Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Mikhail Ulyanov’s interview with the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency
Question: What can you say about US statements on the missile defence issue in Europe after the Vienna agreements on Iran’s Nuclear Programme (INP)?
Answer: This is total guile based on mala fide, unconvincing arguments. Judging by the regular statements of US officials on this issue, Washington is out to convince the public in the world and especially in NATO countries that there is no link between the settlement on the INP and the US missile defence programme and that the latter should continue to be carried out in full. The idea is completely unjustified. To begin with, we remember well that, speaking in Prague on April 5, 2009, US President Barack Obama said: “If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.” Now the emphasis is being misplaced and we hear that the US leader had in mind not only nuclear but also missile aspects of the issue, which are not covered by the INP agreements. However, the real missile threat to Europe, about which Washington is talking, could have only existed in conjunction with weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical and biological arms. Meanwhile, Iran is a bona fide participant in conventions banning chemical and biological arms. Nobody, including the United States, has any grievances against Iran in this respect. As for nuclear arms, as the US Administration is rightly saying itself, any related threats are effectively removed by the INP comprehensive accords. Hence, there are no dangers linked with weapons of mass destruction. Using missiles with conventional warheads against European countries would be an absolute military absurdity. Moreover, no one can explain the reasons for the apprehensions about Iran’s potential missile strikes on European capitals. It is abundantly clear that Tehran does not have the slightest motives in this regard. This is why this issue is carefully avoided and “Iran’s missile threat” is presented as an axiomatic fact that does not need any justification. Furthermore, Iran does not pose any threat to Europe even for purely technical reasons. The maximum range of Iranian missiles does not exceed 2,000 km and there is no indication that Iran plans to extend it. Even if Iran had such intentions, it would not be able to implement them without outside assistance. It would be appropriate to mention in this context that for many years sanctions against Iran have envisaged a de facto ban on the transfer of missile technology to it. The sanctions will be lifted in several months, but serious restrictions in this area will remain under the INP comprehensive agreements. In the next eight years, supplies related to missile technology will only be allowed by a separate resolution of the UN Security Council, and always on a case-to-case basis. There is no doubt that if Iran applies for any supplies that may help it boost its missile potential, the United States will not hesitate to use its right of veto. Considering all of these circumstances, we have solid grounds to assume that these insinuations on the issue of “Iran’s missile threat” are merely a cover-up for implementing a project, the real aim of which is to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrence and to involve European allies in long-term confrontation with Russia, which, in all probability, meets US interests.
Question: What can you tell us about the role of the IAEA in implementing the Iran agreements? How does Russia interact with the agency in this matter?
Answer: The IAEA has been assigned a key role in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to settle the Iranian nuclear programme issue. The Agency is entrusted with a priority task – to guarantee the absence of undeclared nuclear material and nuclear activities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and thus to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. We have always advocated using the agency to do this rather than the Six or someone else, because of the IAEA’s unique expertise, history of experience and recognized authority. It’s important that this approach has been set forth in the JCPOA. The IAEA will have several objectives including monitoring Iran’s compliance with its obligations within the JCPOA and interacting with the Joint Commission of the Six plus Iran. They will regularly report to the agency’s Board of Governors and send the reports to the UNSC. The agency’s reports and conclusions will be the basis for lifting the sanctions against Iran. It is of considerable importance that Tehran has agreed to apply an additional protocol to the guarantee agreement and the so called modified code 3.1 which are, as we used to reiterate, key to confirming the exclusively peaceful use of Iran’s nuclear programme. Apart from that, the number of agency inspectors who will remain at the nuclear facilities on a permanent basis has been increased. Furthermore, they will be equipped with the latest monitoring and verification technology, like, for example, electronic seals and uninterruptable electronic systems for monitoring enrichment levels. The agreement also includes additional control measures by the IAEA that will cover the total nuclear fuel cycle in Iran starting with uranium ore extraction and through processing. Moreover, an effective mechanism has been set up for settling disputes related to the agency’s access to certain facilities in Iran where hypothetical activities could be underway that are contrary to the JCPOA. This means that in practice, that whenever any reasonable doubt arises in the IAEA regarding the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, any impediments will be removed to allow the inspectors to access the facilities they need to. The procedures for access authorisation will take less than a month. It’s also significant that Tehran has agreed to clarify with the IAEA any remaining issues relative to Iran’s supposed military nuclear research before the end of the year. This will be based on the road map simultaneously signed by Iran and the IAEA under the agreement. So, this issue will also be resolved. All the “white spots” in the history of Iran’s programme will be cleared in a satisfactory manner; so both the IAEA and the international community will have a comprehensive and accurate picture as it progresses. All of these measures will ultimately enhance trust between the Six and Iran in ensuring the complete implementation of the agreement, and will provide a reliable guarantee that any hypothetical efforts by Iran to secretly develop nuclear weapons will be duly recorded by the agency. The purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme will be completely understandable and controllable. Russia is a member of the IAEA, its Board of Governors, as well as a signatory of the JCPOA, and as such, Russia will render the agency any appropriate assistance on the Iranian issue.
