"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
UN Enhances Iran Sanctions

Peter Crail

After a months-long push by the United States and its allies to expand penalties against Iran over its nuclear program, the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran June 9. Resolution 1929 includes a range of mandatory restrictions aimed primarily at persons and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, but it also calls for additional measures against financial, shipping, and other activities that may contribute to Iran’s proliferation.

Of the council’s 15 members, 12 voted in favor of the resolution, including all of its permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Brazil and Turkey, which had been engaged in a diplomatic effort to restart major-power negotiations with Iran, opposed the measure. It was the first time council members had voted against sanctions on Iran.

Lebanon abstained, stating following the vote that it had not “reached a final position” regarding the issue. A Lebanese Council of Ministers poll the day of the UN action to determine Beirut’s vote concluded in a 14-14 split.

In separate statements just prior to the vote, Brazil and Turkey expressed concern that insufficient time had been given to pursue a preliminary agreement they had reached with Iran the preceding month.

On May 17, the two countries inked a declaration with Iran in which Tehran agreed to a nuclear fuel swap arrangement that mirrored a proposal last fall by France, Russia, and the United States, the so-called Vienna Group. (See ACT, June 2010.) In particular, Brazil and Turkey criticized the Vienna Group for providing a formal response to the declaration only hours before the council vote.

“The fact that the response was of a negative nature and that it was sent on the day of the adoption of the draft resolution on sanctions had a determining effect on our position,” Ertugrul Apakan, Turkey’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told the council. He noted, however, that Ankara’s vote against the measure “should not be construed as reflecting indifference to the problems emanating from Iran’s nuclear program.”

In their statements following the vote, France, Russia, and the United States each welcomed the Brazilian-Turkish diplomatic efforts, expressing their intent to continue discussing the fuel swap proposal. Nevertheless, the three countries made a distinction between that proposal and broader issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice said the fuel swap “does not respond to the fundamental, well-founded, and unanswered concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” adding, “Today’s resolution does.”

New Restrictions on Iran

Resolution 1929 reiterates the council’s demand, first made in July 2006, that Iran suspend all uranium-enrichment-related and spent fuel reprocessing activities and halt the construction of its heavy-water reactor. It is the sixth resolution by the council calling on Iran to do so. (Two of the resolutions did not impose sanctions.) Tehran has consistently ruled out such an action.

In addition, the new resolution requires that Iran implement a provision of its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement, so-called modified Code 3.1, which requires that Tehran provide the agency with design information on all nuclear facilities it intends to construct as soon as the decision has been made to do so.

Iran signed on to the modified Code 3.1 in 2003, but in response to the adoption of Resolution 1747 in March 2007 imposing the UN’s second set of sanctions, declared that it would revert to an older version of the provision that required handing over design information to the IAEA only six months prior to the introduction of nuclear material. Tehran claims that, by reverting to the older code, it does not need to provide the agency with access to additional enrichment facilities, such as one revealed last year near the city of Qom, or its heavy-water reactor at Arak, until they are nearer to completion.

The IAEA maintains and Resolution 1929 notes, however, that a country cannot unilaterally suspend any provisions of its IAEA safeguards agreement.

For the first time, the council prohibited Iran from carrying out any activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The resolution also requires that states “take all necessary measures” to prevent Iran from acquiring technology related to such capabilities.

Previous resolutions only required that Tehran not import key missile-related technologies and that states not export such technologies to Iran.

Intensified Sanctions

As in the case of the previous three sets of sanctions, Resolution 1929 imposes asset freezes, travel bans, and financial restrictions on individuals and entities believed to be involved in Iran’s proliferation-related activities. The resolution’s blacklist includes one individual, Javad Rahiqi, who heads Iran’s IsfahanNuclearTechnologyCenter, and a total of 40 organizations, many of which already fall under U.S. sanctions.

The organizations targeted by the sanctions include 22 firms that are directly involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities. Another 15 entities are owned by, controlled by, or acting on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a political-military organization overseeing Iran’s nonconventional weapons programs and holding increasing sway in Iran’s leadership. A final three are entities owned or controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), a shipping firm cited in a 2008 UN sanctions resolution on Iran for suspicions of transporting proliferation-related goods.

Since 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has placed restrictions on IRISL, its affiliates, and more than 100 specific vessels operated by the firm, prohibiting U.S. nationals from any transactions with them.

