The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 21

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.  

Four-Month Extension Opens Way for Comprehensive Deal

In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 19 in Vienna, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the negotiations between the United States, other great powers, and Iran to resolve concerns about that country’s nuclear program will continue for as many as four more months.

13930428000037_PhotoIIn a joint statement, Ashton and Zarif said the two sides had agreed to extend the interim agreement (also known as the Joint Plan of Action) reached on November 24, 2013 and will resume talks on a comprehensive agreement within weeks–most likely in mid-August in Vienna–with the goal of concluding a comprehensive deal by late-November.

“Our negotiators have made progress in some areas and, while real gaps remain, there is a credible prospect for a comprehensive deal. Because of this – and because Iran has upheld its commitments under the initial accord – we agreed today to extend the Joint Plan of Action to November 24,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “This extension will allow us to continue the negotiations while ensuring that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program remains halted during the negotiations,” he said.

On July 19, the State Department announced additional measures that would be undertaken through the extension of the interim agreement that provide additional nonproliferation benefits.

In the agreement, Iran diluted half of its 20 percent enriched-uranium hexafluoride gas and converted the rest to oxide. Iran has now committed to make all of the 20 percent oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. This will make if far more difficult to use this material for further enrichment to weapons-grade.

In return for these steps maintaining its original commitments under the interim agreement, Iran will be allowed to access $2.8 billion of its restricted assets, the four-month pro-rated amount of the original interim agreement commitment. These ongoing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and additional steps are a net-plus for nonproliferation.

While the goal remains a comprehensive, long-term deal, it is clear that the interim agreement has been a significant success without which Iran’s nuclear capabilities, including its stockpile of 20% enriched material and total number of installed centrifuges, would have been far larger and more worrisome.

–KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst from Vienna


What’s Next?

For the next couple of weeks, the respective P5+1 and Iranian negotiating teams will return to their capitals for consultations, review the gaps between the two sides, and evaluate how those gaps can be bridged in the coming round of negotiations over the next four months.

Our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.

Progress has already been achieved on several key issues. such as: strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and oversight at all of Iran’s nuclear sites and related facilities; modifying Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor to drastically cut its plutonium output; and an understanding on the phasing of sanctions relief. However, the two sides have more work to do to bridge differences on the most difficult issue: limiting Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity over the duration of the multi-year comprehensive agreement.

Negotiators can square the circle with a combination of additional measures that should be acceptable to both sides. These measures would substantially increase the time Iran would need to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its civil nuclear program.

Last week, David Sanger reported in The New York Times that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran is willing to negotiate on a uranium-enrichment proposal that would freeze Iran’s current capacity (10,200 centrifuges – or about 9,000-10,000 SWU) for several years.

The Zarif proposal certainly falls short of what it will take to reach an agreement, but it represents an Iranian attempt to find a compromise formula on the key sticking-points and it stands in stark contrast to earlier statements about Iran’s growing uranium-enrichment capacity needs.

It is vital that the P5+1 respond with similarly creative and innovative ideas that adequately reduce Iran’s capacity to make a dash for nuclear weapons before any such effort can be disrupted.

Such measures include:

  • Limiting uranium enrichment to levels of less than five percent and keeping stocks of its enriched uranium gas to near zero levels.
  • Limiting Iran’s enrichment capacity for 10 years at, or below, its current capacity and allowing for appropriate increases in Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity at a later stage if Iran provides sufficient information to the IAEA to prove that any past experiments with possible military dimensions have been discontinued.
  • Agreeing to phase out, remove and store under IAEA seal Iran’s less efficient, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges and, over a period of years, replace them with a smaller number of more-efficient centrifuges. During the transition period, the total operating enrichment capacity would be held below agreed limits, ideally less than Iran’s current capacity. This would allow Iran’s scientists to make the desired transition to more cost-effective machines over time, but still constrain Iran’s overall enrichment capabilities.
  • Agreeing not to assemble and operate the more-efficient centrifuges until there is a demonstrable need for commercial-scale enrichment. This would increase the time it would take Iran to operate the machines, and provide added insurance against rapid breakout scenarios.
  • Providing strong P5+1 nuclear fuel-supply guarantees to Iran to help meet its future nuclear energy and research needs. Such guarantees could include pre-delivery of fuel for Iran’s Bushehr light-water, electricity-producing reactor before the current fuel-supply contract with Russia ends in 2021.
  • Working with Iran on joint scientific ventures to help Iran develop the technical means to indigenously produce fuel for the Bushehr reactor and possible other electricity producing reactors that may be built in the future.

These measures would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to 12 months or more and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its civil nuclear program.

When negotiators from the two sides reconvene in mid-August at Vienna’s Coburg Palace, they will need to engage is pragmatic discussions on these and other approaches if they are going to bridge the uranium enrichment gap.

--DARYL KIMBALL, executive director in Washington, DC.


The Latest Reads: Editorial Boards Support Extension  

Keep Negotiating on Iran’s Nukes: “They should not hesitate to [extend the talks]. The whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. That goal is within reach, and it would be irresponsible not to make the maximum effort to bridge the final gaps.” The Editorial Board, The New York Times. http://nyti.ms/1jT8er7

Nuclear Talks With Iran Should Be Given More Time: “In our view, prolonging the negotiations is better than declaring a breakdown, which could lead to a military conflict at a time when the United States is already juggling multiple crises in the region and beyond. The preliminary accord struck with Iran last fall, while far from perfect, has appeared to succeed in curtailing Tehran’s enrichment of uranium. Contrary to predictions by Israel, the limited economic relief given in exchange has not caused the overall sanctions regime to break down.” The Editorial Board, The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/1nO3r9J

Don’t Worry About the Deadline and Keep Talking With Iran: “It will be disappointing if Sunday comes and goes without a permanent agreement in which Iran convincingly commits itself to a purely peaceful use of nuclear power in exchange for an end to economic sanctions. But a missed deadline need not be a disaster – unless members of Congress jeopardize an extension of the negotiations by pressing for additional sanctions against Iran.” The Editorial Board, the Los Angeles Times. http://lat.ms/1qkbJcH

Extending Iran Nuke Talks Worthwhile: Our View: “But amid all the maneuvering, one thing should be clear – at least to reasonable observers: Any agreement in which Iran abandons nuclear weapons would be an astounding achievement, one that could lead to a reassessment of the caustic U.S.-Iran relationship. It would avoid a nearly certain nuclear arms race in the Middle East, not to mention an equally likely U.S. war with Iran prompted by an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.” The Editorial Board, USA Today. http://usat.ly/WqMXdr

Keep Talking With Iran: “Should the talks collapse after Iran made concessions, it would empower the more militant, conservative and anti-Western elements of Iran’s government and likely scuttle the chance for any deal in the near future. Mr. Rouhani’s moves toward reform and openness were greeted with skepticism in the West when he took office last year, but so far he has largely stayed true to his word. Undermining him at this point would only put the United States and its allies further at risk.” The Editorial Board, The Baltimore Sun. http://bsun.md/1mVXUxZ

Keep Talking to Iran: “The world has been better off since the temporary agreement was reached. Iran has compliedfully with requirements that it halt production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, and has converted 80 percent of its stock of the fuel to less threatening forms. As a result, Iran is further than it would have been from achieving a “breakout” capacity that would allow it build a bomb faster than the U.S. could mount a pre-emptive response.” The Editors, BloombergView. http://bv.ms/1rqJ8zp

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Arms Control Association Statement On Extension of P5+1 Nuclear Talks With Iran

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS(UPDATED 7:45 pm EST)

By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Tonight in Vienna, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the negotiations between the United States, other great powers, and Iran to resolve concerns about that country’s nuclear program will continue for as many as four more months.

