Security Council Resolution 2231 and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear ProgramPosted: July 27, 2015
Note: Cross posted from EJIL:Talk!
Last week I did a couple of posts elsewhere on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed on July 14 between the P5+1 and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. See here and here. These posts may be of interest in explaining the essential agreement contained in the JCPOA, and in examining some of its key legal implications.
The JCPOA is the culmination of twenty months of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, since the initial Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was agreed by the parties in November 2013. I wrote a post discussing the JPOA here at EJIL:Talk! at the time it was agreed.
I’d like to focus this post on the unanimous passage by the U.N. Security Council on July 20 of Resolution 2231, which can be found here. Resolution 2231 comprises 104 pages of text, inclusive of two annexes, one of which is the entire JCPOA text. I mention this because my primary impression in reading over Resolution 2231 and is annexes for the first time, was frankly astonishment that the parties had been able to agree on such an amazingly complex, thorough and comprehensive diplomatic accord. I was also impressed by the precision of the text of Resolution 2231 itself (apart from a couple of typos) in implementing, in what appears to be a very sophisticated and, as far as I can tell, correct way, the agreement reached by the parties on July 14.
The JCPOA itself and Resolution 2231 appear to represent a major success of international diplomacy, as well as a significant achievement of international law in facilitating the implementation of the diplomatic accord. Again, it is difficult to overstate the complexity of the issues that had to be resolved among the parties to arrive at both the JCPOA and Resolution 2231. And the specificity with which these issues were addressed in both documents – down to weights and measures and dates of implementation – is frankly astonishing, and far exceeds my expectations. And so I compliment all of the diplomats and lawyers involved.
The purpose of Security Council Resolution 2231 is primarily to endorse the JCPOA, which is itself a legally non-binding agreement, and to implement the actions of the Security Council which were agreed to in the JCPOA. Specifically, the Security Council decides in Resolution 2231 that on Implementation Day, as defined in the JCPOA, the previous resolutions of the Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear program will be terminated. Implementation Day is scheduled to occur when a number of essential actions are taken by Iran, and by the U.S. and the E.U., as spelled out in Annex V of the JCPOA. Practically speaking, Implementation Day is likely to occur within the next 6-8 months.
So again, within the next 8 months, according to Resolution 2231, all of the Security Council’s previous resolutions on Iran regarding its nuclear program, inclusive of sanctions applied pursuant to those resolutions, will be terminated. This is subject, however, to a “snapback” procedure, described in operative paragraphs 11-13 of Resolution 2231. According to this “snapback procedure,” any party to the JCPOA, including Iran, can lodge a complaint with the Security Council at any time alleging substantial noncompliance with the JCPOA’s terms by any other party. If no resolution can be achieved on the matter, the Security Council will vote on whether to continue in effect the termination of its previous resolutions. If this vote by the Security Council fails – e.g. if one of the permanent members votes against it – all of the Security Council’s previous resolutions, including the sanctions implemented thereby, will come back into effect. This process was particularly sought for inclusion by the United States, so that U.S. officials could truthfully say to a skeptical Congress that the U.S., acting alone (i.e. as complainer, and as a permanent member of the Security Council), could if it wished cause the re-application of Security Council sanctions in the event that Iran substantially failed to comply with the terms of the JCPOA.
Assuming the “snapback” procedure is not implemented, however, after the termination of previous Security Council resolutions occurs on Implementation Day, Resolution 2231 puts in their place a more limited, continuing set of restrictions on trade with Iran, which are to continue until UNSCR Termination Day. UNSCR Termination Day is scheduled in the JCPOA to occur in 10 years from Adoption Day. This interim set of restrictions is outlined in Annex B to Resolution 2231, and includes restrictions on trade with Iran, primarily in items and technologies related to Iran’s nuclear program. It does, however, allow for some exceptions for permissible trade in technologies necessary to support the 6,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges which Iran is allowed to maintain in operation throughout the term of the JCPOA.
The restrictions also, notably, include the continuation for five-years of the conventional arms embargo which was a part of previous Security Council resolutions on Iran. The continuation of this arms embargo was one of the more contentious points of the JCPOA negotiations between the parties, and this five-year extension is the resultant agreed compromise.
