Expected Council Action
In June, the Secretary-General will report on the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. The Council is also expected to receive reports from the Joint Commission, established by the parties to the JCPOA to oversee its implementation, and from the Council’s 2231 facilitator, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (the Netherlands). Briefings are expected from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, van Oosterom and a representative of the EU in its capacity as coordinator of the Joint Commission.
Key Recent Developments
In a widely expected move, US President Donald Trump announced on 8 May his decision to withdraw the US from the JCPOA, saying among other reasons that Iran had violated the spirit of the agreement by its involvement in various conflicts in the Middle East. Trump signed a memorandum to start the process of restoring US sanctions on Iran, and on the same day US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a statement declaring that full US sanctions on Iran would come into effect after 90 days in some cases and after 180 days in others. In addition to US entities, the sanctions imposed by the US could also affect entities in the EU and other member states that engage in economic activity with Iran.
Trump’s announcement drew immediate reactions from across the world. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement expressing concern over the US withdrawal from the agreement and called on parties to the JCPOA and all other members to continue to support it. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that the EU would abide by the JCPOA as long as Iran continued to uphold its commitments under the agreement. In a joint statement, France, Germany and the UK stressed their continued support for the JCPOA and called for full implementation of resolution 2231. They also called on Iran to exercise restraint and for the US to “avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal”. Israel and Saudi Arabia, who have been critical of the JCPOA since its inception, were among the countries that welcomed Trump’s decision.
In the flurry of diplomatic activity that ensued, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with his counterparts in China, Russia and the EU to discuss the future of the JCPOA. During these encounters, Zarif received assurances from the remaining JCPOA signatories that they would continue to adhere to the agreement. At the 15 May meeting of Zarif, Mogherini and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK, all parties agreed that they would try to salvage the JCPOA. Mogherini also announced that expert-level meetings would take place in the coming weeks to explore options for circumventing the US sanctions.
On 21 May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined a new US strategy towards Iran that will be implemented outside the JCPOA framework. Pompeo asserted that the US would exert robust financial pressure on Iran by employing unprecedented sanctions unless Iran changes its behaviour. Some of the 12 demands for Iran laid out by Pompeo include abandoning the pursuit of nuclear weapons, allowing weapons inspections, and ending its destabilising activities in the Middle East. Should Iran comply with all US demands, Pompeo said that the US would end sanctions, re-establish diplomatic relations, and support Iran’s integration into the international economic system.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 12 March, during its 37th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue to consider the report of its special rapporteur on Iran on the situation of human rights in the country (A/HRC/37/68). The report states that demonstrations during December 2017 led to the deaths of at least 22 people and the arrest of at least 1,000 people. It expresses concern over the conditions under which those arrested were being held and over the fate of detainees, following reports of the death of a number of persons in custody, some of whom had been arrested during the protests. On 21 March, the HRC also considered the Secretary-General’s report on the human rights situation in Iran (A/HRC/37/24), which focused on the high use of the death penalty; restrictions on and oppression of journalists and human rights defenders; and the continued discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, as well as women and girls. On 23 March, the HRC voted 21 to seven (with 19 abstentions) to extend the mandate of the special rapporteur for one year and requested a report at its 40th session in March 2019 (A/HRC/RES/37/30). (Security Council and HRC members Ethiopia abstained and China voted against the resolution.)
Key Issues and Options
The Council is primarily concerned with whether a party to the JCPOA or any other member state has failed to comply with resolution 2231 and, in such a case, what the appropriate response should be.
Looking ahead, the Council will have to assess the consequences of the US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and its implications in light of resolution 2231, which endorsed the agreement, and could consider the possibility of holding an informal meeting or meeting in consultations with 2231 facilitator van Oosterom to discuss this. Such a meeting could also afford members an opportunity to respond to the US administration’s criticisms of the agreement and express concern about any intentions to undermine it.
A further option is to encourage Iran to participate in the discussion, as it has not to date taken part in the semi-annual briefings on the implementation of resolution 2231.
The current US administration has been critical of the JCPOA from the onset. Now that the US has formally withdrawn from the agreement, the Council dynamics have not changed drastically, given that most Council members anticipated such a move by the US. Most Council members—among them, China, France, the UK and Russia, which are parties to the agreement—maintain their position that the JCPOA remains valid and that they will continue to adhere to its provisions. Iran has also affirmed its commitment to the implementation of the JCPOA and resolution 2231. The E3 JCPOA parties (France, Germany and the UK) expressed regret and concern over the US withdrawal from the agreement, while Iran was highly critical of the US’s unilateral action. During the 17 May open debate on upholding international law, Iran noted that the US withdrawal from the JCPOA disregarded international law and the UN Charter.
Looking ahead, there are several factors that could affect Council dynamics. The US could pursue action on Iran in the Council by initiating the process of reinstating sanctions via a new resolution. This could exacerbate the divide between the US and other permanent members, most notably France and the UK, which contend that Iran has been in compliance with JCPOA. The Council dynamics could be further complicated should Iran decide to withdraw from the agreement or leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|20 July 2015 S/RES/2231||This was a resolution that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran.|
|8 December 2017 S/2017/1030||This was the fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2231.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|19 December 2017 S/PV.8143||This was a briefing by USG for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA.|