shows Iran’s Nuclear Program Remains Frozen

By Kelsey Davenport

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano talks to press during an Aug. 17 visit to Tehran. (photo: IAEA)

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano talks to press during an Aug. 17 visit to Tehran. (photo: IAEA)

Iran is making progress on the additional measures it agreed to take in July to roll back parts of its nuclear program, according to the most recent quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

These steps include moving part of Iran’s stockpile of uranium powder enriched to 20 percent even further from the potential option of producing weapons-grade uranium.

According to the Sept. 5 report, Iran is continuing to comply with the conditions of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), an interim deal that Iran and the P5+1 reached in November 2013. In total, these actions have halted Iran’s nuclear progress and rolled back key elements of proliferation concern. Iran and the P5+1 agreed on July 19 to extend the JPOA through November 24, 2014.

The report also confirms that Iran provided information to the IAEA on three of the five actions Tehran pledged to complete by Aug. 25, although two actions were not completed until Aug. 31. This includes an updated safeguards agreement for the Arak heavy-water reactor and access to Iran’s centrifuge production facilities.

Top Points:

  • Iran is continuing to implement all of its commitments under the JPOA.
  • Iran is making progress on the new actions it pledged to take as part of the agreement to extend its negotiations with the P5+1.
  • Iran has completed three of five actions it pledged to take as part of its cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation into past military actions.

The incomplete activities are two of the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) that the IAEA laid out in its November 2011 quarterly report.

Iran’s delay in providing information on the two PMD actions is a serious problem, and it is essential that Tehran work with the agency to complete these activities in a timely fashion.

However, this delay should not disrupt the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 that are set to resume on Sept. 18. Negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal can result in a more intensive monitoring and verification regime that helps to ensure that any  activities with possible military dimensions that may have been pursued in the past do not continue in the future.

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Moving Beyond INF Treaty Compliance Issues

A tactical Tomahawk cruise missile launch from a Mk-41 VLS. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leah Stiles/Released.)

A tactical Tomahawk cruise missile launch from a Mk-41 VLS. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leah Stiles/Released.)

By Greg Thielmann

Russia’s compliance record with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has emerged as another serious problem in an already strained U.S.-Russian security relationship, and one seemingly bound for an endless, and ultimately, futile discussion. But this need not be the case. If the subject is approached with objectivity and creativity, negotiations could open up a new pathway to reinvigorating the treaty and enhancing international stability.

U.S. Charges Violation

After months of unconfirmed press reports and cryptic public comments by members of Congress, the Obama administration in late July finally provided its official finding that Russia was “in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

The U.S. State Department provided few public details on the exact nature of the noncompliant activity it was alleging, presumably because of concerns that the sources and methods used to acquire the information would be compromised. Beyond the basic accusation that Russia flight-tested a cruise missile at a range in excess of 500 km from a launcher associated with ground-launched cruise missiles, Western experts have identified two possibilities for the offending system: the Iskander-K (R-500) GLCM or a variant of the Novator 3M14E Club (SS-N-27) land-attack, sea-launched cruise missile.

The Russia action at issue could conceivably have been a technical violation, such as the use of a ground-launched cruise missile launcher for a sea-launched cruise missile flight-test, or a flight-test range overage, infringing on the 500 km range limit for treaty-permitted systems. The military significance of such actions would be less weighty than a blatant step toward development of a system similar to the U.S. BGM-109G and Soviet SSC-X-4 GLCMs (with ranges of 2,500 km), which were destroyed during treaty implementation. It is thus difficult to determine the military impact from the public record.

Russia Counters With its Own Compliance Concerns

Whatever the nature of the Russian actions prompting the U.S. charge, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s August 1 response included three “serious concerns” of its own about the “liberties” taken by the United States in applying the terms of the treaty:

  • U.S. use in missile defense tests of target missiles, “which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles;”
  • U.S. use of armed drones, which are “covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty;” and
  • U.S. intention to deploy in Poland and Romania Mk-41 launch systems, which “can be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.”

U.S. use of intermediate-range target missiles in ballistic missile defense testing is probably the least serious of Moscow’s stated concerns. These target missiles have never been “flight-tested or deployed for weapons delivery,” part of the definition of missiles banned under the INF Treaty. Indeed, in successful missile defense tests, they never reach the final phase of a weapons-delivery-vehicle trajectory.

The second charge is somewhat more difficult to dismiss, particularly as the range-payload and utilization of armed drones (“unmanned combat aerial vehicles”) is increasing rapidly. Even though such drones do not seem to be optimized for nuclear-delivery missions, evolving drone technology could soon reach the point where the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) range-payload criterion for nuclear-weapons delivery capability is met. For example, the currently operational MQ-9 Reaper can deliver up to 680 kg of ordnance to a distance of 1,852 km; the follow-on Avenger is planned to have significantly greater payload and range.

