Talks Underway to End UN Sanctions on Iran

Talks Underway to End UN Sanctions on Iran
Talks Underway to End UN Sanctions on Iran

The major powers have begun talks about a United Nations Security Council resolution to lift UN sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck with Tehran, a step that could make it harder for the US Congress to undo a deal, western officials said.

The talks between Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — the five permanent members of the Security Council — plus Germany and Iran, are taking place ahead of difficult negotiations that resume next week on a long-term settlement to the 12-year dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

A number of UN resolutions - four of them imposing sanctions – have been adopted against Iran over its nuclear activities.     

Iran sees their removal as crucial as UN measures have been used as a pretext for more stringent US and European Union measures to be enforced. The US and EU often cite violations of the UN ban on uranium enrichment and other nuclear work as justification for imposing additional sanctions on Iran.

Iran believes the UN resolutions over its nuclear work lack a legal basis.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday that an Iran nuclear deal would not be legally binding, meaning future US presidents could decide not to implement it. That point was emphasized in an open letter by 47 Republican senators sent on Monday to Iran’s officials asserting any deal could be discarded once US President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.

  Legally Binding

But a Security Council resolution on a nuclear deal with Iran could be legally binding, Reuters quoted western diplomatic officials as saying.

That could complicate and possibly undercut future attempts by Republicans in Washington to unravel an agreement.

Iran and the six powers are aiming to complete the framework of a nuclear deal by the end of this month, and achieve a full agreement by June 30, to reportedly place constraints on Tehran’s nuclear activities for about 10 years in exchange for a gradual end to all sanctions on the country.

So far, those talks have focused on separate US and European Union sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors. The sanctions question is a sticking point in the talks that resume next week in Lausanne, Switzerland, between Iran and the six powers.

But western officials involved in the negotiations said they are also discussing elements to include in a draft resolution for the 15-nation Security Council to begin easing UN nuclear-related sanctions that have been in place since December 2006.

“If there’s a nuclear deal, and that’s still a big ‘if’, we’ll want to move quickly on the UN sanctions issue,” an official said, requesting anonymity.

A senior US administration official confirmed that the discussions were underway.

The official said the Security Council had mandated the negotiations over the UN sanctions and therefore has to be involved. The core role in negotiations with Iran that was being played by the five permanent members meant that any understanding over UN sanctions would likely get endorsed by the full council, the official added.

Iran rejects western allegations it may be seeking a nuclear weapons capability, saying the work is solely for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.

Officials said a UN resolution could help protect any nuclear deal against attempts by Republicans in the US Congress to sabotage it.

“There is an interesting question about whether, if the Security Council endorses the deal, that stops Congress undermining the deal,” a western diplomat said.

  United World

Other western officials said Republicans might be deterred from undermining any deal if the Security Council unanimously endorses it and demonstrates that the world is united in favor of a diplomatic solution to the long-running nuclear standoff.

Concerns that Republican-controlled Congress might try to derail a nuclear agreement have been fueled by the letter to Iran’s officials and a Republican invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in a March 3 speech that spoke against a nuclear deal with Iran.

The officials emphasized that ending all sanctions would be contingent on compliance with the terms of any deal. They added that the International Atomic Energy Agency will play a key role in verifying Iran’s compliance with any agreement.

Among questions facing negotiators as they seek to prepare a resolution for the Security Council is the timing and speed of lifting UN nuclear sanctions, including whether to present it in March if a political framework agreement is signed next week or to delay until a final deal is reached by the end-June target.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said on Thursday in a letter to President Obama that any effort to get the Security Council to approve a nuclear deal with Iran would be “a direct affront to the American people.”

Corker said reports that the administration is contemplating taking the agreement to the Security Council to make it internationally binding while issuing a veto threat on his bill that would allow Congress to approve the deal would also “undermine Congress’s appropriate role.”

“Please advise us as to whether you are considering going to the United Nations Security Council without coming to Congress first,” Corker said in the March 12 letter.

Corker and Senator Robert Menendez introduced last month a bill that would require any deal reached with Iran to be submitted to Congress for review before sanctions could be waived or suspended.

The White House issued a veto threat several days after it was introduced, saying it would complicate the nuclear negotiations.