What's In Blue

Posted Tue 29 Jun 2021

Iran Non-proliferation Briefing

Tomorrow (30 June), the Security Council will convene in person for its semi-annual briefing on the implementation of resolution 2231, which in 2015 endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme (JCPOA). Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2231 (S/2021/582). The Council’s facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), will report on the Council’s work in relation to resolution 2231. The Head of the EU delegation to the UN, Olof Skoog, will brief on the work of the JCPOA’s Joint Commission. The Commission comprises the parties to the JCPOA— China, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, and Iran— and the EU serves as its coordinator; the US was originally a party but withdrew in May 2018.

DiCarlo is likely to provide an overview of the key points of the Secretary-General’s 21 June report. The report notes that the climate for the implementation of the agreement has changed in the past six months and that “the US re-joining the [JCPOA]…would be a welcome development”. During the reporting period, the remaining parties to the JCPOA have held meetings in Vienna to discuss the prospect of the US re-joining the JCPOA. The US has been present in Vienna but has not participated directly in the talks.

The sixth round of the Vienna negotiations, which began in early April, concluded on 20 June. Shortly before this round of talks began, the Biden administration lifted sanctions on a handful of former Iranian government officials and Iranian companies involved in the Iranian oil industry. Although the US State Department denied any connection between this decision and the discussions, an arms control expert from the Brookings Institute subsequently observed that the timing of the decision suggested that the US may have removed the sanctions in order to demonstrate flexibility to Iran. At tomorrow’s meeting, DiCarlo might reiterate the Secretary-General’s appeal for the US to remove all sanctions that had been lifted or waived pursuant to the JCPOA. As mentioned in the report, the Secretary-General considers this to be a necessary step to facilitate the full and proper implementation of the JCPOA and resolution 2231.

Overall, some progress appears to have been made during the Vienna discussions. According to media reports, a senior official from the Biden administration recently indicated that there were advances on every issue in each round of talks. However, the primary points of contention are also well defined. In contravention of the terms of the JCPOA, Iran has significantly escalated its enrichment and stockpiling of uranium since the US began unilaterally imposing sanctions in 2018. Iran is refusing to undo these measures until the US sanctions have been removed. In response, the US has indicated that it will not lift its sanctions until Iran reverses course and reduces its uranium enrichment and stockpiles.

There are other areas of disagreement. Iran has demanded assurances that any agreement which might be reached during the Vienna negotiations will not be reversed by a future US administration, while the US wants Iran to agree to negotiate a longer term that will operate beyond the end of the JCPOA, which is due to expire in 2030. US officials also want a new deal to encompass a broader range of issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for regional militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Several media outlets have reported that a draft agreement has been circulated among the parties and that a deal may be reached as soon as mid-July. The next round of discussions in Vienna is reportedly scheduled to begin in early July.

Despite the progress that has been made so far, several developments in recent weeks may complicate the negotiations. On 19 June, Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric and former judge with strong ties to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was elected president. Raisi, who will assume office in August, is considered to be hostile towards the US and diplomacy with other western nations. In his first news conference on 21 June, Raisi stated that Iran’s ballistic missile and regional programs were non-negotiable and that he would not meet with President Biden.

Recent US airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, which took place on 28 June, may also affect the negotiations. Although several analysts have indicated that these strikes are unlikely to derail the talks, they raise the prospect of heightened tensions in the region if an agreement is not reached. Analysts have also commented that the developments of recent weeks have increased the pressure on negotiators to strike a deal, particularly before Raisi becomes president in August.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are expected to express concern regarding Iran’s non-compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. In this regard, some may note Iran’s refusal to renew its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which allowed the IAEA to continue monitoring Iran’s nuclear activity despite a February 2021 law that limited the access of IAEA inspectors to Iran’s nuclear sites. The agreement expired without being renewed on 24 June, and Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA subsequently stated that Iran was “not required to comply” with the IAEA’s request for a response to its queries regarding renewal of the agreement. In response, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted on 25 June that Iran’s failure to respond was a “serious concern”.

This issue is likely to be a focus of several Council members’ statements, as the absence of an agreement between Iran and the IAEA makes it more difficult for the Council to effectively monitor Iran’s use of its nuclear facilities. Some members may note that Iran’s refusal to engage with the IAEA could have a negative impact on the next round of discussions in Vienna. Council members are also likely to refer to the importance of reviving the JCPOA and articulate their support for the negotiations in Vienna.

Tomorrow’s meeting is also expected to highlight divisions among Council members in relation to the interpretation of the provisions of resolution 2231. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, France and the UK, together with Germany, alleged in an 18 February letter to the Secretary-General that certain ballistic missile launches conducted by Iran on 16 January and 17 January were inconsistent with resolution 2231. Russia responded in a 2 March letter and contended that these launches were not prohibited by the terms of the resolution. It is likely that France, the UK and Russia will reiterate these positions during the meeting.