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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 90, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 90, Spring 2009

Towards 2010 and Beyond

Challenges for the NPT: Iran and North Korea

Michael Spies

This article gives an update on developments in the past year relating to two key challenges for the nuclear non-proliferation regime: Iran and North Korea. It focuses on developments in Iran's nuclear programme and the progress of the IAEA investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities and possible weaponization work; and looks at how prospects for diplomatic progress are improving following the change of US administration. The article also considers developments relating to the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and attempts to restart the Six Party Talks (involving China, DPRK, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States), which have been stalled as a result of ongoing disagreements over verification. Tensions in the area have risen again, following the DPRK's recent attempted launch of a long range Taepodong missile that it claimed was to put a satellite in orbit.


The international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme has shifted from stalemate to renewed hope in the year since the 2008 NPT PrepCom. Prospects for achieving a negotiated settlement had been stalemated since 2006, principally over the condition principally stipulated by the European Union and the United States, that Iran suspend its "proliferation sensitive" nuclear activities before any negotiations can begin.

The inauguration of US President Barack Obama has heralded a fresh approach, signalled by the President's personal call for engagement with Iran based on "mutual respect". Together with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's pledge to reset relations with Russia, this has increased prospects for cooperation, though much may depend on Iranian elections later this year. Though it is still early days, the Obama administration has indicated that it intends to be present at all future meetings between Iran and the group of six key players variously described as the 'EU-3 plus 3' or the 'P-5 plus 1', which comprises France, Germany, the United Kingdom (the EU-3) together with the three remaining permanent members of the UN Security Council, China, Russia and the United States. In this the administration is carrying through a change of approach initiated by the Bush administration when it sent a representative to the talks for the first time in July 2008.

In a further positive development, the 'EU-3 plus 3' has now asked EU High Representative Javier Solana to invite Iran to talks without preconditions. US attempts to "reset" relations with Russia may also help to create more positive conditions for progress, as Russian cooperation and support is critical to achieving a unified approach.

Since the 2002 revelations that Iran was pursuing industrial scale uranium enrichment and that much of the development of its nuclear fuel cycle programme had been in secret (and in contravention of its NPT safeguards agreement), many governments have insisted that Iran restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. To some governments, particularly those of the western powers, such restoration of confidence can only come through Iran's cessation of uranium enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water-related activities, called "proliferation sensitive activities" by the UN Security Council.

For others, the satisfactory conclusion of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigations into Iran's past nuclear activities, the resolution of all outstanding issues, and the certification that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in the country[1] should be the unequivocal goal. To these governments, many of which have not played a major role in moving the direction of the issue internationally, requiring suspension of nuclear activities is only a means and not an end in itself.

Developments in Iran's nuclear programme

Iran suspended aspects of its nuclear programme between 2003 and 2006, while it pursued negotiations with the EU-3 over its nuclear programme. Following the breakdown of the EU-3 talks in August 2005, Iran resumed uranium conversion work, resulting in the IAEA Board reporting the case to the UN Security Council.[2] Iran then resumed uranium enrichment work in January 2006, prompting the intervention of the UN Security Council, which demanded that Iran suspend all proliferation sensitive activities.[3] As of April 2009, Iran shows no signs of suspending uranium enrichment or heavy water-related programmes, though the IAEA reports that Iran has not pursued any reprocessing beyond laboratory-scale experiments between 1988 and 1993.

Uranium conversion

Iran declared its commercial-scale uranium conversion plant to the IAEA in 2000 and began operations in March 2004. Between March 2008 and March 2009, Iran has produced 42 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas at its Uranium Conversion Facility at Esfahan.[4] It has produced 357 tonnes since March 2004, all of which has remained under IAEA safeguards. Nuclear Fuel reported that as of November 2008, Iran had solved issues related to impurities in its indigenously mined and milled uranium, allowing it to use domestic feedstock exclusively for its conversion and enrichment operations.[5]

Uranium enrichment

Iran announced installation of the first 3,000 centrifuges at its commercial-scale Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz in January 2006. In February 2007, it completed installation of this first unit, consisting of eighteen 164-machine cascades comprised of IR-1 centrifuges. In 2008, Iran began installation of four other units of similar configurations, completing installation of three additional 164-machine IR-1 cascades by May 2008.[6] By March 2009 it had completed installation of fifteen cascades in the second unit, though only six cascades were being fed with uranium. Iran also continued to operate a 20-machine IR-1 cascade, a 10-machine IR-2 cascade, and single IR-1, IR-2, and IR-3 centrifuges at its adjacent Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant.[7]

Between early 2007 and November 2008, Iran "miscalculated" the amount of low enriched uranium (LEU) it was producing, causing the IAEA to revise upwards its estimates of Iranian production by about a third.[8] According to IAEA officials quoted in Nuclear Fuel, the formula Iran used to calculate its output contained errors. The officials emphasized, however, the conclusion of the latest IAEA report that no nuclear material had been diverted.[9] According to the IAEA, since February 2007 Iran has produced an estimated 1,010 kg of uranium enriched to about 3.5% U-235, all of which has remained under safeguards.[10]

Reactor programmes

Following adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1747 (2007), in March 2007 Iran reverted to an earlier version of its subsidiary safeguards agreement, severely restricting the IAEA's ability to verify the design of its 40 MW(t) IR-40 heavy water research reactor under construction at Arak. The IAEA conducted its last design information verification inspection of IR-40 in August 2008. In January 2009, Iran refused to permit further IAEA access to IR-40 until the facility is ready to receive nuclear materials.[11] Construction of the reactor started in 2006 and it is not expected to come online until 2014.

