While implementation of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is critical for restoring international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran can do far more to provide additional assurances that its activities meet international nuclear security standards.
Meeting international norms on nuclear security is not a requirement under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or the JCPOA. However, strengthening nuclear security at the state level is critical for guarding against nuclear terrorism and can play an important role in preventing proliferation.
In the past decade, there has been an increased recognition of the importance of nuclear security and a corresponding uptick in state commitments to meet guidelines recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), develop best practices and collaborate to address emerging threats in areas such as cyber security.
Given Iran’s stated intention to expand its civil nuclear program, it behooves Tehran to strengthen its nuclear security practices and culture. The JCPOA provides a starting point in Annex III, which makes recommendations for civil nuclear cooperation between Iran, the P5+1 (Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States plus Germany), and other interested states. These activities include trainings to strengthen Iran’s ability to effectively protect its nuclear facilities and reviewing legislative frameworks to enable accession to relevant conventions on nuclear safety and security. Many of these recommendations are not time bound, setting the stage for long-term cooperation. This creates significant opportunities to build on the recommendations in Annex III, even as other key limits expire, and provides additional opportunities for continued international involvement with Iran’s nuclear program, which contributes to transparency.
This paper outlines three suggestions for strengthening Iran’s nuclear security and providing additional assurance that Tehran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.
Join IAEA Informational Circular (INFCIRC) 869, the Joint Statement on Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation.
As part of the Nuclear Security Summits (a series of meetings held biannually from 2010-2016 to address the security of nuclear materials in civil programs) the United States, South Korea and the Netherlands drove a collaborative process to develop additional assurances on nuclear security that is now open to all IAEA member states as INFCIRC/869. To build on the benefits of Annex III, Iran should be encouraged to sign on to this IAEA document.
The INFCICR/869 contains a range of actions that includes subscribing to the nuclear security fundamentals laid out in the IAEA nuclear security series reports and committing to meet the intent of the recommendations in several of those documents. It also contains a commitment to continually improve effectiveness of nuclear security by acting on recommendations from peer reviews, IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service missions and self-assessments. Additionally, there is a list of actions that would contribute to strengthening nuclear security, and states are requested to undertake at least one additional activity on the list. These include regional training activities, developing cyber security for nuclear facilities, contributing to the IAEA nuclear security fund and cooperation with neighboring states to improve regional nuclear security. Some of the recommended actions already overlap with Annex III measures.
Because INFICRCs are not treaties or legally binding, Iran would not need to ratify the agreement domestically. Tehran would indicate its participation by notifying the IAEA Secretariat. This also has the benefit of preventing a drawn-out and politicized ratification process in Iran’s parliament, while signaling that Iran takes its nuclear security responsibilities seriously.
Expand the proposed nuclear safety center in Iran to include nuclear security and forge connections with other centers.
Annex III, Section D, Paragraph 8(6), proposes establishing a nuclear safety center in Iran to support trainings for personnel involved with Iran’s nuclear industry. Work on this center is already underway, as the European Union and Iran agreed in 2016 to begin a feasibility study for establishing such a center.
Once established, the center should be expanded to address nuclear security. The IAEA has developed a guide for building capacities at the state level for establishing and sustaining nuclear security support centers, which has been successfully utilized by several states. The IAEA also runs a Nuclear Security Training and Support Center (NSSC) network. Iran’s center would benefit from access to additional resources and specialized trainings provided through the network, such as guidance on detection technology maintenance and calibration, transport security, physical protection, provision of equipment and training modules.
Another option Iran should be encouraged to explore is developing multilateral relationships between nuclear security centers in the region. Given that several states in the Middle East are at various stages of civil nuclear program development, forming a regional network of nuclear security centers could provide a platform for developing regionally focused activities that address the unique threats to the Middle East. South Korea, China and Japan have developed the Asian Regional Network, which is comprised of the three nuclear security centers in each state, allowing for specialization and training exchanges. A similar model could be applied in the Middle East, drawing on existing centers and institutions in Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. China, as a participant in the JCPOA, would be well-suited to provide guidance on developing a multilateral network.
Participate in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT)
Iran does not currently participate in the GICNT and should be encouraged to join the multilateral group. Launched in 2006 by the United States and Russia, the GICNT’s statement of principles contains eight points aimed at developing capacities to combat nuclear terrorism. Since 2006, the group’s membership has grown to 86 states, including all of the members of the P5+1 and states in the Middle East such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and the UAE, and the GICNT has conducted more than 80 workshops and exercises.
GICNT working groups are currently focused on areas such as response to and mitigation of an act of nuclear or radiological terrorism and strengthening nuclear detection architectures. Iran’s participation in these working group’s exercises and best practice development could help build regional capacities in these areas, identify gaps that might exist and establish additional lines of communication on nuclear terrorism issues. Active involvement in this voluntary multilateral group would provide additional assurance that Tehran is committed to nuclear security and the prevention of nuclear terrorism as well as provide a logical extension for some of the activities recommended in Annex III.
An act of sabotage or deliberate attack on a nuclear reactor in Iran would have devastating consequence. Not only is it in Iran’s interest to take these steps that demonstrate it is a responsible nuclear stakeholder, it is in the interest of the region and the international community to support and engage with Iran’s nuclear security efforts.
Kelsey Davenport is Director for Nonproliferation at the Arms Control Association.