Agreement on punitive Iran sanctions remains elusive

Moscow: Security Council must vote on any new move.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses journalists in Athens May 28 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses journalists in Athens May 28
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – When diplomats blew past a March 31 deadline last month in Lausanne, Switzerland, negotiating toward a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear work, they were working toward a specific bar they had set themselves for success.
The goal was a framework that settled all questions of political will: The will to close or convert specific nuclear facilities, the will to cap or allow the continuation of research and development, the will to allow a broad and invasive inspections regime, and the will to lift sanctions on Iran, among others.
The Lausanne framework addressed many, but not all, of these questions of will. Several political agreements eluded them then, and continue to elude them now nearly two months later and just a month away from a deadline for that final nuclear accord.
The political negotiations still under way focus on the will of Iran to allow inspections of its facilities suspected of hosting nuclear weaponization work – military facilities – and on the will of Western powers to suspend and lift nuclear-related sanctions in swift order.
Russia and the United States are approaching agreement on a United Nations Security Council mechanism by which sanctions could “snap back” against Iran, should it be found in violation of a deal, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
Such a mechanism was hoped for in the Lausanne agreement. Russia opposes an apparatus that undermines the voting authority of the Security Council – and its veto power in that chamber – while the US opposes any UN sanctions lift without such a mechanism in place.
The Obama administration says an independent “joint commission” will be tasked with deciding whether there are any “significant” violations from Tehran during the life of a deal. Questions remain over how to determine the significance of those violations, in the event Iran cheats marginally and over a sustained period.
More broadly, however, should this commission adjudge there has been “significant non-performance,” Moscow says a full vote in the Security Council should be required for the reimposition of sanctions.
“We should find a formula under which a decision on a hypothetical, possible, potential restoration of sanctions would be made only and solely by the UN Security Council through voting, through a resolution,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying this week by staterun media.
According to the AP report, Russia may be willing to allow for a vote that merely requires majority favor for sanctions to be reimposed. The proposal has not been independently verified by The Jerusalem Post.
In Athens on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that he hoped for a final nuclear deal within “a reasonable period of time,” asked to comment on the firmness of the June 30 deadline.
“If the other side respects what has been agreed in Lausanne and tries to draft, based on mutual respect, a comprehensive agreement with Iran that is sustainable... then we can meet any deadline,” Zarif said after meeting with his Greek counterpart.
“If people insist on excessive demands, on renegotiation, then it will be difficult to envisage an agreement even without a deadline,” he continued.
France warned on Wednesday it was ready to block a final breakthrough deal unless Tehran provided UN nuclear inspectors access to all installations, including military bases.
But the US says its focus is on June 30, and at a speech focused on Russia and Ukraine to the Brookings Institution on Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration was “optimistic” a final deal was at hand.
Talks resumed this week among political directors in Vienna, and move to Geneva on Saturday for discussions between Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Reuters contributed to this report.