In a joint statement, Ashton and Zarif said the two sides have agreed to extend the interim agreement (a.k.a. the Joint Plan of Action) reached on November 24, 2013 and will resume talks on a comprehensive agreement within weeks–most likely in mid-August in Vienna–with the goal of concluding a comprehensive deal by late-November.

To this point, the talks have yielded progress and the two sides say there is a credible path forward, but significant gaps remain on key issues.

It is our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.

The two sides have also agreed to extend their commitments under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPoA), including the cap on enrichment above 5 percent U-235 and a halt to installing additional or new types of centrifuge machines.

The extension of the JPoA agreement prolongs the pause of Iranian nuclear activities of greatest proliferation concern, maintains additional IAEA monitoring measures, and provides the negotiators with the time, the incentives, and pressure necessary to reach a comprehensive agreement in the near future.

In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced additional measures that would be undertaken through the extension of the JPoA. He said:

In this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. Once the 20 percent material is in fuel form, it will be very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario. Attempting to do so would be readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon.

In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment. Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible.

These additional steps are net-plus for nonproliferation.

Next Steps

It is also important at this critical stage in the process that lawmakers in Washington support the administration’s ongoing efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution. Congress should refrain from actions, such as pursuing new sanctions legislation against Iran, that would undermine the chance for an agreement that would reduce Iran’s nuclear capacity and provide the additional transparency to guard against an illicit dash for nuclear weapons.

Based consultations with knowledgeable officials on both sides, negotiators have made substantial progress on several tough issues, including: strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and oversight at all of Iran’s nuclear sites and related facilities; re-purposing the underground Fordow enrichment facility into a small-scale research facility; and modifying Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor to drastically cut its plutonium output.

But the two sides clearly need more time and have more work to do to bridge differences on the deadlines, duration, and sequencing of key steps, as well as finding a solution to the toughest issue: setting limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity over the duration of the agreement.

Negotiators can square the circle on uranium enrichment with a combination of practical but innovative measures that would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough material for nuclear weapons, but would still would address Iran’s right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Some Washington politicians like to say that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” In reality, it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is still within reach.

Those who argue that there should be no more time for diplomacy, or otherwise seek to block an effective agreement, have a responsibility to present a viable alternative. Without a good, comprehensive agreement:

  • There would be no constraints on Iran’s enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease, not increase.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

We urge both sides to continue to work toward a realistic and effective agreement as soon as possible.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 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.

Extension Announcement Expected Soon

Two days before the July 20 deadline to conclude a comprehensive nuclear agreement, it’s still not clear when the P5+1 and Iran will agree to the terms of an extension of their nuclear talks or when the extension will be announced.

vienna-iran-talks

While an extension seems almost certain given comments by a number of leaders and senior officials about progress on some areas and the need for more time to close the gaps in other areas, there are a number of unknowns.

The two sides could agree to additional actions beyond the terms of their interim agreement, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPoA). Negotiators may also decide to extend the JPoA and the deadline to conclude a comprehensive agreement for a period of several weeks or up to several months. The Nov. 2013 interim agreement called for the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement within a year.

When to resume negotiations on a comprehensive deal is also a question. While it is important to allow negotiators a break, and time to go back and consult in their capitals, it is important not to lose momentum.

Negotiators are working through these issues and talked late into the night yesterday and have resumed their meetings again this morning.

A press conference announcing how and when the talks will continue is likely later today or tomorrow.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Additional Sanctions Legislation? No Thanks Says Kerry

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry briefed members of both chambers of Congress on the status of the P5+1 talks with Iran in closed-door sessions.

Following the meetings, some members of the House of Representatives were reported to have claimed that Kerry expressed an openness to new congressional legislation that would impose new sanctions against Iran.

“I sensed an openness toward a sanctions bill that would be triggered by future events - or untriggered by positive future events,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told Al-Monitor.

