WORKING WITH PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN
So far, we at the Center are optimistic about the selection of many of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks whose focuses overlap with ours, including Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken, Climate Change Envoy appointee John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines, National Security Advisor appointee Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense nominee Lloyd Austin and Secretary of Energy nominee Jennifer Granholm. We know that not everyone is thrilled about every pick, but we remain confident that the Biden administration will work to reduce nuclear threats, restore morale and purpose at the State Department after four years of damage, and try to rein in out-of-control defense spending.
Meanwhile, while our team continues to focus primarily on Congressional work, we have met with various members of the Biden transition team to provide our expert analysis and insight on the most critical national security issues we’ll face over the next four years.
INCOMING BIDEN ADMINISTRATION FACES NEW TIME CONTRAINTS FOR IRAN DIPLOMACY
On November 27, Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in a clear effort to poison the well for diplomatic engagement. Fakhrizadeh was the father of Tehran’s past nuclear weapons program, which, according to the CIA, was halted in 2003, although some activities continued until 2009. However, Fakhrizadeh did not exclusively hold the key to Iran unlocking the explosive power of the atom. The assassination will not set back the Iranian nuclear program nor will it block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. This sparked the Iranian parliament to pass long-awaited legislation mandating the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program. Critically, the legislation was approved by the Guardian Council, so the nuclear legislation has created new time pressure for the incoming Biden administration.
Once implemented, the legislation will require Iran to immediately take steps to enrich greater quantities of uranium and up to a much higher level. Around the end of February, Iran will stop implementing the Additional Protocol, which will reduce the number of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in Iran (not kick them all out as has been reported), and limit the tools inspectors will have to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material to any sort of clandestine program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has tried to extend this timeline for President-elect Biden by refusing to sign the legislation, but it is in the process of being implemented over his objections.
We also learned recently that there is new construction underway at Fordo, an Iranian underground enrichment facility, but Research Analyst Samuel Hickey says that while this does raise red flags, this might not be a huge cause for concern: either the construction has been registered with the IAEA, or it’s civilian. Read more from Hickey on Iran
DEFENSE SPENDING BILLS MAKE IT THROUGH CONGRESS, MIGHT FACE VETO
Earlier this month, both the House and Senate passed the annual defense authorization bill with veto-proof majorities. President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the bill because he believes it is weak on China, lacks language repealing social media legal protections, and requires the renaming of U.S. military bases that honor Confederate Generals. Trump has until December 23 to veto the bill, giving Congress a short window to override before the convening of the new Congress on January 3. Congress is also currently working to finalize its appropriations bill for this fiscal year, which is tied up in a larger omnibus package being currently negotiated on Capitol Hill.
Here is our analysis of the final authorization bill, which, along with the appropriations bill, will provide $740.5 billion in defense-related funding, including around $44.5 billion for nuclear weapons. In case you need a refresher, here are a blog post and a graphic on how the National Defense Authorization Act are passed.
HELP US CONTINUE OUR WORK
If you are able, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Center to help us continue educating lawmakers and the public on critical nuclear policy and national security issues. There are many options: you can set up a monthly donation or one-time donation, donate the change from other purchases you make up to a limit you set, or make the Center your Amazon Smile recipient so we can receive .5% of your purchase amount at no cost to you. You can also set up a fundraiser for the Center on Facebook to encourage your friends to support us.
Congress is (finally) paying attention to missile defense costs and failures, by John Isaacs and Samuel Hickey
Reinforcing Saudi Arabia’s Non-Proliferation Obligations, by intern Evan O. Lisman
We Can’t Fix Systemic Injustice Without Addressing the Nuclear Threat, by Office Manager Isabel Martinez
Death by DNA, a radio interview featuring Gregory Koblentz, member of the Center’s Scientists Working Group