Drones are consistent with the INF Treaty’s basic definition “cruise missile:” “an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path.” However, it is not “launched” from a ground-launched cruise missile launcher as defined by the treaty, but “takes off” and returns like a manned aircraft. Such aircraft are not limited by the INF treaty. It is thus a stretch to equate the two categories, an equation that cannot be justified by the letter of the treaty.

The third issue raised by Moscow—the U.S. intention to deploy Mk-41 launchers for SM-3 missile defense interceptors in Romania and Poland, which Moscow labels “quite notorious”—may not be as spurious as it appears at first glance.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, September 3

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

Ashton, Zarif Meet  

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), met on Monday in Brussels to discuss the resumption of nuclear talks.

After the meeting, Zarif said he was “optimistic” that negotiators could reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. No date is set, however, for the resumption of talks at the political director level, although a ministerial level meeting between Iran and the P5+1 is possible on the outskirts of the UN General Assembly, which begins in September.

The U.S. negotiating team also met with the Iranian team earlier this month on August. 7 in Geneva.

Since the July 19 announcement extending negotiations through November 24, meetings have been light, with negotiators consulting in their capitals and taking some well-deserved time off after the marathon three-week negotiating session in July. Hopefully this means negotiators will return to the table well rested and ready to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Update: The September diplomatic flurry is picking up. Today, the U.S. nuclear negotiating team is in Geneva for talks with its Iranian counterparts. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom will meet with Iran’s team on Sept. 11, and there will be a full meeting of the P5+1 and Iran in New York on Sept. 18. The Foreign Ministers are expected to meet after the Sept. 18 talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

–KELSEY DAVENPORT, nonproliferation analyst 


 

Mr. Amano Goes to Tehran

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano flew to Tehran on Aug. 17 to continue discussions on the agency’s investigation into the unresolved concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities. He met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif, and head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.

Amano’s visit took place a week before the Aug. 25 deadline for Iran to submit information on five areas of concern to the agency. Earlier reports suggested the IAEA was concerned that Iran may not meet the Aug. 25 deadline. These reports turned out to be true, as Salehi told press on Aug. 25 that Iran submitted information on several of the actions, but was still completing several others.

These five actions are part of a Framework for Cooperation that Iran and the IAEA reached last November, in which they agreed on a process to resolve all of the agency’s outstanding concerns. Thirteen areas have already been addressed under the framework.

Two of the activities Iran committed to provide information on by Aug. 25 relate to activities that the agency’s alleges are related to nuclear weapons development, the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs). Other actions relate to the clarity and completeness of Iran’s declaration to the IAEA about its nuclear program.

Tehran was to provide the IAEA with information addressing allegations that Iran conducted experiments with certain kinds of high explosives that could be relevant to nuclear weapons. Iran also said it would provide information on studies “in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modeling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials,” another area with direct connections to nuclear weapons development. IAEA officials followed up with Iranian experts on Aug. 30 in Tehran, but according to Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, only three of the five actions have been completed.

During his visit, Amano also followed up on information Iran submitted to the IAEA last May on one of the other PMD issues, exploding bridge wire detonators. In May, Iran provided the IAEA with information saying the detonators had civilian purposes. Salehi said Iran answered all of the agency’s questions and pushed Amano to declare that the detonator issue is resolved. Amano, however, said that the IAEA must evaluate all of the issues together before making any determinations about civilian versus weapons use.

Amano said he also discussed new measures for Iran to take “in the near future” and that he was glad to hear Iran’s commitment to seeing the process through.

For a complete list of the actions under the IAEA-Iran framework, see “Implementation of the Iran-IAEA Framework for Cooperation.”

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Myths and Realities: The Role the Additional Protocol Can Play in Iran

By Jonah Aboni

IAEA inspectors visit an Iranian nuclear facility. Photo credit: jcpa

IAEA inspectors visit an Iranian nuclear facility. Photo credit: jcpa

The negotiations by the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) to prevent a nuclear –armed Iran have advanced progressively toward a comprehensive deal. Hopefully an agreement will be reached by November 24 to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

As diplomatic efforts begin to crescendo, positive gains so far have still not convinced critics who are opposed to diplomatic negotiations with Iran that a deal is in the best interest of the United States. Until the November 24 deadline, the Arms Control Association will publish a weekly post debunking some of the most commonly held “myths” about Iran’s nuclear program and what a comprehensive agreement will seek to achieve.

Myth: A comprehensive deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons using a covert program.  

Some critics of an Iranian nuclear deal remain adamant that Iran could pursue covert nuclear activities under a comprehensive nuclear agreement. They argue that such covert operations could enable Iran to proceed with a nuclear weapons program despite a comprehensive agreement.

But in reality, a good deal will put in place measures that make it more difficult for Iran to pursue covert facilities and more likely that any covert activities will be quickly detected.

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