The State Department and the White House said the administration remains opposed to any additional nuclear-related sanctions while negotiations are ongoing.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said via Twitter that: “It should come as no surprise that members of Congress in AM session w/@JohnKerry raised their own proposals re triggered sanctions,” and “@JohnKerry does not support new nuke-related sanctions while we negotiate bc it would be counterproductive to negotiations.”


Pivotal Issue No. 5: Sanctions Against Iran

Iran has been subjected to comprehensive U.S. sanctions since the early 1980s for a variety of reasons, including the regime’s support for terrorism, human rights violations, and proliferation concerns.

Since the UN Security Council took up the Iran nuclear file in 2006, Iran has also been subjected to increasingly rigorous multilateral sanctions aimed at encouraging compliance with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations and addressing international concerns about the nature of its nuclear program.

These sanctions focus on preventing Iran from acquiring the technologies and materials needed for its nuclear and missile programs by requiring all countries to restrict sensitive exports to Iran.

The sanctions geared toward slowing Iran’s nuclear and missile programs appear to be increasingly effective as additional countries strengthen controls over exporting sensitive goods to Iran. But they have not prevented Iran from improving its domestic capabilities nor led Iran’s leadership to abandon the pursuit of a nuclear capability. In 2006, when the last major round of negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear potential broke down, Iran had some 300 first generation centrifuges; today it has nearly 20,000, of which 10,200 are operating.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 17

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 Fog of Diplomacy

What began as a quiet day yesterday for journalists covering the P5+1 and Iran talks ended in a flurry of speculation about if and when an extension of the negotiations would be announced. While nothing has been confirmed officially, numerous reports about the timing of such an announcement are circulating in Vienna and beyond.

Some heard that the talks might recess as early as Friday; others heard that negotiators may announce an extension on Friday and then begin negotiating the terms of an extension; and still others heard that the decision on Friday would be whether or not to extend this round of talks past Sunday. There are also contradictory rumors about when the talks may resume if there is an extension, ranging from early August to September.

President Barack Obama speaks about several foreign policy issues, including an update on the P5+1 and Iran nuclear talks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama speaks about several foreign policy issues, including an update on the P5+1 and Iran nuclear talks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Others say nothing has been decided yet–and with EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 Catherine Ashton absent from the Coburg Palace yesterday, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just having briefed President Barack Obama, it is hard to imagine that a decision about an extension had been made.

Obama’s remarks Wednesday evening that the parties “need to determine whether additional time is necessary to extend negotiations” suggested that there has not been a decision yet.

In short, everyone has heard something, but as of midday Thursday no decision on the terms of an extension has been made.

While an extension seems very likely at this point, there are still a number of unknowns. The interim agreement can be extended for additional months, but negotiators could agree to less time. A longer extension might require additional actions: Iran may want additional sanctions relief and the P5+1 could ask for additional restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Despite the speculation, however, one thing remains certain: a comprehensive nuclear deal is in the best interest of all of the countries involved, and if more time is needed to get a good agreement, an extension of the talks is warranted.

Progress has been achieved in several areas, but gaps remain on several issues. Negotiators will need time and flexibility from political leaders in their capitals to square the circle on uranium enrichment. They will need to explore a combination of innovative but practical measures that would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough nuclear weapons material but would still address Iran’s right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In the meantime, with three days left before the original July 20 deadline, more talks at various levels are scheduled for today.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Nuclear Weapons 101

As David Sanger from The New York Times notes in his latest news report on the status of nuclear negotiations between the United States, key allies, and Iran, a key goal for the P5+1 side is to reach a deal that provides “at least a year’s warning time that Iran was racing to produce enough bomb-grade fuel for a nuclear weapon – even if fabricating the weapon itself would take longer.”

He notes that this is “something of an arbitrary measure, and, in the minds of many nuclear experts, a misleading one.” Indeed.

