The Joint Commission set up by Iran and the P5+1 to review implementation of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) met April 25 in Vienna. This was the first regularly scheduled quarterly meeting of the group since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. The meeting provided the opportunity to discuss progress on the Arak reactor modernization project, civil nuclear cooperation developments, and sanctions relief, according to the chair’s statement released after the discussion.
The statement also said that “all participants noted their continued adherence to the JCPOA commitments and stressed the need to ensure its full and effective implementation.” The participants include the European Union, Iran, and the P5+1 members (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States).
Iran’s envoy to the Joint Commission, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, met with Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the day before the Joint Commission meeting. He described cooperation between the IAEA and Iran as “smooth and good.”
The Joint Commission meeting came a week after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal. The certification is not a condition of the deal, but is required every 90-days under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The April 18 certification letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that the National Security Council is leading an interagency review on “whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
The President must periodically waive U.S. sanctions to meet Washington’s obligations under the deal. The next round of waivers, the first under Trump, is due for renewal around May 17.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he believes that Trump will waive sanctions as required by the deal and that the next Iranian president should honor the agreement. Iran’s elections take place on May 19. Sitting President Hassan Rouhani is running for re-election against several other candidates.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy
Iran and China signed a commercial contract for modifying the Arak reactor on April 23 in Vienna. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran removed the core of the unfinished reactor and filled it with concrete. The nuclear deal stipulated that China would work with Iran on carrying out agreed upon modifications to reduce the reactor’s output of weapons-grade plutonium.
China’s role includes ensuring that the design and construction meets international safety standards for reactors and assisting in the implementation. Earlier this year, Iran said China was asking for too much money in the contract, but the price dispute has now been resolved.
The new reactor, when completed, will use uranium enriched to 3.67 percent and run on a lower power level. As a result, the reactor will annually produce a fraction of the weapons-grade plutonium necessary for a nuclear warhead. If the reactor was completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough material for about two nuclear warheads on an annual basis. Iran is also prohibited from reprocessing the plutonium from its spent fuel for 15 years under the agreement.
With Congress back in session, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will likely markup S. 722, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, by the end of May. The committee’s chairman, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), told Politico on May 1 that he and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) agreed to move an Iran sanctions bill by the “end of this work period.” Corker is the lead sponsor of the bill. If passed as written, S. 722 could pose a risk to the nuclear deal with Iran. A group of former Obama administration officials that worked on the nuclear deal, including Antony Blinken, Avril Haines, and Colin Kahl, have also raised concerns about the legislation undermining the nuclear deal in a March 31 op-ed in Foreign Policy.
Although the legislation focuses on areas not explicitly covered by the nuclear deal, such as Iran’s ballistic missile activity and support for terrorism, sections of the legislation risk undermining U.S. commitments in the agreement. The following are excerpts from a more detailed analysis from the Arms Control Association which is available here. Specifically:
This section of the proposed legislation would violate the spirit of the U.S. commitment not to take actions that impede Iran’s access to sanctions relief. It imposes mandatory sanctions on entities whose activity “poses a risk of materially contributing” to Iran’s ballistic missile program. This language is overly broad and imprecise, making it difficult for any company considering business with an Iranian entity to ascertain if that entity is involved in activities that could pose a risk of contributing to Tehran’s ballistic missile development. Creating this obstacle runs contrary to paragraph 26 of the nuclear deal, which says that: “United States will make best efforts in good faith to sustain this JCPOA and to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II.”
This section could prevent the United States from fulfilling its commitments to remove individuals and entities from the sanctions designated list on Transition Day, which will occur in 2023 at the latest. According to the text of the nuclear deal, on Transition Day, Washington will delist a set group of individuals and entities, including some designated for activities relevant to ballistic missile development under Executive Order 13382. The bill [S. 722] will prevent the president from delisting individuals unless a certification is issued that the individual or entity has not engaged in activities related to Iran’s ballistic missile program in the prior three months. Continued engagement in illicit ballistic missile activity by these listed entities is undesirable, but there are no conditions for delisting these entities under the deal.
Before rushing to support this legislation or future sanctions bills, members of Congress should carefully and fully consider the impact on the Iran nuclear deal and the consequences of undermining the accord. While the United States can push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, risking the success of the nuclear deal when Iran is abiding by its restrictions, is irresponsible and dangerous.
Iran hosted a nuclear safety forum May 2-3 in Isfahan for states operating WWER-Type reactors. The meeting included participants from Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, China, Finland, Hungary, India, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. The IAEA also participated.
This group of states has been meeting annually since 1993. Annex III of the nuclear deal with Iran contains recommendations for cooperative work on nuclear safety and security measures, including at Iran’s existing reactors.
Al-Monitor’s Iran Pulse has a special section 2017 Iran Elections.
IranWire has a recap of the first presidential debate, "Presidential Hopefuls in First Live Debate," and other pieces on the election, including "The Iranian Election and the Nuclear Agreement."
The Iran Project has released a short briefing paper on the candidates and the process. It is available here.