June 25, 2020 | Policy Brief

Iran Threatens to Repudiate Key Nuclear Verification Agreement

June 25, 2020 | Policy Brief

Iran Threatens to Repudiate Key Nuclear Verification Agreement

The Iranian parliament, or Majles, ratified a motion on Tuesday directing the government to stop implementing a key nuclear verification agreement called the Additional Protocol (AP). While Iran has already refused to comply with inspections required by the AP, a formal decision to reject the agreement while under investigation for violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) could lead to Tehran’s referral to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The Majles’ bill comes after the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed its first critical resolution on Iran in eight years, which calls on the regime to cooperate with an IAEA probe into the presence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities. The resolution also calls on Iran to stop blocking inspectors’ access to two alleged nuclear sites, which the IAEA requested pursuant to the AP.

The AP is a voluntary supplement to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) that NPT signatories conclude with the IAEA, particularly if acquiring or producing nuclear material. The AP enumerates stronger inspection rights with specified timeframes for compliance as well as requirements for signatories to provide more information about nuclear research and activities relevant to proliferation. The AP won the support of the IAEA Board in 1997 following broad acknowledgement that states such as Iraq, North Korea, and South Africa had exploited gaps in their CSAs to further nuclear weapons programs.

Soon after the discovery of covert Iranian nuclear sites in 2002 and the subsequent launch of an IAEA investigation into Tehran’s possible military nuclear activities, Iran agreed to implement the AP. From 2003 to 2006, Tehran implemented the AP provisionally but never formally adopted the agreement. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran committed to apply the AP provisionally once again and to attempt to ratify it by 2023. Thus, halting AP implementation would be a further violation of the JCPOA.

The timing of the Majles announcement harkens back to Iran’s February 2006 decision to stop its provisional implementation of the AP just two days after the IAEA Board voted to refer Iran’s NPT non-compliance case to the UNSC. By July 2006, the UNSC passed the first of several rounds of multilateral sanctions designed to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear programs and cooperate with the IAEA investigation.

Regardless of whether Iran abides by the AP, its ratification of the NPT entails a legal obligation to let the IAEA implement comprehensive safeguards. In February 1992, the IAEA Board affirmed that it retains the right to check the “correctness and completeness” of Iran’s nuclear material declarations and to conduct ad hoc and special inspections as well as other safeguards visits as necessary.

While the Iranian Majles is nominally an autonomous legislative body, its lawmaking powers are checked by the Guardian Council – a 12-member, unelected body that screens legislation for fidelity to the regime’s Islamist ideology – and thus Majles actions rarely diverge from official regime thinking. The proposed motion to reduce Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA is likely a threat made on behalf of the highest levels of the regime and intended to ward off further IAEA Board action.

It remains to be seen whether the remaining JCPOA member states will tolerate an additional egregious violation of the nuclear deal that could directly impair the IAEA’s ability to carry out its non-proliferation investigation. Russia and China, which voted against the IAEA Board resolution, clearly reject efforts to hold Iran accountable and enforce the NPT. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany favor accountability in principle, yet in practice they fear that taking action against Iran to enforce the NPT would lead it to repudiate the JCPOA.

Yet since the JCPOA has been ineffective at addressing Tehran’s past and possibly ongoing nuclear weapons activities, a stronger agreement is needed to replace it. First, the international community should focus on upholding the NPT, which has helped stem proliferation for the past 50 years.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Andrea and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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