After numerous delays, the Russian firm Atomstroyexport began its first shipments of LEU fuel to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in December 2007. The fuel rods remain under IAEA seal. Iran reported that it would begin loading fuel at Bushehr after April 2009.[12]


In December 2007, the US National Intelligence Council reported "with high confidence that in fall 2003, Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme." The report defined "nuclear weapons programme" as "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work."[13] The Council's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed that until late 2003, military entities in Iran "were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons".

In March 2009, US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reaffirmed this finding, adding that Iran "had not restarted these activities as of at least mid-2007".[14] Blair suggested that the US intelligence community was of the opinion that no Iranian political decision had been made to acquire a nuclear weapon, though he admitted there was uncertainty as to what national security criteria or deadlines might influence such a decision.

Resolving outstanding issues with the IAEA

In August 2007, Iran and the IAEA agreed to a work plan to resolve outstanding issues related to the Agency's investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities.[15] The resolution of these issues would be necessary for the IAEA to provide assurances to the international community regarding Iran's claim that its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful. If Iran were also implementing the Additional Protocol, the satisfactory resolution of the IAEA investigation would also allow the Agency to begin the process to draw conclusions regarding the absence of any undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran. A key factor for NPT concerns, however, is that the IAEA generally lacks authority and the capability to investigate possible weaponization programmes absent a nexus to nuclear materials.

The work plan originally identified and provided a schedule for resolving seven outstanding issues:

  • Plutonium experiment discrepancies;
  • The origins of its acquisition and development of P-1 and P-2 uranium gas centrifuges;
  • Unexplained uranium contamination;
  • The nature of a document found in Iran that described procedures for casting uranium metal in hemispheres;
  • Explanations regarding the purpose of Iranian experiments with Polonium-210;
  • Issues related to the administration of the Gchine uranium mine; and
  • Explanation of alleged studies pertaining to conversion of uranium to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), high explosives, and missile reentry vehicles, the so-called Green Salt Project.

By April 2008, the IAEA had closed the docket on several issues, including those related to the plutonium experiments,[16] the origin of Iran's centrifuge programmes,[17] uranium contamination,[18] the polonium experiments,[19] and the past and current administration of the Gchine mine.[20] The IAEA, however, has not been able to make progress on the far more serious issues related to alleged studies regarding the design of nuclear weapons usable components, a modified reentry vehicle for the Shahab-3 intermediate-range ballistic missile suitable for nuclear weapons use, development of additional and undeclared uranium conversion activities, as well as the presence of a document that discussed the production and shaping of uranium metal.[21] The IAEA has assessed that these allegations point to a possible military-nuclear connection. Much, if not all, of the evidence related to these allegations has come from documents either shown or given to the IAEA by foreign governments.

After April 2008, the IAEA and Iran continued an inconclusive dialogue. Iran conceded that some of the information in the documents are factually correct, but insisted that the documents themselves were fabrications.[22] Despite repeated calls by the IAEA for Iran to assist in resolving these outstanding issues,[23] the Agency was unable to make any further progress, "resulting from Iran's lack of cooperation".[24]

The IAEA has thus been unable to provide assurances regarding the lack of any undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. Despite this continuing stalemate, the IAEA has stressed that it "has no information - apart from the uranium metal document - on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies (GOV/2008/15, para. 24). Nor has the Agency detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies."[25]

Dual Track Strategy: International sanctions and diplomacy

In February 2006, at the behest of France, the UK, and the United States, the UN Security Council embarked on a programme to incrementally escalate international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and heavy water reactor programmes and to cooperate with the IAEA. As part of a dual track strategy, after June 2006 the moves to increase pressure on Iran were coupled with attempts by the EU-3 plus 3 to draw Iran into negotiations by offering economic incentives in return for suspending its "proliferation sensitive" activities.

Pushing forward on the dual tracks (March-May 2008)

By May 2008, the Security Council had adopted four resolutions on Iran, including three imposing sanctions on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.[26] Resolution 1803 (2008), adopted on 3 March 2008 by a vote of 14-0 with Indonesia abstaining, extended travel and financial sanctions to additional individuals associated with Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Despite voting in favour, several elected members of the Council voiced concerns about the resolution and the diplomatic process with Iran.[27] At the insistence of the Russians, the resolution also presupposed the further development of incentives for Iran within the EU-3 plus 3 context, building upon the June 2006 proposal.[28]

On 2 May 2008, EU-3 plus 3 foreign ministers met in London to discuss next steps on Iran. The six nations agreed to provide Iran with an updated version of their June 2006 package of incentives, offering negotiations and aid in exchange for Iran suspending its uranium enrichment and heavy water reactor programmes.[29] Splits began to emerge as UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Iran's uranium enrichment programme as a "threat", which caused the Russian Foreign Ministry to comment that that this characterization was Miliband's personal view rather than a statement of fact.[30] Chinese officials also added their objections.[31] In addition, the United States reportedly rebuffed Russian attempts to include a promise of security guarantees to Iran in exchange for cooperation to resolve the nuclear impasse.[32]

Before the EU-3 plus 3 could finalize its updated package, Iran delivered its own counter-proposal on 14 May 2008, for "comprehensive and thorough negotiations" and for long-term cooperation, but omitting reference to security assurances or to specific solutions for the nuclear challenges.[33]

Further impasse (May-August 2008)

On 14 June 2008, EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana delivered the "repackaged" EU-3 plus 3 proposal, which essentially restated the terms of and elaborated upon the June 2006 offer.[34] In a letter accompanying the proposal, the group reaffirmed the basic condition attached to their approach, holding that "[F]ormal negotiations can start as soon as Iran's enrichment-related and reprocessing activities are suspended."[35] The reported purpose of the renewed initiative was to reach out to the Iranian public rather than to the government.[36] Presaging further impasse, before receiving the proposal Iranian officials reaffirmed that Iran would not accept any offer for negotiations that required it to suspend its nuclear programmes as a precondition.[37]

