Nuclear Issue

  • 2020-05-07

    When Trump withdrew from the Iran deal in 2018, he chose not to use the so-called “snapback” measure which would restore all the U.N. sanctions suspended by the deal. John Bolton, then the national security adviser, explained that “we are not using the provisions…because we are out of the deal.” Yet Pompeo is now saying that the U.S. is still a legal participant and so entitled to use snapback even though the administration has repeatedly touted “ceasing” its participation. […] Today, returning to the Iran nuclear deal would largely be a bilateral matter between the U.S. and Iran. The two countries could simply return to compliance with their obligations under the deal. After snapback, any return to the deal would require new action at the Security Council, thus allowing other parties — again, most especially Russia and China — to seek concessions.  That does not mean a Biden administration would not return. Being stuck implementing Trump’s Iran policy ad infinitum is an unattractive proposition. But the U.S. would probably need to pay a price to undo Trump’s mess. As with all the hawks’ moves, the snapback idea will fail to achieve its purported objectives with Iran, but not before doing real damage to U.S. interests.

  • 2020-05-01

    Even the Trump administration seems to grudgingly have concluded that breaching the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was a mistake. More than two years after the U.S. exit, the deal still stands while the Trump administration is running out of options to force a re-negotiation. It is now so desperate it is seeking to convince the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that it never quit the deal in the first place. The lesson to the U.S. is clear: Diplomatic vandalism carries costs — even for a superpower. The lesson to a prospective President Joe Biden is more specific: Rejoin the nuclear deal, don’t try to renegotiate it.

  • 2020-04-29

    An investigation of supposed Iranian nuclear documents presented in a dramatically staged Netanyahu press conference indicates they were an Israeli fabrication designed to trigger US military conflict with Iran. 

  • 2020-04-21

    In light of a recent U.S. State Department arms control compliance report highlighting Iran’s growing “uranium enrichment activities and stockpile of enriched uranium,” this report presents recent Iranian breakout estimates and compares them to pivotal historical ones, where breakout is defined as the time Iran would need to produce 25 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium (WGU), enough for a nuclear weapon. As of late February 2020, the breakout estimate is 3.8 months, with a range of 3.1 to 4.6 months. This estimate is based on an Institute breakout calculator, utilizing modified ideal cascade calculations, adjusted with results from an earlier multi-year program of complex computer simulations of Iranian breakout, conducted in collaboration with centrifuge experts at the University of Virginia, and supplemented by operational data on Iranian centrifuges. The breakout estimates result from Iran’s installed enrichment capacity and its stock of low enriched uranium (LEU), as reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its quarterly reports on Iran. A significant development is that Iran is at the threshold of having enough LEU to move from a four-step enrichment process to a three-step one, allowing a significant reduction of breakout times, a phenomenon referred to in the media as a “key threshold” or “enough LEU for a nuclear weapon.” A potential covert enrichment plant utilizing 3000 IR-2m centrifuges is also assessed, giving a breakout of 3.1 months. The Annex to this report contains a summary of Iran’s stock of low enriched uranium, based on the IAEA’s most recent quarterly report on Iran, summarizing the situation as of late February 2020 and identifying which of the LEU stocks are used in the breakout calculations.

  • 2020-04-15

    On April 8, 2020, one day before Iran’s Nuclear Technology Day, a spokesperson for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) announced that Iran could produce 60 “advanced” centrifuges a day, with the goal to reach an enrichment capacity of 250,000 separative work units (swu) per year, ultimately one million swu per year.1 It is unlikely, for several reasons, that Iran will reach this capacity with its existing advanced centrifuges for many years, if ever. Currently, its enrichment capacity is about 7500 swu per year (see Annex). This capacity represents a growth of about 20 percent since November 2019 with almost three quarters of that capacity invested in first generation IR-1 centrifuges, the rest in a mélange of advanced centrifuges. To reach 250,000 swu per year, Iran would need to increase its current enrichment capacity 30-fold, entailing the installation and operation of tens of thousands of advanced centrifuges. This goal seems out of Iran’s reach, faced with advanced centrifuges that rarely work as planned and often fail, with a chaotic program that appears to be developing far too many centrifuges, all at best mediocre and poorly performing, and with little chance of ever competing economically with Russian and European centrifuges that supply most of the enrichment needs of nuclear power reactors in the world, including Iran’s own Bushehr reactor.

  • 2020-04-13

    Iran and the United States reported that the first round of indirect talks between them, aimed at finding a formula for a return to the nuclear agreement, was serious and constructive, although there is no assurance that the process will succeed. Despite the common interest of both sides to return to the agreement, the road ahead is fraught with obstacles and it is possible that the talks will collapse. Beyond the existing disagreements, the attack on the Natanz website, which Iran blames on Israel, may undermine the Vienna talks. In any case, both sides must find a mutually convincing formula that each party intends to implement what is imposed on it. US elements are still questioning Iran's intentions – is the regime willing to re-accept all the restrictions entailed in the nuclear agreement, or is it trying to buy time. It seems that even if the US administration is willing to listen to Israel’s arguments (including those to be raised during a planned visit to Washington by senior defense officials), Israel's ability to influence US moves toward the next stage of talks with Iran will be impaired if it raises mostly objections.

  • 2020-04-01

    This document is an unclassified Executive Summary of the Report that is transmitted pursuant to Section 403 of the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, as amended (22 U.S.C. § 2593a), which requires a report by the President on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments.  This unclassified Executive Summary is intended to address the requirement in that statute that a report be submitted to Congress not later than April 15 annually.  The full-length unclassified version of the Report will be provided at the earliest possible opportunity consistent with safe personnel and reduced staffing practices necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the SECRET and the TOP SECRET/SCI level annexes. 

  • 2020-03-11

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is reportedly planning to rebuke Iran for its lack of cooperation with the Agency and for refusing to provide access to sites related to its nuclear program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the sites in question in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, calling them “Iran’s Secret Atomic Warehouse.”  Netanyahu claimed that Israel had obtained information about these sites — including a trove of documents that purportedly contain information on nuclear weapons design — through secret operations.

  • 2020-03-11

    A March 3 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is withholding access to two sites connected to its nuclear program and failing to cooperate fully to resolve questions relating to nuclear material has created a potentially problematic situation for states committed to preserving the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

  • 2020-03-10

    Richard Nephew, who served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran, is of the opinion that “It is the IAEA's responsibility to investigate information that it receives.”

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