September 5, 2023 | FAQ

FAQ: Avoiding an October Sanctions Surprise That Would Empower Tehran

September 5, 2023 | FAQ

FAQ: Avoiding an October Sanctions Surprise That Would Empower Tehran

Q: What’s all the fuss about lapsing international restrictions on Iran this October?

A: Pursuant to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231 enshrining it, two different sets of penalties1 on Iran are scheduled to lapse, or “sunset,” this October. These restrictions are largely but not exclusively tied to Tehran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile proliferation efforts. Skeptics of the JCPOA have long warned about these and other sunsets2 as fatal flaws of the JCPOA. The expiration of these restrictions will have lasting implications for U.S. national security and for those interested in restraining Iran’s missile, military, and nuclear programs.

As Iran’s nuclear violations,3 ballistic missile testing, and arms proliferation grew in scale and scope since 2021 — to include Iran’s provision of drones to Russia for use against Ukraine4 — the saliency of preventing the lapsing of these restrictions also grew, including for parties still in the JCPOA, such as the E3 (France, Germany, and the UK). To that effect, earlier this summer, European diplomats reportedly cited this changing international context and informed Iran that they would not be easing select JCPOA-related sanctions this fall. 5


Q: Why were these restrictions slated to lapse in October 2023?

A: As part of the 2013-2015 international negotiations with Tehran that led to the JCPOA, select restrictions6 on Iran levied in UNSC sanctions resolutions between 2006 and 20107 became subject to calendar-based termination criterion as a result of wins by the Iranian negotiating team. For example, a formerly permanent embargo on conventional arms transfers to and from Iran was, with the advent of UNSCR 2231, made subject to a five-year window and expired on October 18, 2020 despite unilateral American attempts to extend it.8 Similarly, formerly permanent ballistic missile testing and transfer prohibitions were revised in UNSCR 2231 and made subject to an eight-year window expiring on October 18, 2023.9 Per the implementation timeline of the JCPOA expressed in Annex V, October 18 is known as “Transition Day,” which is one of several stages of the Iran deal. Transition Day is exactly eight years from “Adoption Day,” which was October 18, 2015, which itself was 90 days after “Finalization Day,” or the day the UNSC unanimously passed UNSCR 2231 on July 20, 2015.

Q: What are the exact restrictions that are lapsing, and what countries would be impacted?

A: October 18, 2023, known in the JCPOA as “Transition Day,” marks two different events that policymakers need to better understand. The first is the second major set of sunsets of Security Council-established restrictions on Iran, including the termination of ballistic missile prohibitions. The second is a series of steps that were supposed be taken by the JCPOA parties themselves under the political agreement. Per the JCPOA, these steps were incumbent upon Iran, the United States, and Europe (the EU and UK).

I. Sunsetting UNSCR restrictions, applying to all UN member states:

Termination of Asset Freeze: According to Paragraph 6 Subsection C of Annex B of UNSCR 2231, the UN retains a list of designated Iranian persons and entities related to Iran’s nuclear and military programs inherited from an older resolution (UNSCR 1737) that are subject to an asset freeze that will automatically lapse on Transition Day.10 This list of 23 persons and 61 entities is not to be confused with a shorter list of 36 persons and entities11 that were delisted on the day the JCPOA entered into force (Implementation Day – January 16, 2016). Examples of entities slated for delisting at the UN level include the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, which is an IRGC-run contracting firm,12 and Malek Ashtar University, an Iranian university supporting the regime’s Ministry of Defense through research and development.13 While the United States retains sanctions on many of the entities slated for delisting, the suspension of the asset freeze provision would offer Iran the ability to more effectively make the argument that its nuclear program is not a threat to international peace and security. It could also lead to challenges for jurisdictions currently freezing assets of the listed entities as required by the UN if Iran seeks repatriation.

Lifted Ban on Iran’s Ballistic Missile Activities: According to Paragraph 3 of Annex B of UNSCR 2231, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” until Transition Day.14 Notably, UNSCR 2231 modified and watered down more stringent ballistic missile prohibitions found in an older resolution (UNSCR 1929)15 and introduced murky language about the relationship between missile intention and design that impeded consensus on whether select Iranian missile tests could be considered as violations of Annex B.16 Moreover, the absence of a Panel of Experts for UNSCR 2231 to assess reports about alleged violations of this and other restrictive clauses in Annex B led to diminished opportunities to generate international pressure.17 Nonetheless, since 2016, the United States and E3 have treated Iranian ballistic missiles tests, drills, operations, parades, and unveilings of most surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) with a ballistic trajectory as well as Space-Launch Vehicles (SLVs) as activities that would constitute an Annex B violation.18 This will no longer be the case after Transition Day.