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki provided Iran's first official response on 5 July 2008, noting there were similarities in Iran's May proposal and the EU-3 plus 3 offer, but refusing to agree to suspension.[38] The EU-3 plus 3 nonetheless met Iran's lead negotiator in Geneva on 19 July to hear the government's full response. In a significant diplomatic shift by the Bush administration, the United States sent a representative to the talks with Iran. Iran reportedly presented the group with a "framework and timetable for comprehensive negotiations" based on its May proposal, but again refused to discuss suspending its uranium enrichment programme. The six powers gave Iran two weeks to provide a positive response to their offer.[39]

Iran's reply arrived on 5 August 2008 (two days after the EU-3 plus 3's deadline), but was dismissed as insufficient as it had again failed to address suspension.[40] On 6 August 2008 there were further attempts to resolve the Iranian impasse, but while the US and UK clearly expressed the expectation that the EU-3 plus 3 would pursue additional sanctions,[41] Russian officials denied there was any agreement for this.

Disintegration of East-West cooperation (August 2008 to January 2009).

Before any of the western powers could push for a fourth round of sanctions, increased antagonism between Russia and the west following the onset of the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008, diminished prospects for unified action on Iran and ultimately pushed the issue off the agenda for the remainder of the Bush administration.

Maintaining that the time was not right to pursue additional sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that it was necessary to continue to create conditions for negotiation and that the "invariable" aim "consists of helping the IAEA make certain that there are no military aspects in the nuclear programme of Iran".[42] Though Russia argued that the most recent IAEA report progress in engaging Iran, many commentators attributed the hardening of the Russian position to fallout from intense western criticism of Russia and support for Georgia during the August 2008 conflict.[43]

The outcome of these divisions was UN Security Council resolution 1835, adopted on 27 September 2008. Without mentioning what Russia referred to as "counterproductive threats",[44] the resolution was aimed at "preserving" the EU-3 plus 3 mechanism while furthering the search for a diplomatic solution. It reaffirmed past statements and resolutions on Iran's nuclear programme, noted the most recent IAEA report, and called on Iran to implement the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council. Whereas previous resolutions had been drafted and submitted by France, Germany and the UK, resolution 1835 was also co-sponsored by Council members Belgium, China, Croatia, Italy and Russia.[45]

In early October, Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili sent a letter to the EU-3 plus 3 renewing Iran's call for talks within the framework of its 14 May proposal.[46] The EU-3 plus 3 were unable to agree to any further steps after a 20 October 2008 call involving political directors. Given the impasse among the six powers, some western parties began to consider additional sanctions outside the UN and EU-3 plus 3 contexts.[47]

The prospects for meaningful pressure on Iran outside the framework of the EU-3 plus 3 remained dim, however, without Russian cooperation. Underlining the sensitive state of east-west relations, Russian officials reacted sharply to the unilateral US sanctions imposed under its Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act on Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport. Russia regarded the move as "an unfriendly act which cannot but have an adverse impact on our dialogue with Washington", particularly in the context of the EU-3 plus 3 process.[48]

Renewed diplomacy and East-West cooperation (February 2009-present)?

Obama had campaigned on the promise of engaging in direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and he reached out shortly after becoming President. The New York Times reported that in February 2009, President Obama sent a secret letter to President Dmitry Medvedev which was understood to raise the possibility of reconsidering plans to deploy the US ballistic missile defense system in Europe in return for greater cooperation from Russia in efforts to restrain Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.[49] Both US and Russian officials downplayed any suggestion that there might be a quid pro quo. Describing the letter as a reply to one sent by President Medvedev to President Obama following his inauguration, Russian officials noted that it did not identify any concrete proposals.[50]

Despite the change of tone after President Obama assumed office, the joint statement issued by the EU-3 plus 3 in advance of the March 2009 IAEA Board meeting was similar to past statements, calling on Iran to meet the "requirements" of the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council and to implement and ratify the Additional Protocol.[51]

Similarly, while demonstrating the extent of the recent thaw in US-Russian relations, the 1 April 2009 joint US-Russia presidential statement-released during the G20 summit in London-addressed the issue of Iran but did not lay out any new proposals or next steps. In the statement, the two presidents called on Iran to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions and reiterated their commitment to achieve a diplomatic solution including through the EU-3 plus 3 process.[52]

However, the EU-3 plus 3 meeting on 8 April in London demonstrated renewed commitment to reinvigorate the dual track strategy. In a major split from Bush-era policy, the Obama administration announced it would be present at all further meetings between the EU-3 plus 3 and Iran. Further, and of equal importance, the EU-3 plus 3 directed EU High Representative Solana to invite Iran to talks without preconditions.

Subsequent press reports indicate that a new US-EU diplomatic strategy toward dealing with Iran could involve greater flexibility. Reportedly, US and EU policy makers are considering an approach that would allow Iran to continue operating its full nuclear programme during the initial phases of talks, while focusing on broadening inspections. In response President Ahmadinejad told the press that Iran was also preparing a new proposal, saying that if the United States adopted a respectful tone, "The Iranian nation might forget the past and start a new era."[53]

Towards 2010

As the NPT itself lacks means for enforcement, its review proceedings can be difficult settings in which to deal with compliance issues. The NPT rules of procedure do not require consensus, but this is the general and preferred approach for decision-making in the NPT context. As Iran has demonstrated in the past, if the NPT parties want consensus on all procedural and substantive issues, then this gives any party that is criticized the power to block agreement. The challenges relating to Iran are thus unlikely to be resolved within the framework of the NPT review process, though delegations have real opportunities to tighten the safeguards regime and to advance measures dealing with treaty violators.

