The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is facing many challenges, including the United States withdrawal from the 2015 landmark agreement and possible Iranian breaches of the arms transfer provisions of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), but it nevertheless remains the best way to ensure that Tehran’s nuclear programme is peaceful, Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told a 30 June videoconference meeting* of the 15-member organ.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s ninth report on the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015) (document S/2020/531), which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Ms. DiCarlo said that it is regrettable that the future of the agreement is in doubt after the United States withdrawal in May 2018, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had verified in 11 reports that Iran was complying with its nuclear commitments. The subsequent re-imposition of United States national sanctions lifted under the agreement, and its decision not to extends waivers on oil trading with Tehran, are contrary to the Plan’s goals and impede the ability of Iran and other Member States to fully implement both the agreement and resolution 2231 (2015). She noted that in a 12 March letter to the Secretary-General, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran wrote that United States sanctions were constraining his country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We also regret the steps Iran has taken since July 2019 in response to the United States withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” she said, explaining that, under IAEA monitoring, it has surpassed limits stipulated in the agreement on uranium enrichment and stockpiles of heavy water and low-enriched uranium, and lifted limitations on its nuclear research and development activities. “Today, we appeal again to Iran to return to full implementation of the Plan,” she said, also urging Tehran to address concerns raised by other States regarding its actions inconsistent with restrictive measures set out in Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015). She encouraged those States participating in the agreement to resolve their differences through its dispute resolution mechanism, and urged Member States to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that might have a further negative impact on the agreement and on stability in the Middle East.
“Notwithstanding the current challenges to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], it remains the best way to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme,” she said. “Its full implementation, as well as faithful adherence to resolution 2231 (2015), is also fundamental for regional stability.” Full implementation of the Plan is also key to securing tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people, she added, stating that positive developments regarding the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, a European special-purpose vehicle to facilitate financial transactions with Iran, are encouraging.
Turning to the Secretary-General’s report, the Under-Secretary-General said that it focuses on Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015), which effectively extended a United Nations arms embargo on Iran until 18 October 2020. The Annex also includes a ban, until 18 October 2023, on supplying equipment that Iran might use to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and calls upon the country to refrain from developing such missiles. First, regarding the nuclear-related provisions of the text, she called on Member States and the private sector to support and use the procurement channel. She also expressed regret at the United States decision on 27 May to terminate sanctions waivers related to the modernization of the Arak nuclear reactor. Second, regarding provisions related to ballistic missiles, she reported that France, Germany, Israel, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States had provided information on Iran’s launches of Simorgh and Qased space launch vehicles in February and April. That information reflected divergent views among those six Member States as to whether the launches were inconsistent with paragraph B of Annex B, which calls on Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Third, on arms-related restrictions, she said that the Secretariat had analysed weapons and related material seized by the United States in November 2019 and February 2020 which Iran, through its Permanent Mission to the United Nations, said did not conform to products manufactured in the country.
“Our findings indicate that the container launch units of the anti-tank guided missiles [seized by the United States] were of Iranian origin and had post-2016 production dates,” she said. The Secretariat also ascertained that seized optical weapon sights had been delivered to Iran between February 2016 and April 2018. Moreover, the sights bore design characteristics similar to those produced by a commercial entity in Iran. She also said that the components associated with an anti-ship missile, an unidentified missile and a cruise missile bore Farsi language markings and that the transfer of such material from Iran after 16 January 2016 may be inconsistent with resolution 2231 (2015).
Regarding cruise missiles and delta-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used in attacks on oil facilities and the Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia in 2019, she said, among other things, that the Secretariat has confirmed that fuel pressure sensors in the former, and ignition coils in the latter, had been exported to Iran in 2016 and 2018. It had also taken note of feedback from Iran that the fuel pressure transmitter was not a dual-use item to be monitored by the Government. The Secretariat also ascertained that jet engines and other components in the cruise missiles and the UAVs bore similarities to known Iranian models or had gyroscopes and engines similar to an Iranian UAV recovered in Afghanistan in 2016. “Based on these technical findings, while also having taken into account the information provided by Iran, the Secretariat assessed that the examined cruise missiles and delta-wing UAVs and/or parts thereof used in the attacks on Saudi Arabia were of Iranian origin.” She concluded by saying that the Secretariat is analysing information from Australia, Israel and Saudi Arabia regarding the alleged transfer of arms and related material from Iran and that it will report back to the Council, if appropriate, in due course.
