posted on Mon 14 Sep 2015 3:23 PM
Briefing by the Chair of the 1737 Iran Sanction Committee

Tomorrow afternoon (15 September), the chair of the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), is due to provide his quarterly briefing to the Council on the Committee’s work. It will be the first such briefing since Iran, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany) and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 14 July. The JCPOA was endorsed by the Council on 20 July in resolution 2231. The meeting offers an opportunity for Council members to discuss the implications of the JCPOA in relation to the work of the Sanctions Committee.

In a meeting on 1 September, the Committee had an initial exchange of views on the implementation of resolution 2231. There was no disagreement that all UN sanctions on Iran will remain fully in effect until the Council has received the report from the IAEA, as required by the resolution, confirming that Iran has fulfilled its nuclear-related obligations under the JCPOA. The meeting also served to confirm that the Committee will continue to function as before during this period, which is expected to last anywhere from four to 12 months from adoption day. (The Committee’s mandate was last renewed on 9 June for another 13 months in resolution 2224. The JCPOA’s adoption day is 19 October, i.e. 90 days from the date it was agreed.) There are, however, some provisions in resolution 2231 relating to the preparations of the implementation of the JCPOA that will require the involvement of the Committee and were briefly discussed.

More specifically, the resolution stipulates that the sanctions shall not apply in three cases: transfers and activities directly related to the modification of the Fordow facility which, according to the JCPOA, shall be converted into a nuclear, physics and technology centre; the export of Iran’s enriched uranium in excess of 300 kg; and the redesign of the Arak reactor. In these cases member states are required to notify the Committee as well as the Joint Commission ten days in advance of any such activities. (The Joint Commission is the mechanism established under the JCPOA to monitor implementation of the agreement by the parties.)

Moreover, resolution 2231 specifies that the sanctions shall not apply to the extent necessary to carry out other transfers and activities related to implementation of the nuclear-related actions under the agreement more broadly, as well as those required for preparation of the implementation of the JCPOA or “determined by the Committee to be consistent with the objectives of the resolution”. In such cases, instead of a notification, advance approval by the Committee shall be required.

In addition to considering the implications of resolution 2231, the Committee also discussed on 1 September the program of work of its Panel of Experts for the current mandate period and confirmed that the Panel should continue its investigative work and remain alert to violations. Council members also emphasised the importance of the Panel’s outreach activities and its role in providing guidance to member states on the implementation of resolution 2231.

In his briefing tomorrow, Oyarzun is likely to address the main points discussed at the Committee meeting. He can be expected to emphasise once again that the sanctions remain in effect and must be fully implemented while highlighting the exemptions referred to above. It is possible that Oyarzun will also address the need for additional guidance to member states. Although there are no immediate plans for any Committee-led initiatives in this regard, it seems some Council members have started to consider possible options.

One issue that was raised at the 1 September Committee meeting, but is unlikely to feature in the chair’s briefing, pertains to recent allegations reported by the media and publicly referred to by the US State Department, that Major General Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds force, had travelled to Russia in late July in violation of the Council’s travel ban. (Suleimani was listed by the Council in 2007.) Russia has publicly denied these claims and did so again during the meeting when they were brought up by the US.

The immediate impact of the JCPOA is not expected to require much extra work on the part of the Sanctions Committee. However, a larger question for Council members is how to manage the transition on implementation day, and ensure that the Council can perform the tasks required by the agreement once the Sanctions Committee is dismantled. Although the nuclear-related sanctions would be lifted at that time, the measures relating to conventional arms, ballistic missile technology, travel ban and asset freeze (referred to in the JCPOA as “restrictions” rather than sanctions to satisfy Iran) will remain in effect for another five to eight years, and some kind of Council mechanism to monitor implementation will therefore be needed. (Resolution 2231 specifies that the Council will make “the necessary practical arrangements” to undertake directly tasks related to its implementation, but it is understood that Iran will resist any mechanism perceived to be a sanctions committee or a panel of experts.) It seems the US is working on a proposal in this regard, but it is likely to take some time before it is brought to the Council.

Council members will also be following progress in the discussions between Iran and the IAEA aimed at resolving outstanding issues relating to the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme. According to the JCPOA, Iran is required to implement fully by 15 October the roadmap for clarification of past and present outstanding issues as agreed with the IAEA on 14 July as a follow up to the November 2013 framework for cooperation. The IAEA announced on 9 September that it had asked Iran to clarify ambiguities in its previous communications with the agency. The IAEA’s Director-General has until 15 December to present a final assessment of whether all outstanding issues have been resolved. The Committee chair’s next briefing is also due in December, at which point there might be more clarity on the expected timeline for the implementation of the JCPOA.

For more background on this issue please see our September Forecast and What’s in Blue story on the resolution adopted in July.

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