Expected Council Action
The 6 March session of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the IAEA report on the implementation by Iran of its Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Safeguards Agreement will be the trigger for the Council to take up the Iran issue. The Council’s handling of this issue at the initial stages is likely to be incremental and not overly contentious.
The initial question will be procedural-whether a new or an existing agenda item should be used.
Meeting in London on 31 January, the EU3, China, Russia and the US agreed that the IAEA should report Iran to the Council. China and Russia had been reluctant to precipitate this report to the Council. As a compromise, it was agreed that although the dossier would be reported to the Council, no Council action would be pursued before the Council receives the 6 March report of Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA Director General.
On 4 February, the IAEA Board at a special session adopted a resolution reporting the issue to the Security Council and also requesting Iran to extend full and prompt cooperation to the Agency. There were 27 votes in favour of the resolution, three against (Cuba, Syria and Venezuela) and five abstentions (Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa).
Following the adoption of this resolution, Iran responded by resuming enrichment of uranium at its Natanz plant, threatening to withdraw from the NPT and postponing talks with Moscow.
Talks between Iran and Russia were finally scheduled for 20 February to explore a proposal to create a joint venture for uranium enrichment located in Russia.
The main issue for the Council is how, in tandem with the IAEA and leaving space for other appropriate opportunities for diplomacy and leverage, to establish with Iran a basis for resuming negotiations.
The first issue the Council will have to decide is procedural-whether the issue should be addressed under the general item of Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (an item already on the Council’s agenda since 2004) or a new Iran specific item.
The second issue, given the general view that the issue should be approached in an incremental way, is how to establish a meaningful series of steps which will send progressively stronger messages to Iran but leaving enough room for the resumption of negotiations. Action under Chapter VII is unlikely at this stage.
Council members may also want to deal with the issue that has arisen over the terminology used in the process of “referral”. That term seems to have been used in a non-technical sense and sometimes wrongly because it is absent from the IAEA Statute. Technically, the IAEA either “reports” a problem to the Council under article 12.C or “notifies” the Council under article 3.B.4. This seems to have led to uncertainty as to whether a new Board resolution is necessary to have a “referral.” (However, under the UN Charter the Council is not constrained in any matter of international peace and security by the need for a reference, report or notification from any other body. Nor is the Council bound to take up a situation even if the IAEA does pass a resolution-however that resolution may be styled. There is no legal linkage in this sense between the two bodies.)
It seems that the US, the UK and France, with support from most members of the Council, will want early consultations in the Council on Iran. China and Russia prefer that, at this stage at least, the Council play a limited role, with the IAEA keeping the lead. There may be periods in the future when this difference of emphasis will lead to tensions, but probably less so at the outset.
Scheduling the issue for informal consultations in the March Programme of Work, using that occasion for some ambassadors to brief their colleagues and get them up to speed on what is a technically very complex issue and deciding to return to the issue for a further step either later in the month or in April .
Alternatively, in addition to the above, approving a press statement by the president expressing concern about the issues covered by the ElBaradei report, and confirming that the Council will be studying them seriously and returning to them shortly.
A higher profile step would be to schedule, in addition to the above, later in the month a formal meeting of the Council at which a new agenda item would be adopted, but not moving to any substantive action in March.
Finally, a range of substantive options may be possible depending on progress in discussions with Iran elsewhere, e.g. the Moscow talks, or contacts with the EU3. These might involve including in a formal presidential statement measures such as: reinforcing any progress that is achieved or if no progress is achieved calling for restored cooperation with the IAEA inspectors, urging Iran to implement confidence building measures, demanding a return to negotiations on specified issues or requesting the IAEA to provide regular reports on specific issues and benchmarks.
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