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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The Week Ahead, July 14-20: P5+1 talks with Iran; Anniversary of “Trinity” Test; Nuclear Modernization; and More

The following are some of the key arms control dates and developments to watch over the next fortnight. WeekAheadSOLO

For more news and analysis on these and other weapons-related security issues, consider subscribing to ACA’s monthly journal Arms Control Today, which is available in print/digital and digital-only editions.

- written and compiled by Tim Farnsworth

July 12-20: Foreign Ministers Meet in Vienna as P5+1 and Iran Talks Head Into Final Week

EU nuclear negotiator Catherine Ashton invited the foreign ministers from the P5+1 states (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to Vienna during the final week of negotiations between the group and Iran on reaching a comprehensive agreement to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. They aim to conclude the negotiation by July 20, but they could also agree to extend the talks.

For more news and analysis on the ongoing talks, delivered straight to your inbox, sign-up for our new P5+1 and Iran Talks Alert for reporters and interested readers. The alerts will include dispatches from Vienna from ACA’s nonproliferation analyst, Kelsey Davenport.

Also, check out the latest Iran resources from the Arms Control Association and Arms Control Today:

July 16: 49th Anniversary of “Trinity,” First Nuclear Test

The “Trinity” nuclear test was the first of over 2,000 tests to take place over the past 49 years. You can find a list of “Infamous Anniversaries” on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization’s (CTBTO’s) website. The CTBTO is the verification regime created for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that bans nuclear explosions anywhere. Although the United States is one of 183 countries that have signed the treaty, it has failed to ratify. Washington is among the eight remaining countries whose ratification is required for the treaty to enter into force.

Recently, speaking at the ASEAN Regional Forum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose said “[t]he entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty remains a top priority for the United States. We are working to educate the American public on the security benefits of the Treaty, as well as the dangerous health effects of explosive nuclear testing.”

For more information on the CTBT, visit The Project for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Continue reading

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 11

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

The Coburg Palace Hotel, Vienna.

The Coburg Palace Hotel, Vienna.

The Coburg Hotel is expecting some additional guests this weekend. As anticipated in the July 7 edition of The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, P5+1 foreign ministers will descend on Vienna on Sunday “to take stock of where we are in the talks,” according to the spokesman for the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. “All available” foreign ministers are invited to attend, the spokesman said.  

At this point it is still unclear if all seven will make it, but State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf issued a statement Thursday confirming U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s travel plans. Harf said that Kerry “will see if progress can be made on the issues where significant gaps remain” and then make recommendations to the President about the “next steps” in the negotiations.

Our sources–on both sides of the negotiation–indicate that behind the scenes, progress has been achieved on several key issues, but differences on the enrichment capacity issue remain. While calls by Iranian leaders for dramatic increases in centrifuge capacity in the shortterm certainly does not reflect the reality at the negotiating table, Iran must be able to sell a nuclear deal domestically. Squaring this circle will require compromise – the P5+1 cannot insist on draconian cuts to Iran’s current uranium enrichment capacity. But creative solutions exist, and the negotiators have 9 days to find one before July 20.–KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


“Addressing” Missiles in a Comprehensive Nuclear Deal? UN Security Council Resolution 1929 expanded the scope of sanctions and for the first time demanded that Iran suspend any activities related to the testing and development of ballistic missiles “capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” In addition, the resolution banned all transfers of heavy weaponry to Iran. Some members of Congress and independent experts believe limits on Iran’s nuclear-capable ballistic missiles should be on the agenda of ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. For example, a bill introduced earlier this year by Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would require that any comprehensive agreement include specific limits on Iranian missiles.

In response, senior administration officials have provided assurances that the issue of Iranian missiles would be “addressed, in some way” during the ongoing negotiations because UN Security Council Resolution 1929 references it, but they have not elaborated how it might be addressed. Iranian officials have publicly and privately expressed their strong opposition to any discussion of Iran-specific ballistic missile limitations in the ongoing nuclear talks. They argue that Iran’s missiles are a legitimate means of self-defense in an unstable region where other countries are threatening to attack it, and they note that the first-phase agreement made no mention of missiles in its framework for a final deal.

The missile issue is certainly relevant to the issue of Iran’s future nuclear weapons potential, but it must be handled very carefully. Attempts by the P5+1 to impose specific, binding limits on Iranian ballistic missile capabilities at this point would jeopardize chances to conclude an agreement that establishes verifiable limits on its ability to produce material for nuclear weapons. Without its ability to produce nuclear weapons, Iran’s ballistic missiles pose much less of a threat to its neighbors.