At the 2009 PrepCom, NPT parties face a situation with Iran that is somewhat different from previously. While focus will still remain to some extent on securing Iran's compliance with Security Council resolutions, many governments will undoubtedly prefer to combine such calls with support for renewed efforts to restore confidence in the nature of Iran's nuclear programme. Given the recent diplomatic thaw, many delegations may elect to highlight recent positive statements from both sides rather than to provoke confrontation with unnecessary and aggressive rhetoric.

A less acrimonious approach during NPT proceedings could alleviate some of the procedural wrangling - such as that experienced during the 2007 PrepCom - inherent in a consensus-based process, especially if some NPT parties seek to censure another. This in turn could allow delegations more time to focus on achieving agreement on issues where consensus is possible, including on bolstering the integrity of the NPT regime to better guard against further proliferation crises.

North Korea

Efforts to achieve the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula have stalled once again following sporadic progress in 2008. Developments include the agreement of a DPRK declaration of its nuclear programmes in May 2008, as part of the October 2007 six party agreement on Second Phase actions.[54] Disagreements quickly emerged, however, on verification of the declaration, with some elements of the Bush administration pushing for an agreement permitting more intrusive action, prior to removing the DPRK from the State Department's list of states sponsors of terrorism.

This precipitated a mini-crisis in September 2008 with the DPRK asking the IAEA to remove seals and cameras from equipment and ejecting international inspectors from Yongbyon. Following further bilateral talks between North Korean and US officials in October, a revised verification protocol was agreed and the DPRK was finally removed from the State Department's terrorism list. Subsequently, however, talks have floundered again over the issue of verification and apparent backtracking by the DPRK on the October agreement.

After taking office, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signalled the Obama administration's intention to continue with the approach pursued towards the end of the Bush administration, in which bilateral contact was combined with the six party talks. Instead of emulating the Bush administration's emphasis on an alleged uranium programme that the DPRK denies, which was an obstacle to progress in the past, the new administration has also indicated its intention to focus on the DPRK's plutonium programme as this presents the most pressing threat to international security.

Against a background of deteriorating relations between North and South Korea, the DPRK increased tensions in April 2009 with the launch across Japan of a Taepo-dong ballistic missile that it claimed was to place a satellite in orbit. In the face of criticism from the United States and others, who viewed the launch as a flight test for its destabilizing long-range ballistic missile programme, the DPRK followed with a threat to withdraw from the six party talks.


Current international efforts revolve around implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement, the first major breakthrough of the Six Party Talks. The Joint Statement committed the parties to achieve verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the return of the DPRK to the NPT and to IAEA safeguards; steps by the DPRK and Japan to normalize relations and resolve outstanding issues; the provision of energy assistance to the DPRK; and negotiation of permanent peace on the Peninsula and exploration of promoting regional security cooperation.

In February 2007 the six parties agreed to a two-phased Initial Action Agreement to implement the 2005 Joint Statement. Under the first phase of the agreement, within 60 days the DPRK was to have verifiably shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility and provided a full declaration of its nuclear programme. In parallel, the United States and Japan agreed to enter into bilateral processes with the DPRK, intended to result in the normalization of relations. Specifically, the United States would remove the DPRK from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and the Trading with the Enemy Act. Further, the parties agreed to provide the DPRK with an initial shipment of 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. The IAEA verified the shut down of the DPRK nuclear programme on 18 July 2007.

On 3 October 2007, the six parties agreed to second phase actions, in accordance with which the parties codified the denuclearization commitments previously expressed by the DPRK, including the disabling of its 5 MW(e) plutonium production reactor, radiochemical laboratory (plutonium reprocessing plant), and nuclear fuel rod assembly facility at Yongbyon, as well as making a complete declaration of its nuclear programmes.[55] These steps were intended to be accomplished by the end of 2007.

The October 2007 agreement committed the United States to lead and provide initial funding for disablement activities. The agreement also contained a basic DPRK non-proliferation commitment to not transfer any "nuclear materials, technology, or know-how." The DPRK began disablement of its nuclear facilities in November 2007, but there was no declaration of its nuclear programme by the end of the 2007, amid disagreement with the United States over disclosure of alleged uranium enrichment activities, which the US government insisted upon.[56]

In early 2008, the parties remained stuck on the DPRK's declaration of its nuclear programme and so could not agree to the scope of the declaration because the US continued to push for disclosure of an alleged uranium enrichment programme that DPRK denied. In addition, North Korea was attempting to link its submission of the declaration to steps by the the United States to remove the DPRK from its terrorism list and to drop sanctions.[57]

Toward the DPRK nuclear declaration

In early May 2008 a deal was finally reached with the DPRK giving the United States a large quantity of documents related to its plutonium production, and reportedly "acknowledging" discussions on uranium enrichment.[58] Though news reports suggested that the documents revealed a discrepancy between the DPRK's accounting of its plutonium production versus estimates produced by US intelligence, the US Statement Department denied there were any such differences.[59]

In late May, there were various permutations of bilateral discussions with the intent of agreeing to a timeframe for the submission of the DPRK declaration and the development of a mechanism to verify it and the removal of the DPRK from US sanctions lists. By the end of May, the United States and the DPRK were still unable to agree to a specific timetable for the declaration.[60]

In June 2008, the Six Party Talks achieved some breakthroughs. After two days of bilateral talks between Japan and the DPRK, the two sides agreed on 14 June to take initial steps toward improving relations. Offering a concession on a key issue for Japan, the DPRK agreed to reopen an investigation into the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan, in return, pledged to lift travel restrictions.[61]

US concession and forward progress

Marking a shift in the US position, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation on 18 June 2008 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced for the first time that once the DPRK delivered its declaration, "President Bush would then notify Congress of our intention to remove North Korea from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and to cease the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act."[62] The US government would then need to wait 45 days until the end of a required Congressional notice period before it could take the steps to de-list the DPRK. During that time, the six parties would assess the level of DPRK cooperation in verifying the completeness of the declaration.