Sanger also reports that “American officials also believe that the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington has overestimated Iran’s skills when it reported recently that if it kept roughly 10,000 [first generation IR-1] centrifuges running, it could produce a weapon’s worth of material in three months or so, plus or minus a few weeks.”

That worst-case calculation has been widely cited (by ourselves and others) as one measure of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

But as the Arms Control Association and others have written before, the time it would take to amass enough of the gaseous form of uranium enriched to weapons grade for one bomb, while important, is but one step of many needed to make nuclear weapons.

F0r a quick review of the “Steps to Building Nuclear Weapons,” see the following summary from ACA “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”


Implementation of the Interim Nuclear Agreement

As President Obama noted in his remarks late Wednesday, “[o]ver the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year — halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material.”

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 16

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.

This Week in Vienna

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a press conference yesterday afternoon that touched on many of the same themes that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed in his remarks: progress in some areas, the commitment to finding solutions to the remaining gaps, and the importance of reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AFP PHOTO / Pool / Jason Reed)

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AFP PHOTO / Pool / Jason Reed)

While this shift in tone from both sides may come too late to reach an agreement by July 20, it demonstrates the commitment of the parties to getting a good deal. Both sides know that reaching an agreement that respects a peaceful Iranian nuclear program and assures the international community that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons is in everyone’s best interest. Negotiators will continue to work through the next four days to reach a deal, but an extension may be necessary to find the formula that fits both of these goals.

Even though no announcement about an extension has been made, and one is unlikely before the weekend, critics in the United States are already attacking what they see as a lack of progress. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Cal.) already issued a statement yesterday calling for the administration to work with Congress on new sanctions in light of the “significant gaps” that still remain between Iran and the P5+1.

Thankfully, some members of Congress see the importance of waiting until after July 20 to assess the negotiations before moving on sanctions that would jeopardize diplomacy. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told al-Monitor yesterday that it was “premature” to consider new sanctions and members should wait and see what happens before taking action.

Meanwhile, at the Coburg Palace, talks continue today amongst the experts and political directors.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Pivotal Issue No. 4: More Extensive Inspection Authority

Last weekend, during an interview with NBC News, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that Iran sees no value in pursuing nuclear weapons .

However, if Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons development at some point in the future, it would most likely try to do so by means of a secret program carried out at undisclosed facilities rather than its declared facilities, which are already under tight international monitoring, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

One of the areas upon which the P5+1 and Iran generally agree is the value of more timely notification of Iranian nuclear activities under Iran’s current comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)–know as “Code 3.1″– and more extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program under the terms of the additional protocol.

In the first phase of a comprehensive agreement, Iran would likely be required to implement an additional protocol, which would allow the IAEA to conduct inspections of undeclared sites without prior notification, which is a strong deterrent against any clandestine nuclear weapons work.  At a later point, Iran would commit to ratify it. Once approved by the Iranian parliament, the duration of the additional protocol would be indefinite.

In addition, the P5+1 is seeking more inspection measures for an extended period of time to provide more confidence to the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is being used entirely for peaceful purposes, including ongoing monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities and support infrastructure. Iran, according to our sources, is amenable to additional transparency measures beyond the additional protocol for a limited period of time.


Background: IAEA Safeguards Measures

Safeguards are activities that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertakes to verify that a state is living up to its international commitments not to use nuclear programs for nuclear-weapons purposes. State parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are obligated to have a safeguards agreement in place. Safeguard activities undertaken by the agency are based on a state’s declaration of its nuclear materials and nuclear-related activities. Verification measures include on-site inspections, monitoring and evaluation.

Iran’s safeguards agreement entered into force in 1974. It grants the IAEA access to nuclear sites, including Iran’s uranium enrichment sites at Natanz and Fordow, the fuel fabrication plant at Esfahan, the Arak heavy water reactor, and the Tehran Research Reactor, for monitoring and verification purposes. Continue reading

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks, July 15

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.

