IAEA Head Notes No New Breaches by Iran
Iran has not taken any further steps to breach the 2015 nuclear deal after announcing its fifth violation in early January, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, told reporters in Washington Feb. 5. Experts have taken this to mean that Iran has not installed additional centrifuges nor further increased its enrichment level after announcing Jan. 5 that it would no longer be bound by any operational limits of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Grossi stressed that Iran continues to abide by its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and a more intrusive set of monitoring measures known as the Additional Protocol, which is required by the JCPOA. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in January that Tehran would continue to adhere to the additional verification provisions of the nuclear deal.
In a Feb. 4 interview with EuroNews, Grossi emphasized the importance of the Additional Protocol, noting that if it is implemented by Iran the international community “will always have prompt warning about any…concerning development.”
While in Washington, Grossi met with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and select members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Speaking publicly at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Feb. 5, Grossi mentioned that discussions of Iran populated many of the high-level meetings he attended during his first official visit to Washington as head of the IAEA.
Grossi emphasized the need for states to provide “the necessary support when moments of difficulty come.” The IAEA director alluded to a potential future circumstance in which he “may have to ask Iran to do the right thing,” and he called on the IAEA Board of Governors members, especially, to “stand with the agency.”
Grossi may have been referring to Iran’s failure to date to fully cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into processed uranium particles found at a site in Iran. Then acting Director-General of the IAEA, Cornel Feruta, publicly disclosed the presence of uranium during a Nov. 7 meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors. Feruta did not reference a specific location, but officials present confirmed it was the Turquzabad warehouse. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed the location of the warehouse in September 2018.
Shortly after taking up his post as Director-General, Grossi told The Associated Press Dec. 3 that the IAEA had “so far not received an entirely satisfactory reply” from Iran about the uranium particles.
During the Feb. 5 discussion with reporters, Grossi noted he met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in December to discuss Iran’s detention of an IAEA inspector in November 2019, as well as the investigation into the traces of uranium. Grossi expressed that Iran has not provided any such explanation for the uranium particles, but that he will continue to demand answers.
For now, Iran is otherwise cooperating with the IAEA. “It’s a bit of a paradox,” Grossi commented at the Carnegie Endowment, “because I am verifying noncompliance. But this is the way things are.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, and JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant
Satellite Launch Fails, New Missile Unveiled
Iran’s attempt to launch a satellite Feb. 9 using its three-stage Simorgh launch vehicle ended in failure. If the launch was successful, the Zafar-1 satellite would have been used for remote sensing and communications.
Ahmad Hosseini, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said Feb. 9 that the first two stages of the rocket “functioned properly” and the “satellite was successfully detached from its carrier” but failed to achieve the necessary speed to enter orbit. Despite the failure, Hosseini described the launch as “remarkable.”
Iran’s Minister for Information and Communication, Azari Jahromi, said Feb. 9 that Iran’s space program is “unstoppable” and that the country has “more Upcoming Great Iranian Satellites.”
Iran has put satellites into orbit in the past, but recent attempts in 2017 and 2019 to use the Simorgh launch vehicle ended in failure.
U.S. officials have warned Iran against launching satellites, particularly the more powerful Simorgh, and said that such launches are contrary to nonbinding language in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015) which calls upon Iran to refrain from launches using ballistic missile technology.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo condemned the launch in a Feb. 11 statement and said that Iran’s satellite launches use technologies that are “virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in longer range” ballistic missile systems.
While satellite launch vehicles and ballistic missiles do share similar features, long-range ballistic missiles require technologies, such as re-entry vehicles, not necessary for satellite launches.
Iran does not appear to be pursuing long-range missiles. Iranian officials have reiterated over the past several years that their focus is on increasing the accuracy of their ballistic missiles, not extending the range. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in 2017 that the country will not develop ballistic missiles with ranges beyond 2,000 kilometers, and Iran’s ballistic missile testing history supports his assertion that the focus is on short and medium-range system development.
While these systems allow Iran to target the Middle East and parts of Europe, the United States is well out of range.
Iran also unveiled a new short-range ballistic missile and new rocket motor technology during a Feb. 9 ceremony that included the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the brigadier general in charge of the IRGC Aerospace Force, Amir Hajizadeh.