Lifted Ban on Ballistic Missile-Related Transfers: According to Paragraph 4 of Annex B of UNSCR 2231, carve-outs were created for the UNSC to consider, on a “case-by-case basis,”19 the potential for transfers to or from Iran of otherwise restricted and controlled long-range strike technologies relevant to ballistic missiles and drones as outlined in the Annex of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).20 This prohibition on UN member states providing Iran with missile components and technology, along with restrictions on Iran’s missile exports, are popularly called the “missile embargo” and will also lapse on Transition Day.

II. JCPOA-related commitments:

Iran: According to Paragraph 22.1, Section D of Annex V of the JCPOA, Iran is required to ratify the Additional Protocol (AP) by October 18. The AP is a supplementary political arrangement that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “increases the IAEA’s ability to verify the peaceful use of all nuclear material in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements.”21 Per the JCPOA, Iran agreed to provisionally implement the AP until Transition Day, at which point it is to pursue full ratification of the AP by Iran’s Parliament. But given Iran’s intentional circumscribing of IAEA monitoring since February 2021,22 Tehran is unlikely to resume its full voluntary implementation of the AP, let alone work to ratify it. This makes Iran, as a country that has overtly violated its JCPOA commitments since May 2019, exceptionally unlikely to meet its Transition Day obligations.

The United States: According to Paragraphs 21.1 – 21.3, Section D of Annex V of the JCPOA, Washington is to seek legislative measures “to terminate, or modify to effectuate the termination of” select statutory penalties against Iran’s financial and banking sector, insurance entities, energy and petrochemical sector, shipping, shipbuilding, and port authorities, gold and precious metals, software, metals, automotive, and other areas to permit financial transactions between them and non-U.S. persons.23 Additionally, Washington is supposed to remove 43 names found in Annex II – Attachment 4 of the JCPOA from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list managed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. While Washington has not been a party to the deal since May 2018 and thus is not bound by these commitments, the Biden administration has expressed interest in resurrecting the JCPOA or a lesser nuclear agreement with Tehran.24 This, coupled with the White House’s silence on the matter of Transition Day sanctions relief to date, raises the concern that unilateral executive branch actions (such as delistings), in contrast to those that would require it to work with Congress, such as seeking to terminate statutory penalties, might — as part of a relatively low-probability but high-impact scenario — still be on the table as a potential political sweetener to Tehran.

The EU and UK: Given the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and significant Iranian violations of the accord that followed, of the four actors that have Transition Day requirements, the EU and UK (the latter using sovereign political, legal, and economic authorities post-Brexit) are the only parties that realistically could still carry them out. According to Paragraphs 20.1 and 20.4 of Section D of Annex V of the JCPOA, these sunsetting restrictions include terminating or suspending older EU restrictions against Iran from 2010 and 2012 on financial messaging services, the transportation sector, select ballistic missile technology, metals, software, and conventional arms.25 Additionally, per paragraphs 20.2 and 20.3 of Section D of Annex V of the JCPOA, there are some 300-plus persons and entities tied to Iran’s missile, military, and nuclear programs on lists found in Attachment 2 – Parts I and II of Annex II of the JCPOA that are slated to have their asset freezes and visa bans removed. However, the fact that none of the EU and UK penalties automatically lapse has created the political space for debate over the utility of adhering to these sunsets when Iran is not meeting its deal obligations.26

Q: Who would benefit from these lapsing restrictions?

A: Undoubtedly, Iran would most benefit from lapsing restrictions and sunsets. Should European sanctions lapse, elements of Iran’s defense industrial base could step up efforts to procure missile components and dual-use military technology from Europe. In addition, lapsing UN prohibitions against Iranian ballistic missile tests or transfers of related technology would likely be perceived by Tehran as a measure of the international community’s hesitancy to restrain its missile program — and accordingly accelerate missile testing and transfers. Of note, even with both of these prohibitions in place, Iran launched at least 228 ballistic missiles in tests, drills, and/or military operations between the advent of the JCPOA and the end of 2022.27 Increased Iranian missile testing, particularly testing that the regime chooses not to amplify publicly, is an indication of the growing military utility of these weapons for Tehran.