In her 18 June speech, Rice also spelled out the US position on the requirements of the verification regime including the following elements: on-site access to facilities and sites; collection and removal of environmental and material samples, as well as forensic analysis of materials and equipment, at all sites and facilities; access to design documents, operating and production records, reports, logbooks, and other records related to production of nuclear material; and interviews with individuals involved in the nuclear programme.

During the following week, there were further talks among the other five powers to prepare for the receipt of the DPRK declaration, discuss the elements of the verification regime, and to determine the sequence of follow-up steps. Following the submission of the declaration, they decided to convene a six-party Head of Delegation meeting[63] to set up the verification regime. The United States expressed the view that such a regime should be set up within 45 days.[64]

On 26 June 2008, the DPRK submitted its nuclear declaration to the Chinese Chair of the Six Party Talks. The US State Department subsequently acknowledged that the declaration omitted the DPRK's nuclear test site from its list of facilities as well as the uranium enrichment programme.[65] As had been previously announced, US President Bush responded by announcing that Washington would lift some sanctions within 45 days.[66] The next day, the DPRK demolished the 60-foot cooling tower for its 5 MW(e) plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon.[67]

Toward a verification protocol

Agreement of the declaration allowed the parties to convene the first six party meeting since October 2007. Heads of delegations met from 8-12 July 2008 to discuss a wide range of issues, including a verification protocol, the Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism, fuel oil deliveries, and a target time for completing the disablement of the Yongbyon facility. During the meeting, the parties disagreed over aspects of the verification regime, in particular the role of the IAEA.

The representative from the Republic of Korea expressed scepticism over the likelihood of a mutually acceptable agreement, stating "On verification and monitoring mechanism, we took the common denominator from our positions and gave it to the working group as a basis for its discussions.... But on this issue, the differences in positions among the countries are large."[68]

Despite these differences, the meeting ended with the parties reaching agreement on elements for the verification protocol, as expressed in a press communiqué circulated by the Chinese Chair.[69] The parties agreed that the verification mechanism would include experts from the six nations, empowered to visit facilities, review documents and interview technical personnel.

The communiqué sets out that the parties will also seek to establish a "road map" to outline how the DPRK will dismantle and abandon its nuclear weapons programmes in the third and final phase of the disarmament effort. The DPRK agreed to completely disable its main nuclear facilities by the end of October 2008 and to allow thorough site inspections to verify that all necessary steps had been taken. In return the other five parties guaranteed delivery of all heavy fuel oil promised in exchange by the end of the same month.

Reflecting the recent diplomatic breakthroughs, the foreign ministers of the six parties held an informal ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Singapore on 23 July 2008. US Secretary of State Rice reportedly prodded the DPRK to move more quickly to dismantle its nuclear arms programme. DPRK Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun reaffirmed that his government was willing "to implement its own obligations," including verification, "closely following the implementation by other parties on the principle of action-for-action."[70]

Diplomatic process falters

Despite the recent achievements and positive atmosphere of the talks, the process toward achieving a verification protocol broke down after July 2008. As the 45 day Congressional notice period expired, the White House confirmed that it would not take any further action to lift the sanctions until Pyongyang agreed to the verification protocol. The DPRK, in return, cried foul and complained about recent US-Korean military exercises, which it said spoiled the atmosphere for the disarmament discussions. Contrary to the understandings reached in July, the official DPRK news agency reported that the government would harden its position against "verification in line with the international standard", as specified in the Chinese Chair's 12 July press communiqué.[71]

On 22 August 2008, the United States circulated a revised verification document to the six parties for comment. On 26 August 2008, the day after the 45 day waiting period had expired, the DPRK foreign ministry announced the government had stopped disabling its programme as of 14 August and that it was considering restoring the Yongbyon complex, citing the failure of the United State to remove sanctions. The DPRK also followed through on its promise to harden its line on verification procedures, accusing the United States of seeking authority to conduct house to house searches, a charge dismissed by the US State Department.[72]

The situation deteriorated further through September 2008.[73] Meanwhile, the DPRK continued to attempt to roll back its disablement efforts. Reports came out of Japan and the Republic of Korea that the DPRK was actively reconstituting its nuclear programme,[74] but US inspectors took the view that the DPRK was doing little more than removing equipment from storage.

The DPRK continued to escalate the situation, however. On 22 September, the IAEA confirmed that the DPRK had asked the Agency to remove seals and cameras from equipment to allow it to carry out non-nuclear tests. The IAEA complied, stating that these moves did not affect the shutdown status of the facilities.[75] After the IAEA had completed removing the seals and cameras on 24 September, the DPRK banned the inspectors from the radiochemical laboratory (reprocessing plant) at Yongbyon.[76]

Another step forward and a step back

From 1-3 October US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill met with lead DPRK nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan over the revised US draft of the verification protocol. A week later on 11 October the US State Department announced the two countries had reached agreement on a revised draft and that it would immediately drop sanctions. The DPRK agreed to resume disablement immediately. Amid criticism that the US-DPRK agreement granted the DPRK a veto over challenge inspections, which must be agreed to by mutual consent, Washington defended the arrangement as containing every element it sought. State Department officials said they had achieved agreement that experts from all six parties may participate in verification activities, including experts from non-nuclear states; agreement that the IAEA will have an important consultative and support role in verification; agreement that experts will have access to all declared facilities, and based on mutual consent, to undeclared sites; agreement on the use of scientific procedures, including sampling and forensic activities, and agreement that all measures contained in the verification protocol will apply to the plutonium-based programme and any uranium enrichment and proliferation activities.[77]

On 13 October, the IAEA announced that the DPRK had granted its inspectors access to the facilities at Yongbyon. The DPRK resumed discharging the core of the 5 MW(e) plutonium production reactor the next day. The DPRK also allowed inspectors to resume implementing containment and surveillance measures at the reprocessing facility and[78] the IAEA began reapplying seals on the Yongbyon facilities.[79] By 17 October, the US State Department reported that 60 percent of the fuel rods had been taken out of the reactor.[80]

Despite these breakthroughs, the six parties were still unable to sign a protocol before the end of the 2008-nor by the end of the Bush administration-amid renewed DPRK stonewalling. A six party head of delegation meeting, held from 8-11 December, ended without a protocol in hand. The purpose of the meeting had been to complete the verification protocol as well as the schedules for disablement and fuel oil delivery. US Assistant Secretary of State Hill reported that while the five powers had agreed to the text, which had been prepared in advance of the meeting by the Chinese, the DPRK "was not ready really to reach a verification protocol with all the standards that are required".[81] He said that the DPRK was unwilling to agree in writing to what they had previously agreed to verbally.

