Vienna agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme 

09.05.2019 - Article

In signing the Vienna agreement of 14 July 2015, the E3/EU+3 countries and Iran reached consensus on a long‑term settlement of the nuclear dispute, following more than 12 years of contention. Some 18 months after the start of the implementation phase, significant progress has been made.

It was a crowning diplomatic achievement. After negotiating assiduously for so many years, the parties managed to resolve the perilous conflict over the Iranian nuclear programme by concluding the Joint

Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, known informally as the Vienna agreement. The E3+3 and Iran signed the agreement on 14 July 2015. In return for Iran accepting strict conditions and continuous transparency controls on its nuclear activities, the agreement provides for an easing of the UN and other sanctions imposed on Iran – but should Iran breach the agreement they would quickly come back into effect.The Vienna agreement has so far been successfully implemented. It is a key element in the global non-proliferation architecture and a pillar of regional security. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed in its quarterly reports that Iran has adhered to the understandings contained in the JCPoA. Iran also benefits from the agreement – sanctions have been eased, and the Iranian economy is growing.Despite the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement, the German Government and its partners are working hard to preserve the JCPOA as it stands and to ensure it is fully implemented. Germany, the UK and France therefore established INSTEX, a special purpose vehicle intended to make it possible to engage in legitimate trade with Iran despite the re-imposition of US sanctions.The German Government is very concerned by the Iranian Government’s announcement on 8 May 2019 that it intends to gradually stop complying with individual obligations under the agreement. Germany and its European partners as well as the other contracting parties will continue to work to uphold it. This includes convincing Iran to stand by the obligations contained in the JCPoA in their entirety.

The key elements of the Vienna agreement

Iran had six months after the conclusion of the agreement to significantly scale back its nuclear programme. Since that time, the programme has been subject to strict constraints. In particular, Iran undertook to
•    dismantle two-thirds of its centrifuges
•    export almost all of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia
•    render the core of the plutonium reactor in Arak unusable by filling it with concrete
•    use only 5060 first-generation centrifuges in the Natanz plant to enrich uranium for the next ten years
•    restrict its uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent for a period of 15 years
•    stockpile no more than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium (uranium hexafluoride) in the country at any time
•    stop using the underground plant in Fordow for enrichment
•    convert the research reactor in Arak so that it cannot be used to make weapons-grade plutonium
•    refrain from activities connected with spent fuel reprocessing for a period of 15 years
•    submit to the strictest IAEA controls in the world
•    conduct future trade in nuclear technology and dual-use goods via an internationally monitored Procurement Channel.
In return for Iran scaling back its nuclear programme, sanctions against the nuclear programme were lifted on Implementation Day (16 January 2016). In addition to UN and EU sanctions, these also included extraterritorial US economic and financial sanctions. Since then, Iran has been able to export oil and gas again and to use international financial channels. 
However, the bilateral embargo by the US against Iran (with the exception of aircraft, food and carpets) and the UN, EU and US lists of individuals and entities sanctioned for supporting terrorism and violating human rights remain in force. The restrictions against the Iranian missile programme imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015) also remain in place. Following its withdrawal from the agreement, the US Administration gradually imposed new extraterritorial bilateral economic and financial sanctions on 5 November 2018. 
The “snap-back” mechanism is an important component of the easing of the sanctions. Should Iran breach the agreement, the lifted UN sanctions can be reimposed through a simplified procedure, without the need for a UN Security Council resolution.

Implementation of the JCPoA 

Representatives of the E3/EU+3 and Iran meet once every quarter in the Joint Commission, which is chaired by the Secretary-General of the European External Action Service and where they discuss the implementation and interpretation of the Vienna agreement. The IAEA monitors the technical restrictions under the Vienna agreement. It has to date been able to confirm that Iran is fulfilling its commitments. In order to build

confidence, it remains crucial that the IAEA continue its detailed verification and that the Joint Commission carry on its constructive dialogue in the future. To date, Germany has provided 4.48 million euros to the IAEA to verify the Vienna agreement (and previously to verify the Geneva Joint Plan of Action of November 2013).The Procurement Channel is an entirely new international export-control instrument and has got off to a good start. Under the Vienna nuclear agreement, the export of nuclear technology and dual-use goods to Iran is subject to a special export control regime. Before an exporting country can grant authorisation, it must secure approval from the United Nations Security Council. Such approval is given when the country’s application has met the Procurement Channel requirements. The E3/EU+3 and Iranian Joint Commission Procurement Working Group reviews incoming export applications and makes recommendations on them to the Security Council.

Why is Iran’s economic recovery important?
The chief negotiators of the E3/EU+3 group and Iran before the last plenary session in Vienna
The chief negotiators of the E3/EU+3 group and Iran before the last plenary session in Vienna© Photothek

The Iranian economy revived noticeably following the lifting of sanctions. Indeed, economic growth shot up to approximately 12.5 percent in 2016. The latest IMF estimates put growth at 4.3 percent for the Iranian fiscal year from 21 March 2017 to 20 March 2018. The pre-sanctions oil production level of around four million barrels was reached again but fell once more after the US sanctions were re-imposed in December 2018. 
With the establishment of INSTEX, the special purpose vehicle which is still being operationalised, the E3 is therefore working to make possible legitimate trade between European companies and other business stakeholders, for example 

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