Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Nuclear security cooperation with Iran is a global interest

Apr. 01, 2016

By Brett Cox

Fifty-plus countries are attending the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit this week in Washington, DC. Notably missing from the guest list is Iran, whose recent negotiation and implementation of a landmark nuclear deal with the P5+1 led some experts to call for more engagement and cooperation in nuclear security.

Nuclear security is not a hypothetical concern for Iran. The Islamic State has reportedly been considering nuclear sabotage in Europe. Iran would be another priority target for the group.

Iran’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit might have been a logical step, though the decision to leave Iran out was also not surprising. Administration officials might have thought Iran would snub the invitation, or that they would have created distractions or other controversies aimed at disrupting the Summit. But one has to wonder, if Iran had participated, what “house gift” would it have offered, which “gift baskets” might it have joined?

A modest reference to nuclear security was baked into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Annex III, on civil nuclear cooperation, has a short section (Article 10) that declares that E3/EU+3 states are prepared to cooperate with Iran on the implementation of nuclear security guidelines and best practices that will “strengthen Iran's ability to prevent, protect and respond to nuclear security threats to nuclear facilities and systems as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems.” It also mentions training and workshops that will “strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against, and respond to nuclear security threats, including sabotage, as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems.” (There are two almost identical short paragraphs under Article 10, presumably representing alternatives to be negotiated, that were both folded into the final document.)

This is the only mention of nuclear security in the JCPOA. The scant coverage is likely a reflection of the priorities of the negotiating parties: in comparison to reaching agreement on limits to Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions removal, nuclear security was of lesser importance.

Still, all parties involved are obligated to follow up with more measures to simultaneously enhance the transparency and security of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, announced in November that the JCPOA had created an opportunity for Iran to strengthen its nuclear security culture by joining international nuclear conventions, enhancing security culture in other industries, and integrating security culture into the earliest stages of training.

Given ISIL’s proximity to Iran and other regional threats, P5+1 states have legitimate interests in nuclear security collaboration, furthering cooperation beyond safeguards. The Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Security Index ranks Iran at the bottom of the list for sabotage, in part because Iran does not publish its security regulations and isn’t a member of key international agreements on nuclear security. The latter issue marks a clear path for how Iran can unilaterally improve its capacity to reassure others about its nuclear security situation:

  • Implement IAEA physical protection guidelines and invite the IAEA to review security practices at significant facilities.
  • Sign and ratify the International Convention on Suppressing Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, and its 2005 Amendment.
  • Participate in trainings and workshops with the World Institute for Nuclear Security.

For their part, the P5+1 and other leaders in nuclear security, like Canada or Australia, can take simple steps to assist Iran on nuclear security. These states should extend invitations to forums, trainings, workshops (and summits) with no delay–there is no benefit to a standoff over who initiates the nuclear security handshake. Substantial improvements can be made in border controls, access controls at facilities, preparedness and response for nuclear security incidents, and more.

With officials and experts from around the world calling for nuclear security cooperation, and given the tangible threats to Iran’s nuclear facilities, the time to begin implementing JCPOA nuclear security provisions is now.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Nuclear security cooperation with Iran is a global interest .” Nuclear Security Matters, April 1, 2016, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/nuclear-security-cooperation-iran-global-interest.