The U.N. Security Council has steadily increased the pressure on Iran since 2006 with escalating sanctions targeting individuals, companies, nuclear technology and weapons transfers. In addition to these U.N. sanctions, the European Union introduced further sanctions targeting the Iranian oil industry and the U.S. tightened existing Iran sanctions and introduced new and tougher sanctions. This sanctions regime put major constraints on the Iranian economy that forced the Iranian government to enter into negotiations on its nuclear program.
The deal that was struck between Iran and the world powers promises to lift these sanctions in return for Iran’s curtailment of its nuclear enrichment for a period of time. The sanctions are to be lifted once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Iran has satisfactorily addressed the IAEA’s concerns about Iran’s past illicit nuclear weapon activity and that the current program is civilian in nature.
If the situation is still not resolved, the complaint can be brought before an Advisory Board, made up of members appointed by the two parties to the complaint (for instance, the U.S. and Iran if the U.S. has evidence of Iranian malfeasance) and a third independent member. The Advisory Board will issue a non-binding opinion in 15 days, which would then go back to the Joint Commission for five days. The entire process is not streamlined and opens itself up to opportunities for continuing delays.
It is not a complete “snapback,” however, since it will not be imposed retroactively. Existing contracts and trade would be allowed to continue, so Iran could comply with the deal for years (or not get caught not complying for years) and still reap the rewards of technology and billions of dollars in trade before the sanctions would go back into effect if Iran is caught cheating.
Aside from unnecessary bureaucracy, the more serious problem is that the language in the nuclear deal and in the subsequent U.N. Security Council resolution state that it must be a “significant” compliance issue. This is vague—what exactly constitutes "significant non-compliance?" The fear is that the tendency of the world powers will be to minimize or ignore non-compliance issues as not “significant” enough to rise to the level that would require “snapback” sanctions. Why? Because once the U.N. sanctions are re-introduced, the U.N. Security Council resolution “noted” Iran’s stated position that Iran would stop living up to its commitments in the nuclear deal in full. Essentially, the Security Council resolution allowed the “snapback” sanctions to be held hostage by the deal.
A lot of advocacy and diplomacy went into carefully creating the structure of the U.N.’s Iran sanctions system, and within a few short months that will be reversed, and, despite the “snapback” provisions, difficult to fully re-create if necessitated by Iranian non-compliance. If, after 10 years, the sanctions have not been reintroduced, then the sanctions resolutions expire and cannot be “snapped back.” The Iranian nuclear issue would also then disappear from the Security Council agenda.
Yes, sanctions resolutions could then be reintroduced by the world powers if Iran tries to breakout to a nuclear bomb, but it is a long and difficult process to summon up the international will to do so and avoid a Security Council veto, and by then it would be too little, too late. So, Iran can either wait a few years to cheat after trade is already flowing, or wait 10 years for the credible threat of sanctions to disappear almost entirely.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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