Russia would be the second greatest beneficiary of lapsing restrictions and sunsets. The Islamic Republic might be waiting for ballistic missile transfers to be considered “legal” before stepping up its material support to Moscow and providing Vladimir Putin with precision-strike short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to supplement those that Russian troops have already been using in regional military operations.28 Iran’s concerns with making any potential transfer of ballistic missiles deemed “legal” may also drive it to limit the range of some of its projectiles to under 300 kilometers and thus below benchmarks set in the voluntary Missile Technology Control Regime.29 Still, this would have the net effect of alleviating production strains on Russian precision-strike assets as well as deepening Iran’s involvement in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Additional beneficiaries of Iran being allowed to export missiles and drones are countries in the developing world and/or those that harbor an anti-American disposition. Absent broad-based international restrictions endorsed by the UNSC, such countries might look to procure these unmanned aerial systems (UASs) from Tehran given the relative capability and cost of these weapons. Iranian drones also have a robust track record of use, from the Ukraine War to numerous battlefields of the Middle East. Iranian drones or drone technology have reportedly even appeared in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.30 Iranian military officials have touted that 22 countries have requested to purchase Iranian drones,31 while Israeli estimates put it at around 50 countries.32 Most recently, Bolivia’s defense minister indicated his country was seeking Iranian drones.33

Some might treat Iran’s Pre-Transition Day nuclear and missile violations as proof that lapsing restrictions and sunsets will change little geopolitically. Yet overlooking these violations would be akin to repeating the same analytical mistake that dampened the international community’s will to stop the termination of the UN arms embargo on Iran in October 2020. In that instance, the seeming normalization of Iran’s arms proliferation coupled with a failure of imagination abetted European inaction. With the entire continent potentially within reach of Iran’s missiles and Russia using Iranian drones against Ukraine, Europe cannot afford to pay that price again today.34

Worse, if the EU and UK choose to overlook Iran’s noncompliance and meet their own Annex II – Attachment 2 commitments under the JCPOA, this action would ensure that the worst of the worst organizations in the Islamic Republic responsible for supporting the country’s military-industrial complex would suddenly be rendered sanctions free across Europe. This includes government actors like Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),35 the IRGC Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF), the IRGC Quds-Force (IRGC-QF), Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) as well as a host of MODAFL subsidiaries and affiliates supporting Iran’s ballistic missile and military programs. These include: Defense Industries Organization (DIO), Iran Electronics Industries (IEI), Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries (HESA), Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group (SBIG), Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), and the commander of Iran’s IRGC-AF, Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, and former leaders of the AIO, such as Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi. The removal of these persons and entities from EU and UK sanctions lists could open the floodgates for Iranian procurement of military technology from Europe, relieve political and economic pressure off the beating heart of Iran’s ballistic missile and military programs, and create significant sanctions coordination problems in the trans-Atlantic community since virtually all of these entities remain subject to either counterproliferation or terrorism penalties by Washington.36

Washington will likely not delist entities found in Annex II – Attachment 4 of the JCPOA. But surveying that list for the names of persons and entities on which the Obama administration considered eventually lifting sanctions proves why the structure of the JCPOA has been self-defeating. Those slated for delisting in 2023 included the likes of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who was Iran’s chief military nuclear scientist (but was killed in 2020),37 Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani,38 the former head of the sanctioned Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and entities like the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), which led Iran’s past nuclear weapons development efforts. In 2019, the Trump administration sanctioned four persons and 17 entities linked to SPND due to their continued support for Iran’s defense sector.39

Q: What is the significance of Europe following through on its warning to not relieve missile sanctions?

A: However welcome any European effort to defend missile sanctions on Iran might appear in principle, in practice it would represent a commendable but insufficient policy choice given Iran’s fast-evolving ballistic missile capabilities, widening radius of drone proliferation, as well as its proven capability to enrich uranium to just shy of weapons grade levels.