Backwards movement in 2009?

Six party diplomacy got off to a slow and rocky start in 2009, amid renewed tension between the Koreas, the change of government in Washington, and DPRK plans to launch a satellite. In January, the DPRK military announced it was adopting an "all-out confrontational posture" toward its Southern neighbour, related in part to a renewed dispute over maritime boundaries.[82] The DPRK further announced on 29 January that it was abandoning a number of confidence-building agreements between the two Koreas, including a 1991 agreement on reconciliation and non-aggression.[83]

Though the Obama administration signalled early on that it remained committed to the six party process, it has not yet attempted any major new efforts.[84] Demonstrating the importance of East Asia to the US government, however, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to visit the region in February in her first foreign trip in her new role.

In a speech to the Asia Society in New York before her trip, Clinton emphasized the US government's intention to maintain continuity in the approach to the DPRK, following the course that the Bush administration had pursued in its final years. One difference she mentioned though, in line with a statement she made during her confirmation hearing, was that pursuing verification of the alleged DPRK uranium enrichment programme would not be as high a priority as it was for the Bush administration. She reasoned that, in light of uncertainty and disagreement within the intelligence community on the extent of the alleged programme, it was better to focus on the plutonium issue, as that represented the DPRK's actual path to the bomb.[85]

As 2009 progresses, attempts to resume the Six Party Talks have appeared increasingly fraught. Between mid-February and early April, reports of an anticipated DPRK satellite launch (or missile test) increased regional tensions and became the latest barrier to the resumption of negotiations. The 4 April DPRK rocket launch, which reportedly failed to achieve orbit, resulted in widespread international criticism. The other participants of the six party process were split on a response, however, with Japan and the United States pushing for the imposition of sanctions by the UN Security Council and China and Russia advocating restraint.[86] Following adoption of a presidential statement by the UN Security Council rebuking the DPRK, North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement threatening the pull out of the Six Party Talks and to restart its nuclear programme. Once again it expelled IAEA inspectors from the country.[87]

Resuming and completing the six party process

In a bid to salvage the six party process, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pyongyang for a two-day trip before heading down to Seoul in late April 2009. In comments to the media, Lavrov offered a discouraging prognosis for the early resumption of talks and urged the parties to focus on the implementation of existing agreements.[88]

Assuming the parties are able to resume negotiations within the six party context, a number of steps remain to be taken and agreed upon toward the full implementation of the 2005 Joint Statement. First, the matter of verification, left hanging after December 2008, still needs to be addressed and a credible mechanism needs to be agreed to and put into practice.

Once a verification arrangement is agreed, the parties can move to the third phase of implementing the February 2007 action plan. Remaining steps related to denuclearization will then include the dismantlement of North Korean nuclear facilities and the clearing out of fissile material stocks, including the dismantlement of any warheads.

In conjunction with these steps, the United States will be expected to take further steps to normalize bilateral relations, including convening a peace conference to end the armistice put in place at the end of the Korean War and signing of a peace agreement. Japan and the DPRK must also agree to steps to improve bilateral relations, including putting to rest the abduction issue. In addition, Russia has pledged to help establish a regional security mechanism. The timing and sequencing of these steps, in light of progress made in verifying disarmament in the DPRK, would all be subject to further rounds of the Six Party Talks.


[1] The IAEA is only in the position to draw such a conclusion for states that adhere to the Additional Protocol.

[2] The IAEA deferred on taking this step until February 2006, however.

[3] UN document S/RES/1737 (2006), paragraph 2, 23 December 2006.

[4] IAEA document GOV/2009/8, paragraph 12, 22 February 2008.

[5] Mark Hibbs, "All of Iran's UF6 centrifuge feed now indigenously mined, milled," Nuclear Fuel, 15 December 2008.

[6] GOV/2009/8, paragraph 2.

[7] GOV/2009/8, paragraph 4.

[8] Mark Hibbs, "Iran underestimated LEU production, IAEA discovered during last inventory," Nuclear Fuel, 23 February 2009. The IAEA reported in Nov 2008 that a total of 630 kg had been produced. See IAEA document GOV/2008/59, 15 November 2007. In its February 2009 report it revised that number to 839 kg. See GOV/2009/8.

[9] Ibid.

[10] GOV/2009/8, paragraph 3.

[11] GOV/2009/8, paragraph 8.

[12] GOV/2009/8, paragraph 14.

[13] US National Intelligence Council, National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007.

[14] Dennis C Blair, US Director of National Intelligence, Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community, unclassified testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2009.

[15] IAEA document INFCIRC/711, 21 August 2007.

[16] Ibid.

[17] GOV/2008/58.

[18] IAEA document GOV/2008/4, paragraph 11, 22 February 2008.

[19] Ibid, paragraph 24.

[20] Ibid, paragraph 34.

[21] Ibid, paragraphs 14-25.

