Delegates Acknowledge Possible United States Return to Landmark Accord
Iran must refrain from further steps to reduce its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on its nuclear programme, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council during a 22 December video‑teleconference meeting of the 15-nation organ, during which several members acknowledged a possible United States return to that landmark agreement.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s tenth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015) (document S/2020/1177), expressed regret that the United States has re-imposed sanctions since its withdrawal from the Plan of Action, and that Iran is scaling back some of its nuclear-related commitments under the agreement.
During the reporting period, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran had installed a cascade of IR-2M centrifuges at its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and began feeding uranium hexafluoride into them, she said. According to the Agency, Iran had also enriched uranium up to 4.5 per cent U-235 and brought its total enriched uranium stockpile to 2,442.9 kilogrammes, surpassing limits stipulated in the Plan of Action. In a report on 4 December, IAEA noted Iranian intentions to install more centrifuge cascades at Natanz, she added.
“We note that Iran has stated its intention to remain in the Plan and that the steps that they have taken are reversible,” she said. “It is essential that Iran refrains from further steps to reduce its commitments and returns to full implementation of the Plan.” She echoed the Secretary-General’s call on all participants to work constructively to address their differences within the dispute resolution mechanism set out in the Plan of Action. She also underscored the importance of all initiatives in support of trade and economic relations with Iran, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reimposition by the United States of all of its national sanctions that had been lifted or waived pursuant to the Plan of Action are contrary to the goals set out in the agreement and in resolution 2231 (2015), through which the Council endorsed the Plan of Action, she said. “Steps taken by the United States not to extend waivers for the trade in oil with Iran and certain non-proliferation projects may also impede the ability of Iran and other Member States to implement certain provisions of the Plan and the resolution,” she added.
Turning to the measures set out in Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015), as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, she said that the Secretariat has received no reports on the supply, sale or transfer to Iran of nuclear and nuclear-related dual‑use items, nor has it received any official information alleging action inconsistent with the ballistic‑missile-related provisions of the resolution. On arms transfers, she said that the report reflects information provided by Israel regarding the ongoing proliferation of advanced weaponry by Iran, contrary to the resolution. Iran categorically rejected those claims in its own letter to the Secretary-General.
Providing an update on an arms-related case from the last report, she said that the Secretariat ascertained that one of four alleged Dehlavieh anti-tank missiles in Libya “has characteristics consistent with the Iranian-produced Dehlavieh”. However, it could not determine if that weapon was indeed transferred to Libya and/or whether its transfer was inconsistent with resolution 2231 (2015). She went on to say that, during the reporting period, Iran notified the Secretary‑General and the Council that Moshen Fakhrizadeh, a prominent Iranian science named on the 2231 Committee Sanctions List, had been “assassinated in a terrorist attack” on 27 November in Absard city.
The representative of the European Union, speaking on behalf of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in his capacity as the Coordinator of the Joint Commission established by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, said challenges related to non-compliance with the nuclear weapons non-proliferation accord with Iran remain a global threat. The international community must address these jointly, ensuring full implementation of resolution 2231 (2015). At five years of age, the accord has withstood increasing pressure over past years, which underscores its value and provides solid evidence that diplomacy in its favour must be continued. Further, it is crucial that cooperation with IAEA remains intact, especially its impartial and technical capacity to monitor compliance with the accord. The Union deeply regrets the decision taken by the United States in May 2018 to withdraw from the Plan of Action and its subsequent re-imposition of previously lifted unilateral sanctions, as well as the decision to discontinue granting nuclear waivers, which have hampered full implementation of the deal.
Iran continued to comply with the nuclear provisions of the agreement for three and a half years, including for 14 months after the United States withdrew from the accord and re-imposed unilateral sanctions, he noted. However, it is deeply worrying that the country continues to decrease its nuclear-related commitments, especially its continued accumulation of low‑enriched uranium in excess of the Plan of Action’s stockpile and level thresholds, along with its continued research into advanced centrifuges and their ongoing transfer underground. In addition, Iran has adopted a new law allowing for and supporting further steps towards an increase to 20 per cent uranium enrichment, which is worrying. He expressed appreciation over indications that Iran is ready to return to fully implement the Plan of Action, strongly encouraging sufficient space for diplomacy to bring the accord back on that path in the near future.
Philippe Kridekla (Belgium) spoke in his capacity as Security Council Facilitator for the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015), saying that since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action entered into force, it remains the best way to guarantee the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. Presenting his tenth report as Facilitator (document S/2020/1244), which covers the period 24 June to 17 December, he said that he cannot overestimate the central, impartial, factual and professional role played by the IAEA as it continues its verification and monitoring activities in Iran in light of resolution 2231 (2231).
Reviewing the various letters circulated within the “2231 format”, he recalled that on 20 August, the Secretary of the State of the United States wrote to the President of the Security Council (document S/2020/815) to say that his country was initiating the process set forth in resolution 2231 (2015) to re-impose specified measures terminated under that text. Thirteen Council members expressed divergent views on that letter, he said, adding that all communications in that regard, including those from Iran and the Secretary-General, are included in his report. Divergent views on restrictions on arms transfers to and from Iran, and on the travel ban that expired on 18 October, were also conveyed in letters during the reporting period. Those views touch upon issues at the heart of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and resolution 2231 (2015), he said, praising all interested parties for showing restraint and a strong will for cooperation to reach consensus on his report. He concluded by echoing the support expressed by the Secretary-General and the Joint Commission, which monitors the Plan of Action, in favour of preserving the agreement.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of the United States said that the Secretary-General’s report “provides unmistakable indication of Iran’s continued destabilizing behaviour”. Failure by the Council to address Iran’s conduct will call into question the organ’s credibility and send a dangerous message to other rogue actors and despots around the world. Council members must condemn Iran’s behaviour, not reward the regime’s dangerous gamesmanship with economic appeasement. He added that if the Iranian regime seeks sanctions relief and economic opportunities, it must first demonstrate that it is serious about fundamentally changing its behaviour. “Iran must cease its nuclear extortion and negotiate a comprehensive deal that includes enduring nuclear restrictions and addresses its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, as well as deals with its continuing support for terrorism, the unjust detention of its citizens, and its other destabilizing activities in the region.” He called on the Secretary-General and Council members to fully implement all United Nations sanctions measures, including those reimposed through snapback. The United States will keep working with its partners around the world, and especially those in the region who face the devastating effect of Iran’s destabilizing influence most directly, to jointly address Iran’s reckless disregard for its Council obligations. Hopefully, Council members will join those efforts, he added.
The representative of France said his country negotiated the non‑proliferation agreement with Iran under the impression that it would increase trust and become an important addition to international peace and security. Noting that the international community has reached a key moment for preserving the agreement, he stressed that Iran must comply with its provisions without undertaking actions to weaken it further or diminish the ability of IAEA to monitor it. Emphasizing the need for all parties to return to the agreement, he said he was encouraged by remarks from the new United States Administration, which could lead to that country returning to the accord. With the risks and challenges of non-compliance, there is no other way forward than complete adherence to the agreement.
China’s representative said that the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the Plan of Action and its policy of maximum pressure on Iran are the root causes of the current predicament. Faced with that country’s unreasonable demands, most Council members refused to endorse its position, thus reflecting the international community’s support for justice and multilateralism. All parties should maintain calm and restraint, implement the Plan of Action and restore the balance of rights and obligations under it. Going forward, all parties should seize the opportunity to put the Plan of Action back on the right track. The most important task is for the United States to mend its way, rejoin the agreement and return to full compliance. China understands the security concerns of some countries. However, linking them to the Plan of Action and demanding the reopening of negotiations will create more obstacle and complications. Recalling a proposal set out by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of China in October for a multilateral dialogue platform for the region, he said that Beijing is willing to link that initiative with others put forward by the Russian Federation and others.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said the Plan of Action remains a central pillar of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and multilateral diplomacy. It’s fundamental to the maintenance of regional and international peace and security and its preservation is of critical importance. His country deeply regrets the United States’ May 2018 withdrawal from the agreement, along with its subsequent decision to reimpose sanctions and terminate waivers. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines continues to urge the United States to return to the Plan of Action and appeals for the lifting of all unilateral coercive measures, which not only contravene resolution 2231 (2015) and conflict with the Plan of Action’s objectives, but considerably debilitate Iran’s ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interconnected global community, this public health emergency demands international cooperation to ensure that all States can effectively and efficiently respond to the challenges. Political disputes must therefore be set aside to foster solidarity and save lives. He expressed regret about Iran’s decision to cease performing several of its nuclear commitments under the Plan of Action but noted that it has indicated that these are reversible, having been undertaken subsequent to the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement.
The speaker for Estonia said he deeply regrets Iran’s 2019 decision to begin reducing its nuclear-related commitments under the Plan of Action. Iran has again accumulated worrying levels of enriched uranium and new knowledge through its research and development activities. Estonia is deeply concerned with Iran’s intention to install additional advanced centrifuge machines at the fuel enrichment plant in Natanz, contrary to the Plan of Action’s commitments. Estonia also deeply regrets the Iranian Parliament’s recent adoption of laws to further expand the country’s nuclear programme and restrict Agency inspectors’ access to key nuclear sites. Stressing that such steps do not help preserve the agreement, he strongly urged Iran to immediately reverse these and other measures contrary to its commitments and stop any additional escalatory steps. He also expressed concern about other actions taken by Iran. Steps inconsistent with the restrictive measures set out in annex B of resolution 2231 (2015), with other Council resolutions and with international obligations make it difficult to consider Iran a responsible actor. Despite the challenges, Estonia is hopeful the Plan of Action can be preserved and fully implemented. Once the participants engage constructively and substantively in the Dispute Resolution Mechanism and return to full compliance, an avenue will be created to build confidence and address other regional security concerns.
The representative of Viet Nam called upon relevant parties to continue dialogue and negotiation to find solutions to resolve differences, including by utilizing existing processes and procedures under resolution 2231 (2015) and the Plan of Action. They should also exercise restraint and refrain from actions that could exacerbate the situation, erode trust and escalate tension. Reaffirming Viet Nam’s strong support for the three pillars of the non-proliferation accord, he added: “It is upon all of us to maintain peace, stability and uphold our obligations under international law for a safe and prosperous world for all of our peoples, including people in the Middle East.” Conflicts must be stopped, not fueled; friendly relations need to be established and nurtured; and international law, including treaties, upheld and implemented, he added.
The representative of the Russian Federation noted that the United States tried to introduce a new resolution against Iran and unilaterally impose sanctions against it. The country was trying to convince itself and the world that maximum pressure was the only way to approach nuclear non-proliferation, but these absurd and destructive methods failed. Adding that other parties to the Plan of Action showed remarkable unity, stood by international law and followed their commitments to strengthen global security, he said the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of all parties took steps to deny these requests, showing joint political will that the United States will have to accept. The United States is also trying to enshrine in the United Nations budget a financing mechanism for a sanctions committee that only exists in its imagination. Stressing that Iran´s non-compliance is a direct reaction to destructive actions of the United States, he also expressed regret that the United Nations was not brave enough to rescind steps made in violation of resolution 2231 (2015).
Germany’s representative agreed with the Russian Federation that Council members must stand united in blocking attempts by the United States in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to cut funding and posts in the Secretariat for tasks related to implementation of resolution 2231 (2015). Germany’s position on the Plan of Action has not changed, he said, noting that during an informal virtual ministerial meeting on 21 December, the remaining participants acknowledged the prospect of a United States return to the agreement. He added that there is a pressing need for Iran to return to full compliance with the Plan of Action and expressed deep concern about the installation of advanced centrifuges at Natanz, which would be a clear violation of the agreement. Turning to Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015), he said that Iran’s development of nuclear‑capable missiles and technology is inconsistent with that text.
He went on to say that, for many items on the Council’s agenda, the situation is bleak, but the Iran nuclear file is “not necessarily so”. Resolution 2231 (2015) has survived four years of frontal attacks, yet it remains a cornerstone of the regional non-proliferation and security architecture. At the same time, the Council should jointly address wider challenges in the region and react to Iran’s dismal human rights record. He concluded by referring to news articles in The New York Times about Russian Federation military operations in Syria and in Der Spiegel on the “White Helmets” in that country. He also urged China to release two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained after the 2018 arrest of a Chinese technology executive in Vancouver on a United States extradition warrant. “Christmas is the right moment for such a gesture,” he said.
The representative of the United Kingdom expressed regret over the United States decision to leave the nuclear non-proliferation Plan of Action and reimpose sanctions on Iran, as well as its consequences for the Iranian people. Further, Iran has taken nuclear measures contrary to the agreement in expanding its uranium‑enrichment programme, which challenges the limits of the Plan of Action. She also expressed concern about Iran’s intention to install a centrifuge and its new law, which would expand the country’s nuclear programme and limit IAEA monitoring. Further, her country is disturbed by Iran´s development of advanced ballistic‑missile technologies, especially reports of a missile located in an underground facility that is capable of multiple launches. She also pointed to the Secretariat finding via imagery of four antitank missiles in Libya, one of which is consistent with those manufactured in Iran. Such proliferation destabilizes the region, escalating already high tensions and should stop, she stressed. Hopefully, next year, the United States will re-join the agreement and Iran will comply with non-proliferation, preventing it from developing a nuclear weapon.
