What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Dec 2021

Iran: Non-proliferation Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (14 December), the Security Council will convene for its biannual briefing on resolution 2231 of 20 July 2015, which 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, which was issued on 8 December. 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 current 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 to the JCPOA but withdrew in May 2018.

DiCarlo is likely to provide an overview of the key points of the Secretary-General’s report, which covers relevant developments since 21 June. The report notes that the Secretary-General is encouraged by the diplomatic engagements that took place between April and June of this year when the remaining parties to the JCPOA met in Vienna to discuss the plan’s possible revival. (The US was present in Vienna but did not directly participate in the talks.) The report also says that “the diplomatic opening to realise the full implementation of the [JCPOA] may not be open-ended” and encourages Iran and the US to build on the initial rounds of negotiations in Vienna and return to full implementation of the JCPOA and resolution 2231 “as soon as possible”.

Council members will be interested in hearing DiCarlo’s analysis of the Vienna negotiations, which resumed on 29 November after a five-month hiatus and are ongoing at the time of writing. According to media reports, the first week of the resumed talks was difficult, with Iran seeking significant changes to a draft agreement that had been approximately 70 to 80 percent complete before negotiations were paused in June. In a joint statement issued after the talks had begun, officials from France, Germany, and the UK said that Iran has “backtracked on diplomatic progress made” and is “breaking with almost all of the difficult compromises crafted in months of tough negotiations”. The joint statement also noted that Iran’s proposed changes “go beyond” the provisions of the JCPOA and added that it is “unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic timeframe”.

Iran reportedly pushed for the removal of all US sanctions against it, including those that are unrelated to its nuclear activities, and indicated that it would not reverse progress made in its nuclear programme until these sanctions are lifted. Iranian officials also sought a guarantee that the US and its allies would not impose sanctions on Tehran in the future. The US and the European parties to the JCPOA are apparently in favour of a “compliance for compliance” approach, whereby the US will gradually lift sanctions in return for Iran taking steps towards compliance with the JCPOA’s terms.

The negotiations have been further complicated by several factors, including a 1 December announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had begun producing enriched uranium with more advanced centrifuges. The US has also reportedly taken steps to tighten enforcement of sanctions against Iran while the Vienna negotiations are underway. According to media reports, a US delegation will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) next week, where it will hold meetings with entities that are allegedly conducting business with Iran. The US delegation is expected to warn that these transactions are not in compliance with US sanctions and may impose additional sanctions on some Emirati entities.

After a brief pause, representatives of Iran and the remaining parties to the JCPOA resumed negotiations on 9 December. Iran reportedly revised its stance and expressed willingness to negotiate on the draft agreement that had been the subject of prior rounds of talks, rather than its proposals of the week before, after China and Russia pressured Iranian negotiators to resile from their previous position. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to stress the importance of the negotiations and urge the parties involved in the talks to build on the work that was done before they were paused in June.

Several Council members are expected to express concern regarding Iran’s recent nuclear activity and call on Tehran to return to compliance with the JCPOA. Iran has bolstered its nuclear programme following the 19 June election of President Ebrahim Raisi, including by producing uranium metal enriched to 20 percent for the first time and continuing to enrich uranium to 60 percent, a level well above the 3.67 percent limit imposed by the JCPOA.

International monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme is another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. In a report dated 7 September, which was distributed to Council members on 2 December (S/2021/1000), IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that the IAEA’s “verification and monitoring activities in relation to the JCPOA have been seriously undermined as a result of Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear related commitments under the JCPOA, including the Additional Protocol”. Some Council members are likely to express support for the IAEA and call on Iran to cooperate with its monitoring activities.

Tomorrow’s meeting is also expected to highlight divisions among Council members in relation to the interpretation of resolution 2231. Members have often diverged over whether certain actions taken by Tehran contravene the resolution’s provisions, which called on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, France and the UK, together with Germany, alleged in a 10 August letter that a “flight test of a satellite launch vehicle” conducted by Iran on 12 June was inconsistent with resolution 2231. In a 25 August letter, the US contended that this incident and Iran’s launch of a “Simorgh space launch vehicle” on 21 June were “in defiance” of resolution 2231. Russia, on the other hand, argued in a 22 September letter that these launches did not contravene resolution 2231. These Council members may reiterate their respective positions at tomorrow’s meeting.