Question: What are the prospects for the agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme?
Answer: The prospects for implementation will directly depend on how conscientiously all the parties – and I mean, all the parties, not only Iran – fulfill the obligations they have assumed. We have no reason to doubt that all the parties intend to act in the most responsible manner. The agreement itself means the political choice in favour of a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear programme has now been made. Sure, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s mechanism will take some getting used to, and it will take time for all its parts to adjust to each other and work as an integrated whole. It is understood that there may be setbacks and difficulties. Yet, we are confident that the political will to seek a compromise shown by all participants will mean an efficient effort in solving the possible difficulties during the implementation of the agreement.
Question: Earlier, Russian Ambassador-at-Large Grigory Berdennikov said the issue of the Iranian-Russian agreement on sending low-enriched uranium to Russia remains open as the experts work on it. When do you think this agreement will be signed? Could it take place by the end of the year?
Answer I would not want to comment on the current negotiations on this issue. This would be wrong. I can only say that the work in this regard by Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation and the Atomic Energy Organisation in Iran is rather intense. There is a common understanding that the exchange of Iran’s low-enriched uranium for natural uranium from Russia is a rather complicated process in terms of the technical and logistics aspects. We do agree with Iran on the approach in terms of what needs to be done to implement this project. These steps are being taken. As for the specific terms, I can only say that we are making every effort to reach an agreement as soon as possible. There are certain technical aspects though that have to be worked out to make the cooperation go smoothly.
Question: Reports have surfaced in the media saying that some Iranian nuclear experts have visited a number of facilities in Russia to discuss converting the Fordo facility into a production facility for stable isotope. Have these meetings indeed taken place?
Answer: Under the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, Russia will assist Iran in organising the production of stable isotopes at the Fordo facility. In this regard, the Iranian specialists arrived in early September to work out the process. We’ve informed the committee for sanctions about this as required in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This is all absolutely legal and very much needed as it is an integral part of the deal. The process is underway.
Question: Can we expect further visits by Iran’s specialists to Russia?
Answer: I think, as regards our national contribution to the deal, there will be constant contact both in Russia and in Iran. There are several complicated issues. As far as I can see, they are being solved primarily by nuclear industry specialists through Rosatom on our side and the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran in Iran. Apparently, this contact must be maintained as it involves complicated technical issues and some commercial issues.
Question: What is the status of the consultations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? Are any dates set for the ministerial P5+1 talks on Iran during the UN General Assembly?
Answer: It is expected that expert consultations in Vienna will take place on September 22. The ministerial P5+1 meeting with Iran’s participation has been scheduled for September 28 in New York. The dates could still change.
Question: This summer, the media published excerpts from a report by US Gen.Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to which there is a possibility of Washington placing land-based missiles in Europe. Russia said it would analyse the information. What conclusions have been made?
Answer: Indeed, we are paying very close attention to the situation around the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) since it is a cornerstone of the current nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. In this regard, it should be noted that we haven’t seen General Dempsey’s report but its presentation by the media contains an important condition. Potentially, the US could develop and place the strike systems there if the treaty is no longer valid. US officials publicly claim they are still adhering to the INF. We are in the same position and continue to fulfill our obligations to the letter. So we can’t speak accurately about some unspecified US plans or build any apocalyptic scenarios in this context. Unfortunately, in general, Washington has been trying to lay the blame on somebody else when it comes to the INF. For over a year, we have been under accusations of breaching the treaty while there is no evidence presented either publicly or through diplomatic channels. At the same time, the US is working themselves up about it and ruminating on a possible reaction to our ‘violations’ and ‘the deployment of prohibited missiles’ – basically, a reaction to something that didn’t and doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, it is the US that has serious problems with fulfilling the obligations, and these issues have been thoroughly documented. Let me remind you that we are concerned with the trials of ballistic target missiles that imitate intermediate- and short-range missiles; the manufacture and wide use of offensive operations drones that are legally and functionally land-based intermediate-range cruise missiles, as well as the placement of Mark 41 Vertical Launch Systems at the European anti-missile bases that are almost identical to those used by the US Navy to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. We are constantly raising these issues but our counterparts refuse to discuss them. The US doesn’t see it as a violation, full stop. The Americans haven’t provided any explanation – specifically, on the launch systems. Every once in a while, the US returns to ‘megaphone diplomacy’ and publicly accuses Russia of breaching the INF. Last time it happened, twice, at the May conference on nuclear non-proliferation in New York. Both times we gave a pretty harsh response and we will continue to do so, if necessary.
To be continued...
September 18, 2015