Olof Skoog, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, spoke on behalf of the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in his capacity as Coordinator of the Joint Commission established by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That agreement removed the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran from the regional security equation. It also provided an unprecedented amount of IAEA access and monitoring under Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol. Losing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would also mean losing the Additional Protocol and the IAEA’s access rights. As Coordinator of the Joint Commission, the European Union has spared no efforts to engage with remaining participants and others to address current difficulties. “Now more than ever a joined up international effort is needed to preserve the agreement.” He recognized that Iran fully complied with the nuclear-related provisions, including during the 14 months since the United States withdrew and re-imposed unilateral sanctions. However, it is deeply worrying that Iran has decreased its nuclear-related commitments, he said, expressing particular concern about the country’s continued accumulation of low enriched uranium, its continued expansion of research and development with advanced centrifuges, and the enrichment activities in Fordow. Such activities are inconsistent with the nuclear-related provisions of the Plan, he said, urging Iran to reverse those activities and return to full implementation of its commitments without delay.
He emphasized that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a nuclear non-proliferation agreement. Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments is an essential part of the agreement, but another is the lifting of sanctions. The European Union lifted its sanctions on Implementation Day and it remains committed to working to preserve the agreement, including through normalizing economic and trade relations with Iran. On the possible snapback of sanctions in the Council, he recalled that the United States has participated in no meetings or activities within the framework of the agreement since it announced in May 2018 that it was ending its participation. He went on to express deep regret at the decision by the United States to end waivers for key nuclear projects in Iran, including the Arak Modernisation Project, which serve the non-proliferation interests of all and provide the international community with assurances of the exclusively peaceful and safe nature of Tehran’s nuclear activities. He concluded by saying that the Plan of Action is a great achievement of multilateral diplomacy. Its full implementation by all sides is crucial and everything must be done to preserve it. “We should not allow it to be derailed or degraded or to become irreparable. Nor should we assume that an opportunity will arise again in the future for the international community to address Iran’s nuclear programme in such a comprehensive manner.”
In the ensuing discussion, which featured statements by the Secretary of State of the United States and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, several delegates reiterated their countries’ support for the Plan of Action and staked out their positions on whether or not the arms embargo — which dates back to 2007 — should be extended. Some questioned whether the Secretariat had a mandate to investigate alleged violations of Annex B.
Michael R. Pompeo, United States Secretary of State, said that his country offered to help Iran with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was rejected. To suggest that its sanctions have prevented humanitarian assistance from getting into Iran is to misunderstand the situation on the ground. He stated that because of the flawed nuclear deal negotiated by the previous United States Administration, the arms embargo “on the world’s most heinous terrorist regime” is set to expire in four months. The Council has a choice: to stand for international peace and security or to let the arms embargo expire, thus betraying the United Nations mission and its finest ideals. If the Council fails to act, Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets, upgrade and expand its submarine feet, buy new and advanced technologies for its proxies and partners in the Middle East, threaten the region’s economic stability and become a rogue weapons dealer. Citing the Secretary-General’s report, he said that Iran is already violating the arms embargo, even before its expiration. Mature nations use weapons for defensive purposes and to promote stability, but not Iran. “Don’t just take it from me or from the United States; listen to countries in the region. From Israel to the Gulf, countries in the Middle East — who are most exposed to Iran’s predations — are speaking with a single voice: Extend the arms embargo.” The overwhelming preference of the United States is to work with the Council to extend the arms embargo “to protect human life, to protect national security, and to protect yours”. He welcomed the recent statement from the United Kingdom, France and Germany recognizing that lifting the embargo would have major implications for regional security and stability. He noted that almost 400 members of the United States Congress, out of 435, support his efforts to extend the embargo. “Our concern is a matter of national security, not partisan politics.” While claiming that it still remains in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran has admitted — and the IAEA has confirmed — that it is not slowing its destabilizing nuclear escalation. It is pursuing research, accumulating dangerous technology and denying IAEA inspectors access to locations it is obliged to provide. “The Council must hold Iran accountable and we all have the chance to do so,” he said, adding that renewing the embargo will exert more pressure on Tehran to start behaving like a normal nation. “The world needs this to happen. The long-suffering Iranian people need this to happen.”
