EU Non-proliferation and disarmament Conference in Brussels.

SC Resolution 2231 (2015) on Iran’s nuclear program is a major event that should offer a peaceful avenue out from a longstanding controversy which has comprised assassinations,  war waged through computer worms and statements and actions which, in my view, violated the UN Charter’s ban on the threat of force.  

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the resolution is that it was at all possible to negotiate despite many deep divisions that exist. It raises hope that the P 5 might now be able to focus talent and time to isolate and help solve some other urgent and complex issues, like the war in Syria

  • that has long been nourished by outside powers and an intransigent regime,
  • that has thrown a whole population into death and disaster, and
  • that has led to a tragic refugee exodus that overwhelms neighbouring states and strains the solidarity on which our European Union is based.

The dominant reaction to the Iran deal is one of relief. This is true of state parties to it and of Europe that took the initiative to the talks long ago and where there was never a strong resistance to a deal or feeling of hostility toward Iran.  Today, it seems that even the government of Israel is ending its campaign against the agreement and that the Atomic Energy Commission of Israel, for its part, has concluded that the non-proliferation aspect of the deal is satisfactory.  

While the deal could and should open a variety of prospects of further conflict resolution or accomodation, it makes two important developments unlikely. The first is an armed attack on installations in Iran. The US administration keeps plans for such action ready in the case of a significant breach of the agreement, but one can hardly doubt that the Obama team is averse to such action. Rightly so, in my view. In 1998 and 2003 US attacks on Iraq sought to eradicate weapons of mass destruction – that did not exist. How wise – let alone how legal — would it be in 2015 or 2016 to attack Iran with a view to eradicating alleged weapons intentions? And what would happen after such bombing?

The second development that I think now becomes unlikely – and that I and many others will be sorry to see disappear — is the proposed Mid East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction. A few years back I said in this forum that a zonal arrangement might offer ISRAEL a chance to ensure that no country in the region – including IRAN – would have nuclear weapons or enrichment or reprocessing capacity, provided that Israel was itself ready to do away with both its nuclear weapons and its capacity to produce such weapons. Even though there was a clear quid pro quo in this calculation, it was a somewhat unlikely equation even a few years back. Today, it is bypassed, I think, by the deal that preserves a limited and well inspected low enrichment activity in Iran, and leaves the Israeli weapons capacity untouched, while most other countries in the region, for the time being at any rate, remain without fuel cycle activities.

Now let me focus on the contents of the Iran deal.  It strikes a reader of the 104 pages long SC resolution that Iran has committed to a great number of detailed restrictions on its future nuclear activities – for instance, on the number of centrifuges, the level of enrichment, stocks of enriched uranium etc +  stringent verification. The commitments on the other side are limited to an acceptance of Iranian enrichment of uranium, a lifting of sanctions and an end to frozen relations. Not very onerous.

However, the commitments undertaken by Iran also do not appear very onerous, when one looks at Iran’s practical needs in the field of peaceful development and use of nuclear energy – including nuclear generated electricity, Rather, the restrictions apply to a program that had such a size andorientation that many lost confidence that it had only peaceful aims. They seek to make the program commensurate with the practical peaceful nuclear needs of industrially and scientifically fast developing Iran.  Thereby, the confidence that was lost, should be regained to the benefit of Iran itself, but also to the region and the whole world.

The IRAN deal offers many lessons but raises also some questions.

IAEA safeguards play a crucially important role in the deal. If they are to be effective and trusted, the Agency must guard its impartiality and professionality, while member states must respect its independence and provide the resources needed.

Effective implementation of safeguards can also be facilitated – as SC Res. 2231 stipulates – by ‘cooperative efforts’, ‘interaction’ and an ‘open dialogue’ between the IAEA and states. Indeed, governments may offer the Agency information that may help it to focus on relevant issues, places or installations and Agency transparency will enhance government confidence.

It remains of equal importance – as preambular § 10 of the SC resolution explains — that the Agency protects confidential information obtained through safeguards. A press briefing at the White House on 17 July 2015 suggests insufficient understanding on this point. A spokesman who noted that a military option remained even after the deal, said that ‘targetting decisions would be significantly informed … based on the knowledge that has been gained … through the inspection regime.’ It needs to be understood by all that cooperation with safeguards inspection will suffer, if states were to have reasons to believe that confidential inspection information would become available to national intelligence.

Let me turn to the question of sanctions. While military pressures – like threatening naval actions –if undertaken without UN authorization can be both be unlawful and likely to harden positions, economic sanctions are sometimes  a helpful way to induce agreement. The Security Council’s imposition and lifting of sanctions are particularly important, as they emanate from the international community and must be implemented by all member states.

In the Council resolution that gives legal force to the IRAN deal, provisions for the lifting of sanctions are an essential part and the resolution also covers the eventuality of a re-imposition of sanctions in case Iran were to breach commitments undertaken. The way in which this is regulated may reflect the political need of the US government to be able singlehandedly to ‘snap back’ sanctions. It is somewhat puzzling. I shall try to explain. 

A re-imposition of sanctions that have been terminated would come, one would naively think, through a new decision by the Security Council. Such decision could obviously be prevented by lack of majority support or by a veto. To obviate this risk Res 2231 enables any member of the Iran deal – after having gone through elaborate procedures — to transmit an issue of alleged non-performance by Iran to the Security Council. Within 30 days the Council must then decide – no, not on a resolution re-imposing sanctions, but – on a resolution – I quote op § 11 – “to continue in effect the terminations” of earlier sanctions. If no member of the Council submits such a draft, the President of the Council is obliged to do it. It is enough that one permanent member votes against the draft for the resolution to fail and the curious intended result is that terminations will not continue.    

Blissfully, the action will not have retroactive effect to render illegal contracts entered into in the period when sanctions were still terminated.

Perhaps I have not fully understood the text of Res 2231 on these points. It is as hard to read and understand as the small print we find on the back of our insurance policies. Nevertheless, I register my respect for the legal, linguistic and logical audacity that allows the SC to continue terminated sanctions. But for this innovative construction and its acceptance by all the P 5 members of the Council and by Iran the deal might not have been achieved. Having said that I hope the procedure will never need to be applied. Whether it is desirable as a precedent needs to be discussed. Perhaps it is no more remarkable that one single member of the Council can re-impose sanctions than one single member being able to prevent it?

My last point is to welcome that patient diplomacy has paid. Without the determination of the political leaders in the participating states, the perseverence of negotiators — Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Zarif, Foreign Minister Lavrov, EU leaders Ashton, Mogherini and Helga Schmidt and many, many others there would have been no Iran deal.