This Week In Vienna

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Vienna today after a press conference that set a more positive tone than statements made earlier this week by U.S. officials about the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

With 5 days left before the July 20 deadline, Kerry did not address the frenzied speculation about whether the talks would be extended, but said that negotiators would remain in Vienna through the 20th and that all parties are committed to a diplomatic solution. He said that he would brief President Obama on the status of the talks and return to Vienna later, if necessary.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in Vienna for a second day of talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in Vienna for a second day of talks.

While Kerry declined to discuss specifics, he said there has been progress on key areas but gaps remain. He would not comment on the U.S. position on the specific capacity of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, a key issue in the talks, but said that the 19,000 centrifuges currently installed (only about 10,200 are operating) are too many. Kerry also responded to comments made earlier by Supreme Leader Khamenei about Iran’s needs for 190,000 separative work units (SWU), saying that this capacity is a long-term goal and not a new figure.

David Sanger reported in The New York Times yesterday that Iran is showing a new flexibility and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is willing to negotiate on a uranium-enrichment proposal that would freeze Iran’s current capacity (10,200 centrifuges – or about 9,000-10,000 SWU) for several years. While this proposal still raises questions about the duration of limits, it is a positive sign. This hopefully will represent the progress that the P5+1 wants to see on one of the key issues to extend talks past July 20 if necessary.

On a positive note, Kerry stressed that all parties were negotiating in good faith and it is a question of finding the right formula that allows Iran a peaceful nuclear program while ensuring the world that it cannot be used for nuclear weapons. These are realistic and compatible goals, he said.

Kerry’s press conference followed two days of talks at the Coburg palace, including several bilateral meeting with Zarif.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Vox Populi

Today, the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland released the result of an online policy-making simulation involving 784 respondents from June 28-July 7, 2014. A key finding showed that a large majority of respondents prefer negotiated limits over additional sanctions.

Participants received a background briefing before being asked about their attitudes toward the two main options currently being debated by U.S. policymakers: 1) negotiating a long-term deal that limits Iranian enrichment, increases inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and eases some sanctions, or 2) imposing more sanctions in hopes that Iran will agree to stop enrichment altogether.

Participants were then given three arguments for and three against each policy option, and asked how convincing they were. After hearing these pro and con arguments, they were re-asked to rate their attitudes toward the options on a 0-10 scale. They were then asked which option they would recommend.

Key Findings: Large majorities prefer negotiated limits over additional sanctions: Six out of ten (61%) ultimately recommended the first option, while about one-third (35%) favored the second.

Support for negotiated limits is bipartisan: Republicans and Democrats showed slightly stronger support for negotiated limits (61% and 65%, respectively) than did Independents, but a majority of Independents still preferred negotiations to sanctions (51% to 43%).

For the full report on the results from the Program for Public Consultation, a project of theCenter on Policy Attitudes and the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, visit: http://www.public-consultation.org/.


The Iran, P5+1, +535 Talks

Yesterday, Reuters reported that  Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Lindsay Graham, R-N.C., circulated a letter among fellow lawmakers “to support demands that Iran accept tough conditions in nuclear talks, including at least two decades of inspections, before Congress would agree to ease sanctions.”

Most observers want a diplomatic solution that verifiably prevents a nuclear-armed Iran. Such an agreement is possible within the next few days, but the talks could be thrown off course if senators try to grab the steering wheel away from U.S. and allied negotiators.

Any agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving capabilities to detect any ongoing or future Iranian weapons program.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 14

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 Weekend In Vienna

Several P5+1 foreign ministers trickled into Vienna on Sunday to join the nuclear talks with Iran one week before the interim agreement expires. Speaking to the press ahead of his first meeting at the Coburg Palace where the talks are taking place, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “significant gaps” still remain, but he hoped to make progress while in Vienna.

