What's In Blue

Posted Wed 21 Oct 2015

Briefing by the US on Iran Missile Launch

This afternoon (21 October), at the request of the US, following consultations on Israel/Palestine, Council members are expected to discuss under “any other business” Iran’s 11 October launch of a ballistic missile. In announcing the launch, Iran described the missile as a new precision-guided weapon and the first with the range to strike Israel, but said it was for deterrence purposes only. Immediately following the launch, the US condemned it as a violation of resolution 1929, as did other Council members, and announced its intention to bring the issue to the Council. The US also said, however, that the launch did not violate the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA) agreed on 14 July between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany).

According to resolution 1929, “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities.” This provision remains fully in effect until the JCPOA’s implementation day, which is not until the IAEA confirms that Iran has fulfilled all its nuclear related obligations under the agreement. Iran has suggested that this could happen before the end of the year. Resolution 2231, by which the Council endorsed the JCPOA, calls on Iran, using softer language than in resolution 1929, to not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic technology, until eight years after implementation day.

While Iran’s missile launch did not violate the JCPOA, it was clearly seen by some as contrary to the spirit of the agreement. By bringing the issue to the Council, the US likely wants to reinforce the message to Iran that all existing Council sanctions on Iran remain fully in effect and should be fully implemented. It is also likely important for the US for domestic political reasons to show that it is taking this development seriously. The importance of implementing the existing sanctions has been stressed by a number of members following briefings by the chair of the 1737 Sanctions Committee on Iran, including during the most recent one on 15 September (S/PV.7522).

Following the discussion among Council members this afternoon, it is possible that the Committee will take up this issue and seek the assistance of its Panel of Experts in investigating the incident. It seems the US is preparing to report the launch to the Committee. There is no Committee meeting scheduled at the moment, but the discussion this afternoon may trigger such a meeting.

Council members are likely to be divided, however, on how forcefully to pursue this issue. The discussion this afternoon will offer an opportunity for Council members to express their initial views on how the Council should respond. While the US and likeminded countries such as France, the UK. Lithuania and New Zealand are likely to agree that the Committee should react in some way, if only by sending a letter to Iran as a first step as it has done in the past, China, Russia and Venezuela are expected to advocate in favour of a cautious approach as they have done in the past and stress the need to avoid any action that could undermine the JCPOA.

Implementation of the JCPOA

Implementation of the JCPOA appears so far to be fully on track. On 15 October the IAEA confirmed that Iran had completed all the activities set out in the roadmap agreed in July for clarification of past and present outstanding issues, as required under the JCPOA, and that the agency would report to its board and to the Security Council by 15 December. (The roadmap was a follow-up to the November 2013 framework for cooperation between Iran and the IAEA.) On the JCPOA’s adoption day on 18 October (defined as the date 90 days after the agreement was concluded) the joint commission tasked with monitoring implementation of the agreement and consisting of the P5+1 and Iran, held its first meeting in Vienna.

Also on 18 October, the IAEA reported that it had been informed that Iran would provisionally apply the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement starting on implementation day, pending ratification by its parliament, and would also fully implement modified code 3.1. (These steps are required under the JCPOA to strengthen international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme.) On the same day, the EU announced it had adopted the legislative framework for the lifting of all of its nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Iran while the US approved conditional sanctions waivers intended to come into effect on implementation day.

The next phase of the JCPOA will require Iran to start implementing the measures relating to its nuclear capabilities, including reducing its stock of enriched uranium, dismantling centrifuges, modifying the Fordow facility and redesigning the Arak reactor.