posted on Tue 15 Dec 2015 11:23 AM
Briefing by the Chair of the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee

This afternoon (15 December), the chair of the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), is scheduled to present his quarterly briefing to the Council. At press time, the chair’s statement had not yet been agreed by the members of the Committee, but a draft was under silence until noon. It seems the remaining difference is over whether to refer to Iran’s 10 October ballistic missile launch as a violation of resolution 1929.

Today’s meeting takes place against the backdrop of continued progress in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed on 14 July by Iran, the EU and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany) and endorsed by the Council on 20 July in resolution 2231, as well as speculations that sanctions against Iran may be lifted as early as January. The IAEA board of governors met this morning in Vienna to consider the IAEA’s 2 December final assessment on past and present outstanding issues regarding the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear programme (GOV/2015/68) and adopted a resolution which closed the board’s consideration of this issue, an important step for the implementation of the JCPOA.

While the chair’s briefing will focus on the work of the Sanctions Committee, Council members may take the opportunity to review progress in the implementation of the JCPOA and express their views on the implications for the Sanctions Committee and the future role of the Council. Differences persist among Council members in relation to both the current work of the Sanctions Committee and the question of what kind of Council mechanism or structures should be put in place to replace the Committee. As foreseen under the provisions of resolution 2231, the Committee will be dismantled on the JCPOA’s implementation day, which is defined as the date on which the IAEA issues a report confirming that Iran has taken all the actions required under the agreement and nuclear related sanctions are lifted. The resolution is vague about what will replace the Committee, however, only specifying that the Council will “make the necessary practical arrangements to undertake directly tasks related to the implementation [of the resolution].”

As it appears increasingly likely that sanctions could be lifted early next year, Council members may express their views on Iran’s future obligations, in particular in relation to the restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missile technology that will remain in place and the application of the so-called “snap-back” provision in the case of any violations of its obligations. They may want to comment on the continued role of the Council and the need to put in place adequate structures to ensure that it can fulfill the tasks assigned to it. Members may also address the importance of providing guidance to member states as regards changes in their obligations, which was one of the points made by the Panel of Experts in its mid-term report to the Committee.

Regarding the work of the Committee, recent discussions have focused on Iran’s launch of a new long-range, precision-guided ballistic missile on 11 October. Council members’ responses to the launch have largely followed traditional dividing lines between the US and likeminded countries on one side, and China, Russia and Venezuela on the other side, with the latter group advocating a cautious approach. Following a briefing by the US under “any other business” during consultations on 21 October, France, Germany, the US and the UK sent a letter to the Committee describing the missile as “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon” and reporting the launch as a violation of resolution 1929, while calling for appropriate action to be taken.

The Committee discussed the missile launch at a 24 November meeting, the only one held since the chair last briefed the Council in September, where it also considered the midterm report of its Panel of Experts. The mid-term report referred to the missile launch as a likely violation of resolution 1929, but did not reach a firm conclusion. Following further investigations, however, the Panel submitted a report to the Committee on 11 December concluding that the missile launch was indeed a sanctions violation. The US has pushed for the Committee chair to mention this conclusion in his briefing today. However, Russia is apparently still reluctant to refer to the incident as a violation and it remains to be seen how the chair will address this issue this afternoon.

In addition, some Council members may choose to address recent media reports that Iran carried out another ballistic missile test in violation of resolution 1929 on 21 November. According to these reports, the missile was similar to the one launched on 11 October. Ambassador Samantha Power (US) said on 8 December that the US was conducting a serious review of the reported incident and would report it to the Council as a violation if the launch was confirmed.

The reports of possible sanctions violations by Iran seem to contrast with recent IAEA findings confirming progress in the implementation of the JCPOA, another likely focus of Council members’ statements today. Most recently, in the 2 December report referred to above, the IAEA stated that all activities contained in the roadmap agreed between Iran and the IAEA on 14 July were implemented according to the agreed schedule. It concluded that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003, and some for a period after that, but that there was no indication of any such activities after 2009.

The resolution adopted by the IAEA’s board of governors at its meeting today welcomed the assessment presented in the report, closed the agenda item on the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear programme, including by lifting all related IAEA resolutions on the JCPOA’s implementation day, and replacing it with an agenda item instead referring to the JCPOA. The decision is likely to bring about further actions by Iran required under the JCPOA, as Tehran had earlier indicated that it would only go ahead with the modification of the Arak heavy water reactor (one of the requirements under the agreement) once the question of the possible military dimension of its nuclear programme had been resolved.

Looking ahead, it seems that the P5 may be close to finalising a document they have been negotiating for some time on how the Council will organise its work relating to the implementation of the JCPOA once the Sanctions Committee is terminated. At press time, the draft had yet to be formally shared with elected Council members, but it seemed possible that the document would be issued as a note by the Council president before the end of the year.