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French Foreign Minister warns of possible reimposition of Iran nuclear sanctions

Battered Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action


On 14 July 2015 the P5+1 States and Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although there was strong opposition in both the Iranian and the U.S. governments, legislation was passed in the U.S. Congress and the Iranian Parliament approving the deal.



French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Wednesday raised the possibility of triggering a mechanism in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that could lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions. AFP reported.

Le Drian's comments, to the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee, came against a background of Iranian moves to disregard elements of the deal and escalating tension in the Gulf region.

"Every two months there is another notch (from Iran) to the extent that we are wondering today, and I say very clearly, about the implementation of the dispute resolution mechanism in the treaty," he told the lawmakers.

"Given the succession of actions taken by the Iranian authorities, who are progressively at odds with the the contents of the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), the question comes up," he added.

Since May, Tehran has made a number of moves that have raised concerns in the West that it is moving towards abandoning the agreed limits to its nuclear activities.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) set out the terms turns under which Iran would restrict its nuclear programme to civilian use in exchange for the lifting of western sanctions.

When US President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018, reimposing heavy sanctions, Iran began to breach some parts of the deal in response.

Le Drian, in his comments to the committee, appeared pessimistic that France's efforts to save the agreement would succeed.

- French overtures ignored -

French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to organised a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rohani, but so far without success.

"The efforts at de-escalation that we have attempted, that the President of the Republic has attempted on several occasions, have not come to anything for a whole series of reasons," he said.

Iran's detention in June of two French researchers, anthropologists Fariba Adelkah and Roland Marchal, had not helped matters, he added. Nor had Iran's activities in the region.

Since May, tensions in the Gulf have escalated following a string of attacks on oil tankers that the United States and its allies blamed on Tehran. The Islamic republic denies the charges.

Iran, however, admitted to shooting down a US drone in June for allegedly flying over its territorial waters. Washington insisted the aircraft was in international airspace.

European efforts to shield Iran from the effects of US sanctions by finding ways to continue trade with the Islamic republic have borne little fruit, much to Tehran's frustration.

The EU is growing increasingly concerned at Tehran's decision to row back on its commitments, notably by stepping up uranium enrichment.

Earlier this month Germany warned that the dispute resolution mechanism in the deal could be triggered if Iran continued down this path.

This covers various stages that could take several months to unfold, but the issue could eventually end up before the UN Security Council, who could decide to reimpose sanctions.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

On 14 July 2015 the P5+1 States and Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although there was strong opposition in both the Iranian and the U.S. governments, legislation was passed in the U.S. Congress and the Iranian Parliament approving the deal. 

On 20 July 2015, the UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 2231 endorsing the plan. 

The JCPOA is designed to limit Iran's "breakout time" to a nuclear weapon from an estimated few months to one year or more. 

This is being accomplished by the implementation of several measures to limit Iran's ability to enrich uranium. 

First, the JCPOA requires Iran to reduce operational centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility from 19,000 to 5,060 until 2025. 

The Fordow enrichment facility will be converted to research and development, and will not enrich uranium for a period of 15 years, while also having its centrifuges reduced to two cascades totaling 1044 machines. 

Iran agreed to ratify the Additional Protocol, in addition to its comprehensive safeguards agreement, and enact inspection measures that will enable IAEA inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities. 

In addition, Iran signed a "Roadmap for Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues" agreement with the IAEA to resolve any questions the Agency still has concerning the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program. This issue was reported as resolved by the IAEA Director General in his report to the Board of Governors on 15 December 2015.

In order to address concerns Iran could feasibly construct and operate a clandestine enrichment facility similar to Natanz or Fordow, the agreement allows for inspections of the entire fuel cycle; for up to 25 years at some facilities. This allows IAEA inspectors to inspect Iran's uranium supplies from the mining stage through waste disposal, and monitor all centrifuge production facilities.

Finally, the JCPOA establishes a procurement channel monitored by a joint commission that will allow Iran to obtain the materials it needs to operate its nuclear facilities under the guidelines of international nuclear supply regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

On 16 January 2016, the Director General of the IAEA issued a statement declaring Iran to be in compliance with all of its obligations under the JCPOA necessary to declare Implementation Day. This cleared the way for comprehensive sanctions relief for Iran while allowing IAEA inspectors continued, access to Iranian nuclear facilities. 


Recent Developments and Current Status

Since 2016, the IAEA has released quarterly verification and monitoring reports on Iran's implementation of the JCPOA in accordance with UNSCR 2231. These reports have been generally consistent with Iranian compliance in implementing the JCPOA. 

