Expected Council Action
In December, 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
The uncertainty about the future of the JCPOA has persisted since May when the US formally withdrew from the agreement. Iran has continued to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the agreement, however, as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
At the June briefing on the implementation of resolution 2231, the US reiterated its view that Iran continues to destabilise the Middle East region through its support for terrorist groups and proxy forces. Most other Council members expressed regret over the US withdrawal from the agreement, and some have also raised concerns about reports of Iran’s ballistic missile activity. DiCarlo emphasised the uncertain outlook for the future of the JCPOA and said that all issues that are not directly related to the agreement should be addressed without jeopardising it.
The US has been reimposing sanctions on Iran gradually since May. The first round of sanctions targeting specific sectors of the economy took effect in August. On 5 November, the US imposed the remaining sanctions, targeting Iran’s oil exports, which represent one of the main revenue sources for the country. The US has, however, granted temporary waivers to eight countries, allowing them to buy Iranian petroleum products.
During the high-level week at the UN General Assembly, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini chaired a ministerial meeting of participants in the JCPOA on 24 September. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the foreign ministers of JCPOA participants reaffirmed their commitment to full and effective implementation of the agreement. They expressed their determination to protect the freedom to pursue legitimate business with Iran in accordance with resolution 2231. To that end, they also welcomed the initiative to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate payments linked to legitimate economic activity with Iran.
In a press conference that day with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Mogherini said that the EU has decided to establish the SPV as a legal entity that would facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and therefore allow European companies to continue doing business with Iran. The SPV is aimed at circumventing and minimising the impact of the US sanctions. Although EU officials planned to have the SPV
operational before the US imposed the latest round of sanctions in November, there are still several technical issues to be resolved. The media have reported that one of the more contentious issues is which EU country would host the SPV. It appears that prospective host countries fear that the US could penalise their banking sectors. At press time no decision had been made.
During its presidency in September, the US devoted significant attention to issues related to non-proliferation. In addition to holding a ministerial meeting on denuclearisation efforts in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, on 26 September US President Donald Trump chaired a summit-level meeting on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Among other issues, Trump criticised the JCPOA and said that the agreement provided Iran with financial resources that it used to support terrorism, develop ballistic missiles, and destabilise the region. On the other hand, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasised that although the US had withdrawn from the agreement, all members are united around the objective of keeping Iran free of nuclear weapons. While noting its imperfections, he stressed that the JCPOA was a step in the right direction towards ensuring a nuclear-weapons-free Iran.
In a 3 October ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the US to ease sanctions that it reinstated on Iran after withdrawing from the JCPOA. Iran argued that the sanctions violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity, which regulates trade and commerce between the two countries. The Court ordered the US to remove any impediments arising from sanctions on Iran announced in May that would affect humanitarian aid and civilian aviation. The US has rejected the ICJ’s ruling, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the same day that the US would withdraw from the 1955 treaty.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 November, the Third Committee adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran with 85 votes in favour; 30 votes against, including Council members Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan and Russia; and 68 abstentions, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Kuwait (A/C.3/73/L.42). Among other things, the resolution urges Iran to cease the widespread and systematic use of arbitrary detention; release persons detained for the exercise of their human rights; and address the poor conditions of prisons. It also expresses serious concern about the ongoing severe limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and calls upon Iran to launch a comprehensive accountability process in response to all cases of serious human rights violations, including allegations of excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and cases of suspicious deaths in custody.
On 24 October, the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, presented his report (A/73/398) to the Third Committee of the General Assembly at its 73rd session, as requested in Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution 37/30. The report highlights a number of consistently documented issues, including violations of the right to life, in particular the execution of juvenile offenders; violations of the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment; violations of the right to freedom of assembly, opinion and expression; and violations of the rights of women and girls, as well as those of
religious and ethnic minorities. The report also identifies several areas that the special rapporteur intends to address further in the future, including violations of economic, social and cultural rights; the situation of human rights defenders; and the rights of specific groups, in particular those based on disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. The special rapporteur will submit a written report to the HRC at its 40th session in March.
Key Issues and Options
An underlying issue for the Council remains ensuring full compliance with resolution 2231 by parties to the JCPOA and the wider UN membership.
The Council will have to assess the implications of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA on the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the agreement. To address this and other related issues, the Council could consider holding an informal meeting or meeting in consultations with the 2231 facilitator. This meeting could afford members an opportunity to respond to US criticism and further express concern about the undermining of the agreement.
Given that Iran has not yet taken part in the semi-annual briefings on the implementation of resolution 2231, an option for the Council is to encourage its participation in the public discussion.
The current US administration has all along been critical of the JCPOA. Its formal withdrawal from the agreement has not changed Council dynamics drastically, given that most Council members anticipated the US move. 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. JCPOA parties France, Germany and the UK expressed regret and concern over the US withdrawal, while Iran was highly critical of the unilateral US action.
The remaining signatories of the JCPOA, particularly the European countries, seem committed to preserving the agreement and easing economic pressure on Iran amid renewed US sanctions. The US has threatened to sanction all entities that engage in business with Iran. The development of the SPV by the EU could further affect Council dynamics, deepening the rift between the European members and the US.
Looking ahead, should the US pursue Council action on Iran by initiating the process of reinstating UN sanctions via a new resolution, this could further 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 the JCPOA.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|20 July 2015S/RES/2231||This was a resolution that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran.|
|12 June 2018S/2018/602||This was the Secretary-General’s fifth report on the implementation of resolution 2331.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|27 June 2018S/PV.8297||This was the semi-annual briefing on the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear programme.|