13 October 2017
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Foreign Affairs, Defence and
International concerns about Iran’s nuclear program date
back decades, though it was not until 2006 that the first United Nations (UN) sanctions
were imposed on Tehran. This followed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s
(IAEA) official declaration that
Iran was not meeting its obligations as a signatory to the Treaty
on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1970. By that time Iran
had also resumed its uranium
enrichment program, which had been halted in 2003.
While Iran had already been subject to a range of
non-nuclear US sanctions,
the subsequent international sanctions regime was progressively augmented though
a variety of US, European Union (EU) and UN instruments to become the most
comprehensive the world had ever seen. This also reflected a growing unity on
the Iran nuclear issue among key international players, particularly on the part
of the UN Security Council (UNSC) permanent members.
However, by 2013 Iran was still a nuclear threshold state,
with its ‘break-out’ time to produce a nuclear weapon estimated to be a matter of months. As such, new emphasis was given to negotiations. The election of a new,
‘moderate’ president in Iran, and the growing impact of the sanctions regime on
the civilian economic sector also created the conditions where talks could
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in July 2015,
following a complex two-year negotiation process, and multiple interim
agreements. This was a significant effort by the five permanent members of the
UNSC plus Germany, or the P5+1. Under the final deal, Iran agreed to restrict
its nuclear program and allow a regime of ongoing inspections. In return, after
a 12-month verification period, the P5+1 partners promised gradual sanctions
relief through relaxation of both UN and national sanctions regimes.
This quick guide provides an outline of:
- the basic parameters of the deal
- key issues of contention
- major stakeholders’ positions and
- an overview of Australian interests
The deal’s parameters and intent
The JCPOA is a multilateral agreement between the P5+1
(which includes the US, the UK, China, France, Russia and Germany) and Iran. As
a multilateral instrument, the JCPOA cannot be bilaterally renegotiated—a point
that EU foreign policy officials have stressed
The EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign
Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, has consistently emphasised
the international nature of the agreement. In September this year, she also noted that if any country broke the deal, it would be in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
This resolution enshrined the JCPOA in international law and ‘all member states
to be bound by its implementation’. However, Obama administration officials
responsible for the deal, insisted that the JCPOA was not
legally binding—they emphasised it was a set of ‘political commitments’
rather than a formal treaty or executive agreement. Many experts highlight that the provisions of the resolution that legally bind UN member
states are those which continue the existing arms and missile technology
embargoes on Iran.
The US Congressional Research Service (CRS) also
notes that the agreement does
not allow any one party to terminate the deal, even though any party could
stop implementing their commitments under the deal. This would then leave it
open as to whether the remaining parties maintain their commitments.
Former US President Barak Obama, who played a key role in
negotiations, was clear from the outset about the limited aims of the JCPOA. It
was not designed to address other aspects of Iranian policy or behaviour; rather,
its singular goal was to cut off all avenues for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA’s architects also hoped it would be a foundation for rapprochement
between Iran and the world, and that Iran’s interactions with the world would
encourage other gradual changes in Iranian behaviour outside the nuclear
program. In a July 2015 press conference, Obama addressed
concerns that the deal was too limited in scope, noting:
... no one suggests that this deal resolves all the threats
that Iran poses to its neighbours or the world ... But this deal is our best
means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. And from the start,
that has been my number one priority, our number one priority.
In a September
2017 op-ed published in the Washington Post, former US Secretary of
State John Kerry highlighted that the deal was only possible because of its limited
The world was united on one issue alone — Iran’s nuclear capability. We could not have
achieved unity or held the sanctions regime together if we added other issues.
But we believed it would be easier to deal with other differences with Tehran
if we weren’t simultaneously confronting a nuclear regime.
The narrow scope of the agreement continues to be a key
issue for opponents of the deal in the US, who argue that the deal does not go far enough to address Iran’s destabilising influence in the region, and empowers Tehran
through the lifting of sanctions.