The last batch of nonproliferation sanctions by the EU on Iran was in late 2012,40 nearly one year before the start of overt Iranian diplomacy with the United States that led to the 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) interim nuclear deal. Since then, EU and UK sanctions on Iran have focused on punishing human rights violators,41 or more recently the Iran-Russia drone nexus, with select exceptions for terrorism.42

Conversely, but more importantly, retaining missile sanctions on Iran would constitute Europe’s first ever move that could be deemed as inconsistent with its JCPOA obligations or potentially even treated by Tehran as a JCPOA violation. Even at the height of Iranian pushback against the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy (2018-2020),43 the EU and the UK remained so committed to the JCPOA that they created a financial channel, termed a Special-Purposed Vehicle (SPV), with the intent of circumventing U.S. sanctions to make sure Iran reaped the economic and political rewards of the JCPOA.44

That the pending European decision to remain firm on missile sanctions was also reportedly influenced by both nuclear and non-nuclear factors should also not be ignored. These include Iran’s provision of drones to Russia and its potential missile transfer to Moscow as well as the imperative of depriving Tehran of JCPOA dividends in the face of its mounting nuclear violations.45 Such thinking creates political space in Europe to work towards developing a broader, more integrated, and more united trans-Atlantic Iran policy pertaining to Iran’s nuclear escalation, terrorism and regional destabilization, great power ties, arms and drone transfers, maritime threats, sanctions busting, and human rights violations.

The last time a series of nuclear and non-nuclear developments led Europe to intensify its Iran policy (to include even outpacing U.S. Treasury Department designations) was between 2010 and 2012. At the time, Europe was confronted with a cocktail of factors that included: then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s genocidal rhetoric against Israel, reports of potential Israeli preemptive military options against Iran, Iran’s mounting nuclear escalation to include uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity and the development of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), as well as Iran’s violent repression of protestors in the aftermath of the 2009 Green Movement.

Q: What exactly can Europe do before October?

A: With limited time before Transition Day, the E3 should not seek to effect change by trying to pass a new UNSCR on Iran given the presence of Russia and China on the council and their increased willingness to serve as Iran’s lawyers on that body. Instead, they should reach for the only mechanism that allows for a collapsing of both the UNSCR 2231 and JCPOA frameworks. That mechanism is snapback.46

Snapback offers the E3 both the political cover and the legal authority to not perform all of its JCPOA-related Annex II sanctions relief obligations as well as the ability to neatly reset the clock and prevent the sunsetting of all UNSCR-based prohibitions. Given that enacting a snapback takes one month, the process would need to be commenced as soon as possible.

To date, press reports about European desires to retain missile sanctions on Iran do not mention snapback, and thus far, Iran’s nuclear violations of both the JCPOA and Annex B of UNSCR 2231 have been, despite the view of many outside experts, deemed insufficient by the Biden administration and its trans-Atlantic partners to abandon the JCPOA.47 Therefore, the most likely move the E3 is considering centers around (once again) triggering the Dispute Resolution Mechanism (DRM), which is a conflict resolution mechanism built into the JCPOA that takes advantage of deal-created institutions like a “Joint Commission” to address issues of perceived non-compliance. While the DRM could lead to snapback at the UNSC as outlined in paragraphs 36-37 of the JCPOA, it has multiple prolonged political steps that offer parties off-ramps to avoid snapback.

The E3 triggered the DRM in January 2020 in response to Iran’s mounting nuclear violations,48 but the process did not lead to any reciprocal measures or snapback nor to an Iranian nuclear rollback. In this case, triggering the DRM could afford the E3 political cover to not delist the 300-plus persons and entities found in Annex II – Attachment 2 – Parts I and II of the JCPOA as well as to not have to work to effectuate the broad range of sectoral sanctions relief that was promised in Annex II of the JCPOA and covered earlier in this document. However, the DRM process would still fail to account for the lapsing penalties found in Annex B of UNSCR 2231, which would include the erosion of limits on Iran’s ballistic missile tests and transfers and would do nothing to stop expiration of an asset freeze on the persons and entities on the 2231 list.

Given that Transition Day in October follows several key dates in September, including the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the one-year anniversary of the nationwide anti-regime protests in Iran that were touched off by the killing of a 22-year-old Iranian woman,49 as well as the one-year anniversary of the revelation of Iranian drones being used by Russia against Ukraine, the E3 should build on the momentum created by these events to generate support for its new sanctions regimes. These include new sovereign authorities in the UK to target Iranian officials supporting terror operations and other forms of destabilization50 as well as new export controls by the EU to impede Iran’s military support to Russia, especially with respect to drone technologies.51

Q: What is “Snapback” and why does the mechanism exist?

