The 14 June 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency of Iran significantly transformed the political dynamics of the Iranian sanctions regime. Pledging to keep Iran’s nuclear program ongoing (but with greater transparency), Rouhani declared three days after his inauguration that serious negotiations with the E3+3 should be resumed. On 26 September 2013, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with his E3+3 counterparts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September and began to discuss basic parameters for negotiations. One day later, a telephone conversation was arranged between US President Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, strengthening the momentum for negotiations. In the months that followed, numerous meetings took place between the negotiating parties, and between them and the IAEA.
On 24 November 2013, a Joint Plan of Action was announced in Geneva, which provided guidance for the parties as they sought to achieve a comprehensive solution. For an initial period of six months, Iran committed to pause further developments in its program, roll back some of its key elements (like the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium) and to accept more extensive monitoring from the IAEA. In return, Iran received the suspension of some international sanctions (not UN sanctions), repatriation of some assets frozen abroad, commitments to halt the efforts to reduce Iranian oil exports, and a pledge that no new sanctions will be imposed.
On 20 January 2014, the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action began as the IAEA reported on Iran’s compliance with the agreement and the United States and the European Union announced they took the necessary measures to implement the sanctions waiver announced the previous November. Throughout 2014 and the first half of 2015, several rounds of negotiation took place as the terms of the Joint Plan of Action were extended twice. In April 2015, the parties agreed to a framework agreement that would guide the drafting of a final deal.
On 14 July 2015, Iran and the E3+3 announced they reached a long-term agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal was the culmination of a changed approach to the Iranian nuclear issue on both sides and established provisions for the monitoring and regulation of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the suspension or termination of all international sanctions targeting it. These included the elimination of Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and 98% of its low-enriched uranium. Iran’s nuclear facilities would be converted to respond to proliferation concerns and intrusive verification mechanisms would be established by the IAEA. In return, UN, EU and unilateral targeted sanctions addressing Iran’s nuclear program would be suspended or lifted. With regards to UN sanctions, a special procurement channel for nuclear-related goods would be set up and other measures unrelated to the nuclear program would remain in place, including individual sanctions, the arms embargo and restrictions on ballistic missile technology.
On 20 July 2015, the UN Security Council endorsed and incorporated the JCPOA through resolution 2231, which reproduced it in its entirety as an annex. The resolution set to terminate the provisions of previous sanctions resolutions upon the receipt of IAEA report confirming that Iran had taken the specified steps (15.1-15.11 of Annex V of the JCPOA), replacing them with restrictive measures specified in paragraphs 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 of Annex B. It set the termination of those measures for 10 years from the day of JCPOA implementation day but included a snap-back mechanism which would come into effect if dispute resolution mechanisms failed to resolve conflicts over non-compliance with the terms of the agreement by the parties. The snapback mechanism would prompt, without a vote, the re-imposition of all UN targeted sanctions against Iran in place before the JCPOA implementation. As a result, any permanent member could halt the ongoing sanctions relief, but not veto sanctions re-imposition in case of non-compliance. The resolution included a delay of 90 days in implementation to provide time for the approval of the relevant national or regional institutions. The agreement entered into force on 18 October 2015 (JCPOA Adoption Day).
Throughout the entire negotiation process, UN targeted sanctions remained in place for their original purposes and were, together with other sanctions, an important instrument of bargaining for the E3+3 side of the negotiations. The lifting of sanctions was the central political objective of Iran in the negotiations, and the lifting of UN sanctions in particular was understood to represent a key step in the normalization of Iran’s international relations.
Coerce Iran to suspend its nuclear activities and comply with IAEA requirements.
Constrain Iran’s access to sensitive technologies in support of its nuclear and missile programs.
Signal to Iran the costs of non-compliance and signal continued support for non-proliferation norms.
Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated (current and maximum number of designees during the episode –43 individual designees, 78 entities). Enforcement authorities specified.
After years of negotiations with little progress, the election of President Rouhani significantly changed the dynamics of negotiations. The IAEA reported that Iran was in full compliance with the terms of the 2013 Joint Peace Agreement, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which met most of the objectives of the relevant UN resolutions, entered into force on 18 October 2015.
The initiation of the negotiations and the subsequent agreements resulted chiefly from internal political changes in Iran, the relaxation of the demands of the UNSC regarding enrichment and the effectiveness of international diplomatic efforts. Throughout the negotiations, the possible relaxation of UN sanctions offered the potential normalization of Iran’s international relations, just as their application served as an argument for the legitimation of other sanctions measures.
With the achievement of the initial Joint Plan of Action in November 2013, there were enhanced monitoring provisions from the IAEA which had constrained Iran’s capacity to accelerate its nuclear program throughout the episode.
While UN targeted sanctions remained in place, constraints to the development of Iran’s nuclear program came chiefly from the enhanced monitoring and verification mechanisms established in the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.
While the negotiation process and the successive agreements contributed to a decline in the stigmatization of Iran, the inconclusive situation of the agreement did not immediately strengthen the non-proliferation regime.
The long process of negotiation and successive agreements reached were important to initiate a normalization of Iran’s international relations and its nuclear program. The promise of lifting UN targeted sanctions related to the nuclear program, an important element of the negotiations, reinforced the diplomatic efforts.
Increase in corruption and criminality, harmful effects on neighboring states, increase in international regulatory capacity in different issue domains, increase in international enforcement capacity in different issue domains, humanitarian consequences, human rights implications for sending states, widespread harmful economic consequences.