Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2015
On July 14, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran—the so-called P5+1—finalized the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, an anti-nuclear agreement to verifiably block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and prevent any secret weapons development. US Senate Democrats have reportedly secured enough votes to effectively ratify the agreement when it reconvenes this fall.
Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball compiled answers to frequently asked questions about the JCPOA for the Arms Control Association. The following are excepted sections from their report:
Is Iran pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program?
No. According to evidence collected by and shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, but abandoned it in 2003….
In the 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, also said that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded nuclear material and enrich enough to weapons grade for a bomb without discovery.
Did the 2013 interim agreement, or Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), halt advances in Iran’s nuclear program?
Yes. The implementation of the 2013 JPOA halted the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back the most proliferation-sensitive elements.
Under the JPOA, Iran stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1, because 20 percent enriched uranium is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235). Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched-uranium gas.
Iran halted major construction activities on its Arak heavy-water reactor, froze the number of its operating and installed centrifuges, and agreed to more intrusive inspections, including daily access to its enrichment facilities. Iran also agreed to produce only the centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.
Without the JPOA, Iran could have very significantly increased its uranium-enrichment capacity and possibly completed the Arak reactor.
Did Iran comply with the terms of the 2013 JPOA, or did it violate it by operating an advanced centrifuge?
The IAEA’s Nov. 7, 2014 quarterly report noted that Iran began feeding natural uranium hexafluoride “intermittently” into a single centrifuge at its pilot facility for the first time. While unhelpful, this was not a violation of the JPOA, which prohibits the use of advanced centrifuges to accumulate enriched uranium. However, to dispel any ambiguities, in the extension agreed to on Nov. 24, 2014, Iran agreed not to feed that centrifuge with any uranium for the duration of the interim agreement.
The IAEA has reported, and US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Nov. 24, 2014, that Iran upheld its commitments under the interim deal.
Did the UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to permanently halt enrichment, dismantle its enrichment facilities, and dismantle the heavy-water reactor at Arak?
No. Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and suspend construction work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak. None of the six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council called for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment. The call for suspension was intended to push Iran to comply with the IAEA investigation into concerns about past activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development, and to promote a diplomatic resolution to the concerns over Iran’s nuclear program….
The Security Council resolutions were never intended to eliminate an Iranian civil nuclear program… that complies with the conditions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty….
Why doesn’t the JCPOA require Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons capability?
Eliminating that capability, including the knowledge, is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran were required to completely “dismantle” its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.
Will the deal block all of Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways?
Yes. This agreement will effectively block Iran’s uranium and plutonium pathways to the bomb for 15 years or longer. … [T]he agreement establishes verifiable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium. … [T]he time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb would increase to 12 months or more. It will also dramatically cut the output of plutonium at the Arak heavy-water reactor and eliminate Iran’s ability to pursue plutonium-based nuclear weapons.
The JCPOA will also put in place additional measures to ensure that any covert program is deterred or quickly detected. … The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for any clandestine nuclear activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out timely inspections in any facility, civilian or military, that the IAEA has reason to believe is engaged in noncompliant activity….
Does the JCPOA provide the IAEA with “anytime, anywhere” access to suspected nuclear sites?
The JCPOA provides timely access to any site, military or civilian…. The IAEA must identify specific questions to be resolved and identify specific locations where it wants to send its inspectors. … There are 121 countries that have an “additional protocol” in force and 78 complementary access visits were carried out last year . Only in Iran is there a process to ensure timely access.[T]he request by the IAEA triggers a 24-day clock under which Iran and the IAEA have 14 days to come to an agreement on access. If not, the Joint Commission, created by the JCPOA, has seven days to make a determination on access, and if at least five of the eight members vote to allow the IAEA to investigate, Iran has three days to comply.
If Iran tries to stall access beyond 24 days, there are consequences. If just one of the P5+1 countries is not satisfied with the decision of the Joint Commission on access, it could take action to re-impose earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran….
If there is a delay, the IAEA will be closely watching a site once it becomes suspicious by ordering satellite imagery, perhaps continuing through the investigation, and by seeking corroborating information, especially from states willing to share intelligence information.
Could Iran cover up illicit activities at a suspect site within 24 days?
… Critics of site access provisions charge that 24 days may provide Iran with enough time to cover up certain types of nuclear activities. … Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told Politico.com on July 22 that Energy Department specialists assess that, “It is essentially impossible, certainly with confidence, to believe that you’re going to do this kind of work with nuclear materials and be confident at having it cleaned it up.”
How long does the sanctions’ snap-back provision last?
For the ten-year duration of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, if a dispute is not addressed through the Joint Commission to the satisfaction of the P5+1, any one of the six-countries could act to snap back earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. …