[22] GOV/2008/15, paragraph 18; Iran also claimed that allegations regarding the development of a separate UO2 to UF4 conversion capability did not make sense in light of the existence of such a process line that is operational at its Uranium Conversion Facility at the Esfahan Nuclear Research Centre. Paragraph 19; Iran claimed its alleged work on exploding bridgewire detonators were for conventional military and civil purposes. Paragraph 20; Iran dispute the authenticity of documents related to its alleged studies to modify the Shahab-3 reentry vehicle to accommodate a nuclear warhead. Paragraph 22.

[23] IAEA document GOV/2008/38, paragraph 17, 15 September 2008

[24] GOV/2008/59, paragraph 19; GOV/2009/8, paragraph 17.

[25] GOV/2008/38, paragraph 21. The IAEA made a similar statement in GOV/2008/4.

[26] Resolutions S/RES/1696 (2006) of 31 July 2006, S/RES/1737 (2006) of 23 December 2007, S/RES/1747 (2007) of 24 March 2007, and S/RES/1803 (2008) of 3 March 2008.

[27] Specific concerns included, inter alia: the wisdom of seeking addition sanctions (South Africa, Indonesia); the pursuit of suspension of Iran nuclear activities as an end in itself, apart from Iran's cooperation with the IAEA (South Africa, Indonesia); the text's lack of recognition of recent progress in the IAEA investigation, as reflected in its most recent report on Iran (South Africa, Libya, Viet Nam); provisions permitting the search of Iranian vessels (South Africa); and the text's failure to address regional concerns more broadly and specifically Israel's nuclear weapon programme (Libya). Meeting record of the 5848th meeting of the UN Security Council, UN document S/PV.5848, 3 March 2008.

[28] Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Transcript of Response to Russian Media Question Following Middle East Quartet Meeting and AHLC Ministerial, London, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2 May 2008; See also Peter Crail, "New UN Sanctions on Iran Proposed," Arms Control Today, March 2008.

[29] EU3+3 Statement on Iran's Nuclear Programme, delivered by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, London, 2 May 2008.

[30] Information and Press Department Commentary in Connection with Foreign Secretary David Miliband's Statement on Outcomes of Six-Nation Foreign Ministers' Meeting Held in London on May 2, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 5 May 2008. In this context, during the 2008 NPT PrepCom, the Russian ambassador accused the United Kingdom of distorting the essence of the EU3+3 agreement and going beyond what the parties had agreed to.

[31] China echoed concerns expressed by Russia in a right of reply to the United Kingdom's characterization of the EU3+3 agreement at the 2008 NPT PrepCom.

[32] Kaveh Afrasiabi, "Security guarantee is missing link in Iran," San Francisco Chronicle, page B7, 20 May 2008.

[33] Iran Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mohammed-Ali Hosseini, quoted in "Recent Iran-IAEA talks 'fruitful,'" PressTV, 19 May 2008.

[34] Proposal to Iran by China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the European Union, EU document S210/08, 14 June 2008.

[35] Letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki signed by the Foreign Ministers of China, France, Germany, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States of America and by EU High Representative Javier Solana, EU document S209/08, 14 June 2008.

[36] Peter Crail, "Iran Presented with Revamped Incentives," Arms Control Today, July/August 2008.

[37] Steven Erlanger and Elaine Sciolino, "Bush Says Iran Spurns New Offer on Uranium," New York Times, 15 June 2008. As reported by the Times, Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said, "If the package includes suspension it is not debatable at all. ... Iran's view is clear: any precondition is unacceptable."

[38] Elaine Sciolino, "Iran Responds Obliquely to Nuclear Plan," New York Times, 5 July 2008. Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham subsequently clarified that Iran would not resume suspension, stating "Iran's stand regarding its peaceful nuclear program has not changed", quoted in Elaine Sciolino, "Iran Says Its Nuclear Policy Has Not Changed," New York Times, 6 July 2008.

[39] Elaine Sciolino, "Nuclear Talks With Iran End in a Deadlock," New York Times, 20 July 2008.

[40] Andrei Nesterenko, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Response to a Media Question about the Situation Surrounding the Iranian Nuclear Program, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow, 6 August 2008. Peter Crail, "Iran Not Receptive to Revised Nuclear Proposal, Arms Control Today, September 2008.

[41] Gonzalo R Gallegos, Acting Deputy Spokesman, Daily Press Briefing, official transcript, US Department of State, Washington, DC, 6 August 2008; "Iran: Dispute With Russia On Sanctions," Reuters News Agency, 7 August 2008.

[42] Sergey Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Response to a Media Question on the Iranian Nuclear Program during the Press Conference After the Meeting of the Middle East Quartet, New York, September 26, 2008.

[43] See Scott Peterson, "Russian support for Iran sanctions at risk amid Georgia rift," Christian Science Monitor, 14 August 2008; Alistair Lyon, "Georgia conflict imperils big-power action on Iran," Reuters New Agency, 27 August 2008.

[44] Information and Press Department Commentary Regarding Tabling of Draft Resolution in UNSC on Iran, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 September 2008.

[45] UN document S/PV.5984, 27 September 2008. Though the proposed text did not contain any sanctions, during the Council's brief meeting to adopt the resolution, Indonesia expressed its opposition to further such measures against Iran.

[46] Saeed Jalili, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Letter to EU High Representative Javier Solana, Mehr News Agency, 7 October 2008.

[47] Peter Crail, "West May Seek Alternative Sanctions on Iran," Arms Control Today, November 2008.

[48] Commentary Regarding the Imposition by US State Department of Sanctions against Rosoboronexport, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 24 October 2008.

[49] Peter Baker, "Obama Offered Deal to Russia in Secret Letter," New York Times, page A1, 3 March 2009.

[50] Oleg Shchedrov and Jason Webb, "Russia willing to talk missiles, Iran separate," Reuters News Agency, 3 March 2009.

[51] IAEA document INFCIRC/749, 1 April 2009.

