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Nuclear file

  • 31 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

The Impracticality of the Zero Enrichment Stipulation

The Israel Project has recently launched a website which aims to convince the public that if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium at all, then Iran will certainly develop a nuclear weapon. However, holding on to such notions is a fallacy that will undermine diplomatic progress. While it would be great to have zero risk of Iranian proliferation, which the zero enrichment proposal seeks to attain, such a situation is neither attainable nor necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Further, with sufficient safeguards in place, risks of Iranian weaponization can be diminished to reasonable and acceptable levels. Therefore, it is in America’s interest to sacrifice the long-gone idea of “zero enrichment” and instead focus on securing concrete and verifiable transparency from the Iranian regime. Insisting on unprecedented monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program, rather than deal-killing stipulations such as “zero enrichment,” will ultimately prove more effective in guarding against an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The expectation and the feasibility of a zero-enrichment clause in any final deal with Iran is not realistic. As George Perkovich said, “Iran has already paid tens of billions of dollars in direct costs; lost more than $100 billion in sanctions; and suffered a cyberattack, the assassination of key scientists and engineers, and the perpetual threat of war to protect its self-proclaimed right to enrich uranium. There is no reason to think that more sanctions or military strikes would change Tehran’s stance now.” Further, an insistence on zero enrichment has precluded the possibility of viable nuclear deals in the past, including in a potential 2005 bargain with European powers that would have capped Iran’s enrichment at 3,000 centrifuges.

Moreover, Iranians frequently bring up the argument that they want to have the capability to enrich their own nuclear fuel because they don’t want to be dependent on other nations whom they don’t trust. For example, Iranians mention the event in which France reneged on a deal with Iran after Iran had already provided a billion-dollar investment in the multinational enrichment consortium, Eurodif. France refused to deliver the nuclear fuel previously promised to Iran, thus giving the Iranians ammunition to strengthen their own nuclear program.

Additionally, Iran is currently one of fourteen countries that enrich uranium on their own soil, including non-nuclear weapon states like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. Under the NPT, parties are recognized as having the “inalienable right…to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” Any enrichment capabilities – which are neither granted nor denied by the NPT – are subject to full and thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And under the NPT and IAEA inspection, no country has ever obtained a nuclear weapon.  This is why it is a more valuable use of our time to expand the access of international inspectors than insisting on “zero enrichment”.

As far as the interim agreement, as signed by the P5+1, enrichment is actually explicitly defined and permitted. The preamble of the agreement says, “[T]his comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Even in a final deal, enrichment would not violate the intent of the Security Council resolutions. As Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball said, “the first step Geneva deal effectively accomplishes the original goal of the U.N. Security Council resolutions by capping the total amount of 3.5% material [low-enriched uranium] and it goes further by requiring Iran to neutralize its 20% stockpiles and to cease all enrichment to 20% levels while a comprehensive agreement that further limits Iran’s enrichment capacity below current levels is negotiated.”

Since a final agreement with Iran would likely include the ratification and implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol and potentially further voluntary measures, insisting on zero enrichment while the Iranians hold firm in their opposition against the demand is a waste of time, diplomatic energy, and political capital. We should be focusing our energies into creating practical demands which we can get the Iranians to agree to in order to ensure Iranians cannot develop a nuclear weapon. And this is a fact that America’s highest ranked diplomats and politicians have already recognized.

In 2009, when current Secretary of State John Kerry was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “The Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous… it was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will. They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.” Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has traditionally held a hard line in regards to Iran, said to BBC while she was American’s top diplomat that once Iran has shown that their nuclear program is thoroughly responsible, peaceful and in accordance to international standards, they can possibly enrich for civilian purposes in the future. And just on Tuesday, Senator Angus King [I-MI] said at a Council of Foreign Relations event that, “some of our allies want success to be no nuclear capacity at all, no enrichment capacity at all. The indication from Iran is that they’re not going to accept that, so the question is, what between zero and something is going to be acceptable in the agreement.”

