posted on Mon 29 Jun 2020 6:53 PM
Iran Nuclear Agreement: Briefing on the Implementation of Resolution 2231

Tomorrow (30 June), the Security Council will hold an open VTC 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. The Head of the EU delegation, Ambassador Olof Skoog, will brief on the work of the JCPOA’s Joint Commission. (The Commission is composed of the parties to the JCPOA—China, France, Germany, the UK, and Russia—and the EU serves as its coordinator; the US was formerly a party but withdrew in May 2018). It seems that also participating at the meeting will be: Secretary-General António Guterres, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and possibly Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

DiCarlo is expected to present the main findings of the Secretary-General’s 11 June report and to centre her briefing on issues related to Iran’s compliance with the provisions contained in annex B of resolution 2231. According to the report, the Secretariat’s assessment of the US seizures of weapons in November 2019 and February 2020 (in international waters off the coast of Yemen) indicates that the weapons are of Iranian origin. The Secretary-General has indicated that these arms transfers may have been inconsistent with resolution 2231. The report states that the cruise missiles used in the 2019 attacks on Saudi Arabia oil facilities and Abha international airport were also of Iranian origin.

DiCarlo is expected to reiterate that the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and subsequent imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran are inconsistent with the JCPOA and resolution 2231. She is likely to express concern over actions that Iran has taken to reduce its compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the agreement. The US announced its withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018 and has since continued to impose unilateral sanctions on Iran as a part of a maximum pressure strategy. Although still formally in the agreement, Iran has gradually resumed uranium enrichment activities beyond JCPOA–mandated limits.

The meeting comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Iran by the US at the UN Security Council. In line with resolution 2231, the restrictions on arms-related transfers and travel ban measures are set to expire in October. Over the past several months, the US has led a public campaign emphasising the importance of maintaining the arms embargo on Iran beyond October. It has argued that Iran poses a threat to peace and security in the region and continues to supply weapons, in violation of resolution 2231, to terrorist groups and proxies in Lebanon and Yemen.  The US is likely to reiterate these points at the meeting.

Although this is a regularly scheduled meeting on the implementation of resolution 2231, the US may use this opportunity to promote a draft resolution for an arms embargo on Iran that it circulated to Council members last Monday (22 June). Council members previously discussed the draft in a closed VTC on 24 June, which featured briefings by Ambassador Kelly Craft (US), and US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State, Brian Hook.

In the context of an arms embargo, the draft resolution would establish a sanctions regime similar to the one in place before the measures outlined in resolution 2231 came into force.  In this regard, the draft calls for a sanctions committee to be formed to monitor implementation of the resolution.  Among its provisions, the draft resolution includes a ban on the sale and transfer of arms and related material to and from Iran unless approved by the sanctions committee and an extension of the travel ban and assets freeze to those involved in violating sanctions measures. The draft resolution would also authorise member states to inspect and seize any vessels in their ports and to inspect cargo transiting through their territories in violation of arms embargo.

US efforts to extend the arms embargo on Iran have already encountered resistance from China and Russia. These members have communicated formally, via letters to the Security Council, their disapproval of the US initiative. They reiterated their support for the JCPOA and condemned unilateral sanctions by the US on Iran, which they perceive as a major impediment to full implementation of resolution 2231.

Like China and Russia, France, Germany, and the UK share a common position on the importance of preserving the JCPOA. However, they are also concerned about the possible implications for regional security and stability of the October expiry of arms-related restrictions on Iran. In their 19 June joint statement, these members stated that they are willing to address this issue in coordination with China and Russia “as remaining participants to the JCPOA, as well as with all other Security Council Members, as well as other key stakeholders”.

In the context of the implementation of resolution 2231, some Council members are likely to call attention to Iran’s space vehicle launches earlier this year (February and April). Germany, France, the UK, and the US consider these launches inconsistent with resolution 2231, which calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology”. These members consider that these space launch vehicles incorporate technology that can be used for ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Iran has claimed that its space launch vehicles are used for peaceful purposes as part of its space program and that these systems are not designed for potential use in delivering nuclear weapons. Russia and China have generally sided with Iran on this issue and may reiterate this during the meeting.

Looking ahead, the Council could potentially face a major crisis should the US attempt to trigger the snapback mechanism envisaged in resolution 2231. The resolution stipulates that any concerned party to the JCPOA can notify the Council about an issue that it considers a significant violation of the agreement. The sanctions in place before the adoption of resolution 2231 would then resume 30 days after the notification unless the Council adopts a resolution that continues the lifting of the sanctions. Both Pompeo and Hook have stated publicly that the US would renew the arms embargo by triggering the snapback mechanism if the Council fails to adopt a resolution to that end.

China and Russia have challenged the legality of the US assertion that it still has a right to trigger a snapback mechanism, given that it withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. The US has argued that it still retains a right to invoke the provision given that resolution 2231 lists it as a party to the JCPOA. In the 19 June joint statement, France, Germany, and the UK stated that: “any unilateral attempt to trigger UN sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences in the UNSC [UN Security Council]. We would not support such a decision which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA”.