December 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 26 November 2014
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MIDDLE EAST

Iran

Expected Council Action                        

In December, the chair of the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Gary Quinlan (Australia), is due to present to the Council his final quarterly briefing on the Committee’s work. (Australia’s term as an elected member ends on 31 December. At press time it was not decided who would be taking over the chairmanship.) 

The Committee is scheduled to meet ahead of the briefing to consider the mid-term report from its Panel of Experts. 

Key Recent Developments

On 24 November, Iran and the P5 +1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US) announced they were extending until 1 July 2015 the 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPA) in order to continue negotiations aimed at reaching agreement on “a mutually agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful”. (The JPA, which came into effect on 20 January, had an initial duration of six months but allowed for the possibility of extension, by mutual consent, and stipulated that the parties would aim to conclude negotiating and commence implementing a comprehensive solution no more than one year after its adoption. The parties decided in July to extend the JPA until 24 November.)   While 1 July 2015 was set as the new deadline, the aim would be to secure agreement on the substance of a final accord by March in order to allow sufficient time for technical details to be worked out at the end. Negotiations were scheduled to resume in December. 

In making the announcement, officials provided few details about the state of the negotiations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that “many gaps were narrowed and our positions with the other side got closer” while US Secretary of State John Kerry said “real and substantial progress” had been made and new ideas had been discussed, but that “some significant points of disagreement” remained. While no further specifics were offered, it was widely reported that the question of how much uranium-enrichment capacity Iran should be allowed to retain was a major sticking point.  Iran currently has 19,000 installed enrichment centrifuges, of which 10,000 are in operation, whereas the proposals presented by the P5+1 (which involves additional restrictions on Iran’s enrichment activities) have reportedly called for no more than 4,500 centrifuges. The parties are apparently also still far apart on the question of the conditions and timetable for the lifting of sanctions, with Iran seeking permanent and almost immediate sanctions relief  and not just temporary measures as proposed by the P5+1 as a first step of a gradual approach.   

Other key issues in the negotiations include the duration of the final agreement (with Iran apparently initially seeking a duration of no more than three years as opposed to twenty years suggested by the other side), the modalities of the inspections and monitoring regime that will be put in place to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful and what to do with  the heavy water reactor in Arak, which it is apparently agreed will need to be modified to cut its annual weapon-grade plutonium output. If the main sticking points are resolved, however, the expectation seems to be that agreement on these issues will fall into place. 

In parallel with the P5+1 talks, the IAEA and Iran continued to discuss the Framework for Cooperation agreed on 11 November 2013, involving a series of practical measures aimed at ensuring international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. In a 7 November report to the Council, the IAEA Director General reported that Iran had yet to implement two of the five practical measures agreed in May 2014, namely sharing information about its research into high explosive detonators that could be used to trigger a nuclear weapon and about neutron transport studies that could be relevant to calculate the explosive yield of a nuclear weapon. The report also noted that the IAEA had repeatedly invited Iran to propose additional practical measures but had received no response. 

Since Quinlan last briefed the Council on 15 September, the work of the Committee has effectively been on hold. There was a meeting on 20 October, however, mainly to consider a request from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF, an inter-governmental body with 36 members that aims to promote effective implementation of measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the international financial system). FATF had asked a member of the Panel of Experts to serve as an external reviewer of revised FATF guidelines relating to UN sanctions. It seems Committee members were divided over whether to approve such an arrangement. The chair suggested that interested Committee members should consult amongst themselves to resolve the issue. 

The Panel of Experts’ mid-term report was submitted to the Committee on 7 November. The report indicated that the Panel had not received any new information from member states on alleged sanctions violations and had therefore not started any new investigations. It also noted that states might have been more cautious in their approach to exchanging information with the Panel because of the ongoing negotiations. The report is due for submission to the Council by 9 December but will not be made public. (Unlike with many other Panels of Experts, only the final report is issued as an official UN document.) 

Human Rights-Related Developments

The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, briefed the General Assembly’s Third Committee on 28 October on his latest annual report. He stated that the human rights situation remained of serious concern notwithstanding some recent advances by the Iranian government and parliament. The report details a surge in executions for crimes not recognised as capital offenses under international law, continuing reports of widespread and systematic torture, and draft laws that appear to further undermine women’s rights and the rights to freedom of expression and association. According to the report, at least 35 journalists are currently in detention in Iran, and allegations continue about harassment, interrogations and surveillance of many others.