Regardless of whether you support the Geneva agreement or not, we will not obtain zero Iranian enrichment.  Military strikes can’t bomb away nuclear know-how and would only enhance desires for a nuclear deterrent.  Sanctions have failed to alter Iran’s nuclear calculus.  Diplomacy, however, can provide sufficient assurances so that Iranian enrichment is used for peaceful purposes, and that’s where the US and the rest of the P5+1 need to focus their efforts.

Feinstein Delivers Strong Defense of Diplomacy on Senate Floor

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added to her credentials as a champion of diplomacy with Iran with a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate last night. Sen. Feinstein warned that S.1881, a sanctions bill from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that has garnered 59 cosponsors, would “collapse negotiations” and be a “march toward war.”

Her speech came at a critical time. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to implement the first phase nuclear deal struck in November. Further, a number of Senators are voicing their strong opposition to the new Iran sanctions, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Despite the growing opposition, the bill still retains the support of a majority of U.S. Senators.

Feinstein began her speech by noting that countries can change direction, citing the examples of post-war Germany and Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa. Further, she noted that several nations have abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons, including Sweden, Argentina and South Korea. Citing robust diplomatic engagement and steps to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Feinstein suggested that Iran could be on the cusp of a similar change “and that it is the job of diplomay to push for that change.”

Feinstein highlighted the strong security benefits of the first phase nuclear deal, including that it will require Iran to cap its enrichment at 5% and eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, all while instituting “the most intrusive international inspection regime ever” to verify compliance.

According to Feinstein, Senate passage of S.1881 would kill the deal and ongoing talks with Iran, “and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed. “ Further, Senate passage would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.”  Those Iranian hardliners would argue that Rouhani and Zarif “exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harsh punitive sanctions.”

“Above all,” Feinstein added, “they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change. “ Nuclear negotiations would collapse, Iran’s nuclear program would be unconstrained, and the U.S. would only be left with military options.

Feinstein, citing Secretary of State John Kerry’s formal request that the Senate hold off on new sanctions to allow the negotiators time and space to do their jobs, argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill “is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

Citing the fact that new sanctions would collapse the agreement, Feinstein asked, “How does that (passing new sanctions) make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.”

Sen. Feinstein concluded by stating that the first phase nuclear deal with Iran “is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own. To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S.1881).”

Sen. Feinstein’s strong speech could weaken support for the sanctions bill at a critical time, encouraging other Senators to make their opposition to the bill public. Currently, two dozen Senators have yet to take a formal public position on the bill.

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

  • 21 June 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Does Iran’s president play a role in nuclear diplomacy?

With the new president elect Hassan Rouhani and his strong background in nuclear negations, many Iranians are hopeful that US-Iranian relations will take a turn for the better. As part of the pragmatic faction of Iran, which seeks to improve contact with the West, Rouhani claims he will work to bring Iran out of international isolation.

However, a major narrative among analysts and elected officials who have dismissed the election is that the Iranian president is merely a lap dog for the Supreme Leader and things will not change because Ali Khamenei holds the nuclear file.

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, disagrees:

“The Presidents have had enormous impacts on Iran’s nuclear calculations and I would suggest between the years 2003 to 2010 some of the most important initiatives on the nuclear issue were actually initiatives of the Presidential office. The decision in 2003 to suspend the enrichment program was a Presidential initiative that the Supreme Leader agreed to. The decision in 2005 to resume enrichment was a Presidential decision–candidate Ahmadinejad had campaigned on it, obviously the Supreme Leader agreed to that. And much of the initiatives that we saw over the past couple of years including the Turkey-Brazil deal were the initiatives of the President that the Supreme Leader sometimes agreed to, or sometimes didn’t, but he went along with it.”

Speaking at a JINSA panel last week, Takeyh asserted the notion that the “role of the Iranian President is extraneous is flawed.” If Takeyh is correct, the new president-elect Rouhani will indeed play a major role in nuclear deliberations and will have his initiative, as have  previous presidents of Iran.

  • 11 February 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Iran’s nuclear missile threat: Perceived or Real?

