posted on Tue 25 Jun 2019 5:19 PM
Iran Non-proliferation Briefing

Tomorrow (26 June), the Security Council will hold its semi-annual 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 and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will present the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2231. The Council’s facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231, Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), will report on the work of the Council related to resolution 2231, 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.)

In her briefing, DiCarlo is expected to provide a summary of the main findings of the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2231, which states that Iran has continued to comply with its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.  DiCarlo is also likely to reiterate that the US withdrawal and subsequent imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran are inconsistent with the JCPOA and resolution 2231. She may express concern over recent statements by Iran that it may violate certain aspects of the agreement, while also welcoming the commitment of the other JCPOA participants to remain in the agreement and to continue its implementation.  In the wider context, DiCarlo will probably express concern over heightened tensions between the US and Iran and reiterate the Secretary-General’s call on the parties to show restraint and de-escalate these tensions.

Consistent with usual practice, Pecsteen is likely to focus mainly on the Council’s activities related to resolution 2231 and the information contained in the latest facilitator’s report.

The meeting is expected to center on issues related to the implementation of resolution 2231. For the majority of Council members who are supportive of the JCPOA, recent announcements by Iran that it would resume uranium enrichment activities present one of the main concerns in the context of the implementation of resolution 2231. On 8 May, Iran issued a 60-day ultimatum to the remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU) to provide Iran with sanctions relief on its oil and financial sectors, failing which it would resume uranium enrichment activities and construction of the Arak nuclear reactor, which would constitute a direct violation of the JCPOA.  This was Iran’s response to the US decision to end waivers granting eight countries permission to procure Iran’s oil exports, despite previously imposed US sanctions.

Following Iran’s ultimatum, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK issued a joint statement calling on Iran to adhere to its commitments under the JCPOA, while also noting that they would continue efforts to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran.  (Earlier this year, France, Germany, and the UK set up a mechanism that would mitigate the effects of US sanctions in Iran and facilitate some trade between the EU and Iran. This mechanism—the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges, or INSTEX—has yet to become operational, although the French, German and UK ambassadors to Iran released a statement on 14 June saying that they were “committed to working with Iran to deliver INSTEX’s first transaction as quickly as possible”.)  The joint statement rejected Iran’s ultimatum, however, and called on Iran to avoid any actions that could raise tensions further.

In addition to its 8 May ultimatum—and following the joint ministerial statement by France, Germany, and the UK—Iran announced on 17 June that it had accelerated its uranium enrichment activities and that that it would breach the limits set by the JCPOA within ten days.

In tomorrow’s meeting, EU members are likely to emphasise the importance of Iran’s continued adherence to the agreement. Furthermore, they might reiterate the EU common position that Iran is currently in compliance with the JCPOA and that the EU will base its assessment of Iran’s compliance on reporting by the IAEA.

Despite recent statements from Iran regarding the JCPOA, the IAEA’s most recent report, issued on 31 May, confirmed that Iran has remained in compliance. While the remaining signatories to the JCPOA remain supportive of the agreement, the Council dynamic could change should Iran commit a clear violation of the JCPOA. This would open a possibility for the use of a “snap back” mechanism, which would restore sanctions on Iran that were in place prior to the adoption of resolution 2231.

Resolution 2231 mandates that concerns over non-compliance with the agreement should first be addressed among the parties to the JCPOA. This would initially involve consideration by the Joint Commission, a body established by the JCPOA to monitor its implementation, composed of the eight parties. Continued concerns could then be referred to the foreign ministers of the parties. If this process fails to resolve the issue, and a concerned party of the JCPOA considers that a significant violation of the agreement has occurred, it can notify the Council. The sanctions would then resume 30 days after notification unless the Council adopts a resolution that continues the lifting of the sanctions. Such a resolution could be vetoed by any permanent member that believes there has been significant Iranian non-compliance.

The focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the Iranian nuclear issue and implementation of resolution 2231; however, it is likely that some Council members will also comment on recent developments in the Gulf of Oman, including the attacks on commercial ships, and Iran’s downing of a US reconnaissance drone. Council members already held two closed meetings to discuss these developments. On 13 June, Council members discussed Iran in the “any other business” part of consultations, during which the US briefed on the attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which the US claims were conducted by Iran.

Following a US request, Council members again met in consultations this Monday (23 June), this time to discuss Iran’s downing of a US reconnaissance drone. The US has claimed that its drone was shot down over international waters, while Iran said that the drone had violated its airspace.

During the meeting, the US also presented information on its investigation into the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The US claimed that its investigation indicates that Iran is responsible for the attacks in the Gulf, an accusation Iran has denied. In press elements issued after the meeting, Council members noted that the attacks represent a serious threat to maritime navigation and a threat to international peace and security. They further urged “concerned parties and all countries in the region” to show restraint and end tensions. Members did not assign responsibility for the attacks, however.

In their joint statement to the media after the meeting, Germany, France, and the UK expressed their concern over recent development in the region and called for de-escalation. Furthermore, these members stressed their commitment to resolution 2231 and preservation of the JCPOA, a point they are likely to reiterate tomorrow.

While several Council members have raised concerns about US withdrawal from the JCPOA, Russia has been particularly critical of the US and its decision to impose unilateral sanctions on Iran, which it views as contrary to resolution 2231. Russia is likely to emphasise that Iran has continued to comply with its obligations under the JCPOA and that the US actions contribute to greater instability in the region.