Key provisions of the deal
Table 1 below outlines some of the key provisions of the
deal, including the controversial, oft-cited ‘sunset clauses’—these
are the clauses with restrictions that sunset or end between 2026
and 2031 (see Figure 1). However, the JCPOA’s proponents emphasise that the most important aspects of
the agreement remain
in perpetuity. As such, the existence of these clauses does not mean Iran
can or will build a nuclear weapon the moment these limits expire. Ongoing
components of the deal include continuous, comprehensive inspections and a
permanent prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapons program.
Iran also has to inform the IAEA when it decides to build a
nuclear facility, and in 2023 it will ratify the IAEA’s additional protocol which allows short-notice inspections of
undeclared facilities (until then, Iran is allowing these inspections
Table 1: key provisions of
Iranian nuclear facilities
||Under the JCPOA the IAEA
will have access to Iran’s supply chain for its nuclear program and has
continuous surveillance of centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities
for 20–25 years. However, inspections will continue permanently to ensure
Iran is in broad accordance with its general obligations as a NPT signatory.
to the UN, Nikki Haley, has called for inspection activities to include
sensitive military sites, although there is a provision in the JCPOA that
allows this if nuclear activity is suspected. This measure is popular with Republicans critical of the deal looking to curb Iranian
influence more broadly.
Enrichment (including centrifuge technology)
on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium include restrictions on centrifuge numbers,
levels of enrichment, and facility (only at Natanz) and stockpile limitations.
There is a ten-year sunset clause (to 2025) on the number of centrifuges Iran
can maintain, as well as research and development of more advanced equipment.
Surveillance of centrifuge production sites also continues until 2035, enabling the
international community to monitor any activity once the 2015 clause expires.
the deal see the ten-year sunset clause on centrifuges as an issue and argue
Iran can return to enrichment at that point.
||About 97 per cent
of Iran’s stockpile was eliminated under the JCPOA, leaving less than 300 kg
of low-enriched uranium—this cannot produce a nuclear weapon. The cap on Iran’s
low-enriched uranium stockpile remains in place until 2030. International
Crisis Group analyst Ali Vaez notes weaponisation would therefore be virtually impossible
the deal also see the sunset clause on enrichment as an issue, as they see
all such clauses as problematic.
converted to a research facility under the deal—no more enrichment or
plant at Arak
||No heavy water reactors are allowed in Iran for 15 years, and Iran
agreed to permanently cease production of weapons-grade plutonium.
|Research and Development
JCPOA prohibits research and diagnostic activities that could contribute to
the design and development of a nuclear device in perpetuity.
Sanctions and sanctions relief
Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979,
it has been subjected to a steady
stream of sanctions, many of which are unrelated to Tehran’s nuclear
program. It was only in 2006—after the IAEA’s 2005 declaration that Iran was non-compliant with its NPT obligations—that the UNSC began to
implement non-proliferation related sanctions binding on all member states. Many
countries, including Australia, also instituted ‘autonomous’ sanctions beyond
what was required by the UN.
While sanctions against Iran vary across different countries
depending on their autonomous regimes, all UN member states were obliged to
comply with the UNSC resolutions. US sanctions on Iran specifically pre-date nuclear
non-proliferation concerns, and are related to a much broader set of issues that
include terrorism, crime and human rights. As such, not all these sanctions
were lifted following the implementation of the JCPOA, leaving a large number
UN Resolution 2231
(2015) was adopted by the UNSC on 20 July
2015. This endorsed the JCPOA and terminated the sanctions imposed under
earlier UNSC resolutions. The CRS notes that the suspended sanctions
were mostly those imposed under UN resolution 1929 (2010) which targeted Iran’s civilian economic sectors. However,
there is considerable variation in what sanctions remain imposed on Iran by
different partners. For example, virtually all EU sanctions were lifted in
2015, with the exception of an embargo on the sale of arms
and missile technology and other proliferation-sensitive items and equipment
that could be used for internal repression. Russia and China only ever had UNSC
sanctions in place, and these are now lifted. The US sanctions regime is the
most complex. Washington had a sweeping autonomous sanctions regime in place
and maintains a ban on US trade and investment with Iran. Any direct deals between
US companies and Iran—for example, Boeing’s aircraft deal—are made under waiver.