A recent article published in the Roll Call newspaper sharply ratchets up the frenzy over Iran’s purported nuclear missile threat to make the case against looming cuts to the Pentagon’s budget. The author of the piece, retired Navy commander James Lyons, argues that the U.S. is vulnerable to an Iranian nuclear missile attack and urgently needs to upgrade its missile defense systems to defend against this supposed threat. “Iran has already tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by using them to send satellites into space”, the author explains, and will have a nuclear weapon tipped ICBM “that could reach American shores in just three years or less.”

Fortunately for the U.S. budget, Iran is far from having such capabilities. The fact is that Iran has not even made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. This is corroborated by the IAEA and the U.S. and other intelligence agencies – who would also be able to detect a sudden effort by the Iranians to start building the bomb. Even if Iran were to start building a nuclear weapon today, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has stated that it would take two to five years for Iran to have a weapon and delivery vehicle.

In the hypothetical scenario where Iran chooses to start building the bomb and manages to complete one in a few years time, Iran still will not have the capability to reach the United States with such a weapon. The author’s claim that Iran has “already tested intercontinental ballistic missiles by using them to send satellites into space” is directly disputed by a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which states that it “seems clear that Iran has a dedicated space launch effort and it is not simply a cover for ICBM development.” This report additionally states that “it is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve ICBM capability by 2015” and that “Iran has not demonstrated the kind of flight test program many view as necessary to produce an ICBM.”

The United States undeniably faces real security challenges in the world, but a nuclear missile threat from Iran is simply not one of them. Iran is long way from posing any such threat to the United States, and to spend tax dollars on this largely imaginary threat would the ultimate exercise in squandering wealth.

  • 31 January 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

What Obama’s new team may mean for diplomatic progress with Iran

The commencement of President Obama’s second term in office brings a whole host of updates to his administration. With old advisors and secretaries departing and a new national security team being formed, several of these changes may have direct implications on future talks with Iran.

Foremost among these is the recent Senate confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State, as well as the appointment, if confirmed, of Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. A key member of President Obama’s Iran negotiating team, Gary Samore, who was the White House White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism, is also leaving. Samore’s successor still has not been decided and his replacement will be one among many in President Obama’s Iran and Middle East teams that will shake out in the upcoming weeks and months.

There are indications that these changes, especially at the State Department and the Pentagon, will make way for an opportunity for serious engagement with Iran. Both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are arguably less hawkish on Iran than their predecessors, and Kerry has in the past recognized Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment (a key Iranian demand).

If serious negotiations are to occur, they will have to be based on mutual, give and take compromise by both Iran and the U.S. Undoubtedly, Iran’s chief demand will be sanctions relief and a recognition of a right to enrichment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and for the U.S. it will be to reduce that enrichment to lower grades and hold Iran accountable to NPT obligations through increased inspections.

Former Ambassador William H. Luers and Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs, have outlined how a possible deal would work in their recent article for the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The shape of a deal on the nuclear issues is obliquely understood by both sides, but Iran has made clear it expects some specificity on this issue. Of course getting to a deal is a problem because of 30 years of mistrust between the two sides. So at the most basic level, Iran should agree to keep in full its nonproliferation treaty commitment and to provide for the greatest transparency so inspectors can monitor its nuclear program.

“On the U.S. side, there should be a plan to reduce the sanctions on nuclear development as well as recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes only. An early start would be for Iran to stop production of 20 percent-enriched uranium (which can shorten the time needed to produce weapons-grade uranium) in exchange for relaxed sanctions.”

Both sides have increasingly given signals of willingness to come to compromise, and even the principles of a compromise have also been established. As Obama’s second term changes shape out, there is reason to be hopeful for the upcoming nuclear talks with Iran. A hope that, for the million of Iranians currently bearing the brunt of US sanctions, cannot come to fruition soon enough.

