By Saeed K. Mavadat

JCPOA parties hold talks amid diplomatic tensions over snapback mechanism

September 2, 2020 - 0:3

TEHRAN - Signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal held a session in Vienna on Tuesday to discuss tensions around the deal and weigh in on the U.S. pressures on Iran.

The meeting was held within the framework of the Joint Commission on the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The participants to the deal gathered to discuss the latest developments surrounding the nuclear agreement in light of highly contested moves by the U.S. to restore all UN sanctions on Iran.

An expert on international relations tells the Tehran Times that Iran attended the meeting to thwart the U.S. pressure campaign.

The meeting, attended by representatives from the EU, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran, comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions between Washington and JCPOA parties over a U.S. bid to trigger a contested mechanism that allows the signatories to the nuclear deal to restore the international sanctions on Iran in case it didn’t uphold its obligations under the deal.

On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araghchi arrived in Vienna for bilateral and multilateral talks with several officials including Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi. On Tuesday, he jointly chaired the Joint Commission with Secretary General of the European External Action Service Helga Maria Schmid.

“The meeting is being held simultaneously with the U.S. efforts to restore [the provisions] of previous UN Security Council resolutions on Iran and thus destroy the JCPOA. These issues make the meeting special,” Araghchi told the IRIB news agency in Vienna. “The U.S. efforts will be a serious point of discussion at the JCPOA Joint Commission’s meeting.”

On August 20, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a “notification” to the UN Security Council calling for the restoration of all UN sanctions on Iran, a move that was rejected by almost all members of the Council, with thirteen of the 15-member body questioning the legality of the U.S. measure. They asserted that the U.S. lost its legal authority to trigger the snapback process after it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, 2018. However, the U.S. claims it still has the right to initiate the process because it is mentioned as “JCPOA participant state” in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA. The U.S. complaint came after the Security Council rejected a U.S.-drafted resolution pushing for the extension of a UN arms embargo on Iran that is due to expire on October 18.

“If any member of the UN Security Council introduces a resolution to continue sanctions relief, the U.S. will oppose it. If no resolution is introduced, the sanctions on Iran will still return on September 20. That’s how UNSCR 2231 works,” tweeted Pompeo on August 27, five days before the JCPOA Joint Commission holds the meeting in Vienna in the midst of diplomatic tensions over the snapback process.

The Joint Commission seems to be aiming at closer coordination among JCPOA parties to take unified positions on the U.S. efforts to reinstate the UN sanctions on Iran.

“We hope that the Joint Commission will be able to reach a common position on the issue [of the snapback process] and will be able to make decisions regarding the continuation of the path and the efforts that the United States has made to destroy the JCPOA,” Aragchi said.

In what appeared to be a bid to address some of the JCPOA parties’ concerns over “serious differences” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran has recently reached an agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog to give IAEA inspectors access to two sites allegedly hosted nuclear activities in the past two decades. In Vienna, Aragchi also met with Grossi to further follow up on the agreement.

“We hope that these meetings would lead to a better understanding of the current situation and countering the attack that the U.S. has launched on the international community and multilateralism,” the deputy minister pointed out.

France, Germany, and the UK (E3) submitted a draft resolution to the IAEA Board of Governors in July calling out Iran for its denial of access to the two sites that Grossi has been digging his heels in on inspecting them over the past few months. Iran agreed to give the IAEA access to the sites during Grossi’s visit to Iran on August 26, a move that was hailed as a “win-win” deal by Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).

Iran seeks to thwart the U.S. plan to restore the UN sanctions through various means including the Joint Commission and the nuclear deal’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism (DRM), according to Mohsen Jalilvand, an expert on international relations.

“Iran has already triggered the DRM in the Joint Commission and it aims to discuss the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and its pressures at the meeting of the Joint Commission. Iran has triggered the DRM in a bid to preserve the nuclear deal and thwart U.S. pressures. Given that the U.S. has moved from the JCPOA to Resolution 2231 in its efforts to reinstate the United Nations sanctions, Iran seeks to return the whole issue to the JCPOA to foil the U.S. plan regarding the snapback process,” Jalilvand told the Tehran Times.

The success of Iran’s efforts depends on what the president of the Security Council would do, he argued.

Iran stepped up its efforts to prevent the collapse of the JCPOA and ensure that other countries, especially those on the UN Security Council, won’t support the U.S. bid to trigger the snapback process. As Aragchi was preparing to chair the meeting of the Joint Commission on Tuesday, President Rouhani held a telephone conversation with his Nigerien counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou in a bid to prevent a “misuse” of the UN Security Council.

Niger took over as the UN Security Council president for September, a fateful month for the Iran-U.S. showdown at the UN.

“I am confident that the Republic of Niger, as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, will act completely independently and professionally during its presidency of the UN Security Council and prevent the misuse of the position of the United Nations and the Security Council for American extravagance and unilateralism, just as it took a very constructive stance against the illegal resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran,” Rouhani told Issoufou, according to a statement carried by the presidential website.

According to Jalilvand, while Iran makes efforts within the JCPOA to save the deal, the U.S. no longer acts within the nuclear deal. Instead, it bases its argument on UN Security Council resolution 2231, which U.S. officials claim is independent of the JCPOA.

“The U.S. presses ahead with its snapback efforts at the Security Council in accordance with Resolution 2231. However, JCPOA parties, who still maneuvering within the nuclear deal, can marginalize the U.S. or limit the scope of its measures,” Jalilvand noted.

The expert also said that the JCPOA parties have limited options to save the nuclear deal during their Vienna meeting.

He stated, “The JCPOA is currently on life support. And if the U.S. succeeds in triggering the return of the international sanctions on Iran or extending the UN arms embargo, nothing will be left of it.”

The nuclear deal has gone through many difficulties over the past two years, but September could spell the end of it once and for all. And even if it survives September one way or another, it will not be as it was before September. Finally, it may lose its raison d'être after the U.S. November election.

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