Secretary of State John Kerry outside the Coburg Palace Hotel, Vienna

Secretary of State John Kerry outside the Coburg Palace Hotel, Vienna

Kerry was joined by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. In separate comments to press, the ministers echoed Kerry’s general sentiments. Unsurprisingly, Hague identified one of the gaps as Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity. He said Iran needs to be “more realistic about what is necessary” in the negotiations.

The Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers did not attend due to other commitments.

Kerry’s day at the Coburg wrapped up with an evening bilateral discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. While Kerry left the Coburg after the meeting, Zarif spoke to the press and said headway had been made and the two sides discussed “innovative” proposals for addressing some of the remaining gaps.

While Zarif did not give any details on what innovative proposals were discussed, you can read about some creative solutions on the uranium enrichment question in ACA’s recent report here.

Early Monday, Kerry and Zarif resumed their discussions.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Pivotal Issue No 3: Blocking the Plutonium Path

While there are still differences on how to define Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity, there has been progress on how to neutralize its plutonium production potential at the 40-MWt, heavy-water reactor at Arak. The interim agreement verifiably froze all major construction work on the project, which is more than a year away from completion.

For the P5+1, this reactor presents a serious, long-term proliferation concern because heavy-water reactors are well suited to the production of weapons-grade plutonium. Under the current design configuration, the reactor would produce enough weapons-grade plutonium per year once operational for about two nuclear weapons. The spent fuel would need to be removed from the reactor and allowed to thermally cool for several months, then the weapons-grade plutonium-239 would need to be reprocessed, or separated from the spent reactor fuel, before it could be used in weapons. Iran currently does not have a reprocessing facility and says it has no intention to build one.

Iran maintains that the Arak reactor is intended to produce medical isotopes, although its large size far exceeds what is necessary for isotope production. Additionally, because the Arak site represents Iran’s only indigenously developed and domestically constructed nuclear facility, Tehran strongly opposes any outcome that would require it to shut the facility and opposes converting it to a more proliferation-resistant light-water reactor.

It is clear from diplomats on both sides of the negotiations that progress has been achieved toward mutually agreeable modifications to Arak that would significantly reduce the amount of weapons-grade plutonium in its spent fuel, while allowing Iran to use the facility for medical isotope production and research.

One of these design modifications would be to reduce the reactor from 40 MWt to 20MWt, 15 MWt or 10 MWt. This would reduce the annual output of weapons-grade plutonium from approximately eight to nine kilograms to around one kilogram. Approximately four kilograms of plutonium-239 are required for the construction of the core of a nuclear weapon. Some analysts suggest it would be useful to modify the reactor vessel containing the fuel rods to ensure the modification is irreversible, so that Iran could not increase the power of the reactor over time.

Another option that would reduce the amount of weapons-grade plutonium in the spent fuel would involve conversion of the reactor to use uranium fuel enriched to 3.5 percent or 20 percent instead of the natural uranium fuel that the reactor’s design currently requires. About 1,300 IR-1 centrifuges could produce enough material annually to fuel the Arak reactor operating at 20 MWt.

To reduce the Arak reactor’s proliferation potential even further, all spent fuel from the reactor could be verifiably removed for disposition in a third country, possibly Russia, to prevent it from becoming a source of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

For more information, see: “A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor,”  by Ali Ahmad, Frank von Hippel, Alexander Glaser, and Zia Mian in Arms Control Today, April 2014.


Iran’s Nuclear “Rights” and Responsibilities Under the NPT

Iranian leaders have argued for years that attempts to limit Iran’s nuclear program and impose sanctions infringe on Iran’s sovereign rights as a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Article IV of the NPT says that the states-parties have an “inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

U.S. and other Western government officials, however, note that the NPT does not specifically give states parties a “right” to engage in sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities, including uranium enrichment and plutonium separation. They also point out that the treaty obliges non-nuclear-weapon states under Article II “not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” and under Article III “to accept safeguards” in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency standards and practices “with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

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