What's In Blue

Posted Mon 24 Jun 2024

Iran: Non-proliferation Briefing

This afternoon (24 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 (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will brief on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2231, dated 19 June. The Security Council’s facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (Malta), will report on the Council’s work regarding resolution 2231. The head of the EU delegation to the UN, Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis, 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 15 December 2023. The report says that restoring implementation of the JCPOA has “remained elusive”, noting that the US has not lifted or waived the unilateral sanctions reimposed on Iran after withdrawing from the agreement in May 2018, and that Iran has not reversed any of the steps that it has taken in violation of the JCPOA since then. The report urges all parties to the agreement, as well as the US, to “pursue all available avenues for dialogue and cooperation”.

Negotiations concerning a revival of the JCPOA—which began in Vienna in April 2021 following the election of US President Joe Biden—reached an impasse in September 2022, when Iran reportedly insisted as a condition for accepting a new deal that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) close its investigation into traces of enriched uranium it had discovered at three undeclared sites in Iran in 2019. The US and European parties to the JCPOA objected to this demand, which they viewed as a separate issue related to Iran’s obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the country’s NPT Safeguards Agreement, which every non-nuclear NPT state party is required to conclude with the IAEA to ensure that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. In a November 2022 resolution, the IAEA Board of Governors censured Iran and directed it to comply with the IAEA’s investigation. In response, Iran announced that it had started enriching uranium to 60 percent purity at its Fordow nuclear facility, approaching the roughly 90 percent level required to produce a nuclear weapon and well above the 3.67 percent limit imposed by the JCPOA.

The Secretary-General’s 19 June report refers to the IAEA’s latest findings on fissile material in Iran, as outlined in its May quarterly reports. The agency estimated that Iran’s total stockpile of enriched uranium had reached 6,201.3 kilograms (which exceeds the 202.8 kilogram limit imposed by the JCPOA), including 144.1 kilograms enriched to 60 percent purity—a 20.6-kilogram increase from the previous reporting period. The agency further reported that Iran had still not provided technically credible explanations for the detection of uranium at two of the three undeclared sites discovered in 2019. It also said that no progress had been made in implementing the 4 March 2023 joint statement between the IAEA and Iran to re-enable certain verification and monitoring activities, and that it has not been able to perform such activities in relation to Iran’s centrifuge production and inventory for more than three years, consequently losing the continuity of knowledge required to establish a new baseline against which to measure compliance with any future agreement. Additionally, the agency reported that Iran had still not reversed its September 2023 decision to withdraw the designation of several IAEA inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities in the country under the NPT Safeguards Agreement. (For more background on these issues, see the Iran brief in our June 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

At its June quarterly meeting to discuss the agency’s reports, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a new resolution censuring Iran, put forward by France, Germany, and the UK (known within the context of the Joint Commission as the E3 countries). The resolution called on Iran to fulfil its NPT-required safeguards obligations, implement the 4 March 2023 joint statement, and re-certify IAEA inspectors, among other actions. It further stated that “continued failure” by Iran to cooperate with the agency to resolve all outstanding safeguards issues may require the IAEA to produce a “comprehensive and updated assessment on the possible presence or use of undeclared nuclear material in connection with past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program”. Of the 35 member states comprising the Board of Governors, 20 voted in favour of the resolution, 12 abstained, and two—China and Russia—voted against it. One member state did not participate in the vote.

In a 5 June joint statement, the E3 welcomed the adoption of the resolution, which they described as a “strong and renewed message of support” for the IAEA’s efforts to address the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. The statement stressed the need for Iran to provide credible explanations for its nuclear activities and warned of potential further actions if the country did not do so. In a separate statement, the US described the resolution as a first step in a strategy aimed at achieving a “sustainable, effective solution” to Iran’s nuclear programme, with a view towards the upcoming expiration of resolution 2231 in October 2025.

In response, Iran and seven other countries—Belarus, China, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe—issued a joint statement criticising the resolution as both “counterproductive” and a violation of diplomatic norms, as Iran was still mourning the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amirabdollahian in a 19 May helicopter crash. Subsequently, media reported that Iran had notified the IAEA of its intention to install new centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow nuclear facilities, tripling the latter’s enrichment capacity, according to an independent technical analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, a US-based non-governmental organisation. In a 13 June statement, the US said that the planned expansion had “no credible peaceful purpose” and that the US would “respond accordingly” if implemented. A 15 June joint statement by the E3 also condemned the move, calling it a “further escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme, which carries significant proliferation risks”.

With negotiations to restore the JCPOA at a standstill, other geopolitical developments appear to have further diminished prospects for a revival of the deal. These include Iran’s alleged transfer of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, as well as continued regional fallout from the Israel-Hamas war, which has sharply raised tensions between Western countries and Iran and its proxy groups in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Substantive negotiations between the IAEA and Iran to improve cooperation have also been frozen while Iran organises presidential elections in the wake of Raisi’s death. The vote is scheduled to take place on 28 June.

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