UN Defies United States on Sanctions Snapback
The United States threatened to penalize any country that fails to enforce UN sanctions on Iran that the Trump administration claims were reimposed Sept. 19, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that he would not take steps to implement the UN measures, which were lifted as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal.
In a letter to the Security Council reported on by Reuters, Guterres said there is “uncertainty” over the status of the sanctions and that “pending clarification,” he will not take any action.
Despite overwhelming international opposition, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo tweeted Sept. 19 that “virtually all UN sanctions have returned on Iran,” and wrote that “we will not hesitate to enforce our sanctions, and we expect all UN Member States to fully comply with their obligations under these re-imposed restrictions.” According to the State Department, all of the sanctions previously lifted under Resolution 2231 in accordance with the 2015 nuclear deal were re-imposed Sept. 19 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time.
As the Sept. 19 deadline passed, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted “Nothing new happens on 9/20. Just READ Res. 2231… US is NOT a participant.” Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, similarly tweeted that the U.S. “illegal & false ‘deadline’ has come and gone,” adding that “UNSC member states continue to maintain US is NOT a JCPOA participant, so its claim of ‘snapback’ is null & void.”
The Trump administration claimed that it triggered a mechanism in Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to reimpose the UN sanctions in a manner that cannot be vetoed.
The United States withdrew from the deal in May 2018 but argues it retains the right to enact the Resolution’s codified snapback process as a “participant” of the deal due to the fact that the text of Resolution 2231 was not amended to reflect U.S. withdrawal and still lists the United States as a participant in the nuclear deal.
The European members of the JCPOA, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement Sept. 16 affirming their commitment to the deal and reiterating that “the United States had no standing to trigger snapback since it had withdrawn from the historic accord in May 2018.”
“We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA,” they said. In a separate Sept. 18 letter to the Security Council the three European states similarly stated that the U.S. snapback is “incapable of having any legal effect.”
Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Ployanskiy tweeted that U.S. claims on snapback were clearly rejected as illegitimate in August and asked, “Is Washington deaf?”
The United States claims it triggered the snapback provision Aug. 20 after its attempt to pass a new resolution extending the arms embargo on Iran was soundly defeated at the Security Council in August. The arms embargo expires in October, per the terms of Resolution 2231.
Pompeo then told Guterres and Indonesia’s representative to the UN (then-Security Council president) Aug. 20 that the United States was triggering snapback and “this process will lead to those sanctions coming back into effect in 30 days from today.” Resolution 2231 stipulates that if a vote is not called for within 30 days then all sanctions are automatically reimposed.
However, Indonesia’s Ambassador Dian Transyah Djani concluded Aug. 25 that the Council “is not in position to take further action” pursuant to the U.S. request.After Niger assumed the Security Council presidency in September, Ambassador Abdou Abarry said Sept. 4 he would continue to uphold his predecessor’s decision to reject Washington’s call to snapback sanctions on Iran.
Despite the widespread rejection, President Donald Trump’s issued an executive order Sept. 21 outlining the administration’s plan to penalize states and individuals that fail to enforce the supposed re-imposition of UN sanctions on Iran. The order threatens to individually sanction any noncompliant entities.
Speaking at a news conference Sept. 21, Pompeo confirmed the U.S. stance and warned “no matter who you are, if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions.”
According to Pompeo, the United States will continue to choke Iran’s economy until “the Iranian regime comes to the table and accepts a real deal for changing its behavior.” Conversely, Zarif told a U.S.-based think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, Sept. 21 that Iran should first be compensated for the financial losses incurred from the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions and that the United States must return to the JCPOA before any future nuclear negotiations take place.
The U.S. State Department also released a factsheet Sept. 21 further detailing new, broad-sweeping U.S. sanctions on Iran.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy
Iran Criticizes U.S. in UNGA Speech
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized the U.S. sanctions regime targeting Iran in his Sept. 22 speech at the UN General Assembly.
Both Rouhani and President Donald Trump spoke via video on the opening day of the session.
Trump referenced Iran only once in his speech, noting that the United States “withdrew from the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal and imposed crippling sanctions on the world's leading state sponsor of terror.”
Rouhani excoriated the United States for its maximum pressure campaign and expressed his appreciation for the Security Council’s “decisive and resounding” rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran and said the United States is “humiliated in such self-created isolation.” (see above for details).
Rouhani also noted that the United States “can impose neither negotiation, nor war on us” but appeared to keep open the option for diplomacy, noting that “dignity and prosperity of our nation are essential for us; and they are attained through diplomacy relying on national will coupled with resilience.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif similarly left the door open for negotiations if the United States returns to the 2015 nuclear deal during a Sept. 21 Council on Foreign Relations event.
Zarif said that Iran will “absolutely not” renegotiate the JCPOA, but did not rule out more-for-more negotiations if the United States returns to the deal and restores trust in the agreement.
Zarif said that Iran has “never been hesitant to negotiate” and that “it is the United States that has to show that its committed to the deal—that it will not violate it again, that it will not make demands outside the scope of the deal, that it will compensate Iran for the damages.”
Iran Continues to Grow Enriched Uranium Stockpile, IAEA Report Finds
Iran continues to exceed limits on its nuclear program imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal and is incrementally expanding its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, a Sept. 4 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) details.
The IAEA report finds that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched up to 4.5 percent uranium-235 equates to 2105.4 kilograms of uranium by weight (of which 2073.8 kilograms is in gas form). The stockpile is comprised of 215.1 kilograms enriched up to 3.67 percent, 1251.5 kilograms enriched to between 2 and 4.5 percent, and 638.8 kilograms enriched up to 2 percent.
According to the Agency’s report, Iran’s stockpile grew by 533 kilograms since the IAEA’s last report, a change slightly smaller than the 550-kilogram increase between the March and June quarterly reports and the 648-kilogram increase between the November 2019 and March reports. Though Iran continues to exceed the enrichment level and stockpile cap imposed by the deal, the IAEA confirms it has not exceeded a 4.5 percent uranium-235 enrichment level since it first breached the 3.67 percent limit in June 2019.
A move to a higher enrichment level would pose a more immediate proliferation risk and would significantly erode Iran’s breakout, or the time it would take for the country to produce enough weapons-grade nuclear material for a bomb.
Currently, Iran’s breakout is about 3-4 months. While this is a significant decrease from the 12 months established by full implementation of the JCPOA, it is similar to breakout estimates after the prior IAEA report was issued in June.
Iran continues to enrich uranium at both the Natanz and Fordow facilities. Commenting on Iran’s November 2019 decision to pursue uranium enrichment at Fordow in violation of the JCPOA, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Jackie Wolcott reiterated “Iran continues to add to its enriched uranium stockpile, and to enrich uranium at the Fordow facility, the fortified, underground bunker Iran originally constructed in secret.”
Speaking at the IAEA’s September Board of Governors meeting, she remarked that “there is simply no legitimate reason for Iran to conduct uranium enrichment at such a proliferation-sensitive facility.”
Wolcott called Iran’s systematic violations of the JCPOA “transparent attempts at extortion, aimed at raising tensions rather than defusing them.” She added that “such tactics will only deepen the regime’s political and economic isolation.”
The Agency’s Sept. 4 report also details Iran’s plan to install three new centrifuge cascades – or chains of centrifuges arranged to optimize enriched uranium output – at the Natanz enrichment facility and to cease operation at three identical cascades at the pilot fuel enrichment plant once the new machines are operational. This suggests that while Iran has ramped up its manufacturing of advanced centrifuges, it does not plan to crescendo its production of enriched uranium in the near term.
It was reported Sept. 8 that Iran has begun to construct a hall for the manufacturing of centrifuges in “the heart of the mountains” near Natanz, according to comments from Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. There was no direct mention of the new facility in the IAEA report, but Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing is subject to continuous monitoring and verification under the JCPOA.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi confirmed at the Board of Governors meeting that “the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement.”
For more details on the IAEA’s Sept. 4 report, see: Iran’s Nuclear Program Remains on Steady Trajectory.
IAEA Investigation Progresses
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that it conducted an inspection at an undeclared location in Iran as agreed to by the agency and Tehran in August, according to the most recent report from the IAEA on its investigations into possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran pre-2003.
The Sept. 4 report noted that, following the Aug. 26 access agreement between the IAEA and Tehran, “Iran provided inspectors access to the location to take environmental samples” and that the agency’s visit to a second site is scheduled for an unspecified date in September.
The IAEA first requested access to the sites in January. Tehran is obligated to allow inspectors to visit undeclared sites to follow up on concerns about undeclared activities under its safeguards agreements, but Iran stonewalled agency requests for seven months. The requests for access are part of a broader IAEA inquiry into Iran’s past nuclear activities from the pre-2003 period, when the agency assessed that Tehran had a nuclear weapons program.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors Sept. 14 that he welcomed the agreement “between the Agency and Iran, which I hope will reinforce cooperation and enhance mutual trust.”
Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi said Sept. 16 that the “current extensive level of cooperation between Iran and the Agency has not been achieved easily” and should not be “diminished simply by imprudent political interests of few.”
He also called for the IAEA to refrain from issuing further reports to the Board regarding Iran’s application of safeguards. He said that resolution of the issues in question should be “addressed within ongoing interaction between Iran and the Agency” and that there is “no need” for further report.