A: Snapback refers to a process that would lead to the restoration of six UNSCRs on Iran from 2006 to 2010 as well as the reinstatement of all their prohibitions and penalties. While UNSCR 2231 is an international organization’s binding resolution and the JCPOA is a voluntary political agreement, snapback would have the net effect of both collapsing UNSCR 2231 and gutting the political architecture that enshrined and supported the JCPOA, thereby ending the accord as well. Snapback was agreed to in the JCPOA to make sure that Iran recognized there would be costs to its non-compliance, costs that cannot be stopped by Russia and China, Iran’s partners on the Security Council that wield veto power.52

Snapback can be triggered by any “JCPOA participant state”53 — the United States, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, China, or Iran — by bringing a matter they deem to be “significant non-performance of its commitments under the JCPOA”54 to the attention of the UNSC. If no resolution is brought forward within 30 days to ignore the complaint by a different party, then the aforementioned restrictions and resolutions on Iran come back into force and snapback has been achieved. Should a resolution to ignore the motion be offered,55 any permanent member of the UNSC could veto the resolution, and in effect, run the clock until snapback happens.56 The tool is sometimes termed a reverse-engineered veto because it only needs one permanent member of the UNSC to accomplish snapback.

While the United States, the EU, and the UK have other broad-based sanctions on the Islamic Republic in place, snapback’s utility is that it enables the restoration of an internationally understood baseline position against Iran’s missile, military, and nuclear programs. This is particularly important for jurisdictions that might want to do something about the Iranian threat but either do not have the authority to or seldom use sanctions and trade controls as instruments of their foreign and security policy. Restoring older and more punitive sanctions resolutions on Iran through snapback would also serve to support the efforts of individual nations to develop, implement, or enforce, Iran sanctions.

Q: What can Congress do to support Europe in this context?

A: Legislatively, Congress has a long history of supporting pressure against Iran’s ballistic missile program.57 Even amidst a heated debate over exiting the JCPOA, Congress sought to tighten ballistic missile sanctions on Tehran by targeting Iran’s domestic missile supply chain.58 More recently, Congress has considered sanctions against Iranian missile and drone supply networks abroad as a backstop to lapsing UNSC penalties59— as well as legislation terminating sanctions sunsets.60 Congress could also codify into law a September 2020 executive order further imposing penalties on elements of Iran’s conventional arms programs.61 Additionally, letters and floor speeches from lawmakers on the imperative of missile and military sanctions against Iran’s defense industrial base would be helpful as well as more hearings featuring both administration voices and outside experts on how to counter Iran’s evolving conventional and asymmetric threats.

Prior to Transition Day, Congress can exercise its authority by urging the Biden administration not to impede any European effort to, at the very least, retain missile sanctions on Tehran due to Washington’s own desires for indirect nuclear diplomacy. Congress can also play a helpful role by encouraging a tougher position by the administration with respect to Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors (IAEA – BoG) meeting this September and in future sessions. By putting a spotlight on Iran’s nuclear violations and non-compliance with the AP, the United States would be able to add greater political credence to the case for European non-performance of its JCPOA obligations.

Following Transition Day, Congress can continue to play a role by encouraging the administration to help the EU and UK develop contingencies to offset any Iranian ballistic missile proliferation to Russia (and Belarus for that matter). Further, the United States and Europe should work together to make sure existing missile defenses on the continent, like the Aegis-Ashore system, which is a part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, have the capabilities and funding they need to devalue, deter, and, if needed, defeat Iran’s long-range strike platforms. On the sanctions front, following any retention of missile sanctions by Europe, Congress can urge the administration to work with its trans-Atlantic partners to share information about other Iranian defense industry subsidiaries, affiliates, and fronts supporting Tehran’s missile program. Entities ripe for designation by the EU and UK would include those the United States has targeted since leaving the JCPOA in 2018. The goal of such a policy would be to prevent Iran from exploiting gaps in U.S., EU, and UK sanctions architecture.

Q: What is Tehran likely to do in response to the prevention of lapsing restrictions?