  • 11 December 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Reuters Corrects False Claim Iran Enriching Weapons-Grade Uranium

In response to a request from NIAC as part of our Iranfact.org project, Reuters has corrected two articles containing inaccurate, misleading statements regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

December 6 article by Reuters claims, “Washington says Tehran is enriching uranium to levels that could be used in nuclear weapons.” And on December 10 Reuters wrote, “The West suspects Iran is enriching uranium to levels that could be used in weapons…”

Iran, under IAEA supervision, has enriched uranium to 5% and 20%, but not to the 90% required for a nuclear warhead. Uranium enriched to 5% or 20% is not usable in a nuclear weapon. Moreover, the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence have both reiterated this year that the U.S. does not believe Iran has made the decision to build nuclear weapons, consistent with the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

To Reuters’ credit, they promptly updated their articles with the following prominent correction under the headline:

(Corrects 4th para to show Iran not making weapons-grade uranium)

NIAC will continue to hold the media accountable for incorrect reporting like the above. It is especially important to ensure that facts are checked on issues as controversial as the standoff between the US, Iran, Israel, and the rest of the world over Iran’s nuclear program.

Have you spotted an inaccurate statement in the media? Share it with us at Iranfact.org.

  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Panel Discussion, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Why is the pro-war crowd lying about their own studies?

Within 45 minutes of the release of the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s (BPC) report, “The Price of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran,” pro-war pundits were  spinning its results.

The neoconservative Washington Free Beacon breathlessly announced, “REPORT: Nuclear Iran would ‘double’ oil prices, cost millions of U.S. jobs.”

The problem here is that the BPC report doesn’t say this.  It says that if there were a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil prices would double.  Yes, it is shocking–if a nuclear war broke out in the Middle East it would likely cost more to fill up your tank.

Given the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s track record of pro-war hyperbole on all things Iran, its stunning to see neoconservative rags spinning the BPC’s message even further.  But the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo  ignores the report’s findings and instead fabricates his own conclusions in an attempt to rebut warnings about the significant economic costs of military strikes on Iran (including $7 gas).

*Update: Now the Drudge Report has gotten into the act, reposting the Free Beacon piece with the same erroneous headline*

  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Israel, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Shredding the NPT

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gets bandied about on both sides of the Iran negotiations. Iranian officials often use the fact that Israel is not a signatory of the treaty to question Israel’s nuclear arsenal while defending their own right to a civilian enrichment program.  At the same time, U.S. and Israeli politicians use it much like Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat did today, at an Atlantic Council event, Rethinking Policy Toward Iran:

“[If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon it] would shred what remains of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. If a country can ignore a half-dozen UN resolutions with impunity and continue down this road then there is very little left of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

This position is certainly not wrong. A treaty that continues to be left or broken on a regular basis will shortly lose its meaning. But there’s yet another side to this coin, which Ali Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst at the International Crisis Group, illuminated later in the event:

“I often hear this argument in Washington, that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it would be disastrous for the integrity of the NPT. But another thing that would be disastrous for the NPT is actually attacking Iran. Because just imagine that a country that is not an NPT member, and has nuclear weapons attacking a country that is an NPT member and does not have nuclear weapons. I think that would equally undermine the NPT. And my biggest fear is the day that the Iranians, in the aftermath of an attack, just turn off the lights, and start building a nuclear weapon, and weld on it the same thing that the Israelis wrote on their first nuclear warhead, which is ‘Never Again.’”

  • 18 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 1 Comments
  • Election 2012, Nuclear file

Romney confused about “dirty bombs”


It’s hard to know where to begin when pointing out flaws in Mitt Romney’s recent comments on Iran’s nuclear program. A secretly recorded video, which was released by Mother Jones early this morning, portrays Mr. Romney channeling his inner role-playing geek, playing the part of Iran:

If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.” I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

As many have pointed out, “fissile material,” or the uranium that Iran is enriching, is an incredibly poor material for a dirty bomb. It released its radiation incredibly slowly, meaning that you’d need to vaporize well over one thousand metric tons to contaminate Manhattan. To put that in perspective, according to the latest IAEA figures, in the past decade Iran has accumulated less than 7 metric tons of LEU, or .4% of what they’d need.  Clearly Mr. Romney is confusing the science.