Three years of the JCPOA nuclear deal

Then US Secretary of State John Kelly with Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif during negotiation of the JCPOA in Vienna in 2015

Update from AIJAC

 

Update 01/19 #02

Mid-January marks three years since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, negotiated between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), came into force.

This Update is devoted to evaluations of the outcome of those three years.

We begin with an evaluation from two of Israel’s leading academic experts in proliferation, Emily Landau and Efraim Asculai, both from the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. They take on those who insist the “deal is working” by pointing to Iranian compliance by noting this is only an evaluation of success if the deal actually prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state, and argue that “sunset clauses” in the deal mean this is not the case. They also highlight two ongoing problems with the deal that have developed over the past three years – lack of inspections of undeclared Iranian nuclear facilities, and Iran’s ongoing pursuit and testing of nuclear-capable medium-range missiles. For their larger, highly informed discussion,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is columnist David Gerstman, who expands on what the inspection shortcomings identified above say about the deal – especially in the wake of yet another previously unknown and uninspected nuclear project site being identified as a result of the Iranian nuclear archive cache Israel captured last year. This project, identified from the archive documents by former UN weapons inspectors of the Institute for Science and International Security, was known as Shahid Boroujerdi, and appears to involve fabricating uranium metal components for nuclear warheads. Gerstman suggests that these and other recent revelations, which have not triggered new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of the sites in questions, strongly call into question the assurances that were offered by its supporters concerning the inspection mechanisms of the JCPOA. For his full argument,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer a summary of the revelations about Project Shahid Boroujerdi, as revealed by the Institute for Science and International Security, and their apparent significance. This summary of the report below is prepared by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, and also quotes the report’s conclusions, including a demand for urgent IAEA inspections of the Project Shahid Boroujerdi site. For the summary,  CLICK HERE, but the full report can be read here.

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The JCPOA, Three Years On

Emily B. Landau, Ephraim Asculai

INSS Insight No. 1128, January 13, 2019

Three years after the JCPOA was implemented in mid-January 2016, two major developments are particularly noteworthy: the new approach toward Iran and the nuclear deal adopted by US President Trump, culminating with his decision to leave the JCPOA in May 2018, and efforts exerted by Iran to ensure that the deal remains intact.

Whether and how there will be a willingness on the part of the regime to return to the negotiating table is an open question, but in any case, two major problems related to the JCPOA that arose over the course of 2018 demand immediate attention. The first relates to inspections at undeclared nuclear-related facilities in Iran. The second issue is Iran’s missile program, in particular the recent Iranian test of a medium-range missile that can reach the entire Middle East and parts of Europe, and can carry a nuclear warhead.

Empowered by ongoing efforts in the missile realm and diplomatic maneuvering to ensure that Trump is regarded as the outsider in his approach to Iran, Iran might yet prove successful in surviving the pressure campaign against it waged by the administration.

At that point it could be too late for any diplomatic or military actions to stop Iran from ultimately developing nuclear weapons and restoring a measure of stability to the Middle East.

Three years after Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in mid-January 2016, the question “how has the deal held up” is highly warranted.

Supporters of the JCPOA insist that “the deal is working” – but what does this mean? If the intention is that Iran is prevented from becoming a nuclear weapons state, clearly this is not the case; not least because the deal has an expiration date in the form of its sunset provisions, and thus at best only delays the time whereby Iran is able, technically, to continue developing a nuclear weapon. If, however, the intention is the limited sense that Iran has upheld its end of the nuclear bargain, the question depends on one’s assessment of the deal. If the deal is deemed to be a solid, comprehensive agreement, then Iran’s compliance would surely be good news. But if the deal is dangerously flawed, compliance with its terms would not confirm that it has prevented Iran from carrying on its nuclear development program or that there is room for complacency regarding the prospects of Iran going nuclear in the future.