Importantly, from the perspective of Iran, if all sides abide by their commitments under the JCPOA, Resolution 2231 provides that:
[O]n the date ten years after the JCPOA Adoption Day, as defined in the JCPOA, all the provisions of this resolution shall be terminated, and none of the previous resolutions described in paragraph 7 (a) shall be applied, the Security Council will have concluded its consideration of the Iranian nuclear issue, and the item “Non-proliferation” will be removed from the list of matters of which the Council is seized;
For Iran, this promise represents its ultimate aspiration on this issue – the full removal of international sanctions related to its nuclear program, and its treatment as a lawful possessor of peaceful nuclear energy capabilities.
There would appear to be no “poison pills,” or impossible, or even unreasonable commitments for any party in the text of the JCPOA or in Resolution 2231. Optimism is therefore warranted that this aspiration will be achieved.
I’ve just been reading over the official text of Resolution 2231 on the U.N. website, which is the Security Council resolution endorsing the JCPOA. It appears to me that there are at least two typos in the text. I’m kind of amazed they got through the review process. I picked up on them in the first read.
Here’s the first:
- Decides, acting under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, that, upon receipt by the Security Council of the report from the IAEA described in paragraph :5
I’m pretty sure the colon was supposed to come after the number 5. Not a big deal in and of itself, but it’s really just a proofreading matter.
The second is a bit worse:
- Decides, acting under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, that the terminations described in Annex B and paragraph this of 8 resolution shall not occur if the provisions of previous resolutions have been applied pursuant to paragraph 12;
Paragraph this of 8 resolution? Again, obviously just a switch of words. But this is the text that is up on the U.N. website, and it’s kind of an important legal document. Check it for yourself.
UPDATE: The typos have apparently now been fixed. I know that appropriate staff at the U.N. Security Council Secretariat Branch were notified and asked to do so.
This is a long one, folks. So settle in if you really want to get into some legal wonkery.
I published the below introductory piece on the JCPOA over at Opinio Juris. Here I’d like to go into a lot more detail about some of the the legal issues that I see associated with the JCPOA.
To start out with, overall I think this is a very good deal for Iran. They apparently got basically everything they wanted, and certainly the most important things. They get to keep a full front-end nuclear fuel cycle complete with 6,000 operating centrifuges. They get to carry on with centrifuge R&D. Over time they get to upgrade and increase their capabilities all around. The deal stipulates that the end game is for Iran to be considered a nuclear normal state, on par with other NNWS, implicitly recognizing Iran’s right to have enrichment capability and all the other elements of a front-end nuclear fuel cycle. There’s a pathway in the deal for all multilateral and unilateral sanctions to be lifted. These things are all Iran really ever wanted out of the deal.
I think it’s also a good deal for the West and the IAEA. It ratchets down unnecessary tensions between the West and Iran, which is – like it or not – a major regional player now and going forward. It keeps Iran in the NPT and in the IAEA, and lets the IAEA get out of the PMD hole they’ve dug themselves into.
Basically it gives everyone the most important things they’ve said they wanted, creates compromises everyone can live with, and allows everyone to declare victory and save face, which are the hallmarks of a good diplomatic deal.
The JCPOA text creates a serious normative framework that the negotiators have come up with, with a Joint Commission for implementation, a dispute resolution mechanisms, and an agreed implementation program that is very specific on timing and on when everyone has to do things. As I said in my previous post, I think it’s an impressively well crafted and well organized set of documents, so kudos to the lawyers from all sides.
I’d like to comment on a few of the legal issues that the JCPOA raises. Some of this will be overlap from my previous post, but a lot of it will be new.
NOTE: I’m cross posting this piece here. It originally appeared by invitation this morning over at Opinio Juris.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to by the P5+1 (Germany, France, the U.K., the U.S., China, Russia) and Iran on July 14 is a major success of international diplomacy, possibly to be credited with the avoidance of war. It is the culmination of twenty months of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran since the initial Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was agreed by the parties in November 2013. See my analysis here of the JPOA when it was concluded.