Many commentators note that expected
sanctions relief for Iran has still not materialised. Ongoing uncertainty over
the deal and the US approach, and the lack of transparency and ease of
operation in Iran’s business environment both play a part. Iran’s reintegration
into the global economy has been slow, and Iran still lacks normal
international banking relations, according to the International Crisis Group. This has led to some criticism of the deal in Iran.
For example, the Iranian embassy in London still could not open a UK bank account in October this year—more than 18 months after the
JCPOA came into effect.
If the US chose to
re-impose sanctions in the future without the support of the other P5+1
partners, many experts remain sceptical as to whether they would have the same
impact as before. The effectiveness of the regime that led to the 2013
negotiations and eventual JCPOA depended on a substantial degree of
international consensus and cooperation. A wide range of countries has also resumed
energy trading with Iran, and signed a number of other key aerospace and
technology deals that would be threatened by renewed sanctions—this also
includes Boeing’s USD20 billion deal, which will support 120,000 American jobs, and a
similar deal for European aviation manufacturer Airbus, which uses American
parts in its aircraft. It is unclear how US secondary sanctions—those imposed on any other party doing
business with Iran—would affect Iran if re-imposed broadly, but these
previously had a marked effect on willingness to do business with Iran.
Compliance and certification
Before Iran could obtain sanctions relief under the JCPOA,
the IAEA had
to certify that
Tehran had halted enrichment activities, removed centrifuges used for
enrichment, eliminated most of its uranium stockpile, destroyed facilities related
to weapons-grade plutonium and opened its program to intrusive inspections.
Under the terms of the deal, the IAEA continues to monitor
and report, and since January 2016, it has verified
eight times that Iran is abiding by the JCPOA’s terms. As such, the deal is
working as it was intended when drafted. Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon
has been halted, but the agreement’s provision that Iran give up its nuclear
weapons program permanently would theoretically see this extended indefinitely.
There have been several minor
infractions, but they have been quickly discovered and rectified—an
indication the mechanisms in place are working as planned. Iran’s ballistic
missiles tests do not
violate the deal under UNSC Resolution 2231 (2015).
Certification is an issue particular to the US—it is not
related to, or a requirement of, the JCPOA itself. This requirement was created
by Congress under the Iran Nuclear
Agreement Review Act 2015, also known as the ‘Corker-Cardin law’. The law
was introduced by a Republican-controlled Congress and was meant to constrain the Obama administration’s outreach to Tehran by giving Congress
the ability to review the final terms of the JCPOA and block the President from
lifting US sanctions.
US sanctions, congress and presidential authority
The US Congress provides the statutory basis for most US sanctions, but the executive branch interprets and implements them. Generally, congressional legislation is required to repeal these measures, but by citing ‘the national interest’ the President has the authority to waive nearly all of them in whole or in part. The President can also ‘hollow out’ sanctions lists by removing individuals and entities.
As nuclear sanctions would be waived by the executive rather than repealed by the legislature, the White House argued that if Iran violates the agreement, the President can quickly ‘snap-back’ sanctions without legislative hurdles.
See: Z Laub, ‘International sanctions on Iran’, backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, 15 July 2015.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley described the requirements of the Act in an
address to the American Enterprise Institute in September.
