Iran: Non-proliferation Briefing
Tomorrow afternoon (19 December), 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 12 December. The Security Council’s facilitator on the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Fergal Mythen (Ireland), will report on the Council’s work regarding resolution 2231. The deputy head of the EU delegation to the UN, Ambassador Silvio Gonzato, is expected to brief on the work of the JCPOA’s Joint Commission. The commission comprises the current parties to the JCPOA—China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, and the UK—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 23 June. The report notes that the “diplomatic engagements in and around the Joint Commission have not yet resulted in the return of the US and Iran to full and effective implementation of the [JCPOA] and [resolution 2231]”. It also says that “the current diplomatic engagements remain at an impasse, making the ongoing bilateral and regional initiatives to improve relationships with Iran all the more necessary”.
Negotiations concerning the JCPOA’s revival have been stalled since September. Several issues have arisen during the talks, which began in April 2021. At different times in the discussion, Iran has refused to decrease its stockpiles of enriched uranium unless US sanctions are removed, which the US has said that it will not do until Iran reduces its stockpiles. Iran has sought a guarantee that any new agreement will not be reversed by a future US administration and has pushed for the US to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of designated foreign terrorist organisations. Iran and the US have also disagreed over which sanctions should be lifted if the JCPOA is revived.
While it appeared that progress had been made on many of these issues, during the September round of negotiations an ongoing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into traces of enriched uranium discovered by the IAEA at three undeclared sites in Iran in 2019 became a major sticking point. In a 1 September response to a draft agreement circulated by the EU in early August, which an EU official described as the “final” text for reviving the deal, Iran reportedly insisted that the IAEA probe be closed as a precondition for its return to compliance with the JCPOA. The US and the European parties to the agreement strongly objected to Iran’s proposal. According to media reports, an IAEA team is scheduled to visit Iran on 18 December. A spokesperson for the IAEA said on 14 December that the team was invited by Iran and that the aim of the visit is to “address the outstanding safeguards issues previously reported”.
Other developments appear to have affected the progress of negotiations, including Iranian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on anti-government protests that began in September and Iran’s alleged sale of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia. On 14 November, US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told reporters: “if these negotiations are not happening, it’s because of Iran’s position and everything that has happened since (September)”. Malley also said that “our focus is not an accord that isn’t moving forward, but what is happening in Iran … this popular movement and the brutal crackdown of the regime against protesters. It’s the sale of armed drones by Iran to Russia. Malley also referred to the “liberation of our hostages”, an apparent reference to US citizens detained in Iran.
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 current impasse. Some members might argue that issues unrelated to the JCPOA should not be discussed during the negotiations and suggest that the window for reviving the deal is closing, while others may criticise the US for withdrawing from the JCPOA and call for the removal of sanctions the US imposed following its withdrawal. Tomorrow, several members may criticise Iran for its response to the current protests and its overall human rights record. In this context, they might reference the 14 December resolution adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which removed Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for the remainder of its four-year term ending in 2026.
Iran’s nuclear activities are also likely to be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting. The latest report of the IAEA Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council, which was issued on 10 November, notes that the IAEA estimates that Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent—a level just below that required to produce a nuclear weapon—by 6.7 kilograms since 21 August. Under the terms of the JCPOA, a 3.67 percent limit is imposed on Iran’s nuclear enrichment.
On 22 November, Iran announced that it had begun enriching uranium to 60 percent purity at its Fordow nuclear facility. Prior to this announcement, Iran had enriched uranium to 60 percent at its main nuclear facility in Natanz. On 2 December, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters: “Iran informed us they were tripling, not doubling, tripling their capacity to enrich uranium at 60 percent, which is very close to military level, which is 90 percent”. Grossi also said that “this is not banal. This is something that has consequences. It gives them an inventory of nuclear material for which it cannot be excluded … that there might be another use”. In their statements tomorrow, some Council members might express concern regarding these developments and call on Iran to return to full compliance with the JCPOA’s terms.
Iran’s alleged sale of UAVs to Russia is another likely topic of discussion tomorrow. In October, the US sent a letter to the Council accusing Iran of selling UAVs to Russia in contravention of resolution 2231. The letter also requested the Secretariat to “conduct an investigation that assesses the type of UAVs involved in these transfers in light of the prohibitions contained in the resolution”. France, Germany, and the UK also sent a similar letter to the Council in October. In response, Russia sent a letter to the Council arguing that the support for an investigation outlined in the letter from France, Germany, and the UK and certain statements made by Secretariat officials amount to a violation of the Article 100 of the UN Charter. Russia later requested a meeting to discuss this issue, which was held on 26 October. (For more information, see our 26 October What’s in Blue story). The latest Secretary-General’s report notes that the Secretariat “is examining the available information” regarding allegations that Iran and Russia have violated resolution 2231 and says that “any findings will be reported to the [Council] as appropriate, in due course”.
Council members disagree as to whether the Secretariat has the authority to investigate alleged violations of resolution 2231. Note S/2016/44 of 16 January 2016, which sets out the practical arrangements and procedures by which the Council carries out tasks related to resolution 2231, requests that the Secretary-General report to the Council “every six months on the implementation of resolution 2231”. The reports issued by the Secretary-General pursuant to this request often refer to communications received from member states regarding possible violations of resolution 2231 and outline the work undertaken by the Secretariat in response to these communications and the findings arising from that work.
Russia has regularly objected to this type of reporting. During the 30 June briefing on resolution 2231, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy said that “we continue to be very much troubled by the illegitimate practice of the Secretariat in carrying out certain investigations under resolution 2231. We categorically object to that kind of activity by the Secretariat. Its mandate in the context of resolution 2231 is exclusively administrative and technical in nature, as set out in [Note S/2016/44]”. Other Council members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) have welcomed the Secretariat’s investigations into possible violations of resolution 2231. Some members may reiterate their positions on this issue at tomorrow’s meeting.