Expected Council Action
By 23 May the Council expects to receive the report of the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed ElBaradei, on Iran’s compliance with resolution 1747, which in March imposed additional measures against Iran. A negative report from the IAEA is expected. However, Council action is unlikely in May, especially if the initial signs of progress in talks between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, being reported as we went to press, continue to bear fruit.
Key Recent Developments
On 22 February, ElBaradei confirmed that Iran had not complied with resolution 1737, which in December imposed measures against Iran under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. He noted that, instead, Iran seemed to be expanding its enrichment activities.
In response, on 24 March the Council adopted resolution 1747 unanimously. It represented a relatively small escalation beyond earlier measures by:
toughening language on travel restrictions (but did not establish a travel ban);
establishing a ban on Iran’s export of arms and called upon states to exercise restraint in the supply of heavy conventional weapons to Iran;
tightening financial measures by calling upon states not to enter into new commitments for financial assistance to Iran and by adding new names to the list of individuals and entities subject to asset freeze; and
reaffirming that all measures would be suspended if Iran suspends uranium enrichment and would be terminated when Iran fully complies with its obligations. In case of non-compliance, the Council would adopt further measures under article 41 of Chapter VII.
The EU3+3-consisting of France, Germany and the UK, plus China, Russia and the US-seem to have agreed that trading substance for speed would be preferable, producing smaller increments but allowing an easier and quicker consensus. However, several elected Council members proposed amendments to the EU3+3 draft resolution.
South Africa proposed to revive Mohammed ElBaradei’s “timeout” offer of mid-January involving a simultaneous suspension of both Iranian nuclear work and UN sanctions to allow space for discussions. However, in South Africa’s proposal, the Council would unilaterally decide to suspend all measures against Iran for a period of ninety days, which amounted to a sequential timeout. South Africa also suggested deletion of the weapons ban and names included in the annex (in particular, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Bank Sepah).
Indonesia and Qatar proposed recalling the goal of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction.
Indonesia suggested language relating to nuclear disarmament by nuclear-weapon states, in conformity with article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Some of these amendments were accepted. Language was included relating to the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, explanations for each individual and entity subject to sanctions and a new annex containing the EU3+3’s incentives for a long-term solution.
Iran responded with further restrictions on its cooperation with the IAEA. On 10 April, Iran announced that it had completed the nuclear fuel cycle and that it had plans to install 50,000 centrifuges.
The EU has recently agreed to impose bilateral sanctions beyond the scope of resolution 1747: a total arms embargo, additional names of individuals and entities subject to assets freeze and a travel ban to the EU.
On 25 April, the EU’s Javier Solana and Iran’s Ali Larijani held talks in Ankara, the first face-to-face meeting since 11 February. Larijani said that they were approaching “a united view”. Another round of talks is scheduled in mid-May.
commencing negotiations on a further draft resolution following the logic of incremental pressure within article 41 of the UN Charter; this could include travel bans on individuals already subject to assets freeze, additional names, the replacement of “calls upon” with “decide” for several provisions, etc.;
reconsidering the “timeout” proposal; and
discussing whether there is scope for adjusting the current preconditions for resuming negotiations.
A related issue is how much longer the incremental pressure approach will be viable. A succession of small increments until all measures under article 41 of Chapter VII are exhausted could take quite some time. Meanwhile, Iran is developing its nuclear programme-apparently quite rapidly. The question therefore is whether, or when, the current strategy will reach the point of diminishing returns.
A further issue is whether, in light of the tensions in the Council in March over the amendment proposals from elected members, a different approach will be followed in terms of securing the support of the wider Council membership.
Despite the apparently positive first round of talks between Solana and Larijani, there are concerns that Iran may use its claims of recent technological advances to raise the stakes at the next round of talks. Because the NPT Additional Protocol is not being implemented by Iran, thus limiting access by IAEA inspectors to nuclear sites, it is difficult to fully verify Iran’s statements.
There seems to be a wide assumption, not just among Council members, that a new resolution will follow in the event of continued Iranian obduracy. The March process would likely repeat itself, with the US and the Europeans pushing for significant additional measures and Russia and China preferring small increments. A common position will however be found.
Indonesia, South Africa and Qatar all share a concern with Iran’s increasing lack of cooperation with the IAEA. This concern was significant enough for them to vote in favour of resolution 1747, even though their amendments were not all included in the draft.
But they also believe that the Council should limit itself to measures strictly related to non-proliferation and always signal that the door to negotiations is still open. In that regard, South Africa may be reluctant to support further financial measures on individuals and entities for which the proliferation-sensitive link is not clearly established, or with obligatory measures related to conventional weapons. For the US and the Europeans, the goal will be to apply genuine pressure on Iran to obtain compliance, even if that means measures going beyond the nuclear industry.
The potential for agreement among the P5 remains high. Consensus was quickly achieved in March on the substance of resolution 1747, and the amendment proposals from elected members did not unravel that agreement. Russia seems to be adopting a steadily more cautious stance about Iran’s intentions. Also, as Iran becomes less responsive to IAEA inspectors, China and the elected members become more open to article 41 measures.
By 4 April, 61 countries had reported to the Sanctions Committee on steps taken to comply with resolution 1737.
The underlying problem about Iran’s real intentions regarding its nuclear programme remains: whether it aims at acquiring civilian nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, or whether it is playing up supposed technical progress to raise the stakes in future negotiations.
Wider US concerns about Iranian support for Shi’a militias fighting the Multinational Force in Iraq, as well as Taliban fighters fighting NATO in Afghanistan and its involvement in Lebanon are also major underlying complications.
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The Security Council and Iran: Further Escalation and Isolation, Commentary on Resolution 1747 (2007) on Iran by Michael Spies, Center for International Political Studies, 3 April 2007