March 2013 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Iran

Expected Council Action

In March, the chair of the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee is due to present the quarterly briefing on the work of the Committee to the Council. This will be the first briefing by Ambassador Gary Quinlan (Australia) since he assumed the chairmanship of the Committee on 1 January. 

No Council action is expected.

Key Recent Developments

In the last Council briefing on the 1737 Committee, held on 13 December 2012, then-chair Ambassador Néstor Osorio (Colombia) said that the Committee had continued to discuss the 12 June 2012 final report (S/2012/395) by its Panel of Experts (PoE) and that some members had proposed that the Committee adopt a series of implementation assistance notices that could help member states in implementing the sanctions measures. Some members had also asked the PoE to make a compilation for the Committee’s review of publicly available statements made by Iranian officials regarding potential violations of the arms embargo.

Subsequently, on 20 December, as recommended by the PoE in its report, the Committee added two companies—Yas Air and SAD Import Export Company—to the sanctions list, for their role in transporting and supplying prohibited arms from Iran to Syria, in violation of Council resolutions (SC/10871).

On 28 December, also in response to the PoE’s recommendations, the Committee issued an implementation assistance notice on conventional arms and related materiel, which noted a number of sanctions violations involving prohibited arms transfers from Iran, reminded member states of their obligations under the existing sanctions and urged them to maintain a high level of vigilance and cooperate fully with the PoE.        

Talks continued between the IAEA and Iran aimed at reaching agreement on a plan (referred to as a “structured approach”) to resolve outstanding issues on the possible military dimension of the latter’s nuclear programme. The two sides met in Tehran on 13 December, 16-17 January and 13 February. In a 21 February report to the IAEA Board of Governors, transmitted to the Council on the same day, the agency’s Director-General said no agreement had been reached and that there had been no progress on clarification of outstanding issues. The report noted with concern that the IAEA, despite repeated requests, had not been granted access to Parchin, a military site southeast of Tehran that Iran is believed to have used for nuclear activities.  

In a 2 February speech at the Munich Security Conference, US Vice President Joe Biden reiterated that the US would be willing to engage in direct bilateral talks with Iran, an offer that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed in a 7 February statement. 

On 6 February, the US announced a further tightening of its unilateral sanctions against Iran. The new provisions will restrict Iran’s ability to use oil revenues held in foreign financial institutions and prevent repatriation of those funds to Iran. The US also announced that one individual and four entities had been targeted for sanctions for their involvement in the Iranian government’s censorship activities.

The 1737 Committee met with the PoE on 13 February. Discussions mainly focused on a notification letter the Committee had received from Yemen concerning its interdiction on 24 January of a consignment of weapons believed to be from Iran. PoE members informed the Committee that they would travel to Yemen to conduct an investigation at the end of the month. The PoE also submitted the compilation of statements referred to by Osorio in his 13 December 2012 briefing.

In a 12 February letter to the Council, Iran categorically rejected Yemen’s allegations about the arms shipment. It also said, however, that it was prepared “to fully cooperate and investigate the case by providing necessary information and evidence” (S/2013/88).

On 26 and 27 February, the “P5+1”—comprising the Council’s permanent members and Germany—and Iran met in Almaty, Kazakhstan for a new round of high-level talks on the nuclear programme. (These were the first such high-level talks since a meeting in Moscow on 18 and 19 June 2012 ended without any progress.) At the talks, the P5+1 offered an easing of US and EU restrictions (reportedly on trade in gold and other precious metals) if Iran would agree to significantly restrict its uranium enrichment. While Iran said it needed more time to consider the offer, the Iranian foreign minister expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached. The two sides agreed to meet again at technical level on 18 and 19 March to discuss the proposal and then resume high-level negotiations in Almaty on 5 and 6 April. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 22 January, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed deep dismay at the execution of a juvenile offender on 16 January for a crime allegedly committed when he was 17 years old. This was the first juvenile execution since September 2011, but more than 400 people were reportedly executed in Iran in 2012, the majority for drug-related offences. OHCHR also expressed concern about five other individuals at risk of imminent execution who were allegedly subjected to torture in detention and were convicted following unfair trials.

On 4 February, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran called on the government to immediately stop journalists’ arrests and release those already detained. Security forces had raided five newspaper offices the previous week and arrested at least 17 journalists.

On 11 March, during its 22nd session, the Human Rights Council will consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. On 20 March, it will consider the interim report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran.

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is Iran’s defiance of its resolutions and inconsistent cooperation with the IAEA, including its continuing refusal to allow access to the Parchin site.

A fundamental issue for the Council is whether to support the dual-track approach—pressuring Iran to comply with existing resolutions and obligations through sanctions while at the same time pursuing a diplomatic solution—advocated by the US and its EU partners or whether, as argued by China, Russia and others, further punitive measures will be counterproductive at this stage.

At the 1737 Committee level, a key issue is ensuring implementation of the existing sanctions. This includes whether to respond to any of the recent incidents reported to the Committee or taking up any of the remaining recommendations submitted by the PoE.

Options

Developments at the Council level in the foreseeable future are unlikely as long as diplomatic attempts to resolve differences between the P5+1 and Iran continue.

At the Committee level, however, members could follow up on those PoE recommendations that have not yet been implemented, such as addressing the discrepancies between the lists of individuals originally designated under Council resolutions (such as the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and those who currently hold those positions identified in the designations. It could also issue additional implementation assistance notices to help guide member states. Additionally, the Committee could consider for designation the Chemical Industries and Development of Materials Group as suggested by the PoE or make additional designations proposed by Council members.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council dynamics continue to be driven by a fundamental difference in approach between those who favour the dual-track approach (including Australia, the US and EU members) and those who oppose further punitive measures (such as China, Pakistan and Russia) and are critical of the increasingly stringent sanctions being imposed by the US and the EU.  (Russia has warned of the “extraterritorial effect” of such sanctions.) 

Council members also appear divided over alleged violations of the arms embargo.  While France, the UK and the US in the last Council meeting condemned transfers of arms from Iran to Syria and non-state armed groups in Gaza, Russia asserted that the 1737 Committee had not recently received any reports “of any implication of Iran in the illegal trafficking of conventional weapons”. These differences are also evident in the Committee, where discussions continue over how to respond to some recent incidents.

The outcome of the 26-27 February high-level talks is likely to set the tone for the March meeting. Although the focus of the meeting will be on the work of the 1737 Committee, it will also provide an opportunity for members to express their views on the larger issues and the way ahead. In its statement to the IAEA Board of Governors meeting last November, the US said that if there is no progress by March in resolving outstanding issues with Iran, it would pursue appropriate action, including reporting the lack of progress to the Security Council.

The US has the lead in the Council on Iran.

UN Documents on Iran

Security Council Resolutions  
9 June 2010 S/RES/1929  imposed the fourth and most recent round of sanctions on Iran and established the Panel of Experts. 
23 December 2006 S/RES/1737 was the first round of sanctions on Iran which also established the Sanctions Committee.
Security Council Meeting Record  
13 December 2012 S/PV.6888 was the most recent quarterly briefing by the chair of the Sanctions Committee.
Other  
21 February 2013 S/2013/103  was a note from the President of the Security Council circulating the 21 February IAEA report on Iran.
12 February 2013 S/2013/88 was a letter from Iran concerning allegations of arms transfers to Yemen.
25 January 2013 S/2013/53 was the Sanctions Committee’s annual report to the Council.  
20 December 2012 SC/10871  was a Sanctions Committee press release announcing the listing of two additional entities.
4 June 2012 S/2012/395 was the final report of the Panel of Experts.