State Department Official on Iran, Weapons of Mass Destruction

July 27, 2018

On July 27, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Yleem Poblete argued that 2015 Iran nuclear deal “was flawed at both the technical and political levels, and at the practical level.” In remarks about Syrian and Iranian compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, Poblete said any new agreement with Tehran must block all paths to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, “rather than merely contain, control or delay it.” The following are excerpted remarks. 


Yleem D.S. Poblete 
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance

Foundation for Defense of Democracies

July 27, 2018

PobleteThe JCPOA was flawed at both the technical and political levels, and at the practical level.

First, technically: It allows Iran to continue to conduct certain research and development activities on more efficient centrifuge machines that, if deployed on a larger scale, would significantly reduce the number required to produce highly enriched uranium, and could make clandestine enrichment facilities more difficult to detect. It also does not provide irreversibility of limitations imposed on existing centrifuge equipment. For example, IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz in excess of JCPOA limitations are stored, not destroyed.

President Trump has underscored the dangers posed by the Sunset provisions in the JCPOA. Technical examples include ending the limit on Iran’s stockpile of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67%, installing infrastructure for the advanced IR-8 centrifuges at Natanz, and eventually ending containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows, and ending of the prohibition to operate additional heavy water reactors or accumulation of heavy water.

Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement provides the IAEA the authority to verify the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declaration of its nuclear facilities and materials. The Additional Protocol to that agreement provides the IAEA with expanded access to nuclear fuel cycle-related information and locations in Iran so that the IAEA can provide assurances of the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities. In addition, the JCPOA is supposed to provide the IAEA with access and measures that go beyond that enabled by Iran’s CSA safeguards or AP obligations. Iran, however, has made repeated public statements denying important aspects of the IAEA’s authorities there, and although the IAEA reports that it has not yet been denied access to any site it has requested to visit, the IAEA has suggested publicly that Iran may not always have given “timely and proactive cooperation” in response to such requests.

The verification provisions of the JCPOA did not go far enough. Given Iran’s history of clandestine nuclear activities and extensive sanitization campaigns to conceal the nature and scope of these efforts once detected, effective verification in Iran requires an intrusive inspection regime that helps ensure the paramount objective of permanently denying Iran any pathway to nuclear weapons.

At the political level, the conditions under which Iran’s noncompliance had been addressed prior to the negotiation and implementation of the JCPOA have drastically altered. Unanswered questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear activities still loom large in our assessment of the potential threat Iran represents. Playing on the other parties’ evident desire to keep the JCPOA alive, Iran is now attempting to throw a scare into them over continued compliance in order to prompt them to provide the economic benefits Iran believes are due under the JCPOA.

And most concerning of all, as it relates to broader U.S. nonproliferation objectives, the JCPOA did not cover Iran’s missile programs or its chemical weapons program.

At the practical level, the JCPOA’s most significant flaw is that it fails to prevent Iran from ever having fissile material production capabilities that would permit it to rapidly breakout into weaponization. This, along with its failure to address Iran’s aggressive misbehavior in the region, is why President Trump has accurately described the JCPOA as a “terrible” deal. Iran asserts its perceived so-called “inalienable right” under the NPT to enrichment, but the NPT must be viewed in its entirety. Article IV speaks of the States Parties’ right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but it connects this right to conformity with Articles I and II as well as the safeguards described in Article III. This is an explicit requirement to confirm the peaceful nuclear programs of all Parties. Iran has not yet demonstrated to the world that it has rectified its egregious record of noncompliance with Articles II and III, which led to the IAEA Board of Governors referral of Iran to the UN Security Council and the passage of 10 resolutions between 2006 and 2014.

Iran is also using the JCPOA to justify its renewed acquisition of equipment and materials – ostensibly for its “peaceful” nuclear program – that have dual-use. The recent disclosure by Israel of its discovery of thousands of documents preserved and in storage in Iran related to its past nuclear weapons program – including, according to recent press reports, plans for the design of a nuclear device -- should leave no one in doubt that Iran has not yet clearly put its unlawful nuclear weapons ambitions forever behind it.

AVC experts are monitoring these and other developments that would inform our assessments on Iranian compliance with its obligations.

Looking Ahead

President Trump has made clear that we need to abandon the JCPOA “mindset”. In withdrawing from this deal, the President said: “It is the policy of the United States that Iran be denied a nuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missiles;…and to counter Iran’s aggressive development of missiles and other asymmetric and conventional weapons capabilities.”

Secretary Pompeo has elaborated on how this policy will be pursued and has reiterated President Trump “is ready, willing, and able to negotiate a new deal. But the deal is not the objective. Our goal is to protect the American people” and we will “not renegotiate the JCPOA itself.”

Any new agreement must address the full spectrum of threats to U.S. security and interests presented by Iranian noncompliance with its international obligations. It should verifiably and indefinitely deny Iran all paths to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, rather than merely contain, control or delay it. As such it is incumbent upon the U.S. in moving beyond the JCPOA to seek effective verification. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report accompanying the legislation which created my Bureau, stated that effective verification “consists of (1) a high level of assurance in the United States’ ability to detect (2) a ‘militarily significant’ violation in (3) ‘a timely fashion’ and should provide ‘detection of patterns of marginal violations'.”

I would like to close with one observation: Nothing in the conduct of foreign policy is ever done in a vacuum. The end state that we must seek for the successful conclusion of any future deal with Iran must inform and be informed by the end state we are seeking for North Korea. Inconsistency in our approach to either negotiation will undermine our credibility and most likely doom the prospects for successfully dealing with the threats to our security posed by these and other actors, or to the proliferation challenges of the future.

The President noted in the National Security Strategy: “The scourge of the world today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate all principles of free and civilized states.” In response to these threats, the Strategy calls for the augmentation of measures to prevent the spread of and to eliminate WMD and related materials, their delivery systems, and technologies. It further underscores the need to hold state and non-state actors accountable for the use of WMD.

To do so, we must be semper vigilans -- always vigilant -- intensifying monitoring, detection, and verification of the activities of these pariahs. Wishful thinking cannot substitute for such vigilance, and hope cannot be allowed to replace rigor – as appears to have been done with the JCPOA. Noncompliance and blatant disregard of international norms must be dutifully and thoroughly reviewed, documented, and assessed. This is where the AVC Bureau’s mandate comes into focus, with the Compliance Report, among other tools, serving as a predicate for action and accountability.

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