She noted that the law states the President must certify not only that Iran is
complying with the agreement, but also that the provision by the US of continued
sanctions relief is ‘appropriate and proportionate to the specific and verifiable
measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program’
and ‘vital to the national security interests of the United States’. According
to Haley, certification is therefore is about more than just certifying Iran’s
compliance with the deal; it is about the broader context of US security
While President Trump has certified Iran’s compliance to
Congress twice since assuming office, he has done so grudgingly, warning that he may not do so next time. If President Trump decides to decertify Iran’s
compliance, under the terms of the Iran Nuclear
Agreement Review Act 2015 the deal will go to Congress—this in itself does
not mean the US withdraws from or breaks the terms of the JCPOA. Congress then
has two months to decide whether to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions. If
they decide to do so, then the US will be in violation of the deal. However, if
the legislature makes no decision, the onus passes back to the President.
Although President Trump and his administration have been
broadly and consistently negative about the JCPOA, the administration’s comments
on the deal have been contradictory and varied. The Congressional Research
Service notes that at
times Trump has talked about abrogating the deal outright, seeking to
renegotiate its terms, and at other times has also highlighted the need for stricter
The UK and France share
some US concerns over Iran’s regional activities, and note they would be
supportive of further talks to address the issues not covered by the JCPOA, but
they remain strongly committed to the deal, as do Russia and China.
The table below provides a
brief summary of recent statements by major stakeholders (the US and Iran are
covered in detail below).
Table 2: key stakeholder positions
||Highly supportive. Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken
out in favour of the deal, and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson noted it was important for young Iranians to
see benefit from the JCPOA, and that they could be ‘won over’. In September,
the House of Lords International Relations Committee also called on the UK government to explicitly restate its support for the
JCPOA. However, the UK is also concerned about Iran’s ‘adventurist and
expansionist plans’ in the region.
||Sees the deal as vital for international security, but has also
suggested ‘new pillars’ should be added to the international community’s
relationship with Iran.
||Has noted it will do all it can to help maintain the agreement,
with the Foreign Minister urging the US to adhere to the agreement.
||Supports the deal, with the foreign ministry noting it hopes it will continue to be
||Supports the deal, and will continue to do so.
Source: Parliamentary Library
The US position and role
President Trump has variously pledged ‘to
dismantle the disastrous deal’ and to ‘force
the Iranians back to the bargaining table to make a much better deal’. He has considerable support for this among US
Republicans as there has been longstanding opposition to the JCPOA. The Iran
deal is seen in many quarters as facilitating provocative Iranian behaviour—the
relaxation of sanctions and the billions in frozen assets is seen as funding
that Iran can devote to its aggressive regional agenda. However,
while the Trump administration has maintained a consistently negative approach
to the deal, strongly suggesting it will be revised in some form, messages from
his administration on how this might happen have varied, some examples of which
are below. Trump’s re-certification of the agreement now on two occasions also suggests
some level of uncertainty in the administration’s approach.
- UN Ambassador Nikki Haley recently noted in a presentation to the American Enterprise Institute that ‘the nuclear deal
is a very flawed and very limited agreement’ ... ‘Iran has been caught in
multiple violations over the past year and a half’.
- In August, Secretary of State Tillerson admitted he had argued in favour of keeping the Iran deal, saying he had
‘differences of views’ from the President, though he also noted Iran continued
to support terrorism and was not complying with ‘the spirit’ of the agreement. In
September, Tillerson emerged from a UN meeting with JCPOA partners conceding that Iran was abiding by the letter of the 2015
deal, but he still insisted Tehran was not fulfilling the ‘expectations’ of the
agreement. He also confirmed that President Trump had already made a decision
on whether to stick with the deal or walk away in October 2017, ahead of the
next date he is due to certify Iran’s compliance to Congress.
- Defence Secretary Mattis told the
Senate in October that the agreement was serving national interests, and that it was in US interests to stick with the
deal. He described the deal as flawed during his January confirmation hearing, but
also said that the US needed to live up to its word and work with its allies.
Iranian officials have consistently stated that they will
not renegotiate the JCPOA, and that they have reinforced their willingness to continue adhering to its provisions, highlighting that they
will not be the first party to violate the agreement. Bellicose statements from
Iranian leaders reported in the media have often been taken out of context.
