Expected Council Action
In January, the Council will consider the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is expected to brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s report on the resolution’s implementation, due by early January according to a 16 January 2016 note from the Council president. In addition, briefings are expected by a representative of the EU in its capacity as coordinator of the Joint Commission, the body responsible for overseeing the JCPOA’s implementation, and Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi (Italy), the incoming 2231 Council facilitator, who succeeds Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain) on 1 January.
Key Recent Developments
On 18 July the Council received its first briefing on resolution 2231 since the JCPOA’s implementation day on 16 January, when all previous Council resolutions on Iran were terminated and the provisions in annex B of the resolution came into effect, imposing new restrictions on nuclear, ballistic missile and arms-related transfers as well as a travel ban and assets freeze on designated entities and individuals. Feltman presented the Secretary-General’s first report on the implementation of the resolution. Almeida briefed on the work of the Joint Commission and Oyarzun spoke in his capacity as the Council’s 2231 facilitator.
The Secretary-General said in his report that he had seen no evidence since implementation day of any nuclear-related transfers to Iran in contravention of the relevant provisions of resolution 2231. He expressed concern, however, about the ballistic missile launches conducted by Iran in March 2016 as “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA. He also expressed concern about the seizure of an arms shipment reported by the US. The US’ report, which was annexed to the Secretary-General’s report, concluded that the arms had originated in Iran and were bound for Yemen. Moreover, the Secretary-General noted that an entity on the 2231 asset freeze list, the Defence Industries Organisation, had participated in an exhibition in Baghdad and that, according to media reports, a listed individual, Qasem Soleimani, had travelled to other parts of Iraq.
In the period since the July Council briefing, no further ballistic missile launches by Iran have been reported, but new allegations have been made about unauthorised weapons transfers and travel by individuals listed under resolution 2231. In a 14 September letter to the Council president, Saudi Arabia asserted that Iran had supplied weapons and ammunition to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. While Saudi Arabia reported the transfer as a violation of resolution 2216, which imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, it would also contravene resolution 2231. In a 27 September letter, Iran firmly rejected “the pure fabrications and unsubstantiated allegations” made by Saudi Arabia. In a 21 November letter to the Secretary-General and Council president, Israel alleged that Iran’s Quds Force was using commercial flights from Iran to Lebanon to transfer arms and related material to the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah and called on the Council to condemn both Iran and Hezbollah for the violation of its resolutions. The following day, Iran said in a letter to the Council that the letter from Israel contained “a flurry of baseless and unsubstantiated accusations”. In addition, there were reports of Souleimani again violating the travel ban, with a visit to Aleppo in Syria in December.
The IAEA, which is responsible for verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, submitted reports to the Council on 9 September, 9 November and 7 December. In its November report, the IAEA said that Iran’s stockpile of heavy water had reached the agreed maximum limit of 130 metric tonnes on 25 October and that it had expressed concern in this regard to the Iranian authorities on 2 November. On 9 November, Iran informed the IAEA that it planned to transfer five metric tonnes of heavy water out of the country. In a 7 December follow-up report, the IAEA confirmed that 11 metric tonnes of heavy water had been shipped out on 19 November, thus reducing the stockpile to less than 130 tonnes again. According to media reports the destination was Oman.
In the period since the Council’s last briefing, five new requests were submitted through the procurement channel, the mechanism established by the JCPOA to handle requests for advance approval of transfers to Iran of nuclear-related technology, technical assistance, financial services or investments. Such requests are first considered by the procurement working group of the Joint Commission, which then makes a recommendation to the Council. At press time, two of the requests had been approved by the Council, while three were pending. In addition, South Africa submitted a request to the Council on 22 November for approval to export 100 missiles to Iran, as required by paragraph 5 of Annex B of resolution 2231. The Council has yet to respond.
On the political front, the election of Donald Trump as US president on 8 November has raised doubts about the future commitment of the US to the agreement. During his campaign, Trump characterised the JCPOA as a disaster. Although, since the election, Trump has not explicitly called for dismantling it, some of his key cabinet appointees appear to be staunch opponents.
On 15 November, the US House of Representatives voted to extend the Iran Sanctions Act for another year. On 6 December, Iran asserted in a letter to the Secretary-General that the action was a violation of the US commitments under the JCPOA and called on the Secretary-General to write about it in the upcoming report on implementation of resolution 2231. Iran also called for a meeting of the Joint Commission. In a 15 December statement, however, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the extension of the sanctions act was “entirely consistent” with the JCPOA and said he had informed Iran that existing US sanctions waivers were unaffected by the extension.
A key issue for the Council is whether any of the parties to the JCPOA or any other member state has failed to comply with resolution 2231 and, if so, what the appropriate response should be.
A further issue is the uncertainty about the commitment of the US to the JCPOA created by the signals sent so far by the incoming Trump administration.
Another issue is how to respond to the exemption request from South Africa.
Options for the Council at this stage are limited. The briefing in January does provide, however, an important opportunity for Council members to clearly express their views on the implementation of the JCPOA and send a message to the new US administration about any attempts to undermine the agreement. The briefing also provides an opportunity to assess progress relating to the lifting of sanctions.
Council and Wider Dynamics
There seem to be some differences between key Council members and Iran in their views of what the Secretary-General should report on. During the preparation of the first report, Iran argued that the Secretary-General should also review the implementation of the commitments in the JCPOA related to the lifting of sanctions, which in the context of resolution 2231 are contained in annex A, as opposed to reporting just on the implementation of annex B, which focuses on the implementation of restrictions on Iran.
The Secretariat decided to resolve this issue by annexing the views expressed by Iran to the report, including assertions that it had not been able to fully benefit from the lifting of sanctions due to deficiencies and non-performance by the EU and the US and rejection of the allegations concerning arms transfers. It seems this led to a strong reaction from the US, which saw inclusion of Iran’s views as going beyond the Secretary-General’s reporting mandate. Perhaps as a result of the US reaction, Feltman emphasised in his briefing to the Council in July that the report focused strictly on the measures in annex B. This is expected to be the case for the Secretary-General’s upcoming report as well.
With regard to the request from South Africa, Council members are divided about how to respond. Some Council members have argued that the proposed items do not fall under any of the seven categories established by the UN Register of Conventional Arms and that no Council approval is therefore necessary. Others take the opposite view, however, and believe the request should be denied. At press time, it was not clear how this issue might be resolved.
|Security Council Resolution|
|20 July 2015 S/RES/2231||This was a resolution that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran.|
|12 July 2016 S/2016/589||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2231.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|18 July 2016 S/PV.7739||This was a briefing on the implementation of resolution 2231.|
|Security Council Letters|
|28 November 2016 S/2016/992||This was Iran’s response to the letter from Israel.|
|22 November 2016 S/2016/987||This was the letter from Israel.|
|29 September 2016 S/2016/817||This was Iran’s response to the letter from Saudi Arabia.|
|16 September 2016 S/2016/786||This was the letter from Saudi Arabia.|
|21 November 2016 S/2016/983||This was an IAEA report on Iran.|
|22 September 2016 S/2016/808||This was an IAEA report on Iran.|
|16 January 2016 S/2016/44||This was a note by the president that outlined the practical arrangements and procedures for how the Council would carry out the tasks related to the implementation of the new provisions that came into effect on implementation day under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.|