posted on Tue 11 Dec 2018 4:27 PM
Briefing on Iran and Non-proliferation

On Wednesday (12 December) the Security Council will hold its semiannual briefing on the implementation of resolution 2231, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will present the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2231. In addition, the Council’s facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (the Netherlands), will report on the work of the Council related to Iran and the Head of the EU delegation, João Pedro Vale de Almeida, will brief on the work of the JCPOA’s Joint Commission. (The Commission is composed of the parties to the JCPOA and the EU serves as its coordinator.) Germany, as it has done in the past, is expected to make a statement as an interested party and a signatory to the JCPOA, under rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure.

In her briefing, DiCarlo is likely to draw attention to some of the main findings from the 6 December Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2231 (S/2018/1089). The Secretary-General acknowledged the challenges arising from the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and subsequent reimposition of bilateral sanctions on Iran. At the same time, he noted that Iran has continued to implement nuclear-related commitments, which was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The meeting comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the US. In a statement issued on 1 December, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to participate in tomorrow’s meeting, said that Iran violated resolution 2231 after it tested a medium-range ballistic missile. Three days later, France and the UK asked to discuss this issue under “any other business”. Today, Iran confirmed that it had carried out a major ballistic missile test on 1 December. Iran has claimed that its missile program is used exclusively for defensive purposes and that it does not have any intention to use it for the delivery of nuclear warheads.

Council members continue to be divided over whether or not ballistic missile tests are violations of resolution 2231. China and Russia have maintained that the restrictions in resolution 2231 are not legally binding, and that a missile must be explicitly designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a test to be a violation. The resolution calls on Iran not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.  Council members are likely to want to hear DiCarlo’s views on allegations that Iran has violated restrictions on ballistic missile-related activities or transfers.

In his last briefing in the role of facilitator, Van Oosterom is expected to provide an update on the Council’s activities related to resolution 2231. Given the political sensitivities surrounding the Iran nuclear issue, he is likely to focus mainly on the information contained in the latest facilitator’s report and Council activities within the 2231 format.

The Council dynamics on the Iran issue remain complex. The US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA has left it isolated on this issue in the Council given that all the other members remain committed to the agreement. The dynamics differ on the issue of ballistic missile tests by Iran, however, where the UK and France, as well as several other members, seem to share the US position that these activates have a destabilising effect and are contrary to the spirt of resolution 2231. In contrast, other members, particularly Russia and China, claim that Iran’s activities related to ballistic missiles testing do not violate the resolution.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Pompeo is expected to criticise Iran for what the US considers its destabilising activities in the region and for violating the provisions of resolution 2231 with the recent ballistic missile test. He is also likely to urge other members of the Council to step up economic pressure on Iran. Other P3 members, as well as Germany, are likely to voice concern over Iran’s ballistic missile tests but at the same time reiterate the importance of maintaining the JCPOA.

Outside the purview of the Security Council, the remaining signatories to the JCPOA have continued their efforts to salvage the agreement after the US withdrawal. In an effort to circumvent the effects of US secondary sanctions, the EU has been working on establishing a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate payments linked to legitimate financial activities between EU companies and Iran. During the 10 December remarks following the meeting of the EU foreign ministers, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said that she expects the SPV to become operational by the end of the year. While the EU remains committed to implementing the JCPOA, Mogherini emphasised that it would not ignore other issues or any illicit activities by Iran.

Belgium will be the Council’s 2231 facilitator in 2019.