What does the future hold regarding the Iranian nuclear project, according to the JCPOA? Until 2024, Iran will be permitted to operate 5060 IR-1-type centrifuges. Later, it will be permitted, in stages, to manufacture and operate more advanced centrifuge types. At present, Iran’s potential “breakout time” is somewhat less than a year, but this span will shrink as time goes by. Iran’s continued threats to enrich uranium to higher levels than the permitted 3.67%, thereby shortening the breakout time considerably, undermine trust and cast a favorable post-deal period in doubt. Providing that the JCPOA does not dissolve before then, October 18, 2025 marks “Termination Day”, at which point UNSC Resolution 2231 – which grants authority to the JCPOA – will be terminated.

Two major developments mark the past three years. The more significant one was no doubt the new approach toward Iran and the nuclear deal adopted by US President Trump, the polar opposite of the approach taken by the Obama administration. Over the course of 2017-2018, and especially from February to April 2018, there were attempts to come to an understanding with the Europeans about ways to strengthen the deal. While there is no official account of these talks, unofficial accounts note that progress was made on some of the issues. Still, the countries were not able to come to agreement over one of the most problematic features of the JCPOA: its sunset provisions. Following this failure, Trump’s about-face on Iran culminated with his decision to leave the JCPOA in May 2018.

This decision was highly controversial within the US public debate, and was flatly rejected by the other five members of the P5+1. Yet despite their warnings of dire consequences, not only is the JCPOA still alive, but the Iranians are exerting great effort to ensure that it stays this way – and this is the second development in this period. Indeed, the JCPOA provides Iran with many benefits: it enables Iran to hold on to its nuclear breakout capability, while legitimizing its uranium enrichment program; it does not cover Iran’s missile program, which is the delivery mechanism of nuclear weapons; it has very weak inspections provisions; and it provides Iran with significant sanctions relief. Not surprisingly, then, Iran’s earlier threats to leave the deal if the P5+1 did not ensure economic benefits that went beyond the explicit terms of the deal were exposed as empty threats. In order to save the JCPOA, Iran must ensure that the Europeans remain committed as well. Iran is therefore waging a focused campaign to distance Europe further from the US, while at the same time pressuring it to do more to protect Iran’s economic interests in the face of US sanctions. The Europeans – eager to move forward on lucrative economic deals with Iran – have been actively working to undermine the US sanctions by trying to set up a separate payment system – the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – that would circumvent the US financial system.

In light of these developments, what are the prospects for success of Trump’s pressure campaign against Iran? In part this depends on the willingness of the Iranian regime and people to continue suffering economically for the sake of becoming a nuclear power, and continuing with costly regional activity intended to bolster Iran’s regional hegemony. But whether and how this generates a willingness on the part of the regime to return to the negotiating table is an open question. Moreover, the support that Iran receives with regard to the JCPOA from Europe, Russia, and China discourages Iran from concluding that it must agree to renegotiate.

Regardless of whether Iran comes back to the table, two major problems related to the JCPOA that arose over the course of 2018 demand immediate and serious attention. The first relates to inspections at undeclared nuclear-related facilities in Iran. The nuclear archives that were removed by Israel’s Mossad from the heart of Tehran in January 2018 include vast amounts of information regarding Iran’s nuclear program and specific plans for developing five nuclear bombs. Included is information regarding specific locations where Iran has been advancing its military nuclear program, and evidence that Iran lied to the IAEA over the years about the purpose of different activities. Yet although it received this information, the IAEA has yet to inspect any of these facilities or confront Iran with the evidence of deceit. With a few notable exceptions – especially the work carried out by the Washington think tanks Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the issue is also curiously absent from the principal debate within the arms control community in the US. Moreover, although it is the largest financial contributor to the IAEA, the US has not as yet exerted its influence to bring about the necessary changes to IAEA activities and to improve its reporting culture since implementation of the JCPOA.

Iranian medium-range missile tests continue, while the Europeans emphasise that this is not a clear violation of the relevant UN resolution, given its ambiguous language. 

The second issue is Iran’s missile program, in particular the recent Iranian test of a medium-range missile that can reach the entire Middle East and parts of Europe, and can carry a nuclear warhead. While this test is a major concern, the European states and the arms control community prefer to emphasize that Iran’s test is not a clear violation of UNSC resolution 2231, which only “calls upon” Iran to cease such activities. The two states in Europe that did demonstrate more concern – France and the UK – were afraid to take concrete action for fear of upsetting the JCPOA.