The Third Committee also considered the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran, which documents increased use of the death penalty, including in relation to political prisoners and juvenile offenders; reports of arbitrary detention and prosecution of journalists, human rights defenders and women rights activists; and discrimination against minority groups, in some cases amounting to persecution. It notes that the Iranian government did not engage substantively with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council during the reporting period and that no mandate-holder, including the special rapporteur, has been admitted into the country since 2005. 

On 18 November, the Third Committee adopted its annual resolution on the human rights situation in Iran by a vote of 78 in favour to 35 against, with 69 abstentions (A/C.3/69/L.33).

In a press conference on 28 October, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed shock at the execution on 25 October of Reyhaneh Jabbari, sentenced to death for the alleged murder of a former employee of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, despite repeated calls by various UN human rights mechanisms not to execute her. The spokesperson also expressed concern about due process relating to the case, particularly with regard to allegations that her conviction was based on confessions made under duress. 

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is how it can best support the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 to ensure a positive outcome.

At the Committee level, a practical issue is how to ensure an effective transition between the outgoing and incoming chair.

Options

As long as the P5+1 talks with Iran are ongoing, options for the Council are limited. The chair’s briefing will offer an opportunity for individual Council members to express their views on the talks and the role of the Committee in supporting the process. A further option would be for the Council to issue a statement encouraging the parties to continue their efforts to reach an agreement and confirming its readiness to lift the sanctions against Iran in the event of a successful outcome.

In addition, elected members could request the P5 to brief them on the status of the negotiations. (At the moment, no mechanism exists for the P5+1 to keep the Council informed, and there seems to be some frustration among elected members that the P5 has not been more forthcoming in this regard.) 

In the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee, there are two main options. The Committee can either continue the current cautious approach or it can decide to take action on the issues that are outstanding. As for the appointment of the next chair of the Committee, the Council could implement the guidelines set out in the 17 December 2012 president’s note which called for an inclusive and transparent process, rather than leaving the decision to the P5, as has been the practice in the past.  

Council and Wider Dynamics

Over the past months the Council has essentially been in a waiting mode in anticipation of the outcome of the P5+1 talks and the scope for any substantive action has been very limited. With the announcement that the talks have been extended, this situation is likely to continue. At press time, there was no indication that any formal Council response to the extension of the JPA might be considered.

There are differing views among Council members as to how the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee can best support the ongoing negotiations. While China and Russia have continued to argue in favour of a cautious approach so as not to undermine the process, other Council members seem to hold the position that the Committee can have a positive impact on the negotiations by taking action to ensure that sanctions continue to be fully implemented.  

Due mainly to the opposition of Russia, several issues are on hold before the Committee. These include a US proposal to designate Jaysh Al-Shabi, a pro-government Syrian militia that has allegedly received arms from Iran (on hold by Russia), a proposal to send a letter to Iran concerning public statements by Iranian officials seemingly confirming its involvement in arms transfers to Gaza and a draft Implementation Assistance Notice on the Great Prophet exercise conducted by Iran in July 2012, during which it fired several ballistic missiles in violation of the Council’s ban on such activities. In addition, continuing divisions have also prevented the Committee from concluding its consideration of the recommendations put forward by the Panel of Experts in its June report. For its part, Iran has yet to respond to any of the letters from the Committee requesting its views on various Panel incident reports that concluded Iran had engaged in sanctions violations.        

The US is the penholder on Iran.

UN Documents
Security Council Resolutions
9 June 2014 S/RES/2159  extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 9 July 2015.   
23 December 2006 S/RES/1737

imposed the first round of sanctions against Iran and established the Sanctions Committee.

Security Council Meeting Record
15 September 2014 S/PV.7265

was the most recent quarterly briefing.

Sanctions Committee Document
5 June 2014 S/2014/394 was the final report of the Panel of Experts under its previous mandate.
Note by the President of the Security Council
17 December 2012 S/2012/937

was the note by the Council president on the appointment of chairs of subsidiary bodies. 

General Assembly Documents
27 August 2014 A/69/356 was the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.
12 August 2014 A/69/306 was the Secretary-General’s report on the human rights situation in Iran.