As the lead U.S. negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman noted in a February 4 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “[I]f we can get to the verifiable assurance that [the Iranians] cannot obtain a nuclear weapon,…then a delivery mechanism, important as it is, is less important.” For further analysis, see: “Leave Ballistic Missiles Out of the Iran Nuclear Talks,” by Greg Thielmann in Defense One, May 20, 2014.


Pentagon “Dials Back” Iran ICBM Threat Assessment Speaking of ballistic missiles, the U.S.-based InsideDefense.com reported July 9 that “a new report to Congress is dialing back a longstanding assessment that Iran could flight-test by 2015 an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States, an apparent break with U.S. intelligence estimates since 1999.”

For the past 15 years, the U.S. intelligence community has speculated that Iran could test an ICBM with assistance from nations such as China, Russia or North Korea. The unclassified executive summary of the January 2014 “Annual Report on Military Power of Iran” does not offer an assessment of the technical feasibility of Iran’s potential to demonstrate an ICBM capability. Instead, according to InsideDefense.com, the summary states: “Iran has publicly stated it may launch a space launch vehicle by 2015 that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as a ballistic missile.” Continue reading

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 9

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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.

Tough Talk from Tehran – What Does It Mean?

Talks are still underway in Vienna as the countdown to July 20 drops to 11 days. Yesterday’s meetings featured a plenary session chaired by Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator Abbas Arachi and Helga Schmid, deputy nuclear negotiator for the P5+1.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

Negotiators seem undeterred by the tough talk from Supreme Leader Khamenei yesterday expressing his support for the Iranian negotiating team and their argument for the option for increases in Iran’s centrifuge capacity to meet future nuclear reactor fuel needs. Later in the day, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, gave a television interview in which he provided some clarification of Khamenei’s remarks.

While it is significant that Iran’s Supreme Leader spoke up on the topic, his comments do not break new ground nor do they set any new red lines. For weeks, Iranian officials have argued that their civil nuclear fuel needs may increase in the coming years and say they do not want to depend on foreign suppliers. Iran’s fuel needs would increase, they say, after 2021 when and if the Russia-Iran fuel-supply deal for the Bushehr light-water reactor expires.

As noted in the July 7 edition of The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, Iran’s claims about enrichment capacity are debatable and there are options to square the uranium enrichment circle that could address the respective political goals and core interests of both sides. – KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Pivotal Issue No. 2: The Future of the Fordow Plant

One of the key issues that must be resolved is the future status of Iran’s underground Fordow uranium enrichment facility. Yesterday, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, expressed Iranian support for a possible compromise solution on Fordow.

During earlier negotiations with Iran in the spring of 2013, the P5+1 wanted uranium enrichment at Fordow to end altogether and for the facility to close. The facility, buried deep inside a mountain outside of the city of Qom, is less vulnerable to an airstrike, which is likely one of the reasons why the P5+1 originally sought the closure of the facility.

Iran, however, has stated publicly that it will not accept closure of any of its nuclear facilities in a final deal.

Under the Joint Plan of Action, enrichment activities continue at Fordow, but the 696 operating IR-1 centrifuges at the facility were converted to produce 3.5 percent-enriched uranium rather than 20 percent-enriched material. It is likely that the P5+1 will oppose the continuation of any production-scale enrichment at the facility, to dispel any Iranian notion that it has a secure breakout option.

As noted in the June 2014 ACA report, “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle,” the two sides might compromise by agreeing that Iran will effectively halt any enrichment activities at Fordow for production purposes and convert it to a “research-only” facility. Under this configuration, Iran could use the facility to develop and test advanced centrifuges, activities that currently take place at Natanz. The facility would still be subject to intensive IAEA monitoring. This compromise would keep the facility operating but significantly reduce the proliferation risk.

AEOI head Salehi said in comments reported by IRNA that Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Fordow could be repurposed for research and development. Salehi said: “One of [our] proposals is changing the Fordo site into a research and development and back up site for Natanz site.”

While nothing is certain until the ink dries on a comprehensive deal, Iran’s willingness to consider other options for Fordow is an encouraging sign.


Breaking Down “Breakout”

As the U.S. intelligence community has consistently noted since 2007, Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if it chooses to do so.

That reality makes the calls made by more than a few U.S. lawmakers and some senior Israeli officials to “eliminate” Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity impractical and, perhaps, a bit naïve.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 7

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Top diplomats from the United States, five other world powers, and Iran are racing against the clock to seal a long-sought, long-term comprehensive deal that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran,  helps avoid a future military confrontation over its nuclear program, and leads to sanctions relief.

