The Return of Diplomacy?
What Happened After the Lifting of Missile Sanctions Against Iran?

On October 18, 2023 the UN Security Council’s sanctions on the development and export of Iranian missiles quietly expired, but the European Troika and the United States persisted in their missile embargo against Tehran outside the UN’s purview; this will not prevent the development of Iran’s missile programmes, writes Valdai Club expert Vali Kaleji

In his article, Dr. Vali Kaleji, a Tehran-based expert on Central Asia and Caucasian Studies, postulates that the UN Security Council’s sanctions on the development and export of Iranian missiles quietly expired on October 18, 2023 in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which set the specific terms for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme in July 2015. While Iran and Russia welcomed the lifting of missile sanctions, the United States, the Council of Europe, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada all announced that their sanctions on Iran’s missile programme will be maintained. The consequences of such an approach will be that the positions of the European Troika, which includes the UK, France and Germany, regarding Iran will more closely resemble that of the United States, a further weakening of the JCPOA, and the expansion of Iran’s relations with Russia and China. Indeed, the continuation of Iran’s missile embargo by the European Troika, outside the United Nations mechanism, will not prevent the development of Iran’s missile programmes.

While the attention of the world community was focused on the bloody conflicts between Hamas and Israel, the UN Security Council’s missile sanctions against Iran expired without fanfare on October 18, 2023. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme reached in Vienna on July 14, 2015 between Iran and the P5+1, is part of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The first step in the lifting of UN sanctions was the expiration of all restrictions on the supplies of major arms to and all arms from Iran in October 2020. As a result, Iran is legally able to buy and sell conventional weaponry, including small arms, missiles, helicopters and tanks. In the second step, three parts of Resolution 2231 expired on October 18, 2023. First, the repeal of the provision required Iran “not to engage in any activities related to ballistic missiles that can be designed to carry nuclear weapons”. Second, it eliminated the requirement for countries to obtain the permission of the Security Council before transferring missiles, drones and related technology to or from Iran. Third, the expiration eliminated the requirement of all the member states of the United Nations to block the assets of twenty-three individuals and sixty-one entities related to Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Iran welcomed the lifting of missile sanctions on October 18, 2023 and in this regard, Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani announced on October 5 that “all cruel arms embargoes on Iran will end in October and Iran’s Ministry of Defence is prepared to establish and develop defence and strategic relations with all independent and neighbouring countries, especially regional neighbours and Muslim countries.” However, Britain, France and Germany, the three European allies known as the E3 in the JCPOA, announced on September 14 that “in direct response to Iran’s consistent and severe non-compliance with its JCPOA commitments since 2019”, they will keep their sanctions on Iran related to the country’s nuclear programme and its development of ballistic missiles. In a letter to the EU external affairs chief Josep Borrell, the three European signatories to the deal announced that Iran was in such serious breach of the agreement, in terms of levels of stored enriched uranium and allowing UN inspectors access to its nuclear programme, that “sanctions relating to its ballistic missile programme had to remain in force.” 

There is no doubt that the issue of the export of Iranian drones to Russia in the conflict with Ukraine, which has been raised by the West in the past year, has played a very important role in the decision of France, Britain and Germany to extend the missile sanctions on Iran since October 18, 2023; Iran has rejected the decision as “illegal and provocative”. Indeed, Iran de-designated all French and German members of the IAEA inspection team on September 16, 2023, which could be the reaction to decision of three European countries against Iran on September 14 to retain their sanctions on the development of ballistic missiles. 

Modern Diplomacy
Banking Cooperation between Iran and Russia: Capacities and Constrain
Vali Kaleji
The banking and financial relations between Iran and Russia have developed significantly in recent years under the influence of several factors, which is unprecedented in the history of relations between the two countries, Vali Kaleji writes.

With the arrival of the end of the Iran missile sanctions on October 18, the Council of Europe officially announced on October 17 that “the Council’s decision is in line with the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA, in view of Iran not fulfilling its commitments under the JCPOA. The Council also agreed to maintain sectoral and individual measures, existing under the EU’s sanctions regime, notably those related to Iran nuclear proliferation, as well as arms and missile embargoes.” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani described the EU decision as an “illegal and politically unjustifiable act.”

Indeed, the United States slapped new sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programmes on 18 October, “acting to keep up pressure on Tehran after the expiration of United Nations restrictions on those activities. In a statement, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said “the new penalties on several individuals and companies were meant to address one of the greatest challenges to international peace and security. Iranian missiles posed a threat to Israel and Gulf Arab countries, and noted that Iran had transferred lethal drones to Russia, which had used them to kill civilians and destroy infrastructure in Ukraine.” On October 18, 2023, Canada, aligned with the Council of Europe and the United States, amended its Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulations to maintain sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and prohibitions against Iranian conventional weapons proliferation, which had otherwise expired with UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

Contrary to the positions of the Council of Europe, the United States and Canada, the Secretariat of the United Nations Security Council stated that “by sending a note to the member states of the United Nations, it officially ends the provisions of clauses 3, 4 and 6 of Annex B of Resolution 2231, including missile tests, restrictions on the export and import of missile items to Iran, as well as sanctions related to confiscation of property and providing financial services to Iranian individuals and institutions under the sanctions of the Security Council.”