The JCPOA is comprised of 159 total pages of text, consisting of 18 pages of the JCPOA itself, with a further 141 pages divided among five annexes. All of the documents can be found at this link. It is a carefully drafted, well organized document, and compliments are due its drafters.
That being said, it is an extremely complex document, which attempts to address all of the issues in dispute between the parties concerning Iran’s nuclear program, from how many and what type of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran can maintain in operation, to the technical specifications of transforming the Arak heavy water reactor into an alternate less-proliferation-sensitive design, to excruciatingly detailed provisions on the precise sequencing of sanctions lifting by the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. and the E.U.
The general gist of the JCPOA is easy enough to summarize. It is a quid pro quo agreement under which Iran agrees to significant limits on its civilian nuclear program, and to an enhanced inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify the continued peaceful nature of its program. In return, the P5+l agree to a coordinated lifting of the economic and financial sanctions that have been applied against Iran over the past six years by both the Security Council acting multilaterally, and the U.S. and E.U. in particular acting unilaterally. The end goal of the JCPOA is stated to be that Iran will ultimately be treated as a normal nuclear energy producing state, on par with Japan, Germany and many other Non-Nuclear Weapon States party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The precise sequencing of the implementation of the JCPOA’s commitments was one of the most difficult issues in the negotiations, and the JCPOA has one full annex, Annex V, devoted to the issue. The implementation plan provides for approximately a 10 year timeline over which the main commitments are to be implemented by the parties. Technically “UNSCR Termination Day,” on which all Security Council resolutions on Iran will terminate, and on which the Council will no longer be seized of the Iran nuclear issue, is set to occur 10 years from “Adoption Day,” which is scheduled for 90 days after the endorsement of the JCPOA by the Security Council.
Sanctions relief will be staggered, but will begin in earnest on “Implementation Day,” on which date the IAEA will certify that Iran has implemented its primary commitments limiting its nuclear program. This could occur within approximately six months from “Adoption Day.” The final, full lifting of all multilateral and unilateral sanctions is set to occur on “Transition Day,” which is defined as 8 years from “Adoption Day,” or when the IAEA reports that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful use, whichever is earlier. So the JCPOA envisions a full lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran within the next eight years at a maximum, with significant sanctions lifting to occur hopefully within the coming year.
There are a number of important legal observations to make about the JCPOA text. I’ll mention only a few of them here briefly, but I’ll be writing more about them over at my blog, Arms Control Law, where you can also find background information on the issues.
- It is important to note that the JCPOA is not a treaty. This is made explicitly clear on Pg. 6 of the JCPOA, when the text refers to all of the subsequently detailed commitments as “voluntary measures.” This fact of course has important implications for both international law, and the domestic law of the parties. Significantly from an international law perspective, it means that neither Iran’s legal obligations, nor the legal authority of the IAEA, are affected by the terms of the JCPOA itself. The JCPOA is simply a diplomatic agreement, consisting of political and not legal commitments. This is an important distinction to bear in mind inter alia when considering the expanded access for IAEA inspectors in Iran which is provided for in Annex 1, Section Q. The fact that these enhanced access procedures, under which IAEA inspectors can request access to sites in Iran that have not been declared by Iran to have any connection to its nuclear program, are simply political in nature, should provide incentive for all sides to be reasonable and measured in their approach to disputes about this access. Excessively aggressive and unreasonable demands made by either side could result in a collapse of the entire JCPOA framework.
- Also on the subject of IAEA safeguards, the JCPOA provides that Iran will only provisionally apply its Additional Protocol agreement with the IAEA for the next 8 years, and only after that time will it formally ratify the Additional Protocol and bring it into force. Having the Additional Protocol only provisionally applied during this period could make for some complicated and perhaps controversial questions concerning its application. The most recent reports of the International Law Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Provisional Application of Treaties will be useful in clarifying these questions. Regarding the purpose for this lengthy period of provisional application, while it may have some basis in the normal delay associated with domestic ratification procedures, I suspect that this was in fact a feature of the agreement specially negotiated by Iran in order to allow it continued leverage with the IAEA, with which it has a longstanding tense relationship.
