What's In Blue

Posted Mon 21 Dec 2020

Iran (Non-proliferation) Briefing

Tomorrow (22 December), the Security Council will hold an open VTC session on the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2231. The Council’s facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Philippe Kridelka (Belgium), will report on the work of the Council related to resolution 2231. The Head of the EU delegation, Ambassador Olof Skoog, will brief on the work of the JCPOA’s Joint Commission. (The Commission is composed of the parties to the JCPOA—China, France, Germany, the UK, and Russia—and the EU serves as its coordinator; the US was formerly a party but withdrew in May 2018).

It appears that the Council president (South Africa) initially proposed that the meeting takes place in person. Several members opposed this due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and supported holding the meeting in VTC format.

DiCarlo is expected to present the main findings of the Secretary-General’s 7 December report and to centre her briefing on issues related to Iran’s compliance with the provisions contained in annex B (which deals with the restrictions concerning Iran) of resolution 2231. In the report, the Secretary-General reiterated the UN’s support for the JCPOA, emphasised its importance for ensuring a long-term solution to Iran’s nuclear issue, and underscored its contribution to international and regional security. Despite the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018, the Secretary-General has encouraged all states to support the JCPOA, while noting the commitment of the remaining participants to preserve it.

DiCarlo is likely to express concern over the recent reports by the IAEA that Iran has continued to violate its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. This has included breaches of limits on uranium enrichment and stockpiling of enriched uranium beyond levels prescribed by the JCPOA. Most Council members are likely to raise issues related to Iran’s violations of the JCPOA while calling on it to return to full compliance.

In comparison to previous years, the latest report is considerably less comprehensive. It contains an overview of developments in the Council stemming from the 20 August decision by the US to trigger a snapback mechanism under resolution 2231. Council members (except the US and the Dominican Republic) have sent letters to the president of the Council opposing the US move and maintaining that the US did not have the right to invoke the snapback provision under resolution 2231, given its withdrawal from the JCPOA. These members are likely to reiterate their positions on this issue during the meeting.

The report does not contain any information on ballistic missile-related violations, as the Secretariat did not receive any official communication in that regard. The portion of the report covering arms-related restrictions covers the period until 18 October, when these restrictions expired as per resolution 2231. Israel has alleged that Iran has continued to proliferate weapons contrary to resolution 2231 and has provided the Secretariat with imagery purporting to show four Iranian anti-tank missiles in Libya. Although its analysis established that one of them has characteristics of Iranian-made missiles, the Secretariat could not verify that they were transferred to Libya in violation of resolution 2231. The Secretariat also indicated that that weapons seized by Australia in the Gulf of Oman in July do not appear to have been produced by Iran.

During the meeting, some members might express concern over the 2 December law passed by Iran’s parliament to ramp up uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities if Iran does not receive sanctions relief within 60 days. The European parties to the JCPOA (France, Germany, and the UK) issued a joint statement on 7 December urging Iran not to implement the law, maintaining that it could jeopardize efforts to preserve the JCPOA. Iran has stressed that all its actions are reversible, if the remaining parties and the US implement their commitments under the agreement.

On 21 December, Joint Commission participants held a virtual ministerial meeting chaired by EU High Representative Josep Borrell. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, they reiterated their commitment to preserving the JCPOA and emphasised that resolution 2231 remains in force. Also, they recognised that there is a possibility of the US rejoining the JCPOA and that they are ready to address this in a collective effort.

The meeting is likely to expose the existing deep divisions among the US and other Council members on the Iran nuclear issue and resolution 2231. Given the election of Joe Biden as the next US president, Council dynamics on this issue are likely to change in the coming months. Biden was a member of the US administration that negotiated the JCPOA in 2015. During his presidential campaign, he stated his intention to re-enter the agreement if Iran returns to full compliance, saying that he would use this as a starting point for further negotiations. Iran has been explicit in saying that it would return to full compliance only if the US does the same. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also emphasised that Iran would not renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA.