August 28, 2020

13 of 15 UNSC Members Reject US Snapback Attempt & Iran-IAEA Finalize Agreement on Inspections

This week, the U.S. asserts that all UN sanctions on Iran will be reimposed on September 20th, despite virtually all UN Security council members rebuking and disputing the Trump administration’s unilateral claim. Also, Iran and the IAEA struck an agreement for inspections of two nuclear-related sites. Please see our breakdown and analysis below:

13 out of 15 UNSC Members Reject US Move to Invoke Snapback Sanctions on Iran

  • U.S. Officials Claim Snapback Clock Has Started Anyways

    • On August 25, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, Security Council president for August, said in a meeting with UNSC members he was “not in the position to take further action” on the U.S. initiative to snap back UN sanctions on Iran.
    • Long-time allies Britain, France, Germany and Belgium as well as China, Russia, Vietnam, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Indonesia, Estonia and Tunisia all sent letters to the UNSC President saying that the United States could not use the mechanism since it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.
    • U.S. Ambassador Kraft criticized the other council members right after Djani spoke: “Let me just make it really, really clear: the Trump administration has no fear in standing in limited company on this matter. I only regret that other members of this council have lost their way and now find themselves standing in the company of terrorists.”
    • Despite the nearly unanimous rebuke of the administration’s snapback claim, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. believes the snapback process has been initiated. On Twitter, Pompeo said that “the U.S. triggered the 30-day process to restore virtually all UN sanctions on Iran after the Security Council failed to uphold its mission to maintain international peace and security. These sanctions will snap back at midnight GMT on September 20.”
    • Earlier, on August 21st, the State Department’s point man on Iran, Brian Hook, said “we don’t need anyone’s permission…The conditions have been met to initiate snapback. And so we have now started to initiate snapback.” He went on to say that “whether people support or oppose what we’re doing is not material.”
    • Following the U.S. failure to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran, which was also rejected by UNSC members, the administration has attempted to distort the JCPOA’s language and reimpose all UN sanctions through the snap back mechanism. The U.S. claims that a plain reading of the text of UNSC Resolution 2231, which codifies the JCPOA, allows them to snap back sanctions 30 days after notifying the council of Iranian non-compliance. However, in the E3’s letter rebuking this argument, they state that the U.S. has “no legal right” to make this claim.
  • Key Takeaways

    • This is the third straight week in which the UN Security Council has united to reject the administration’s diplomatic maneuvers on Iran. The administration’s diplomatic rigidity and hostility to considering other views has led most states to conclude that the administration is taking actions purely for domestic political purposes at the expense of the credibility of the council – which all view as paramount.
    • While the U.S. may seek to ratchet up pressure on Security Council states – including the E3 and the next Security Council President, Niger – it is hard to see them flip-flopping on snapback given the united front the Security Council has presented to the Trump administration’s radical snapback bid.
    • Barring the unforeseen, it is likely that the U.S. claims snapback has been achieved on September 20th, while few if any other states recognize the decision and other states block the implementation of snapback, including the constitution of UN committees charged with overseeing implementation of UN resolutions on Iran that would be restored.
    • President Trump will now be able to point to the “successful” imposition of UN sanctions in his UN General Assembly speech at the end of September. While the rest of the world is poised to ignore these claims, his administration’s illegal attempt at the UNSC simply folds into his reelection campaign that seeks to champion unilateralism abroad and suppression of protestors at home.

    • At times it is almost breathtaking to witness the extent of the Trump administration’s unilateralism on the international stage. In the bluntest terms, Sec. Pompeo and Brian Hook’s statements showed a near-contempt for international cooperation and consensus, including by lambasting our European allies as “siding with terrorists.” The administration’s arms embargo and snap back strategy will be remembered as one of the starkest examples of how far the U.S. has fallen in its international credibility and stature.
Iran and IAEA Agree on Access and Inspection of Two Sites

  • Dates for the Inspections Have Yet to Be Announced

    • On August 24, the International Atomic Energy Association’s (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi visited Iran for the first time as director to discuss access to two sites connected with Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear program. On August 26, after two days of what Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said were “very constructive talks,” Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with access to the two sites for inspection. While a date for the inspections was not provided, Grossi said they will occur “very soon.”

    • In an interview on August 23rd with Al-Alam news, an Arabic news network affiliated with the Iranian government, the spokesman for AEOI Behrouz Kamalvandi said the IAEA’s requested access at a site located near the central city of Shahreza in Isfahan Province and the other near Tehran.

    • In a joint statement between Iran and the IAEA, the two sides said “Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA and facilitating the IAEA verification activities to resolve these issues. Dates for the IAEA access and the verification activities have been agreed.” It went on to say that  “the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations,” closing the issue until inspections on the two sites begin.

    • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described relations with the IAEA after the agreement was finalized as “very good” and said the IAEA had a “vital responsibility” in helping to keep the 2015 nuclear deal intact. Whenever the inspections occur, are not part of the 2015 nuclear deal, but instead are relevant to specific protocols as required by the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

    • The agreement comes after member states of the IAEA voted in June 2020 on a resolution condemning Iran for perceived failure to cooperate with its probe of 2 sites that may be a part of Iran’s 2003 era nuclear program with possible military dimensions. 25 members voted in favor of the resolution, with China and Russia voting against and the remaining 8 abstaining.

    • The resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany called on Iran to “fully cooperate with the Agency and satisfy the Agency’s requests without any further delay.” It was the first resolution condemning Iran’s lack of cooperation since 2012 and came after heavy U.S. pressure on countries on the IAEA’s Board of Governors.
    • The two sites became a subject of inquiry following Israel’s release of the “Atomic Archive” after a raid of an Iranian warehouse housing nuclear secrets. Much of the data from the archive confirmed Western intelligence assessments that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program as recently as 2003, but had halted the program. However, it reignited an IAEA investigation into the scope of Iran’s prior work that had been put on pause.

  • Key Takeaways

    • The agreement between Iran and the IAEA over these sites plays into a larger strategy from Iran to further isolate the U.S. on the international stage. After the US’ embarrassing failure attempting to extend the arms embargo and now the fiasco at the UNSC regarding snapback, the IAEA agreement serves to placate underlying European concerns and keep the international community on Iran’s side as its standoff with the U.S. continues toward November.
    • Iran’s stalling on inspector access created legitimate causes for concern. Despite Iran’s claims to the contrary, it is obligated to cooperate with IAEA inquiries into its past nuclear weapons-related work. Whether Iran does so has often been linked to whether there is a broader agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear program in place. Regardless, stalling further would have raised doubt as to Iran’s trustworthiness as it escalates its nuclear program beyond the thresholds articulated in the JCPOA, potentially giving ammunition to Europe to side with U.S. pressure.
    • It is also significant that the joint statement mentions “the IAEA does not have further questions for Iran at this time” or that it doesn’t need access to other sites. The IAEA leaves the door open for new inquiries if new information were to come to light, while Iran can claim that it has resolved questions outside of foreign pressure.
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