- One reason for that tense relationship is the IAEA’s allegations since 2011 that Iran has not been forthcoming about past nuclear weaponization work conducted in Iran prior to 2003. This is the so-called Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) issue, which was also a significant point of contention during the negotiations. The JCPOA handles the PMD issue in a manner that has surprised many observers. In brief, in paragraph 14 of the JCPOA the parties agree that the entire PMD issue is to be resolved between Iran and the IAEA within the next six months, pursuant to a “Road Map” document agreed separately between the IAEA and Iran on the same day as the JCPOA. This short time frame for resolving this complex issue, which has been hotly contested between the IAEA and Iran for the past four years, appears to demonstrate the JCPOA parties’ overall intent to focus on the present and future, and not on the past. This is a particularly prudent and pragmatic view, in my opinion, and avoids what could have been a poison pill for the JCPOA, in the form of attempts to force Iran to admit to past nuclear weaponization work.
There are many other interesting legal issues that bear observation, but I will end this guest post at this point, and invite interested readers to comment, and to follow my further writing on this and all other matters armscontrollawish at my blog.
I just wanted to quickly draw readers’ attention to a new piece published today by Tariq Rauf over at Atomic Reporters. Tariq is well known in the nonproliferation expert community. He’s currently Director of SIPRI’s Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme, and was previously Head of the Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office at the IAEA.
In this new piece Tariq very usefully explains in practical detail what managed access to sites in Iran by IAEA inspectors would likely look like under the terms of the Additional Protocol, which Iran will almost certainly ratify and bring into force under a final deal with the P5+1.
Tariq provides an explication of some of the limits that can be imposed by Iran on inspectors’ access to sites . These are some of the limits that I was referring to in my piece a couple of weeks ago looking forward to safeguards under such a final deal. Tariq, however, gives far more useful detail than I did.
[Cross-posted from The Trench.]
Dual-use research of concern—often referred to by its ugly acronym, DURC—is another one of those moronic concepts to have entered the disarmament / arms control discourse as a diversion from real disarmament questions. Of concern to whom? Who defines the dual-use characteristics of research? Who defines the threat? And why the heck should we be scared again of any new development? Anyway, the term is also tautological: Is there dual-use research not of concern?
The term arose in the biological field: genetic manipulations of pathogens to better understand possible mutations might increase infectivity among humans. The risk of escape from laboratories or laboratory accidents drive the concerns about this type of research. Initially the threat was presented as one of catastrophic terrorism. Now the debate has abated somewhat, but global health concerns continue to animate discussions. Meanwhile, the DURC label has stuck. So questions animating debates under the banner of biological weapons control are whether research can be published in full or whether scientists should apply for an export license to have their results printed in overseas scientific journals.
Interestingly the label’s use seems to be limited to the life sciences. How about medical research contributing to the development of an incapacitating chemical weapon?
Nitrous oxide is better known as ‘laughing gas’. Innocuous enough, it would seem. Only those addicted to it not only get high, they may also die. In Antiquity, Hannibal supposedly vanquished the numerically superior fleet of King Eumenes of Pergamum in 191 BCE by flinging earthenware pots with nitrous oxide onto his opponent’s ships. The narrator’s metaphor used to hide his unfamiliarity with contemporary advanced chemistry was ‘venomous snakes’. However, such creatures do not habitually provoke ‘laughter’ or ‘fill’ vessels. The Phoenicians, owners of advanced knowledge of chemistry, were aware of the agent’s effects. Having also mastered sophisticated mining techniques, they would have observed the impact of nitrous oxide produced by a controlled underground explosion on humans. Its manufacture does not involve a too difficult chemical process.
This is not how laughter might be provoked in future chemical warfare operations. Nitrous oxide is commonly applied in surgery in conjunction with anaesthetics or to maintain a patient’s unconsciousness as the effects of anaesthetics wear off. The compound instigates a powerful pattern of electrical firing that sweeps across the front of the brain as slowly as once every 10 seconds, according to research at MIT. This pattern is consistent with deep sleep. As one scientist put it, ‘nitrous oxide has control over the brain in ways no other drug does.’
