NIAC Statement on European Powers Triggering JCPOA Dispute Resolution Mechanism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 14, 2020
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 |

In response to European powers triggering a dispute resolution mechanism over Iran halting compliance with nuclear limits following President Trump’s violation and withdrawal from the deal, Ryan Costello, Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement:

“Europe’s complete fecklessness in the face of Donald Trump’s pressure is once again on full display. Unlike the Trump administration that has orchestrated this nuclear crisis, Europe wants to keep the Iran deal alive and has exerted diplomatic energy toward that end, with little to show for it. However, this step is likely to be viewed in Iran and much of the rest of the world as a cave to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure after Europe has continually failed to deliver promised sanctions relief to Iran. This will further reduce Iranian appetite for accommodation with the West and adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Moreover, hawks in the U.S. are likely to seize the dispute resolution mechanism to try to collapse the agreement on faulty legal grounds, even if that is not the intent of European powers.

“All powers need to tread cautiously, lest they risk playing into those intent on collapsing the agreement and all diplomatic pathways with Iran. Keeping the deal alive, and with it a diplomatic opening to resolve broader concerns with Iran, is in the national interest of the United States, Europe and Iran. This shouldn’t change as a result of Europe’s triggering of the dispute resolution mechanism, which risks doing more harm than good. The alternative scenario of a collapsed deal will rapidly escalate already high tensions and make a conflict increasingly inevitable. Europe will pay a high price for any increase in instability in the Middle East and renewed refugee flows.”

The New Playbook to Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal

Under the Obama administration, Iran hawks have been free to attack the Iran nuclear deal without fear that they would actually succeed in violating U.S. commitments – and triggering consequences from an unfettered Iranian nuclear program to an all out war. No matter what they proposed – from “tearing the deal to shreds” to blocking promised sanctions relief, they knew Obama would block them from translating their rhetoric into policy. But with this dynamic set to end in January under the Trump administration, many of the fiercest critics of the nuclear deal are suddenly warning against killing it directly. Instead, they are leaning in favor of an indirect approach of escalating pressure on Iran, including through sanctions with a “non-nuclear” label, in hopes of driving Iran to quit the agreement. While this approach might appear more attractive at first glance, it in fact carries the same risks of the U.S. unilaterally violating the agreement.

If Trump moves to snap back sanctions in blatant violation of the accord while Iran is upholding it, the international coalition that has enforced sanctions against Iran would fracture, and Iran would be free to withdraw from its obligations and advance its nuclear program. With a divided international community, the U.S. would have little diplomatic leverage with its spurned partners – let alone Iran – leaving only dire military options. Hence, those critics suddenly cautioning about the dangers of backing out of the deal include Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), who has stated “I don’t think [Trump] will tear it up and I don’t think that’s the way to start.” The President of the hawkish United Against Nuclear Iran, David Ibsen, has also warned “You don’t want all the blame for the deal falling apart to land on the U.S.”

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IAEA Report Shows Iranian Compliance with Nuclear Accord

IAEA DG Amano w/ Iran’s President Rouhani. Via BBC

Washington, DC – Iran has taken the first steps to implement the nuclear accord struck with the U.S. and world powers in July, according to the latest quarterly report by the nuclear monitoring agency, the IAEA. These steps move the parties a bit closer to “Implementation Day,” a to-be-determined date when nuclear sanctions on Iran will be relieved in conjunction with Iran’s completion of a number of key benchmarks in limiting its nuclear program.

If Iran continues at its present pace, some experts predict that Iran could finish its work by early to mid-January, enabling the relief of sanctions before February 26 elections for Iran’s next parliament and Assembly of Experts — the body that appoints the country’s Supreme Leader. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates will want to move quickly in order to point to the lifting of sanctions prior to the February elections, a key electoral promise that helped sweep Rouhani into office in 2013. Even if it takes the Iranian economy more time to reap the benefits of relief, such a key step would be an important symbolic victory that could provide a boost for moderates at the polls. However, Iranian hardliners are unlikely to sit still with moderates poised to gain an advantage in elections that will help determine the direction of Iran for years to come. Already, hardliners have overseen an internal crackdown and sought to throw up roadblocks to stall the lifting of sanctions until after the elections.

A number of technical and political obstacles remain for Iran to fully implement its obligations by January, though significant progress has been made. Since October 18, known as “Adoption Day,” Iran has dismantled 4,530 centrifuges, roughly one-third of the more than 13,000 centrifuges it is required to dismantle and place under IAEA monitoring under the terms of the accord. Additionally, Iran has notified the IAEA that it is prepared to implement enhanced monitoring measures under the nuclear agreement. Iran must undertake a number of additional steps before sanctions are relieved, including dismantling roughly 9,000 additional centrifuges, reducing its uranium stockpile to 300 kg or less, and removing and destroying the core of the Arak reactor.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has indicated that Iran will not implement many of its remaining obligations until after the IAEA issues a report resolving the agency’s investigation into past “possible military dimensions” (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program. A group of hardline parliamentarians issued a letter earlier this month citing Khamenei’s position while warning that the dismantlement of centrifuges was occurring too rapidly. The letter reportedly led to a slow-down in the process, but the IAEA report appears to indicate that Iran’s preparatory work continues.

On December 15, the IAEA Board of Governors will be briefed on the PMD report’s findings, and could move to effectively close the PMD investigation. The report is the product of a long investigation that had been stalled for years as the nuclear issue lingered. Now, the issue appears close to resolution following the successful nuclear negotiations and final nuclear agreement. Iran has implemented a road map to resolve the investigation, including by providing answers to the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues and by enabling environmental sampling at the Parchin military site. The report will shed additional light on the extent of Iran’s nuclear activities prior to 2003. However, the report is not expected to make a determination on whether Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and a broader determination that all nuclear activities in Iran remain peaceful is still years away.

After the finalization of the report in mid-December, Iran is likely to begin to fulfill its remaining obligations, but Iran’s pace could be dictated by internal domestic battles as well as the highly technical nature of their remaining obligations. 

Memo: Deal vs No Deal


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A good nuclear deal with Iran would expand limitations and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and decreasing the risk of a costly, counterproductive war. From recent reports, such a deal could be within reach in the weeks ahead.

Rejecting a good deal would be a historic mistake that would greatly increase the likelihood of both war and an Iranian nuclear weapon. If negotiations fall apart neither sanctions nor military strikes can erase Iran’s nuclear know-how nor cut off Iran’s pathways to a bomb. 

The following memo details measures that are likely to be included in a strong comprehensive nuclear deal, contrasted with the likely alternatives if negotiations fail or a final nuclear deal is rejected.

Enrichment Capacity


Iran’s “break out” capability under a likely deal would be one year. That is, Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile would be constrained, increasing the time it would take Iran to be able to enrich sufficient uranium for a single nuclear bomb to approximately twelve months. These limitations would likely include:

  • A cap on enrichment at the 5% level.
  • Clear limits on the number of centrifuges in operation and installed at various sites.
  • A reduction in the number of centrifuges installed and in operation (Iran currently has approximately 20,000 centrifuges installed and 10,200 operating) and/or a reduction in the enrichment capacity of those centrifuges.
  • Sharp limits on the size of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and exports of the uranium stockpile to Russia for fabrication into nuclear fuel.
  • Conversion of the deeply-buried Fordow facility from a large-scale enrichment site to a research and development site.
  • Limits on the research and development of advanced centrifuges.

No Deal:

Iran would likely expand its nuclear program, eventually bringing its breakout closer to an undetectable period of just weeks or days. This expansion could include:

  • A return to 20% enrichment, or even to the 60% level as the Iranian parliament proposed in 2013 in response to S.1881.
  • Iran bringing online nearly 10,000 additional centrifuges, which are installed but not operating at its enrichment facilities, in short order.
  • An ever-expanding stockpile of low-enriched uranium, medium-enriched uranium or even highly-enriched uranium.
  • Continued and expanded enrichment at the deeply-buried Fordow site.
  • No limitations on the research and development of advanced centrifuges, potentially resulting in industrial scale enrichment with those centrifuges.

Inspections & Verification


Enhanced monitoring and verification by the IAEA will be able to detect any overt Iranian violations of the agreement and any potential covert nuclear activities. Enhanced inspection and verification measures under a final deal would include:

  • The continuation of daily monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities, established under the JPOA.
  • Implementation and eventual ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, ensuring rapid access to suspect sites in order to detect potential covert nuclear activities.
  • Intensified monitoring of the Arak reactor, Iran’s centrifuge production facilities, uranium mines and other nuclear facilities in order to guard against diversion of nuclear material and technology to covert nuclear sites.
  • Cooperation with and eventual resolution of the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.

No Deal:

Without a deal, monitoring and verification of the Iranian nuclear program drastically diminish as Iran’s nuclear program expands.

  • Instead of daily monitoring as established under the JPOA, IAEA inspectors are permitted into enrichment facilities every week or two, at best.
  • No implementation or ratification of the Additional Protocol, ensuring that the IAEA has limited access to any suspect sites.
  • Limited or no monitoring of the Arak reactor, Iran’s centrifuge production facilities, uranium mines and other nuclear facilities, increasing the risk that nuclear material or technology is diverted to a covert facility without detection.
  • No resolution of the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear activities.

The Arak Reactor


Iran would not be able to maintain a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon because of limitations and enhanced oversight of the Arak reactor.

  • A good deal would alter the power level and/or the design of the Arak reactor to drastically reduce the annual plutonium output of the facility.
  • Iran would be prohibited from building a reprocessing facility under the deal, which would be necessary to separate the plutonium from spent reactor fuel in order for it to be used in nuclear weapons. Inspections would verify the absence of such a facility as well as the non-diversion of the spent fuel to a covert site.

No Deal:

Without a final nuclear deal, Iran would un-freeze nuclear work at the Arak reactor and race toward a potential plutonium pathway for a bomb.

  • Without alterations to Arak under a final deal, the reactor could come online in a year and shortly produce sufficient plutonium for multiple nuclear weapons every year, though the plutonium would still need to be separated at a yet-to-be-constructed reprocessing facility.
  • International inspectors would have reduced or no access to the Arak site, increasing concerns that the spent fuel produced by the facility could be diverted to a covert reprocessing facility.
  • Arak’s advancement could speed up calls for war. Israel bombed similar facilities before they came online in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2007.

Regional and Human Rights Benefits


A nuclear deal with Iran would offer substantial benefits to United States interests in the region as well as to human rights inside Iran. These would include:

  • Expanded opportunities for U.S.-Iran collaboration on regional security issues, including against ISIS militants and on the security situation in Afghanistan.
  • The easing and eventual lifting of nuclear sanctions that have punished the Iranian people more than the Iranian regime.
  • The empowerment of moderates over hardliners in Iran and increased domestic political space for Iranians to push for improvements to the human rights situation.

No Deal:

Rejecting a deal would end hopes for greater regional coordination and undermine moderate political forces inside Iran. This would include:

  • Pressing regional security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan would no longer be an area for potential coordination, but instead a theater for competition and escalation.
  • The plight of the Iranian people under nuclear-related sanctions would intensify.
  • Hardliners would regain the upper hand in Iran’s political elite, dashing hopes for moderation and an improvement in Iranian human rights.

Middle East Eye: Analysis: US Republican waits in the wings to scuttle Iran nuclear deal

The world is expecting the Vienna talks to be extended, but this will leave the deal’s fate at the mercy of the Republican Party? 

On 24 November, a landmark deal exchanging of US sanctions relief for further Iranian nuclear transparency might be sealed, opening the door for greater dialogue between the intractable enemies.

Short of that, the deadline will almost certainly be extended once again, putting future diplomacy at the mercy of the US Congress which, thanks to the November mid-terms will soon be dominated by Iran hawks, many of whom appear to be acting only to deny Obama any successes, anywhere, anyhow.