The new ballistic missile, the Ra’ad 500, has an estimated range of 500 kilometers. While Iran has developed short-range ballistic missiles with similar ranges, the IRGC said that the Ra’ad is lighter and incorporates new technology into the design.
France, a member of the multilateral group that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, said in a Feb. 10 Foreign Ministry statement that Iran’s ballistic missile program “undermines regional stability and affects the security of Europe.” The statement called on Iran to “fully comply with its international obligations.”
The IRGC also displayed a new rocket engine fueled by a “new generation of propellants” and with “moveable nozzles” for ballistic missiles and satellite launch vehicles during the Feb. 9 ceremony. Hajizadeh said the technology will give Iran the ability to “control solid-fuel missiles in the outer space.”
EU Foreign Policy Chief Visits Tehran
On his first official visit to Tehran, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell assured Iranian officials that Europe remains committed to preserving the 2015 nuclear deal and does not intend to reimpose UN sanctions. Borrell met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani during his Feb. 4 trip.
In January, the European members of the JCPOA—the United Kingdom, France, and Germany—triggered the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism in an attempt to initiate dialogue to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal and preserve the agreement. If the dispute is not resolved within the mechanism, a party to the deal can refer the issue to the UN Security Council, which would likely result in the reimposition of multilateral UN sanctions on Iran (see below for details on the dispute resolution mechanism process).
Iran has threatened not only to abandon the JCPOA but also to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if that occurs.
But “our will is not to start a process that ends the JCPOA, but that keeps it alive,” Borrell explained in a Feb. 4 news conference in Tehran. The EU chief emphasized that the European parties have no intent to refer the dispute to the UN Security Council.
Instead, Borrell said, the European parties would work together to extend the dispute resolution mechanism to give ample time for negotiations among Joint Commission members–those being the Europeans, Russia, China, and Iran. “We expect some positive steps on the nuclear side and Iranians expect some positive aspects on the economic side,” he said, as he explained the tentative agenda for the coming weeks. Given that the dispute resolution was triggered in January and the parties are not meeting until late February, it appears that the E3 and the EU have succeeded in extending the 15-day time period for resolving the issue within the Joint Commission.
Borrell also noted that Iranian officials affirmed their ongoing commitment to IAEA safeguards.In Washington, following his Feb. 7 debrief with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Borrell discussed his trip to Tehran with The Washington Post’s Today’s WorldView and emphasized that Europe’s primary goal is to “try to keep the deal alive and go back to full compliance for everyone.”
U.S. Renews Nonproliferation Waivers
The United States renewed sanctions waivers in January for cooperative nonproliferation projects detailed in the JCPOA.
The State Department refers to these waivers as “restrictions” on Iran’s nuclear program and announced Jan. 31 that “four nuclear restrictions” would be renewed for 60 days. The statement said the United States “can adjust these restrictions at any time.” The State Department did not specify which projects are covered under the waivers, but it likely includes:
The Trump administration has continued to waive sanctions allowing these projects to go forward since withdrawing from the JCPOA in May 2018 and has acknowledged the nonproliferation benefit of allowing these cooperative programs to continue. The project list had included cooperative work to convert the Fordow site from a uranium enrichment facility to a research and isotope production center, but the Trump administration terminated that waiver after Iran resumed enrichment at Fordow in violation of the JCPOA.
The renewal was announced at the same time as additional U.S. sanctions targeting the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and Ali Salehi, the director of that organization. According to the State Department Salehi was sanctioned for his role in Iran’s advanced centrifuge program and AEOI for playing a “leading role in Iran’s nonperformance of its key nuclear commitments” under the JCPOA. The AEOI was already subject to sanctions reimposed after the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018.
AEOI responded to the sanctions Jan. 31 by calling the move “unwise” and said it would “not in any way interrupt [Iran’s] peaceful nuclear activities and policies.”
In a separate move, the Trump administration decided not to pursue penalties on a Chinese Tanker Company, COSCO, for violating sanctions by transporting Iranian oil. China reportedly complained about the sanctions during trade talks with the United States and Trump administration officials were quoted as saying that, despite the decision, the U.S. approach to Iran is still “maximum pressure.”