This special newsletter compiled by the research staff of the Arms Control Association is designed to provide occasional updates from various sources on the talks, as well as information to help provide journalists, policy makers, and the public with a better understanding of the key issues and options.

To have the P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now. We welcome your feedback, tips, and suggestions.–DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

This Week in Vienna

With about fourteen days before their July 20 target date, the P5+1 and Iranian negotiating teams are at full strength and are working full time. Over the weekend, EU deputy negotiator Helga Schmidt and Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Aragchi reportedly worked on a draft text. By the end of the week, the talks could be fortified with the arrival of some of P5+1 foreign ministers.

According to Western diplomatic officials, the arrival of P5+1 foreign ministers in the would, in part, be designed to gauge the status of the negotiations, identify major remaining gaps, consult on ways to bridge those gaps in the days leading up to July 20, and consider whether an agreement is close but will require more time to negotiate.

According to a July 2 Al-Monitor report, Secretary of State John Kerry may join the talks following his scheduled July 9-10 trip to China.


What the Heck Is SWU? (And Why You Need to Know)

Uranium-enrichment capacity is measured in separative work units (SWUs). More efficient centrifuges have a higher SWU capacity.

Any agreed limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity will likely be measured in SWU rather than in a specific number of centrifuges. The vast majority of Iran’s operating and installed centrifuges are the less-efficient, crash-prone IR-1s. It is still working on perfecting more efficient IR-2Ms and trying to develop more advanced models.

Each IR-1 centrifuge has an efficiency of approximately 0.8-1 SWU per year. Currently, Iran is operating about 10,200 IR-1 centrifuges, which is about 10,200 SWU per year. Iran is working on more-advanced models, including the IR-2M, which it had begun installing in production-scale cascades before the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action froze new centrifuge installation. The IR-2M is estimated to be three to five times more efficient than the IR-1.

For example, if Iran’s SWU capacity was capped at 10,200 under a comprehensive deal for a certain period of time, it could operate 10,200 IR-1 centrifuges, or 2,100 to 3,300 IR-2M centrifuges. Either configuration would keep Iran below that SWU cap. Continue reading

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The Next 2 Weeks Ahead, July 30-July 12: P5+1 and Iran Talks Resume; Syria Chem Transfer; Energy and Water Appropriations Votes

The following are some of the key arms control dates and developments to watch over the next fortnight. WeekAheadSOLO

For more news and analysis on these and other weapons-related security issues, consider subscribing to ACA’s monthly journal Arms Control Today, which is available in print/digital and digital-only editions.

- written and compiled by Tim Farnsworth

July 2-20+: Sixth and Possibly Final Round of P5+1 and Iran Talks in Vienna

Top diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 states (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) will reconvene July 2 in Vienna to continue their negotiations on a comprehensive agreement to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The aim to conclude the negotiation by July 20, but they could extend the talks if the parties agree to do so.

For more news and analysis on the ongoing talks delivered straight to your inbox, sign-up for our new P5+1 and Iran Talks Alert for reporters and interested readers. Part of the alert will include dispatches from Vienna from ACA’s nonproliferation analyst, Kelsey Davenport.

Also, check out the latest resources from the Arms Control Association and Arms Control Today:

Week of June 30: Transfer of Syria Chemical Materials at Port of Gioia Tauro

The OPCW announced last week that the remaining stockpile of declared chemical weapons in Syria has been removed from the country. Many said the 9-month time frame for the UN-OPCW mission was too ambitious, but the operation was completed and the threat of another mass chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria has been severely reduced.

The neutralization/elimination phase of the operation now begins. This week, the Ark Futura will transfer  the prohibited Syrian chemical materials onto the American ship, MV Cape Ray, at the Port of Gioia Tauro, Italy. The Cape Ray will then depart and begin the process of neutralizing the material using a U.S.-made Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, under the supervision of independent OPCW inspectors.

For more resources on Syria’s chemical weapons and their removal, see:

July 9-10: House Floor Action on Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

The House is expected to hold a vote on H.R. 4923, the energy and water appropriations bill, when they come back from the 4th of July recess, July 9-10. The bill appropriates funding for several nuclear weapons and nonproliferation programs–such as the nuclear warhead modernization plan–and agencies–such as the National Nuclear Security Administration.

For the latest news and analysis on the bill, checkout:

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