U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Jackie Wolcott said in a Sept. 16 address to the agency’s Board of Governors that it is important “to recognize that access is only the first necessary step toward resolving the IAEA’s open questions.” She reiterated that the access along cannot “close out” the IAEA’s question about possible undeclared use and storage of nuclear materials.
Wolcott also emphasized that “Iran’s unprecedented denial of required IAEA access in disregard of its legal obligations is wholly unacceptable” and said the Board must remain seized of the issue until its resolved.
In an address to the IAEA General Conference Sept. 21 U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette also said Iran must “do much more to ensure its compliance with safeguards obligations is both timely and complete.”
It is unclear if the environmental sampling and accountancy steps detailed in the Sept. 4 report will lead to further requests for information and site visits.
In the Aug. 26 joint statement issued by Grossi and Ali Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the two parties noted that “in this present context, based on an analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran under its [safeguards agreement] and [additional protocol].”
This language was likely included to address Iranian concerns about the scope of the investigation. However, the IAEA has made clear that it will follow up to address any concerns that arise down the road and noted in the Sept. 4 report that it intends to follow up by conducting additional nuclear material inventory verification at a declared nuclear site as part of the investigation
For more on the IAEA report on Iran’s safeguards and the investigation see, “IAEA Report Notes Progress on Investigation.”
Iran Unveils Two New Missiles
Iran unveiled two new missiles amid heightened tensions fueled by U.S. efforts to stifle Tehran’s acquisition of arms. The 1,400-kilometer range surface-to-air ballistic missile and 1,000-kilometer range naval cruise missile were revealed on the country’s National Defense Industry day, Aug. 20.
Named in honor of two Iranian military officials killed during a U.S. drone strike in January 2020, the “Shahid Qassem Soleimani” surface-to-air missile and the “Shahid Abu Mahdi” cruise missile expand Iran’s fleet of intermediate-range missiles, strengthening its ability to strike U.S. bases in the Middle East.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lauded the country’s new missiles, noting that introduction of the naval cruise missile will support Iran’s defensive and offensive capabilities as “cruise missiles can camouflage better and hit targets more precisely.” Rouhani said that Iran now ranks as the world’s 14th most prominent military power.
Little is known about the two new missiles, but experts have noted the Shahid Qassem Soleimani appears to be a two-staged, solid-fueled rocket with signature components that mirror other Iranian missiles. These assessments suggest Iran may have adapted earlier-developed, shorter-range systems and fused them to create the newly inaugurated missile.
The Shahid Abu Mahdi is speculated to be a sea-based variant of the land-based Hoveyzeh cruise missile, which Iran revealed in February 2019.
Iran’s introduction of the two new intermediate-range missile systems was closely followed by reports that “Iran and North Korea have resumed cooperation on a long-range missile project, including the transfer of critical parts,” according to one unnamed senior U.S. official cited by Reuters on Sept. 20.
There is a historical precedent for missile cooperation between the two countries; in 2017, U.S. defense experts argued Iran’s Ghadir-class submarine and North Korea’s Yoo-class submarine were too similar to have not been developed by a shared technical expertise.
However, speaking on the long-range missile assertion, the official did not provide any further evidence in support of his claim.
The Trump administration announced sanctions on “Iranian persons who support Iran’s ballistic missile programs and who have been associated with an Iranian organization that has played a key role in Iran-North Korea missile cooperation.” The announcement was part of the State Department’s effort to support UN sanctions on Iran, which the United States argued were reimposed Sept. 19.
Joint Commission Meets
The Joint Commission, the body set up to oversee implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, met Sept. 1 in Vienna to discuss the status of the accord and reject the U.S. attempt to claim participant status in the nuclear deal in order to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.
The participants, which include the P4+1, EU, and Iran, said in a Joint Statement that the United States “unilaterally announced its cessation of participation” in the deal and has “not participated in any JCPOA-related activities subsequently.” The statement concluded that the United States “therefore could not be considered as a participant State” and “cannot initiate the process of reinstating UN sanctions.”
Following the U.S. statement on Sept. 19 that UN sanctions were reimposed, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell noted the Sept. 1 Joint Commission statement and said that “sanctions lifting commitments under the JCPOA continue to apply.”
The Joint Commission’s Sept. 1 statement also noted the importance of certain cooperative nuclear projects required by the JCPOA, including the modifications of the Arak reactor and the conversion of the Fordow site to a stable isotope research center and discussed the consequences of the termination of U.S. waivers for those projects. The parties reiterated their “strong support and collective responsibility” for continuing those projects.
No details were provided about what, if any, steps have been taken since the U.S. waivers ended in July.
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