November 18, 2022 | Policy Brief

IAEA Board Votes to Censure Iran, but Accountability Requires a Snapback of UN Sanctions

November 18, 2022 | Policy Brief

IAEA Board Votes to Censure Iran, but Accountability Requires a Snapback of UN Sanctions

On Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors voted to censure Iran for prolonged non-compliance with Tehran’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Despite this step toward accountability, the board failed to warn Iran that, absent immediate compliance, the board will refer the matter to the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Responsible for the oversight of nuclear safeguards issues, the IAEA board consists of 35 member states elected by their peers. The board passed its censure of Iran by a vote of 26 states in favor, five abstentions, and two against — namely, Russia and China. Two additional states did not vote.

The resolution marks the second IAEA censure of Iran this year, the first occurring in June. Previously, the board had not censured Iran since June 2020 despite Tehran’s ongoing non-compliance with an IAEA investigation into undeclared nuclear material the agency detected at three Iranian sites in 2019 and 2020. As an NPT state party, Iran must implement IAEA safeguards that require Tehran to disclose to the agency where it produces and stores nuclear material.

In 2018, the Israeli Mossad uncovered and exfiltrated a trove of Iranian files that pointed to previously unknown, undisclosed nuclear weapons production plans, sites, and activities. The information in those files spurred the currently ongoing IAEA investigation that uncovered the undeclared nuclear material.

Last week, the IAEA recounted that due to Iran’s prolonged refusal to provide answers to its questions, the agency had made no further progress in its investigation. It reported, “the Agency is not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

While the board’s new resolution “decides” that Iran must “fulfill its legal obligations” pursuant to the NPT, the board has resisted a referral of Iran to the UNSC despite three years of continuous obstruction.

For most of that time, world powers have sidelined the matter of holding Iran accountable in favor of negotiations aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Those talks have been stalled since September as a result of Tehran’s intransigence toward reviving the accord.

The IAEA board must make up for lost time on remediating Tehran’s NPT safeguards violations. Thursday’s resolution notes that, if appropriate, the body could hold a special Iran meeting prior to its next scheduled meeting in March 2023. Failing Iran’s immediate compliance, the board should schedule this meeting and vote to refer Iran to the UNSC. There is no reason to wait an additional four months before acting.

At the UNSC, world powers need not worry about a Russian or Chinese veto of a new Iran resolution. As remaining parties to the JCPOA, the United Kingdom, France, or Germany could trigger the reimposition of all prior UNSC resolutions and sanctions by initiating the deal’s so-called “snapback mechanism.”

The IAEA board has been remiss in its duty to uphold the NPT’s integrity and should immediately correct this failure. Even without a board referral, one of the European parties to the JCPOA can still initiate a snapback and restore UN sanctions, whose purpose was to hold Iran responsible for precisely the kinds of violations it is now committing.

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


International Organizations Iran Iran Nuclear Iran Sanctions Nonproliferation