Furthermore, the new resolution imposes an arms embargo on Iran covering most major combat systems, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters. States are prohibited from supplying Iran with not only the systems themselves, but also related technical training, spare parts, and other services. The provisions strengthen a prior call in Resolution 1747 for states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” regarding the supply of such military items to Tehran.

Many of Iran’s U.S.-supplied military systems acquired before the 1979 Iranian Revolution have suffered from a lack of spare parts and maintenance due to U.S. sanctions. The embargo could have a similar impact on the military systems Iran has imported from other countries since that time, particularly Russia and China.

Beyond the mandatory restrictions on specific Iranian entities, the resolution includes a number of provisions that call for additional actions against Iranian entities suspected of contributing to proliferation. For example, it calls on states to take “appropriate measures” to prevent their financial institutions from engaging in transactions that might contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.

Resolution 1929 also expands the enforcement mechanisms endorsed in prior sanctions. Whereas the last set of sanctions, adopted in March 2008, called on states to inspect cargo carried by IRISL and another firm, Iran Air Cargo, if the cargo is suspected of containing illicit goods, Resolution 1929 calls on states to inspect any such suspicious cargo in their jurisdiction going to or from Iran. States are further required to withhold bunkering services, such as refueling, from Iranian-owned or -contracted vessels on the basis of such suspicions.

Moreover, the resolution notes that such inspections could occur on the high seas by request and with the permission of the vessel’s flag state.

In order to support the work of a UN committee established by the first Iran sanctions resolution in December 2006, the new resolution calls for the creation of a group of up to eight experts to evaluate the implementation of the sanctions and provide recommendations to strengthen them.

Many of the new provisions are similar to steps taken by the Security Council against North Korea in 2006 and 2009 in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear tests conducted in those years. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) Those sanctions included an arms embargo, calls to inspect ships suspected of carrying contraband to and from North Korea, a denial of bunkering services to suspicious North Korean vessels, and restrictions on financial transactions with North Korea that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs.

Pending EU Action

Following adoption of the UN measure, the European Union began taking steps to adopt its own set of sanctions that would go beyond those in Resolution 1929. During a June 17 EU summit, European leaders agreed on a statement outlining the punitive steps the bloc would take. Those steps included trade restrictions particularly focused on dual-use goods, financial sanctions against additional Iranian banking and insurance activities, and visa bans and asset freezes targeting the IRGC.

The EU also indicated that it would adopt restrictions against “key sectors of [Iran’s] gas and oil industry with prohibition of new investment.”

The specific measures must still be worked out and formally agreed by the EU foreign ministers when they meet July 26.

Over the last several months, U.S. officials have said frequently that one of the aims of the UN sanctions process was to provide a legal basis for its allies, particularly in Europe, to adopt their own stringent measures against Iran. (See ACT, May 2010 .)

In May the U.S. Congress postponed its consideration of sanctions aimed at companies doing business with Iran’s energy sector, which were poised to target European firms, until the EU took its own steps. (See ACT, June 2010.) The Obama administration has sought exemptions from those sanctions for countries cooperating with efforts to place pressure on Iran.

Iranian Response

Iran responded harshly to the sanctions and threatened to curtail cooperation with the IAEA. On June 21, Iran announced it was barring two IAEA inspectors from further visits to Iran on charges of authoring “a false report” about Iran’s nuclear program.

Tehran has criticized a May 31 IAEA report that said an electrochemical cell, used for removing impurities from uranium metal, had been removed from the Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory prior to an April 14 inspection. Iranian officials claimed no equipment was removed.

According to a February IAEA report, Iran had told the agency that it was using the equipment to carry out pyroprocessing research and development to study the electrochemical production of uranium metal. Siegfried Hecker, former head of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in February that such work should be of concern, noting its possible relation to nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2010.)

It is not the first time that Iran has barred particular inspectors from visiting the country. Following the adoption of Resolution 1747 in 2007, Iran banned 38 IAEA inspectors from taking part in the agency’s safeguards activities in the country.

A June 21 statement by IAEA spokesman Greg Webb said that the IAEA had received Iran’s objection to the two inspectors and that the agency “has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned.” The statement also said that the IAEA “confirms that its report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran, issued on 31 May 2010, is fully accurate.”