However, some experts are concerned that JCPOA compliance monitoring has been incomplete. Analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security have criticized the IAEA reports as being too sparse to dispel controversies about Iran's compliance.

These analysts also claim that Iran has exploited a loophole in the JCPOA to exceed its allotment of heavy water on two occasions.

Even before the JCPOA was signed and implemented, the U.S. Congress sought to hold the Obama administration accountable for the deal by passing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which required the president to certify Iran's compliance with the deal to Congress every 90 days. 

With the election of President Donald Trump, these periodic reviews became an opportunity for President Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to "dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." 

In April and July 2017, the Trump administration certified Iranian compliance, but voiced strong reservations and reluctance. 

 On 13 October 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would no longer certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. He alleged that Iran had not complied with the “spirit” of the deal, although he cited only minor and swiftly rectified Iranian technical violations of the deal involving surpassing the allowed limit of heavy water. 

President Trump left it to the U.S. Congress to re-impose nuclear sanctions against Iran in December 2017. Congress let the deadline pass without action, allowing the deal to remain intact. In January 2018, President Trump again expressed his criticisms of the deal. While he agreed to renew the sanctions waivers, he challenged European allies to “join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal” or face U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA.

On 30 April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a presentation in which he revealed the seizure of over 100,000 documents by Israeli intelligence from what he called “Iran’s secret atomic archives.” 

Netanyahu claimed that the documents showed that Iran did in fact pursue a nuclear weapons program which comprised five 10-kiloton warheads and ended in 2003. [

These figures suggested that Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions envisioned a rudimentary program compared to other nuclear weapon states. 

 Netanyahu contended that Iranian opacity about its prior nuclear efforts meant that the JCPOA had been negotiated under false pretenses, while others, such as UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, maintained that the revelations of Iran’s nuclear activities supported the necessity of the JCPOA and its inspections regime.

International and expert community reactions to Netanyahu’s presentation were largely dismissive of its informational value, and suspicious that the timing and theatrics of the event were intended to persuade President Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA. 

Iran pushed back immediately: Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami responded to the Israeli allegations as a “baseless and unfounded … propaganda show,” while Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif referred to Netanyahu as “the boy who can’t stop crying wolf.” 

The IAEA also released a statement reiterating that “the Agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.” 

 White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated on May 1, 2018 that the United States had discussed the rollout of the presentation with Israel, suggesting some coordination between the two governments.

On 8 May 2018 President Trump announced that the United States would cease implementing the JCPOA and begin to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. 

He declared that the deal was “defective at its core,” and cited Iranian support for terrorism and pursuit of ballistic missiles, as well as the Israeli intelligence revelations on Iran’s earlier nuclear pursuits, as justifying the U.S. withdrawal. 

He did not cite any specific Iranian violations of the JCPOA. 

As a result of the administration’s decision, U.S. companies with business relationships with Iran must severe contracts within 180 days, and the U.S. Treasury will re-impose secondary sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that Iran plans to discuss options for preserving the deal with the P5+1 nations. However, he expressed his displeasure with the United States’ lack of commitment to the agreement and also announced that he has “asked [Iran’s] Atomic Energy Organization to prepare the necessary orders to start unlimited enrichment.” 

 The leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and Germany issued a joint statement on behalf of their countries that reemphasized their support for the deal and its importance to the nonproliferation regime. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he was “deeply concerned” by Trump’s decision and released a statement in support of the continued implementation of the JCPOA. 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also reiterated its support for the JCPOA, and further stated that U.S. actions compromise international trust in the IAEA.

China urged all parties in the JCPOA deal to exercise restraint  from such actions that may further compound the issue.

European countries including France, UK and Germany pleadged to help Iran against the new waves of US sanctions in order to sustain the deal.

Given the succession of actions taken by the Tehran authorities in jetioning the 2015 nuclear deal which US has unilaterally jetioned, France may align with United states in the reimposition of sactions, if the statement by the French Foreigh Ministers is anything to go with.

However, Le Drian, sumed up his pessimistic stance that France's efforts to save the agreement would succeed.

Acting Director General IAEA ,Cornel Feruta urged Iranian authorities to fully cooperate with the Agency in order to resolve outstanding issues in his statement to the Agency’s Board of Governors today.

Feruta  said the Agency has detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the Agency.” 

“We have continued our interactions with Iran since then, but have not received any additional information and the matter remains unresolved.”

The nuclear program of Iran has included several research sites, two uranium mines, a research reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include three known uranium enrichment plants. 

In 1970, Iran ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), making its nuclear program subject to the IAEA's verification.

Tehran interest in nuclear technology dates to the 1950s



Additional Sources: AFP / NTI / IAEA

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