The significance of the situation regarding Iran’s nuclear program also has far-reaching consequences regarding the global nonproliferation regime. This regime was damaged by the fallout of the JCPOA, in the sense that a state that had been lying to the international community for years was not reprimanded. With the nuclear deal, the international community granted a Non-Nuclear Weapon State (NNWS) permission to proceed with its uranium enrichment program. At the same time, these capabilities are denied to other regional states that are in compliance with the NPT and feel threatened by the license that has been granted to Iran. Iran and Syria, both proven NPT violators, retain their membership “in good standing” in the NPT, which enables them to prevent any condemnation resolutions or other more effective actions against them.

If the present trends of ignoring Iran’s past activities in the nuclear realm persist, including the IAEA’s current unwillingness or inability to ascertain past and present nuclear activities, there will be severe repercussions. Empowered by ongoing efforts in the missile realm and diplomatic maneuvering to ensure that Trump is regarded as the outsider in his approach to Iran, Iran might yet prove successful in surviving the pressure campaign. At that point it could be too late for any diplomatic or military actions to stop Iran from ultimately developing nuclear weapons and restoring a measure of stability to the Middle East.

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The Latest Proof That the Iran Nuclear Deal Has Failed to Work

by David Gerstman

Algeimeiner, JANUARY 17, 2019

An aerial map from 2004 showing Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities at the Parchin military complex near Tehran. Image: isis-online.org

In explaining how the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran would prevent the Islamic dictatorship from developing nuclear weapons, the Obama White House claimed on its website that Iran agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors “to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious.” This suspicion, the website continued, could “be triggered by holes in the ground that could be uranium mines, intelligence reports, unexplained purchases, or isotope alarms.”

While the guarantee that Iran would open any suspicious nuclear site to IAEA inspectors sounded good in theory, in practice it has not happened.

The latest episode that exposed the weakness of the guarantees in the nuclear deal was last week’s paper from the Institute of Science and International Security, which concluded that Iran was likely developing or attempting to develop nuclear warheads, based on information learned from the documents that Israel recovered from Iran’s hidden nuclear archive last year.

The paper — written by David Albright, a former weapons inspector and president of the Institute; Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the IAEA; Frank Pabian, a former inspector for the IAEA; and Andrea Stricker, a senior policy analyst at the Institute — reports that the Iranian documents show that, under the Amad Plan, there was a project for designing a warhead for a nuclear weapon.

The Amad Plan is Iran’s nuclear weapons research program. After 2003, it was restructured, and parts of it were made covert. One project associated with Amad was called Project 110. Under Project 110 was the Shahid Boroujerdi project.

The documents in the archive show that Iran built an underground tunnel at the notorious Parchin military site in order to accommodate the secret research of the Shahid Boroujerdi project.

“The purpose of Project Shahid Boroujerdi was most likely the production and fabrication of uranium metal components for nuclear warheads,” the Institute’s paper asserted.
“Over the last three months alone, we have conducted over a half dozen studies of the information in the Nuclear Archive,” the paper added.

The authors assessed that the information in the archives “is extremely rich in information about Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts that is actionable in terms of better carrying out inspections.” Additionally, they asserted that Iran’s statements to the IAEA have been “incomplete and duplicitous.” The archives would also allow for the IAEA to better understand the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program “today and in the future.”

The Obama administration guaranteed that for the whole enrichment process of uranium, “the IAEA will have eyes on it and anywhere Iran could try and take it.”
What we have seen from the lack of response to the new information about the scope of Iran’s nuclear weapons program shows that the IAEA has failed to guarantee Iran’s compliance, much less prevent Iran from reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.

Last July, members of the Obama administration defended the nuclear deal with Iran. According to a report in The New York Times, former Obama administration officials said that the information in the archive simply confirmed what “they had suspected all along.” The deal, according to these officials, forced Iran to ship out 97 percent of its enriched uranium.