Iraqi officials also confirmed in early February that the Trump administration is willing to extend sanctions waivers for three months that allow the country to continue purchasing gas from Iran. Reportedly, Iraq will need to present a plan demonstrating how it will reduce its dependency on Iranian energy sources before the waiver will be granted.
P4+1 Continue Push Back Against Trump’s Iran Plan
The remaining P4+1 parties to the 2015 nuclear deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) continue to resist the Trump administration’s pressure to abandon the accord, although they remain open to negotiations with Iran to build on the JCPOA or address issues beyond its scope.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raad, speaking at a Jan. 30 event with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, said that there “isn’t a huge difference” between London and Washington on the desirability of broader deal with Iran that addresses the “defects” of the JCPOA and other issues, such as Iran’s support for terrorism. However, he noted that the JCPOA is the “only deal in town at the moment.” Raad emphasized the United Kingdom’s position that the deal should be preserved and that Iran should be held accountable for violation of the accord.
Members of the P4+1 have also taken issue with the U.S. requirements for any future deal.
U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook reiterated Jan. 17 that the Trump administration will not allow Iran to enrich uranium in any future deal. He said the “world needs to restore the standard of no enrichment which was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council.” He said it “never should have been given away” in negotiations with Iran.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry rebutted Hook’s claim as “mythmaking” and said that there is no “UN standard” prohibiting enrichment. The Jan. 20 statement said the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) places “no restrictions on non-nuclear states in terms of uranium enrichment or development of other stages of a nuclear fuel cycle.” The Russian statement that the NPT does not prohibit non-nuclear weapon states from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium for peaceful purposes reflects the view of many states.
The UN Security Council did pass a resolution in 2006 requiring Iran to suspend enrichment and that provision was included in subsequent resolutions adopted before the JCPOA negotiations. None of the resolutions, however, included a requirement that Iran dismantles its enrichment facilities and permanently forgo enrichment. Debates surrounding the 2006 resolution and a subsequent resolution adopted in 2010 highlighted that the resolutions were a tool to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis and reach a settlement that respects Iran’s right under the NPT to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Swiss Process Humanitarian Trade Transaction
The Swiss government announced Jan. 30 that a payment mechanism to facilitate transactions for humanitarian goods is nearly operational. The channel, known as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), conducted a trial run Jan. 27 involving the sale of cancer medicine, the press release from the Swiss Embassy in Iran said.
According to the Jan. 30 press release, the U.S. Treasury Department will “provide banks involved with the necessary assurances that the financial transactions can be processed in accordance with” U.S. sanctions. The SHTA will serve as a secure payment channel for food, pharmaceutical, and medical exports to Iran. The press release noted that the export of humanitarian goods to Iran has become “increasingly difficult” even though the shipments are “in principle not subject to U.S. sanctions” and cited the “legal risks” that prevent financial institutions from processing such transactions.
EXPLAINER: The Dispute Resolution Mechanism
The JCPOA includes a process for resolving allegations of nonperformance or noncompliance with the nuclear deal’s provisions.
The European members of the JCPOA (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) triggered the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism in January 2020. The dispute resolution mechanism process laid out in the nuclear deal is as follows:
If not managed carefully, the dispute resolution process could result in the reimposition of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran. It is important to note, however, that such sanctions are not an automatic consequence of the ongoing process. Rather, sanctions reimposition is a possible outcome of a Security Council referral–the final, optional, step of the dispute resolution mechanism.
In short, for UN sanctions to be reimposed on Iran through the dispute resolution mechanism process, one of the E3 would need to formally refer the dispute to the Security Council. Borrell reiterated during his Feb. 4 news conference in Tehran that Europe has no intention of doing so.
The United States, however, may attempt to refer the issue to the Security Council independently and force the reimposition of sanctions, irrespective of the ongoing dispute resolution mechanism or of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision that the United States is no longer party to JCPOA. For more on the U.S. argument and the risks this step would pose, see: “The US has a backup plan to kill the Iran nuclear deal. It could spark a crisis at the UN.”
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