Iran has continued to stress its adherence to the deal, although warning ‘Tehran
will be prepared if anything changes’, with examples from key government
figures below. This is also important for its domestic audience.
- Addressing the UN in September
this year, Iranian President Rouhani said ‘I declare to you the Islamic Republic of Iran will
not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond
decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party’.
- The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy
Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, has also emphasised that protecting the nuclear deal is Tehran’s first priority, but noted Iran would not preserve the agreement at
any price. He also warned that if others violated it, Iran could resume 20 per
cent uranium enrichment within five days.
The International Crisis Group has also noted that ‘no Iranian politician would be in a situation to accept a deal that is
worse for Iran and better for the United States’. As such, any additional
concessions from Iran would require incentives—some
commentators have suggested transfers for Iran through the US financial system,
or cooperation on civil nuclear technology.
The arguments for and against the JCPOA: a summary of common points
The deal is working and Iran is compliant. Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon has been halted for the term of the agreement and since January 2016, the IAEA has verified six times that Iran is abiding by the JCPOA’s terms. And, if Iran becomes a nuclear power, the West loses what ability it may currently have to shape Iran’s behaviour and mitigate against its other activities.
Without a nuclear deal, Tehran can resume progress toward a nuclear weapon. Without the deal, any restrictions that block Tehran’s path to a bomb would be gone and international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities would be lost. There is no other realistic achievable alternative to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Only the US is looking to revisit the deal. The other JCPOA partners (UK, France, China, Russia, Germany) vigorously oppose ending the deal, and have warned that if the US withdraws they would be isolated on the issue. There is little likelihood of UN sanctions being reimposed if the US does not recertify Iranian compliance. Therefore, sanctions would only be reimposed by the US, and would arguably be less effective.
Iran has little incentive or will to renegotiate the deal. No Iranian leader will be able to support a deal where they get less in return for less, and the US is unlikely to support a deal that gives Iran further concessions. Experts also point to an erosion of the already limited trust which would make any new negotiations difficult.
Ending the deal would strengthen hard-liners in the Iranian state. Moderates in the Iranian regime have tied their credibility to this deal and the limited opening it has created with the West. This has flow-on impacts for broader Iranian policies and activities in the region which, conversely, are the very things the deal’s principal detractors want to limit.
Ending the deal also would send a dangerous signal to North Korea—diplomacy is not reliable and international partners cannot be trusted. EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, noted in October 2017 that this is a ‘matter of credibility of international agreements’.
The deal does not go far enough to address the threat from Iran. Destabilising Iranian activities in the region continue unabated—for example, Iran’s ballistic missile development, its involvement in Syria and Yemen, and its support for US-designated terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.
Iran’s increased revenues from the deal enable its destabilising activities in the region. The CRS notes ‘critics of the JCPOA expressed concerns that the extensive sanctions relief provided under the accord gives Iran additional resources to extend its influence in the region and that that the accord does not contain any restrictions on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles’.
The sunset clauses in the JCPOA mean Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a decade. US Secretary of State Tillerson and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have both argued that the deal only ‘kicks the can down the road’.
sanctions (for example, designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group) as violating the JCPOA and justify Iran reneging on its own commitments.
The Australian Government approach
The Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) sanctions
website notes that Australia has implemented successive rounds of UNSC and
autonomous sanctions against Iran (see figure 2). Australia is required under
international law to implement UNSC sanctions, and does so through the Charter of the United
Nations Act 1945 and associated regulations. However, Australia
has also implemented successive rounds of autonomous sanctions against Iran
since October 2008, beyond what was required by the UN. Each new round of
sanctions has added new proscribed organisations/individuals, or has expanded
the sanctions to other areas of trade. For example, the last round of autonomous
sanctions, imposed in 2012, restricted
trade in the hydrocarbon sector and introduced limitations on the bilateral
trade in precious metals.