Belgium’s representative spoke in his national capacity, saying that for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to succeed, all parties must implement its provisions in full and in a spirit of cooperation. The re-imposition of unilateral sanctions by the United States prevents not only Iran but also other Member States from fulfilling the commitments under resolution 2231 (2015). He expressed regret at Iran’s increasing non-compliance with its commitments, rejecting any “less for less” approach. “It is clear that the issues discussed today cannot be addressed in isolation from the regional dynamics at play,” he added, underscoring the urgent need for confidence-building measures and proactive dialogue as well as observing all relevant Council resolutions.
Tunisia’s delegate reiterated his call for the full and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and resolution 2231 (2015), both of which are important parts of the global non-proliferation architecture and crucial for Middle East security and stability. Iran has repeatedly stated that its non-compliance measures are reversible and will remain subject to IAEA monitoring and verification, he said, calling on Tehran to continue to cooperate with the Agency. Parties should engage in dialogue to resolve differences of interpretation regarding the implementation of the Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015). In the meantime, he urged Iran to refrain from activities that might deepen mistrust or raise tensions in the region, which have already reached a dangerous level. He voiced particular concern about the Secretary-General’s conclusion that Iranian cruise missiles or parts thereof were used in 2019 attacks against Saudi Arabia, adding that the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction should be held annually until a legally binding treaty is drafted.
South Africa’s representative described the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as one of the most important recent diplomatic achievements in the area of nuclear non-proliferation. Calling on all parties to uphold and implement it, he said that the Council should act responsibly and avoid divisive actions that could provoke non-compliance. He urged Iran to fully implement its obligations under the Plan, while voicing regret about the United States withdrawal and its re-imposition of sanctions. “The United States must reconsider its stance,” he stressed, also noting with regret that country’s decision not to renew waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects. Emphasizing that nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing, he joined other speakers in expressing concerns about the growing tensions in the Gulf region and its impact on international peace and security.
Germany’s representative, noting that his country will hold the presidency of both the Security Council and the European Union Council beginning on 1 July, said those organizations are based on a rules-based international order. “Unfortunately, Iran is violating the very basis of what we are discussing here at the United Nations — the Charter [and] the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said. Tehran’s human rights situation is appalling, with activists persecuted, little press freedom, no right of assembly and an aggressive foreign policy of meddling in the region. Iran not only does not recognize Israel but even displays missiles with “death to Israel” written on them. Underlining the Secretariat’s mandate to investigate possible violations of resolution 2231 (2015), he said the Secretary-General in particular is tasked with combating threats to peace and security. Against that backdrop, he aligned himself with France, the United Kingdom and China regarding the Plan’s snapback mechanism. “Thanks to the [Plan of Action], it was possible to have Iran step back from its moves towards the acquisition of a nuclear bomb,” he said. It is unfortunate that the United States left the agreement, and it is concerning that Iran is now also stepping away. The three European signatories have invoked the dispute resolution mechanism as a result of those actions but will continue to uphold their own commitments. Turning to the conventional arms embargo, he echoed concerns raised on the implications of the expiration of those limitations, while noting that sanctions on missile technology control regime items — and the transfer of arms by Iran to non-State actors — will remain in place.
Estonia’s representative echoed expressions of support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, declaring: “We do not want to see it collapse.” However, he also sounded an alarm over Iran’s 2019 announcement that it will reduce its commitments under the Plan. As cooperation with the IAEA remains crucial to providing assurances of the absence of undeclared material and activities, Estonia supported the resolution adopted at the Agency’s recent Board of Governors’ meeting. He welcomed efforts by European partners to find a solution to the issue of non-compliance, noting the recent triggering of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism by France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, elements of the Secretary-General’s report on Iran’s ballistic missile-related activities, its transfer of arms to other regional actors and the launch of space vehicles give rise to concerns. “Such weapons proliferation activities have a highly destabilizing effect on the region and only feed into the escalation of tensions,” he warned.
Viet Nam’s representative, taking note of the Secretary-General’s ninth report, stressed that the restriction and control measures in resolution 2231 (2015) are intended to promote full compliance and implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He reaffirmed Viet Nam’s support for disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, while also respecting the right of States to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in line with international law and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. He called on the relevant parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations and fully implement resolution 2231 (2015) and the Plan of Action. At the same time, they should exercise restraint and refrain from actions that could exacerbate the situation, erode trust and escalate tensions. Peace and security in the Middle East reverberate far beyond the region and the Council should therefore consider every issue related to resolution 2231 (2015) carefully, he emphasized.
