The UN Security Council unanimously endorsed an agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear programme on Monday, in an historic resolution that was hailed by diplomats as a game-changer in global diplomacy and a new chapter for the Middle Eastern region.
The Security Council’s endorsement of the long-fought July 14 agreement is the next step towards lifting one of the toughest sanctions regimes in its history, having effectively throttled Iranian international trade and thwarted the movements and liquidity of dozens of Iranian officials for years.
The Iranians must first prove to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that their nuclear programme is entirely pacific, specifically by removing two thirds of their installed centrifuges and getting rid of 98 percent of their uranium stockpile. The resolution states that Iran must “cooperate fully” with the IAEA.
But the agreement faces a bigger hurdle in September, when it will be put to a vote in the Republican-run US Congress, which is largely hostile to the deal and irked by the Security Council’s vote taking place first. If US lawmakers vote to continue imposing Washington’s sanctions on Iran, the US would effectively be breaching the July 14 agreement. President Barack Obama would then be forced to employ an executive order to override Congress, making for precarious US commitment.
That concern failed to dampen spirits among Security Council members on Monday, unanimous in their overwhelming approval of the deal, which many signalled as the beginning of a shift in Middle Eastern diplomacy that could lead to the tackling of other regional disputes.
US envoy Samantha Power quoted Obama when she said “an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilising and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world,” and praised a victory in diplomacy over possible conflict. “One only has to spend a week – any week – in the Security Council to be reminded of the consequences of war,” she said. “We have a responsibility to test diplomacy.”
Iran's Gholamali Khoshroo, who began his address by reiterating that Tehran has never sought to build nuclear weapons, said that the nuclear deal "provides a solid foundation for further and more effective diplomatic interaction [...] in a world that is replete with violence, suffering and oppression".
Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, also gave an unusually positive address, saying that the agreement "clearly demonstrates that where there's a political will based on realism and respect for legitimate mutual interests of the international community, the most complex tasks can be resolved".
The July 14 agreement initially gave the framework a ten-year expiration date, but the P5+1 negotiating powers have since written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to inform him that they plan to seek a five-year extension, meaning the restrictions will remain in place until 2030.
That includes what is known as the “snap back” provision on sanctions, which allows for an automatic return to sanctions in the case of an unresolved dispute over Iran’s enrichment activities. To facilitate a return to sanctions (or avoid a scenario where veto-wielding Russia is able to protect Tehran), the Security Council would be required to vote to keep lifting sanctions, thereby granting power to those who wish to reinstate them, rather than those who wish to keep lifting them.
Despite that precaution, which has been hailed by UN officials as a brilliant piece of the negotiated text, critics of the agreement have continued to express alarm. Israel's UN envoy Ron Prosor told reporters immediately after the vote that the Security Council had "awarded a great prize to the most dangerous country in the world”, and used a colour-coded map to outline what he suggested Israel believed was an attempt by Iran to seek world domination.
The deal is also contentious in Iran, where hardliners remain fiercely opposed to IAEA inspectors monitoring the country’s nuclear programme.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari denounced Monday’s resolution even before it had taken place, telling Tasnim News Agency that it interfered with Iran’s military operations and crossed “red lines” set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “We will never accept it,” he was quoted as saying.
But much of the Iranian public is thrilled that sanctions relief is finally in sight. The signing of the agreement last week was met with street celebrations in Tehran and other major cities.
Date created : 2015-07-20