Niger’s representative, reaffirming his country’s full attachment to resolution 2231 (2015), said that, without a doubt, the Plan of Action, as the expression of the will of the international community through the Council, is an essential tool for combating nuclear proliferation. He urged all parties to implement its provisions and obligations, and to use its dispute mechanism when required. Describing IAEA’s recent access to two Iranian sites “seems to be a move forward”, he urged Iran to reverse steps it has taken. He also echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal to alleviate unilateral economic measures that could impede Iran’s ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The representative of Tunisia renewed his call for all parties to fully and effectively implement the agreement and resolution 2231 (2015). As noted in the Secretary-General’s latest report, the United States’ withdrawal from the Plan of Action, and the re-imposition of national sanctions, go against the goals set out in resolution 2231 (2015) and other steps taken by the United States may prevent Iran and other Member States from meeting their commitments under the accord. Tunisia sincerely hopes this situation can soon be reversed and encourages Iran to reconsider its decision to no longer comply with its nuclear commitments. He asked all concerned parties to talk constructively to resolve continuing differences of interpretation regarding implementation of the provisions of Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015), particularly on ballistic‑missile-related activities. Meantime, he encouraged Iran to stop any activities which can deepen mistrust and exacerbate regional tensions. He again condemned all unlawful attacks, asked all parties to avoid actions that could further aggravate the situation and welcomed all initiatives meant to promote dialogue and trust between the concerned parties, particularly countries in the region, including the creation of new platforms and mechanisms. The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction can be used for dialogue and confidence-building on all issues of non‑proliferation, disarmament and regional security as it helps reduce tensions in the region, he said.
The representative of Belgium, speaking in his national capacity, noted that the agreement with Iran forms part of the architecture of non-proliferation, and stressed that this must not disguise its challenges. He expressed concern about the country´s ballistic missile programme and transfer of arms, encouraging a regional approach in resolving this development. The withdrawal of the United States from the programme in May 2018 was a damaging step, encouraging Iran to renege on its obligations by developing its uranium enrichment process and reducing access for the IAEA. He encouraged the United States to return to the programme and Iran to return to all its nuclear commitments. The central aim of the Plan of Action to bring economic benefits to the Iranian people must remain so, particularly during the current pandemic, he said, welcoming the creation by European partners of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges. Current challenges must not be lost in pessimism, he said, welcoming the determined efforts of the remaining participating States within the framework of the dispute resolution mechanism and the Joint Commission to work towards the full resumption of the non-proliferation accord. He also welcomed United States President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement in favour of participating again in the agreement.
The Dominican Republic’s representative described the Plan of Action as “a transcendental success story of multilateralism” and a fundamental part of regional and international security. He commended IAEA’s verification efforts, despite restrictions imposed by the pandemic, but regretting Iran’s ongoing policy of reducing its nuclear commitments. He called on Iran to resume full compliance with its commitments and welcomed efforts by Germany, the United Kingdom and France to resolve issues through the dispute resolution mechanism. The main goal of the Plan of Action is to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and this has been achieved to date, but the reduction in Iran’s level of compliance requires particular attention. Discussion on this issue cannot be delayed and the international community must deploy greater efforts to ensure full and effective implementation of the Plan. He went on to call on Iran to address the concerns voiced by various States in the region.
The speaker for Indonesia said it is more important than ever to preserve and support the Plan of Action and resolution 2231 (2015). He remained concerned by the United States’ withdrawal and the re-imposition of sanctions, as well as Iran’s decision to reduce its operational commitments. All differences must be swiftly resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, particularly the Plan of Action’s dispute resolution mechanism. The rule of law and multilateralism are the cornerstone of the United Nations, and unilateralism has no place in the international community. “All parties mut abide by rule of law to created order and stability,” he said, adding that the international community must hold onto principles, and not be swayed by temporary short-term gain. All efforts must remain focused on the main common objectives: to ensure the peaceful use of nuclear energy by Iran, to protect the legitimate interests of Iran, and in the bigger picture, to maintain peace, stability and achieve prosperity for all. The Plan of Action helps advance the creation of the region’s nuclear-weapon-free zone. The entire international community, not just the agreement’s parties or Council members, is obliged to support it, he said, emphasizing that Indonesia’s position on this issue is unquestionable.