Figure 2: The Australian sanctions
However, Australia’s sanctions regime never reached the
extent of that imposed by the US, being more comparable to Europe’s. In 2012,
Australian Foreign Minister Bob
Carr addressed the difference between the different national sanctions
The sanctions regimes of Australia, the European Union or the
United Kingdom are not directly comparable to US sanctions against Iran in
terms of reach and restrictiveness, including provision under US law for
imposing sanctions on third country persons who engage in specific kinds of
trade and investment with Iran.
The Australian decision to remove economic and financial
sanctions against Iran was made in accordance with the Autonomous
Sanctions Act 2011 (introduced by the Labor Government at the time) and UN Resolution 2231 (2015) which
instituted the provisions of the JCPOA once Iran met its obligations. The
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee report from May 2016, Partial
Suspension of Sanctions against Iran, notes:
The Australian Government’s decision to lift certain
autonomous sanctions against Iran was announced by Foreign Minister, the Hon
Julie Bishop MP, via media release on 17 January 2016. The Foreign Minister
welcomed the announcement that Iran has met its commitments under the JCPOA
nuclear deal, and stated that the easing of sanctions will ensure that
Australian business is not disadvantaged in pursuing opportunities in Iran.
Sanctions were removed on the financial, banking and insurance industries; oil,
gas and petrochemical industries; shipping, shipbuilding and transport; gold
and other precious metals; banknotes and coinage. Sanctions remain in force on
arms and related materials, certain metals, software and nuclear-related
equipment, as well as persons and entities related to these areas.
The Committee’s report also notes that The
Autonomous Sanctions (Suspension of Sanctions—Iran) Instrument 2016 gives
effect to the suspension of Australia’s autonomous sanctions, while the Autonomous
Sanctions (Designated Persons and Entities and Declared Persons List—Iran)
Amendment List 2016 (No. 2) provides the basis for the Foreign Minister to
revoke certain designations and declarations in relation to certain entities on
Sanctions (Designated Persons and Entities and Declared Persons—Iran) List 2012.
There is less clarity on how autonomous sanctions might be reimposed quickly if
required; this was also a point of concern in the Partial Suspension of Sanctions
against Iran inquiry report.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties with Iran in
1968, Australia has attempted to balance its trade and economic objectives in
the Middle East with its non-proliferation and global security objectives,
aiming to keep trade and politics separate. Australia has also maintained a continuous diplomatic presence in Iran since
the embassy opened in Tehran in 1968, and in the 1990s Iran was Australia’s largest
trading partner in the Middle East.
Since 2002, successive Australian governments have expressed
concern about Iran’s nuclear activities. Labor and the Coalition have
consistently recognised the need to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions (via diplomatic
means). Calls for a tougher approach on Iran have not received bipartisan
In a speech on 26 September 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard
A nuclear armed Iran would be a major
threat to regional and global security ... There remains the opportunity for
diplomacy, backed up by robust sanctions, to persuade Iran to change its
course. Iran must take this opportunity for change.
However, Gillard refused
to meet directly with Iran’s controversial President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
at the Bali Forum for Democracy in November 2012. The Rudd and Gillard governments
also oversaw the imposition of Australia’s autonomous sanctions regime beyond
the requirements mandated by the UN.
Since its election in 2013, the Coalition
Government has been consistently positive about the nuclear negotiation process
with Iran. Following the announcement of the framework agreement on 3 March
2013, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a media release:
The Australian government welcomes progress towards a
comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, following the
establishment of a framework agreement between permanent members of the
Security Council and Germany (P5+1) and Iran. This framework agreement is an
important step towards a final agreement, which will address international
concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
There remain many details that need to be addressed over
coming few months and I encourage all parties to continue to engage
constructively in these negotiations.