A: In the event of missile sanctions retention by Europe, Iran may attempt to wield an increase in ballistic missile range as a threat against the continent.62 Iranian officials have long referred to the 2,000-kilometer range cap on their ballistic missiles as merely a political rather than technical constraint. Such comments are aimed at intimidating Europe and preventing a united trans-Atlantic position against Iran.63 In January 2023, for example, three years after the Iranian ballistic missile barrage at U.S. positions in Iraq, IRGC Brigadier General Hajizadeh claimed that Iran’s 2,000-kilometer range limit on its ballistic missiles was “out of respect for Europe,” before adding that “God willing, the Europeans maintain their respect.”64

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson has indicated that the Islamic Republic will “react proportionately to any breach of commitment by the other parties” come Transition Day.65 A media affiliate of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), the most important deliberative national security body in Iran, claimed that Europe’s retention of missile sanctions would lead to the “continuation of compensatory measures” in the nuclear domain.66 Tehran’s chargé d’affaires in London likened Europe’s decision to “shooting themselves in the foot” and claimed Iran could increase its uranium enrichment to higher levels of purity and potentially leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a response.67 With Iran already at 60 percent purity and having flirted with nearly 84 percent purity earlier this year — which is a stone’s throw from 90 percent, or weapons-grade — there is limited room for escalation.68 Given Iran’s existing stockpile, experts assess Tehran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in 12 days and eight bombs worth of weapons-grade uranium in three months.69

Tehran is waiting to see the degree to which Europe decides to retain missile sanctions and if snapback or the DRM are invoked. Tehran is also trying to cast Europe as the prime mover in the crises, rather than its own mounting nuclear violations and deteriorating international context as the reason for a shift in European policy to not carry out JCPOA commitments.70

Q: Why is Tehran’s ballistic missile program a threat?

A: Iran is home to the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East.71 For more than a decade, Tehran has refined its ballistic missile capabilities to include improved range, precision, mobility, and survivability. Iran’s growing missile prowess offers the Islamic Republic a conventional strike option to punish, coerce, and deter adversaries, in addition to serving as a potential nuclear delivery vehicle.72 Iran’s missile force offers the regime an ability to become a hybrid warfighter in a changing Middle East. The more confidence Tehran feels in its missile capabilities, the lower the bar for Iran’s overt use of force with these weapons. Similarly, the more Tehran believes in the deterrent power of its growing missile force, the bolder and more unconstrained it may become in its support for terrorism, assassination, and destabilization.

Iran has proliferated ballistic missiles and/or related technology to state and non-state actors in the Middle East, such as Shiite Militia Groups (SMGs) in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This proliferation serves to enhance Tehran’s forward deployed deterrent across various battlefields as well as to threaten U.S. positions and regional partners from multiple directions, thereby complicating the equation for existing missile and air defense assets. Progress on select Iranian missile systems and, in particular, improvements to larger solid-propellant rocket motors under the guise of a space program afford Tehran the opportunity to develop SLVs73 that can contribute to a potential Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) capability and eventually to Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capability, which would in turn threaten Europe and America.

Q: What other major sunsets are left in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal?

A: Despite U.S. President Joe Biden admitting in December 2022 that the JCPOA is “dead,”74 the 2015 Iran nuclear deal continues to shape U.S. and international thinking on Iran policy. For example, at the G7 meeting held in Hiroshima this past May, the JCPOA was termed “a useful reference” for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program.75 So long as this thinking, and, in effect, this overcommitment to the philosophy behind the JCPOA and its political legacy remains in effect, snapback will be highly unlikely and will expire, per Annex V of the JCPOA, in 2025.

This raises the risk that other Iran deal sunsets in the JCPOA might still be carried out or be on autopilot. Ironically, this risk is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Iran is already significantly violating its commitments under the JCPOA, rendering some of the forthcoming removals of limits on its nuclear program moot. Nonetheless, the next major restrictions that are slated to lapse after 2023 include: restrictions on advanced centrifuge deployment between 2024 and 2029, the 2025 termination of older UNSCRs (1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835, and 1929) on Iran and closure of the UN procurement channel for nuclear-related goods, and the erosion of limits on Iran’s enriched uranium purity and stockpile in 2031 as well as an end to prohibitions on new Iranian heavy water reactors and enrichment facilities, among others.76

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FAQ: Avoiding an October Sanctions Surprise That Would Empower Tehran


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