[52] Joint Statement by President Dmitriy Medvedev of the Russian Federation and President Barack Obama of the United States of America, 1 April 2009.

[53] Nazila Fathi, "Iran Says It Plans New Nuclear Offer ," New York Times, Page A12, 16 April 2009.

[54] See Nicola Butler, "Deal or No Deal: Can the North Korea Nuclear Agreement be Salvaged", <a href="../dd88/index.htm">Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 88, Summer 2008</a>.

[55] See Nicola Butler, "North Korea: Good Progress but Obstacles Remain", <a href="../dd86/index.htm">Disarmament Diplomacy, No.86, Autumn 2007</a>.

[56] Throughout 2007, the United States had insisted that the declaration also include North Korea's alleged uranium enrichment program, plus an accurate accounting of plutonium stocks. The United States had long maintained that it possessed evidence that North Korea had made numerous purchases related to a gas centrifuge programme.

[57] The February and October 2007 agreements did not specify a timeline or sequence for steps to improve US-DPRK relations.

[58] US officials described the documents, spanning 18,822 pages, as containing "detailed logs of how much plutonium was produced by North Korea," which will be "essential to verifying North Korea's plutonium holdings." Sue Plemming, "North Korea hands over plutonium documents: U.S.," Reuters News Agency, 8 May 2008.

[59] William J Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Response at Media Roundtable in Tokyo, US Embassy, Tokyo, 10 June 2008.

[60] Christopher R Hill, US Assistant Secretary of States for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Response to Media Questions, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Beijing, 28 May 2008.

[61] Norimitsu Onishi, "N. Korea Yields Slightly on Abductions," New York Times, 14 June 2008.

[62] Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, US Policy Toward Asia, Address at the Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, 18 June 2008.

[63] This is not quite a formal session of the Six Party Talks, though US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill downplayed the significance of the distinction.

[64] Christopher R Hill, US Assistant Secretary of States for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Response to Media Questions, China World Hotel, 24 June 2008.

[65] Christopher R Hill, US Assistant Secretary of States for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Response to Media Questions, Shangri-la Hotel, Singapore, 22 July 2008. Hill said the DPRK had indicated that it no longer maintained an ongoing uranium enrichment programme, giving reassurances that this would be subject to verification; Paula DeSutter, US Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Special Briefing on North Korea, US Department of State, Washington DC, 11 October 2008.

[66] "US to Take North Korea Off Terror List," Associated Press, 26 June 2008.

[67] Norimitsu Onishi, "North Korea's Intent in Razing Tower Is Unclear," New York Times, 28 June 2008.

[68] Kim Sook quoted in Jack Kim, "Headway made on checking N.Korea nuclear claims," Reuters News Agency, 11 July 2008.

[69] Heejin Koo, "North Korea Arms-Verification 'Principles' Approved," Bloomberg News Agency, 11 July 2008.

[70] Helene Cooper, "In First Meeting, Rice Presses North Korean on Nuclear Effort," New York Times, 24 July 2008.

[71] "North Korea pours cold water on nuclear talks," International Herald Tribune, 20 August 2008.

[72] "NKorea says it halts denuclearisation over row with US," Agence-France Presse, 26 August 2008.

[73] Christopher R Hill, US Assistant Secretary of States for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Response to Media Questions, China World Hotel, 5 September 2008.

[74] "US doubts N Korea nuclear claims," BBC News, 3 September 2008.

[75] Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director General, "Introductory Statement to the Board of Govenors," IAEA Board of Governors, Vienna, 22 September 2008.

[76] Steven Lee Meyers and Elaine Sciolino, "North Koreans Bar Inspectors at Nuclear Site," New York Times, 24 September 2008.

[77] Sean McCormack, US State Department Spokesman, Special Briefing on North Korea, US Department of State, Washington DC, 11 October 2008.

[78] "NKorea grants UN nuclear watchdog access to Yongbyon: IAEA," Agence France-Presse, 13 October 2008.

[79] "UN inspectors back inside North Korea: US," Agence France-Presse, 14 October 2008.

[80] "North Korea Sticks to Pact," Reuters News Agency, 18 October 2008.

[81] Christopher R Hill, US Assistant Secretary of States for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Response to Media Questions, 11 December 2008.

[82] Analysts cited in the news report expressed uncertainty as to the DPRK's motives but speculated that the statements could be intended to bolster the governments position in the six party process. Choe Sang-Hun, "Tensions Rise on Korean Peninsula," New York Times, 18 January 2009.

[83] Choe Sang-Hun, "North Korea Scrapping Accords With South Korea," New York Times, 29 January 2009.

[84] New US representative to the Six Party Talks, Stephen Bosworth, toured the region for the first time in early March 2009 in order to listen to the view of the other four powers as part of the Obama administration's policy review.

[85] Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, "US-Asia Relations: Indispensable to Our Future," Remarks at the Asia Society, New York, 13 February 2009.

[86] Choe Sang-Hun, Helene Cooper and David Sanger, "North Korea Seeks Political Gain From Rocket Launch," New York Times, 6 April 2009.

[87] UN document S/PRST/2009/7, 13 April 2009; Mark Landler, "North Korea Says It Will Halt Talks and Restart Its Nuclear Program," New York Times, 15 April 2009.

[88] "Russia's Lavrov says N. Korea talks unlikely to restart soon," RIA Novosti, 24 April 2009.

These updates on Iran and North Korea were researched and written for the Acronym Institute by Michael Spies, with assistance and contributions from Ray Acheson. Michael Spies is a research associate with the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and was the editor of volumes 25 (2006) and 26 (2007) of the Arms Control Reporter, published by the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies. Ray Acheson is project director of the Reaching Critical Will project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The review also drew upon the Reaching Critical Will News in Review, a daily monitor of the NPT preparatory and review proceeding (See Nicola Butler contributed editorial assistance.

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