In November 2013, following the signing of the P5+1-Iran
Joint Plan of Action, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said:
I welcome the efforts to come to some sort of peaceful
negotiation with Iran. The onus will now be on Iran to come up with a program
that satisfies the rest of the world that they are engaged in civilian nuclear
purposes and not otherwise, the onus is now on Iran.
The August 2014 Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN)
communique also contained policy statements on the nuclear program and the P5+1
Australia and the United States called on Iran to continue
engaging constructively with the P5+1 to negotiate a joint comprehensive plan
of action to resolve international concerns about its nuclear program, and
called on Iran to resolve all outstanding issues related to its nuclear program
- particularly those concerning its possible military dimensions - and fully
and urgently to implement Iran’s Framework for Cooperation agreed with the
International Atomic Energy Agency. They urged Iran to take tangible steps to
improve the country’s human rights situation and to cooperate fully with the UN
In early March 2015, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was also asked
about the Netanyahu/Obama dispute over a potential nuclear agreement with Iran,
again highlighting the importance of the JCPOA process:
There are negotiations under way, the P5 + 1 negotiations,
and we believe those negotiations should continue to a conclusion which is
meant to be at the end of this month. We understand Israel's deep concerns
about Iran's nuclear program but we support the P5 + 1 negotiations and we want
to see what negotiated outcome can be achieved.
If there is no outcome then more time should be given to the
process because we believe a negotiation is the best way to achieve peace in
this regard. We understand the Israeli Prime Minister’s concerns but we believe
that the negotiations should continue to their obvious conclusion by the end of
The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
report, Partial Suspension of Sanctions against Iran, notes that under
the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments—and with the implementation of
the JCPOA—there has been a change in Australia-Iran relations. DFAT
Australia has significant reasons for engaging Iran on issues
of shared interest and concern, including the fight against terrorism in Syria
and Iraq, as well as the common challenges of people smuggling and illegal
The Foreign Minister has also
indicated on multiple occasions that she regards Iran as an important
element of the fight against the
The change in the relationship has also been reflected in a series
of high-level meetings between Australian and Iranian officials, beginning in
2015. In April 2015, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Tehran (the first
visit by an Australian Foreign Minister since Alexander Downer in 2003), in
March 2016 Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Australia, and in
September 2016 Trade Minister Steven Ciobo visited Iran—the first such visit by
an Australian trade minister since 2002. Australia also opened
a trade office in Tehran in 2016.
However, the Opposition has cautioned the Government over
its re-engagement with Iran. In March 2016, former shadow foreign minister
Tanya Plibersek, stated:
The Foreign Minister has been ... so prepared to turn a blind
eye to the anti‑American rhetoric of the Iranian government, the
anti-Israeli rhetoric of the Iranian government, to the human rights abuses,
where people are locked up for their sexuality, for following a religion that’s
not approved of by the regime, and most particularly, for political
organisation against an oppressive government.
There have been no more recent statements on the issue.
time refers to the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium
for one nuclear weapon.
For a comprehensive history of the Australia-Iran relationship to 2013,
see: N Markovic, It’s
complicated: a timeline of Australia–Iran relations in a historical perspective,
Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 9 May 2013.
The JCPOA itself is a political declaration,
rather than a legally binding agreement or treaty.
It is worth noting that Iran still retains
the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. As such, demands that
restrict all nuclear activity would never have been acceptable.
Sunset clauses are a standard
feature of most arms control agreements. The Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty (START) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are two examples.
For more detail on Iran’s nuclear program, the JCPOA, negotiations and
implementation, see: K Katzman and P Kerr, ‘Iran nuclear agreement’, Congressional
Research Service, 15 September 2017, and for a discussion of the
controversial sunset clauses see: A Vaez, ‘The
Iranian nuclear deal’s sunset clauses’, Foreign Affairs, 3 October
Ali Vaez notes in: ‘The
Iranian nuclear deal’s sunset clauses’, Foreign Affairs, 3 October
2017, that no country has yet developed nuclear weapons while IAEA inspectors
have been allowed access to facilities under the additional protocol, and the
four most recent nuclear states (India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea) never
signed the NPT, or in North Korea’s case, withdrew prior to embarking on a
nuclear weapons program.