Niger’s representative said that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is an indisputable expression of the international community’s will. Therefore, it must be preserved. All parties must strictly implement its provisions, as legally formed agreements serve as law for those who made them. Without a doubt, Tehran must respect its obligations, but the international community must also lay the foundations for a new relationship with Iran, based on mutual trust and respect. In that regard, unilateral economic measures that could prevent Iran from combating COVID-19 must be alleviated. He said that the current situation in the Gulf region “carries within it the seeds of suspicion and mistrust” that makes it hard to build trust between States. He went on to warn that the prospect of Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territories could plunge the region into cycles of violence, with unforeseeable consequences on international peace and security.
The Russian Federation’s representative, noting that the United States Secretary of State had left the meeting, said that Tehran is being squeezed from all directions with the goal of achieving “regime change” or creating a situation where Iran can no longer breath. “This is like putting a knee on one’s neck,” he said, adding that responsibility for the current crisis belongs to the United States. The road to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was bumpy and everybody made concessions, but it was concluded on the understanding that the arms embargo would expire on 18 October if Iran honoured its commitments, which it did. Now the United States wants the Council to adopt a new arms embargo resolution in an unacceptable attempt to legitimize its “maximum pressure” policy vis-à-vis Iran. The draft resolution it has presented to Council members aims to impose a full-scale blockade to antagonize Iran, push it to radical retaliation and invite further sanctions. “What we get in the end is an uncontrollable escalation, a destabilized region and lasting implications for international peace and security.” He added that there are no legal grounds to bring up the issue before the Council. Approval-based procedures for arms transfers to and from Iran were designed to be temporary and their extension beyond 18 October was never envisaged. “We said from day 1 that the US draft on Iran’s embargo is a utopia. It will not fly. It is not a basis for any negotiations.” On the Secretary-General’s latest report, he said that it failed to meet the expected high standards of impartiality and that the Secretariat has no mandate to undertake investigations, including at the invitation of individual States. Moreover, the report lacks evidence, and its “final assessments” of Iranian violations of resolution 2231 (2015) are baseless and biased. Tensions in the Gulf region call for a comprehensive strategic solution that leads to a genuinely inclusive security architecture that reflects the legitimate concerns of all countries of the region. Underscoring Moscow’s full commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and resolution 2231 (2015), he called on all Member States to make every effort to preserve the agreement and bring the current situation under control.
Indonesia’s representative said it is impossible to overstate the importance of supporting the parties’ implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Expressing concern over the United States decision to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose sanctions — as well as Iran’s decision to scale back its operational commitments — he called on the parties to resolve those issues through dialogue. The Plan is intended to bring concrete economic benefit to Iran and its people and maintain stability, he said, calling on all actors to exercise restraint. Meanwhile, issues not related to the Plan or to resolution 2231 (2015) should be treated separately. He also voiced support for the IAEA’s efforts to carry out its mandate in an impartial and objective manner, emphasizing that a world free of nuclear weapons must be achieved. “We must not be sidetracked by other rhetoric that hampers progress on the global nuclear disarmament agenda,” he stressed.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines underscored her country’s dedication to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, whose preservation is crucial to safeguarding regional and global peace and stability. Joining others in voicing regret over the United States withdrawal from the agreement and its decision to reimpose sanctions, she encouraged Washington, D.C., to reverse those decisions. The removal of sanctions is especially important as they impede Iran’s COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts. She also expressed regret over Tehran’s decision to end some of its nuclear-related commitments, despite having stated that such actions are reversible, and voiced her hope that the country will remain a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Among other things, she welcomed developments related to the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges — which are essential to normalizing trade and economic relations with Iran — and emphasized that the procurement channel must remain operational.
The representative of France, Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, saying that Iran’s destabilizing activities, as set out in the Secretary-General’s report, are unacceptable and must stop. France, Germany and the United Kingdom stand ready to explore constructive options to address common concerns, guided as always by respect for the Council’s authority and integrity and by their commitment to regional stability and security. They will not, however, support unilateral proposals leading to the return of sanctions. That would only deepen divisions, and it would not likely improve the situation vis-à-vis nuclear non-proliferation. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the result of compromise and, of course, it can be improved, but for now there is no serious alternative to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. “Its disappearance would improve neither the regional situation nor the security of our populations,” he said.
Also participating were the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran and the representatives of Belgium (in his capacity as Security Council Facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015) and in his national capacity), China, Dominican Republic, Niger and the United Kingdom.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, also participated.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.