From the start, the U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday about the Iran nuclear accord was contentious. It went downhill from there.
The semi-annual meeting centers on implementation of the council’s resolution 2231, which gave force to 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—better known as the JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal.
The meeting provided no clear road forward for the restoration of the shattered deal, instead serving as yet another proxy battle for Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Since Washington withdrew from the eight-party deal in 2018, Iran has broached prior limits on uranium enrichment levels and has clamped down an international watchdog agency’s access to its nuclear facilities.
On July 6, a Russian representative was angry from the outset, when 12 of the council’s 15 members voted to allow Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador to participate in the discussion. The latter cited Russian use of Iranian attack drones against Ukrainian civilians, which violates JCPOA terms.
Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador, accused the United Kingdom, which holds the council presidency this month, of attempting to “Ukrainianize” council agendas and of holding “an openly politicized show” by inviting Ukraine to take part. Kyiv is not a party to the JCPOA.
Only Russia and China voted against Ukrainian participation. Mozambique abstained. The council also invited Germany and Iran to speak.
Washington, Paris and Kyiv have pushed António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, to send investigators to Ukraine to examine the debris from Russian drones to see if they have Iranian origins. Guterres has hesitated, claiming he lacks such a mandate.
‘Implications for peace and security’
Robert Wood, alternate U.S. representative for special political affairs in the United Nations, told reporters on Thursday that the United Nations has run investigations in similar circumstances, including a current one about the use of Iranian drones in Yemen.
Wood insisted that Guterres has the authority to dispatch investigators to Ukraine under the terms of resolution 2231. He declined to comment on why he believes Guterres is shying away. Many experts believe that the U.N. boss doesn’t want to draw Russian ire.
“This is an inexplicable lapse,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in a July 6 statement.
“Iranian UAV [drone] development and proliferation poses a global threat,” she added. “It has implications for not only peace and security in the Middle East, but also in Ukraine and the rest of the world.”
Russia and Iran both stated on Thursday that Guterres can’t take such action, and Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador, warned against it. Saeed Iravani, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, upbraided the council for its scrutiny of his country’s nuclear activities, which he contrasted with what he described as the council’s lack of focus on Israel’s reported program.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, told the council that Kyiv has recorded more than 1,000 drone launches over its territory, citing analysis by Ukrainian and international experts that point to Tehran as the drones’ origin point.
Nebenzia accused Ukraine and its Western allies of disseminating disinformation and “fake images” of drones.
‘Renew the dialogue as quickly as possible’
Rosemary DiCarlo, U.N. under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, briefed council members on the latest JCPOA report by Guterres. “Diplomacy is the only way to effectively address the Iranian nuclear issue,” she said. “It is essential that all parties renew the dialogue as quickly as possible and reach an agreement on the outstanding issues.”
It became apparent, though, that constructive dialogue was to be in short supply.
DiCarlo said the United Nations is “alarmed” that the International Atomic Energy Agency is unable to verify Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile. The IAEA estimates that Iran has produced a total enriched uranium stockpile of more than 20 times the allowable amount under the JCPOA, including increased quantities of uranium enriched to 20% and 60%. The latter approaches weapons-level grade.
Both the United Arab Emirates and Albania said on July 6 that Iran’s current enrichment levels don’t reflect a country with a peaceful nuclear program.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom jointly stated that Iran has violated the JCPOA for four years, with its nuclear program having “escalated to dangerous levels.”
The countries, all parties to the JCPOA, stated that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles—currently at 21 times the amounts allowed under the accord—“are unprecedented for a state without a nuclear weapons program.”
The parties also accused Iran of failure to report a change in centrifuge configuration to the IAEA and said the steps Iran has committed to take with the IAEA “remain insufficient.”
The statement likewise berated Tehran for other JCPOA violations, including illegal weapons transfers and increasing ballistic missile development and testing.
Barbara Woodward, U.K. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Thursday that there are “viable texts” that could have paved the way for Iran’s return to the JCPOA, but Iranian nuclear activities continue.
Indirect talks between Washington and Tehran on a restoration of the JCPOA largely broke down last year, following Iran’s last-minute insistence on guarantees that appeared either politically or legally impossible for the Biden administration to accept.
Talks have reportedly continued at times, but have borne no apparent fruit. Some members of the Security Council have discussed implementing snapback sanctions on Iran—sanctions that were in place before the JCPOA and that can be reinstituted should one of the JCPOA parties on the Security Council choose to pursue that path. But there appears to be little appetite for such a thing at this time.
Wood told JNS that he wouldn’t discuss parameters or red lines by which Washington would request snapback sanctions be put in place.
He said just that “Iran knows what their obligations are. They need to fulfill them.”