This is an odd defense of the deal. It only says that the deal set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not that it ended them, as the deal was sold at the time.
In fact, as the Institute’s paper asserted, “The provisions of the JCPOA, with the current IAEA monitoring regime, would not be able to detect and precipitate action in time to block Iran from dashing to a nuclear weapon within a short period of time, particularly as restrictions on enrichment start to end beginning in five years.”

Until and unless the IAEA asserts its authority and insists on thorough inspections of all suspicious Iranian nuclear sites, the deal will be unable to achieve its advertised aim of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The IAEA must act — and the international community must back it up.

But at this late date, one must wonder if it is still possible to make the deal enforceable.

David Gerstman is senior editor of The Tower, the news blog of The Israel Project.

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Excerpts from “A Key Missing Piece of the Amad Puzzle:The Shahid Boroujerdi Project for Production of Uranium Metal & Nuclear Weapons Components”

By David Albright, Olli Heinonen, Frank Pabian, and Andrea Stricker

A commercial satellite image showing the location of the Shahid Boroujerdi project at the Parchin military armaments complex and the relative location of the High Explosives Test Chamber site which was also part of the Amad nuclear weapons effort.

Summary points produced by the Foundation for Defence fo Democracies:

  • The purpose of Project Shahid Boroujerdi was most likely the production and fabrication of uranium metal components for nuclear warheads.  Although uranium is not directly mentioned in any of the documents so far available, the most logical choice of materials to be handled in this facility is uranium.
  • Before the seizure of the nuclear archive, the fact that this site was part of the Amad project was unknown to the IAEA.
  • The Shahid Boroujerdi project shows that key information about Iran’s nuclear weapons program was not known prior to the implementation of the JCPOA.
  • The current purpose and status of this site is unknown, although it is difficult to ascribe any nuclear use to it post-Amad, e.g. post-2004.  It could have been repurposed to other military uses.  Nonetheless, the site remains an enigma and deserves further scrutiny.
  • The Shahid Boroujerdi project was to be outfitted with a range of dual-use equipment, materials, and technology relevant to making nuclear weapon components. The location of any such items is unknown, as is Iran’s current work, capabilities, or plans to make uranium metal and components for a nuclear weapons program.
  • Overall, this new information adds urgency to efforts to create an accurate, complete history of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts and to obtain answers from Iran about the fate today of the equipment, material, technology, and personnel from the Shahid Boroujerdi project, and more broadly, the Amad and successor programs.
  • The information about a heretofore unknown Project 110 facility highlights the immense value of the nuclear archive seized by Israel in filling in missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Upper image is a frame-grab of a video in the archive shown by Prime Minister Netanyahu on April 30, 2018, purporting to show an underground facility to produce “nuclear cores,” which means uranium metal components of a nuclear weapon. The lower image is from the Shahid Boroujerdi documents with the title “framing in an access route.” 

Among the report’s conclusions:

The new information raises fundamental questions about whether Iran is complying with its comprehensive safeguards agreement, the Additional Protocol, the JCPOA, and more broadly, with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It is difficult to excuse the IAEA’s hesitancy to address this new information about the Amad project as provided in the captured portion of the archive.

The IAEA Board should urge IAEA to verify sites, locations, facilities, and materials involved in these activities, and Iran to cooperate fully in these investigations.  Time is of the essence.  Information from the archives has been available close to one year, which has given Iran an opportunity to conceal ongoing activities, as it has in the past.

The provisions of the JCPOA, with the current IAEA monitoring regime, would not be able to detect and precipitate action in time to block Iran from dashing to a nuclear weapon within a short period of time, particularly as restrictions on enrichment start to end beginning in five years.  If such weapons-related capabilities are not removed or rendered harmless, the probability increases that countries will decide to block Iran via military means.  Non-action also increases the probability that other states in the region will build their own independent military nuclear capabilities using loopholes in the NPT regime and, if necessary, concealment.  The United States and parties to the JCPOA should work now to prevent a renewed Iranian nuclear crisis, before time runs out.