See The International Crisis Group’s ‘Interactive:
the making and unmaking of Iran sanctions’ for an interactive
representation of the convoluted international sanctions web that shows the
scale, number and target of the various sanctions levied on Iran over the last
This included sanctions established under UN Resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737
(2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1929 (2010).
Non-US parties have paid a higher economic price than the US to institute
the sanctions regime. Long-standing US prohibitions on dealing with Iran have
effectively prevented business for decades.
For a comprehensive listing and history of sanctions on Iran see: K Katzman,
‘Iran Sanctions’, Congressional
Research Service, 15 September 2017.
As flagged, UNSC Resolution 2231 (2015) replaced a number of earlier UNSC
Resolutions, including UNSC
Resolution 1929 (2010). 1929 specifically states that the Security Council
‘decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic
missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using
ballistic missile technology’. However, this definitive language was dropped
following the JCPOA negotiations and UNSC
Resolution 2231 (2015) only notes ‘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’.
The Congressional Research
Service notes that under the Nuclear Review Act, a confirmed material
breach of the JCPOA by Iran would trigger expedited procedures for
congressional consideration of legislation. This would ‘snap-back’ those US
sanctions that have been waived to implement the JCPOA—and prevent further presidential
four points of certification under the Nuclear Review Act are that Iran:
(1) is verifiably and fully implementing the JCPOA; (2) has not committed an
uncured material breach; (3) has not taken any action that could advance a
nuclear weapons program; and that (4) continued suspension of sanctions
(including issuance of waivers of applicable sanctions laws) is vital to the national
security interests of the United States.
During her speech to the American Enterprise Institute in September this
year, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley noted that if the President chooses not to certify Iranian
compliance, that does not mean the US is withdrawing from the JCPOA, rather
that Iran’s compliance is up for discussion.
. The last two US Congresses have introduced
legislation with the stated purpose of redressing
asserted weaknesses in the JCPOA and preventing any US sanctions relief beyond
that explicitly stated in the agreement.
. The regime in
Tehran is far from a monolithic entity. There is an ongoing struggle
between hard-line religious clerics (who also control the security forces) and
moderates, with hard-liners opposed to the deal. Proponents of the deal
therefore argue that US actions will strengthen the position of those opposed
to further integration with the West. There are also concerns that Iranian opponents
of the deal could paint any new US sanctions (for example, designating the Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist
group) as violating the JCPOA and justify Iran reneging on its own commitments.
More information on this is available on DFAT’s
website and in Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Partial
suspension of sanctions against Iran, The Senate, Canberra, May 2016.
Deakin University academic, Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, notes that ‘historically, Australia maintained a
bipartisan consensus on keeping trade with Iran separate from other political
considerations’. Successive Australian governments have pointed to the diplomatic and political advantages of maintaining
strong trade ties.
For more detail, see: N Markovic, It’s
complicated: a timeline of Australia-Iran relations in a historical perspective,
Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 9 May 2013.
J Gillard (Prime Minister of Australia), Practical
progress towards realising those ideals in the world, speech at the
67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, New York, 26
J Bishop (Foreign Minister), Iran
nuclear negotiations—framework agreement, media release, 3 April
J Bishop (Foreign Minister), Leadership Matters Breakfast—doorstop, media release, transcript, 25 November
Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for Defence David
Johnston, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, AUSMIN
2014 Joint Communique, 12 August 2014.
J Bishop (Foreign Minister), Transcript
of interview with Michael Rowland: ABC News 24 Breakfast: 5 March 2015: Mr Chan
and Mr Sukumaran, withdrawal of ambassadors to Indonesia, and Israel’s PM
Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments on Iran, media release, transcript, 5
The only senior Western figure to visit Iran in the last decade was EU
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in early 2014.
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