South Africa’s representative, Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity, said the non-proliferation Plan of Action remains an excellent example of collective action to consolidate peace through cooperation based on a binding agreement. Adding that it has contributed significantly to the reduction of tensions regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, he called on all parties to implement resolution 2231 (2015). Noting concerns regarding steps undertaken by Iran to partially cease implementation of some of its commitments under the Plan of Action, he urged the country to fully implement its obligations. Expressing regret at the United States decision to withdraw from the Plan of Action and its decision not to renew waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects in the framework of the Plan of Action, he said this also inadvertently affects Iran’s ability to fully implement the provisions of resolution 2231 (2015). Commending the Plan as an essential instrument of nuclear non-proliferation, he added that total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee they will never be used again under any circumstances.
China’s representative, taking the floor a second time, said that Germany’s delegate made remarks that had nothing to do with today’s meeting, and that, in his absence, the Council will be in a better position to fulfil its mandate. China upholds the rule of law and if anyone violates its laws, they will be punished, he said, adding that the rights of the two persons concerned are guaranteed. He added that the German delegate’s remarks cannot possibly help Mr. Kovrig, nor could they be characterized as responsible behaviour.
The representative of the Russian Federation, also taking the floor a second time, said that there has never been a Council meeting without criticism of his country from Germany’s delegate. Hopefully, after 1 January, his symptoms will improve. Referring to recent articles in Der Spiegel, he said that his Government does not take journalists’ assertions as gospel truth, especially when the sources are Western special services. He added that, clearly, many years of intensive reading of The New York Times has had an effect on Germany’s representative. With regard to the so-called poisoning of Alexei Navalny, he said that, so far, many questions put to the German authorities remain unanswered, together with the request for legal assistance. It is laughable to say that Germany is taking a serious approach to this matter, he said, adding that sooner or later, this whole campaign will have to be answered for.
Iran’s representative, speaking at the end of the meeting, said that the Plan of Action is the product of hard-won negotiations involving difficult gives and takes. Any proposal to revise, renegotiate or extend it is, for Iran, absolutely unacceptable. He noted that, after the United States withdrew from the Plan of Action, his country, upon the request of the three European participants, exercised restraint and strategic patience for one year, only to be met with more unlawful sanctions from Washington, D.C., and the utter failure of the European parties to implement their commitments. That left Tehran with no choice but to take certain remedial steps, in full conformity with paragraphs 26 and 36 of the Plan of Action dealing with the re-imposition of sanctions. “Therefore, Iran’s steps are in full accordance with our rights and commitments under the JCPOA, and more importantly, are completely reversible,” he said.
The damage and suffering inflicted upon Iran by the more than 1,500 sanctions imposed by the United States in the last four years are “almost absolutely irreversible”, he said. Further measures are expected up to the very last minute of the current United States Administration, he said, emphasizing that those sanctions are drastically hindering Iran’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States’ claim that humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions is an absolute lie, and it is sheer hypocrisy for it to claim that its measures are not directed at the people of Iran when it is the poor and most vulnerable who are being targeted. He added that the assassination of Qasem Soleimani almost a year ago is a living example of the bankrupt policy of the United States, and that there are “serious indications” that the assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh was carried out by the Israeli regime, its closely regional ally.
Recalling the United States’ efforts in the Council to implement the so‑called snapback mechanism, he said that its attempts in the Fifth Committee to set up and fund a Council sanctions regime without a Council mandate is unlawful and must be rejected by Member States. Thanking Council members for their support, and noting that the arms and travel-related provisions of resolution 2231 (2015) terminated on 18 October, he said that Iran has paid a heavy price — and done more than its fair share — to preserve the Plan of Action. “Therefore, no one can expect us to do more […] It should be clear by now that the policy of intimidation and pressure on Iran does not and will not yield any result. The only way out is to go back to the prompt, full and unconditional implementation of the JCPOA.” He concluded by asserting that Iran will not negotiate its legitimate conventional ballistic‑missile programme, which — like any country — it has the right to develop.
Throughout today’s meeting, speakers thanked the five outgoing non-permanent Council members — Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa — for their contributions to its work over the past two years.