What's In Blue

Posted Wed 29 Jun 2022

Iran: Non-proliferation Briefing

Tomorrow (30 June), the Security Council will convene for its biannual briefing on the implementation of 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, dated 23 June. The Security Council’s facilitator on the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), will report on the Council’s work regarding resolution 2231. The head of the EU delegation to the UN, Ambassador 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, and Russia—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 latest report, which outlines relevant developments since the last report was issued on 8 December 2021. The report notes that “diplomatic engagements in and around the Joint Commission” resumed in November 2021, when the remaining parties to the JCPOA met in Vienna to continue discussing the possibility of the US re-joining the deal in exchange for Iran’s return to compliance with its terms. The US was present in Vienna but did not participate directly in the talks, with other parties to the JCPOA instead serving as its intermediaries with Iran due to Tehran’s refusal to meet with the US. The report also says that “further delays and the lack of progress” in the talks may undermine confidence in the JCPOA’s ability to “ensure that the Iranian nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful”. In this regard, it urges Iran and the US to demonstrate flexibility and reach a compromise on the remaining issues.

Negotiations concerning the JCPOA’s revival were paused in March. Although the text of an agreement is reportedly close to being finalised, a few issues remain outstanding. At the time the talks were paused, the major unresolved issue was the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) by the US. The IRGC is a military unit that operates under the direct control of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, independently from the rest of Iran’s armed forces. It also has significant business interests throughout Iran. Tehran has demanded that the FTO designation be removed since the talks resumed in November 2021, while the US has said that that it will only take the IRGC off the FTO list if it limits its regional activities and refrains from targeting US nationals.

On 27 June, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US State Department announced that indirect negotiations between Iran and the US would begin in Doha, Qatar, on 28 June. The announcement followed EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles’ visit to Tehran from 24 to 25 June. In a 25 June tweet, Borrell said that an “important outcome of my visit to Iran is that we deblocked recent deadlock and that halted [JCPOA] negotiations will resume”. The talks in Doha were reportedly attended by US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, who has been leading the negotiations on Iran’s behalf. EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora was present in Doha and reportedly served as an intermediary between the US and Iran during the talks.

According to a 27 June Reuters report, officials from Iran and the EU said prior to the Doha meeting that Tehran has dropped its demand that the US remove its designation of the IRGC as an FTO, leaving two issues to be resolved, including one that relates to sanctions. Other media outlets reported that the US had low expectations of the talks. On 29 June, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that the talks had ended without a breakthrough. During tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to emphasise the importance of reviving the JCPOA and call on the parties involved to engage in constructive negotiations to resolve the impasse. Some members may urge Iran to accept the draft agreement that is currently on the table and argue that issues unrelated to the JCPOA should be left out of the negotiations, while others might criticise the US for withdrawing from the JCPOA and call for the removal of sanctions that were imposed following the US withdrawal.

Iran’s nuclear activities are also likely to be discussed tomorrow. The latest report of the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Council, which was issued on 10 June, notes that the IAEA estimates that Iran has increased its stockpile of enriched uranium by approximately 16 percent since the Director-General’s previous report, dated 10 March. This figure includes a 22.9 percent increase in uranium enriched to 60 percent. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium above 3.67 percent. On 6 June, Director-General of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi told a press conference on the sidelines of the IAEA Board of Governors’ quarterly meeting that Iran was a “few weeks” away from having a “significant quantity” of enriched uranium. The IAEA’s safeguards glossary defines a “significant quantity” as “the approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded”. An 8 June IAEA report also noted that Iran has begun installing additional advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment at its nuclear facilities. Some Council members may express concern regarding these developments and call on Iran to return to full compliance with the terms of the JCPOA in their statements tomorrow.

International monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme is another likely topic of discussion. On 8 June, the IAEA passed a resolution that expressed profound concern over Iran’s failure to cooperate adequately with the IAEA’s investigation into uranium traces that were found at three undeclared nuclear sites in Iran. In response to the resolution, Iran announced that it would switch off IAEA monitoring equipment that was installed as part of the JCPOA, including 27 IAEA cameras operating at Iran’s nuclear facilities. During a 9 June press conference, Grossi said that Iran’s move would involve disabling “basically all” of the monitoring equipment installed pursuant to the JCPOA and leave a window of three to four weeks before the IAEA loses the ability to monitor adequately Iran’s nuclear programme. Grossi also described the decision as a possible “fatal blow” to efforts to revive the JCPOA. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express support for the IAEA and highlight the importance of its work. Some members might call on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and express concern regarding Tehran’s decision to shut down monitoring equipment.

Tomorrow’s meeting is likely to highlight divisions among Council members in relation to the interpretation of resolution 2231. Members have often diverged over whether particular incidents contravene resolution 2231’s prohibition on Iran undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, several letters have been sent to the Secretary-General and the Council by France, Germany, Israel, the UK, and the US regarding certain activities, including ballistic missile launches and space vehicle flight tests conducted by Iran. The letters allege that these activities contravene the ban in resolution 2231 that prohibits Tehran from testing materials that can deliver nuclear weapons. In a series of letters sent in response to the letters from France, Germany, the UK, and the US, Russia said that “Iran is respecting in good faith the provisions of [resolution 2231] to refrain from activities related to ballistic missiles that are designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons”. France, Russia, the UK, and the US may reiterate their respective positions at tomorrow’s meeting.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails