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“For 50 years, the Arms Control Association has educated citizens around the world to help create broad support for U.S.-led arms control and nonproliferation achievements.”

– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
Security Council Considers New Iran Sanctions
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Paul Kerr

Senior officials from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany agreed Feb. 26 in London to draft a new council resolution that could impose additional nonmilitary sanctions on Iran. Discussions were preliminary, however, and the six countries did not lay out a specific course of action.

The agreement followed a report issued by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei four days earlier that said Iran had not complied with Security Council Resolution 1737.

That resolution imposed sanctions on Tehran limiting its ability to obtain materials that could aid its nuclear and missile programs. It said the council would adopt “further appropriate” nonmilitary measures if Iran did not comply with its demands. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

The resolution required Iran to suspend both its uranium-enrichment program and “work on all heavy water-related projects.” It also directed Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA to resolve “outstanding issues” concerning its nuclear programs, as well as ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which would provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs.

Iran has said repeatedly that it wishes to resume negotiations regarding its nuclear program. It has not, however, agreed to comply with the resolution’s requirement that it first suspend enrichment as well as certain other nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters Feb. 26 that Iran will not suspend enrichment. But he reiterated the next day that Tehran would hold talks on the matter “without preconditions.” Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told a Munich audience Feb. 11 that, without such conditions, the relevant issues could be resolved “within a few months.”

Tehran claims that its nuclear programs are exclusively for peaceful purposes, but many in the international community suspect the country of pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Indeed, senior U.S. intelligence officials spoke in support of this claim during recent congressional hearings. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples told the House Intelligence Committee Jan. 18 that the agency “assesses” that Iran “remains determined to develop nuclear weapons.” John Negroponte, who was then director of national intelligence and is now deputy secretary of state, issued a similar assessment during the same hearing.

The council unanimously adopted Resolution 1737 in December 2006 after Iran failed to comply with Security Council Resolution 1696 demanding that Tehran suspend enrichment and take other steps. That resolution followed a June 2006 offer of incentives from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany designed to persuade Iran to end its enrichment program. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Officials from the five permanent council members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have repeatedly stated their willingness to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear program according to the terms of Resolution 1737, which encouraged Tehran “to engage with” the June proposal. The resolution also stated that, should Iran suspend its enrichment-related activities, the council would “suspend the implementation of measures if and for so long as” the suspension holds. Similarly, the council “shall terminate” the sanctions if it has determined that “ Iran has fully complied with its obligations.”

The council gave Iran 60 days to comply with Resolution 1737 and requested that ElBaradei submit a report on Iran’s compliance within that same time period.

ElBaradei also submitted a related report on Feb. 9. That report describes the steps that the IAEA has taken to comply with a relevant portion of Resolution 1737, which states that the agency should limit its technical cooperation with Iran to “humanitarian purposes” except when necessary for projects directly related to light-water reactors. It says the IAEA, among other steps, has “placed on hold” 10 technical cooperation programs “pending action” by the agency’s Board of Governors.

Council Members Meet

British Foreign Office Political Director John Sawers described the Feb. 26 meeting as a “productive first discussion,” adding that the countries began work on a new resolution. The discussions are to continue, he said.

The six countries have not agreed on the details of any new council measures, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters Feb. 27. The spokesperson would not provide details about the discussions but said that the “idea is to see if some of the measures in [Resolution] 1737 can be made more binding and if other measures can be added.”

The other countries must find “some common ground” with Russia and China, who have been more hesitant to adopt sanctions against Iran, the spokesperson acknowledged. Indeed, adoption of the December resolution required prolonged negotiations, mainly to satisfy the concerns of Moscow and Beijing.

A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 26 that although there was a “surprising amount of cohesion” at the London meeting, the negotiations could be “long and tortuous.”

The Security Council sanctions appear to be aimed in part at affecting internal Iranian political debate on the regime’s nuclear policies. The French Foreign Ministry spokesperson, as well as several U.S. officials, argued that Resolution 1737 had prompted such a debate. In fact, some current and former Iranian officials have again called for the country’s leadership to exercise greater caution in its nuclear diplomacy.

For example, former presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently the head of Iran’s Expediency Council, argued that Iran should aim to develop “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” but should adopt a more low-key diplomatic approach, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported Feb. 11. Tehran “should avoid creating enemies” by “adopting an active diplomacy of moderation,” Rafsanjani said.

Similarly, Iran’s former ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, said in an Iranian newspaper interview published Feb. 6 that Tehran’s negotiating behavior has been “provocative” since the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also cautioned that Resolution 1737 could “pose serious threats to Iran’s economy and national interests.” Meanwhile, an internal European Union report published Feb. 13 by the Financial Times states that the resolution “has had an impact in Iran,” explaining that the sanctions “have limited direct effect but they come at a moment when the economy is performing poorly, partly because of Iranian mismanagement.” Foreign investment in Iran “has all but dried up, partly because of the nuclear issue,” the report adds.

The report cautions that “problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.” It also notes that Tehran “feels strengthened” in the region by several factors, including the perception that U.S. troops are “bogged down” in Iraq, which the United States invaded in 2003.