June 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 May 2009
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MIDDLE EAST

Iran

Expected Council Action 
The chairman of the 1737 Sanctions Committee on Iran, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, is due to deliver a briefing in June. 

The next report from the IAEA on Iran’s compliance with Council resolutions will be presented to its Board of Governors in June. It is not expected to be taken up in the Council.

Iran’s presidential elections are scheduled for 12 June, and no new developments in the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and the US) process are expected before the electoral outcome is known.

Key Recent Developments
On 20 May Iran announced that it had successfully test launched a missile which was later confirmed by US officials.

On 11 May an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, sentenced in April by Iranian courts to eight years in prison on charges of spying, was released. This was seen as a response to recent positive overtures toward Iran by the new US president.

On 8 April the E3+3 issued a statement welcoming the US intention to participate in future meetings of the E3+3 with Iran and requested a meeting with Iran. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, on 13 April told EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that Iran welcomed discussions with the E3+3 and would soon unveil its official position.

On 19 March, in a major policy shift from the previous administration, the US offered to start direct talks with Iran. In a video message addressed to Iran on the occasion of the Persian New Year (Nowruz), US President Barack Obama said that his administration was now committed to using diplomacy to address the full range of issues and to pursuing constructive ties. Obama said that he wanted to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran and that the US was seeking honest engagement grounded in mutual respect. In May President Obama indicated that he was expecting this process to take at least until the end of 2009.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 21 March that Iran was hoping for concrete changes in US policy. On 8 April, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that his country welcomed talks with the US based on honesty, justice and respect.

On 10 March, Ambassador Takasu briefed the Council on recent activities of the 1737 Sanctions Committee, which monitors targeted sanctions on Iran, an arms export ban and the prohibition of trade with Iran of certain nuclear proliferation-sensitive items imposed in resolutions 1737, 1747 and 1803. He said that a member state (Cyprus) had informed the committee in February that it had found arms-related material on board a vessel from Iran en route to Syria. Iran was therefore in violation of resolution 1747 prohibiting it to supply, sell or transfer any arms and related material.

It seems that the Sanctions Committee has been seeking clarification from Iran and Syria on the arms shipment. (The communications have not been made public in an effort to keep the Committee’s activities low-key in order not to jeopardise the current diplomatic track.) The ship remains in Cyprus, and the cargo was confiscated.

On 3 March the E3+3 issued a joint statement calling upon Iran to comply with all three Council resolutions. It noted the concern expressed by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in his latest report to the IAEA Board of Governors that the continued lack of progress in clarifying some of Iran’s outstanding nuclear issues is fuelling suspicions about possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme. The E3+3 also reaffirmed their commitment to a diplomatic solution through direct dialogue and urged Iran to seize the opportunity.

The latest IAEA report, submitted to the Board of Governors in February, mentioned that Iran was slowing down its uranium enrichment programme. But Iran has continued to expand the number of centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment site and in April announced that 7,000 centrifuges were installed.

On 25 February Iran tested the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant supplied by Russian nuclear fuel. There are expectations that the plant will be operational late in 2009.

Key Issues
The main issue is whether direct and substantive engagement with the E3+3 begins after Iran’s presidential elections in June and opens the way for Iran and the US to normalise relations and resolve longstanding issues.

A related issue is whether the Council can play any positive role in encouraging this process.

The E3+3 “freeze-for-freeze” proposal remains on the table. Under this plan, Iran would agree to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities, and the Council would suspend its sanctions against Iran to allow for formal negotiations. A new element is that the Obama administration recently agreed to include the lifting of unilateral US sanctions. However, many analysts believe that Iran is unlikely to consider any proposal with preconditions. A related question is whether there is merit in signalling support for a more flexible option (e.g. Iran would stop enriching more uranium in exchange for a commitment by the Council (and the US) not to adopt new sanctions during a period of pre-negotiations).

Finally, there is the question of how vigorously the Sanctions Committee should be in its investigation of the February incident.

Council and Wider Dynamics
For the moment, diplomacy seems the preferred path, but the Europeans see the threat of sanctions as a tool which should be kept in reserve. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on 22 April that Iran would face “very tough” sanctions if it rejects offers of engagement. Divisions on the proper timing to reactivate sanctions may become more apparent should the diplomatic track prove slow. Russia and China have traditionally been sceptical about the utility of sanctions.

It seems that the 1737 Sanctions Committee is currently debating whether to pursue further action following the case raised by Cyprus. One option being considered is to send a note to all member states notifying them of the incident, reminding them of their obligations under resolutions 1737, 1747 and 1803, asking them to exercise more vigilance and providing them with guidance on how to appropriately respond to similar situations. Committee decisions have to be made by consensus therefore action depends on all members being comfortable. Most members also seem willing to keep the Committee investigation low-key so as to avoid jeopardising the diplomatic track. It has not formally met since the Cyprus case emerged in February despite a high degree of informal activity.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1835 (27 September 2008) reaffirmed the Council’s commitment to an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and called upon Iran to comply with its obligations under previous Council and IAEA resolutions.
  • S/RES/1803 (3 March 2008) imposed additional measures against Iran and reinforced the existing ones.
  • S/RES/1747 (24 March 2007) established a ban on Iran’s arms exports and added names to the list of people and entities subject to assets freeze.
  • S/RES/1737 (23 December 2006) banned trade with Iran of certain nuclear proliferation-sensitive items, imposed an asset freeze on a list of persons and entities involved in proliferation-sensitive activities and established a sanctions committee.

Latest IAEA Report

Latest Briefing from the Chairman of the 1737 Sanctions Committee

Letter

  • INFCIRC/749 (12 March 2009) was a communication from the E3+3 to the IAEA including their latest joint statement on the Iran nuclear issue.

Useful Additional Sources

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