The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted resolution 2231. This is an initial step towards implementing the Vienna agreement reached between the E3+3 countries and Iran on 14 July 2015. The aim is to prevent Iran from having access to nuclear weapons. It provides for the sanctions against Iran to be gradually eased as long as the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that the Government in Tehran is holding up its side of the agreement. If the agreement is breached then the sanctions can be reimposed through a simplified procedure.
Implementing the Vienna agreement
The UN Security Council resolution was adopted less than a week after the historic Vienna agreement of 14 July in which the E3+3 group and Iran agreed on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Plan outlines measures and control mechanisms which prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In return, the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran since 2006 are set to be lifted incrementally. They include the freezing of bank assets, travel bans, restrictions on Iranian companies’ ability to make international bank transfers and an arms embargo.
Sanctions only to be eased if agreement upheld
UN resolution 2231 is the first step in implementing the Vienna agreement, it does not however imply a direct lifting of the sanctions. According to the agreement, in order for this to happen, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must issue a report confirming that Iran is adhering to the provisions of the agreement. On the margins of the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, Foreign Minister Steinmeier welcomed the resolution: “It is now clear that the agreement reached in Vienna applies to and is binding not only for the seven countries which took part in the negotiations in Vienna but for all 193 members of the United Nations.”
The ’snap back’ mechanism is an important component of the agreement: it is an uncomplicated process through which the sanctions which have been lifted can be swiftly reimposed should the Government in Tehran breach the agreement. Sanctions usually require a majority vote in the UN Security Council and thus the requisite go-ahead from all five veto powers (the US, Russia, China, France and the UK). According to the 14 July 2015 agreement, however, should Iran fail to uphold its side of the agreement, the sanctions can be reimposed without prior consent from the Security Council.
Comprehensive monitoring options for the IAEA
Commenting on the next steps, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said:
The countdown for implementing what has been agreed is now running. That means that in the forthcoming months, Iran must dismantle the majority of its enrichment plants and destroy or export its stock of enriched uranium. This will bring much greater security to many people in the region who are concerned that Iran will gain access to nuclear weapons.
Following this, the IAEA will gain an insight into the situation on the ground in Iran and draft a report on the country’s implementation of the provisions of the agreement. The agreed scope for IAEA inspectors to carry out monitoring is very broad and partly exceeds the standard requirements for member states. If the report’s conclusion is positive, the first sanctions will then be lifted.
In addition to this, the resolution stresses that this could be an initial step towards a broader normalisation of relations between Iran and the international community. After many years of conflict and mistrust, there are signs that relations are starting to thaw in the wake of the Vienna agreement. Nevertheless, all those involved are aware that the full normalisation of relations is still a long way off.