On the other hand, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on October 18 that in clause 1 mentioned that “According to the provisions of 2231 UNSCR, termination of these restrictions, does not require any resolution, statement or any other action in the context of the UNSC and occurred automatically. In clause 2 it confirmed that as of today, there will be no restrictions on the transfer of missile-related items, services and technology to/from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and cooperation in all military and defence areas will be carried out, without any restriction, based on the needs and discretion of the Islamic Republic of Iran, within the framework of bilateral contracts with other countries.” Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation issued a statement on October 17 that emphasised “it would no longer comply with UN Security Council restrictions on providing Iran with missile technology starting Wednesday, when they formally expire – despite the stance of the other parties to the Iran nuclear deal”.

It seems that the position of the three European countries has made them close to the United States and Israel, which opposed the lifting of Iran’s arms sanctions in October 2020 and the lifting of missile sanctions in October 2023.

If we come back to past, on August 15, 2020 “the United Nations Security Council has resoundingly rejected a bid by the United States (Donald Trump) to extend a global arms embargo on Iran. Washington got support only from the Dominican Republic for its resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo. Russia and China strongly opposed extending the 13-year ban, eleven members on the 15-member body, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, abstained.” 

Therefore, the current position of the European Troika shows a clear difference with the position of 2020. For this reason, on September 28, “the letter, signed by 31 lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, praised the E3 for their recent announcement of plans to unilaterally maintain their sanctions on Iran’s missile programme.” Indeed, the position of the three European countries shows that they do not intend to activate the so-called “snapback” mechanism, the automatic return of UN sanctions known as the “trigger mechanism”, referring to Articles 36 and 37 of the JCPOA. If this mechanism is implemented, the six UN Security Council sanctions against Iran will return again, including resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008) and 1929 (2010).

The important point is that the use of this mechanism is a very complicated and time-consuming process that requires at least two months. According to the JCPOA, the process of the “snapback” mechanism should pass different stages, including Step One: The Joint Commission (Duration: 15 days), Step Two: Issue referred to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and/or a three-member Advisory Board (Duration: 15 days), Step Three: The Joint Commission considers the Ministers of Foreign Affairs/Advisory Board opinion (Duration: 5 days), and Step Four: Notifying the UNSC (Duration: 30 days). Therefore, referring to the “snapback” mechanism or the “trigger” mechanism at the end of the October 18 deadline seems practically impossible. 

In these circumstances, the approval of a new resolution in the UN Security Council against Iran can be put on the agenda. This is the approach of Donald Trump’s administration in August 2020. Referring to Resolution 2231, the United States tried to pass a new resolution against Iran without implementing steps 1, 2 and 3 of the “snapback” mechanism. However, as mentioned, with Russia and China voting against and other members of the Security Council, including Britain, France and Germany, abstaining, this resolution was not approved. While Europe’s differences with the United States are far less significant than during the era of Donald Trump, Iran’s close and developing relations with Russia and China will prevent the UN Security Council from approving a new sanctions resolution by the October 18 deadline. In particular, the possibility of a Russian veto is very likely.

Therefore, the only way for the European Troika is to unilaterally adhere to the Iran missile sanctions, now that the October 2023 deadline has passed. In fact, the UK, France and Germany will take a similar approach to the US after not passing a new resolution against Iran in August 2019. The consequences of such an approach will be that the positions of the European Troika regarding Iran will more closely resemble those of the United States, further weakening the JCPOA, and Iran’s relations with Russia and China will expand. Indeed, the continuation of Iran’s missile embargo by the European Troika, outside the United Nations mechanism, will not prevent the development of Iran’s missile programmes. The unilateral sanctions of the United States, in the wake of its failure to pass a new resolution against Iran, will not prevent the development of the country’s supplies of major arms.

Russia and Global Security Risks
US Sanctions Against Iran and the Future of the JCPOA: A View From Tehran and Moscow
Ivan Timofeev
Moscow believes that for JCPOA talks to be successful, Washington and Tehran must synchronise their concessions: the former unfreezes Iranian assets and lifts sanctions, the latter is gradually returning to the terms of the deal. But will the United States and Iran agree to that? Ivan Timofeev, the Valdai Club Programme Director, discusses this issue in his article following up on the discussion “Return to the Deal? The New US Administration and the Prospects for the JCPOA.”
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.