Any thought of using nitrous oxide as an incapacitant still lies in the future. Even with a continuous flow under controlled circumstances, the slow waves merely last for about three minutes at most. However, as one of the researchers speculated, ‘if the pure, powerful slow waves produced by nitrous oxide could somehow be maintained at a steady state—as opposed to disappearing in mere minutes—then nitrous oxide might be used as a potent anaesthetic from which rapid recovery would be possible’. The MIT team is now systematically studying the electroencephalogram signatures and behavioural effects of all of the principal anaesthetics and anaesthetic combinations.
Is it too weird to think of advanced, government-sponsored research into non-lethal, incapacitating agents? Anti-terrorism operations already seek out the grey area between (prohibited) chemical warfare and (non-prohibited) law enforcement. Rescued hostages and captured terrorists may not come out laughing after an intervention by special forces, but their quick recovery after evacuation makes for a darned better sight than scores of dead as the consequence of other types of powerful anaesthetics.
While we’re all waiting with baited breath for the (hopeful) announcement of an Iran nuclear deal in the next couple of days, I have a treat for those interested in IAEA safeguards. I’m pleased to say that a Vienna delegation has very kindly provided the IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report for 2014 to Arms Control Law in the interest of openness and transparency, as well as to disseminate the results and findings of Agency safeguards to the wider public and civil society. This is especially important as the IAEA is funded by the taxpayers of Member States. The delegation is of the view that all IAEA reports should be publicly available and not on a selective basis as determined by some Member States.
I would offer a few initial observations on the 2014 SIR. Two of these are the same critiques I made when I published the 2013 SIR here. First, that the agency’s use of standards for assessing Iran’s compliance with its safeguards obligations are still incorrect, as they have been pretty much since DG Amano took over. I’ve explained this previously in detail, including in the post I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph. I’ve also just recently been writing up this analysis in even greater detail in my new book manuscript, which I hope to have ready for the publisher in September. In a nutshell, the IAEA has for years been improperly withholding its determination that Iran is currently in compliance with its existing safeguards agreement obligations.
Second, again in the 2014 SIR there is no meaningful discussion of the IAEA’s use of third party intelligence information as a source for its safeguards assessments, even though we know that the IAEA has relied on such sources significantly since at least 2011 when it published its infamous PMD report on Iran. There are still very serious concerns that many member states have about the IAEA using such externally-sourced intelligence, without being able to independently verify its credibility. See here a post I did last October pointing to a statement by the Russian representative to the IAEA on this issue. The continuing failure of the Director General to seriously engage with these very reasonable concerns leads one to wonder whether the DG thinks that by downplaying them or simply refusing to acknowledge their existence, they will just go away. The old head in the sand routine. I think these issues are very important to the IAEA’s continuing credibility as an independent, objective monitoring and verification body, and that the DG should engage with them, and either set up satisfactory mechanisms for the IAEA to rely on third party intelligence, or alternatively stop using such information as a basis for assessments.
As an additional critique this year, note that the SIR finds in Article 24 that:
[N]o new information had come to the knowledge of the Agency that would have an impact on the Agency’s assessment that it was very likely that a building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the Agency by Syria.
In this context, I just wanted to draw attention to some very recent, excellent pieces by Ambassador Peter Jenkins, and Robert Kelley over at LobeLog. In their pieces, Jenkins and Kelley call for a review of the IAEA’s assessments of the Al Kibar site, and I think they make a very persuasive case that such an objective, expert review is needed. I think it should be noted that their analysis bears not only on Syria, but also on the IAEA’s assumedly continuing role under the new Iran deal in addressing its concerns regarding PMD in Iran. I invite others to make additional observations about the 2014 SIR in the comments.
Finally, reading the latest dispatch today on the Iran negotiations from one of the best journalists covering them, Jonathan Tirone, I’m gratified that things at least appear to be proceeding roughly as I predicted in my last post here. Time will tell.