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But Are We Nearly There Yet? An Iranian Sanctions Relief Update

But Are We Nearly There Yet? An Iranian Sanctions Relief Update

Is Iranian sanctions relief closer than we thought? This week has seen developments which give the impression that we are inching closer to UK sanctions on Iran being lifted. In line with the timetable set out in the JCPOA (see previous blogs for more information), on Tuesday the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closed its historic investigation into the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme. Closure of this issue was vital to progression with fulfilment of the JCPOA (the agreement which, once implemented, will lead to Iranian sanctions relief).

The Iranian envoy to the IAEA has stated that Iran hopes to see significant activity in terms of their JCPOA commitments within two to three weeks. Once Iran fulfils these commitments, the IAEA will take “some weeks” to verify their actions. There is chatter that this could be as early as mid-January (which seems unlikely given these estimates) but matters certainly seem to be progressing quickly.

But it may be too early to celebrate just yet. Sanctions are political tools which are moulded and modified by political whim. The IAEA’s resolution will not be free from controversy and Iran’s ability to build a weapon of mass destruction is guaranteed to evoke emotional responses the world over. The IAEA’s decision is based on the Director General’s report (issued earlier in December) entitled “Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme” which confirmed that Iran was carrying out work on nuclear weapons at least until 2003, and possibly as late as 2009. It may seem strange then that even with this information, the IAEA has closed its investigation.

Those who oppose the JCPOA will no doubt use this as ammunition for the argument that Iran cannot be trusted and therefore sanctions should not be lifted. Supporters of the JCPOA will point out that there is no “credible” evidence of nuclear weapons development after 2009. Supporters may also refer to the extensive arrangements in place under the JCPOA to monitor Iran’s continued compliance with their commitment to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme. Comfort (of sorts) can also be drawn from the snapback provisions of the JCPOA which mean that sanctions can be reinstated quickly if Iran is found to be in “significant non-performance” of its JCPOA commitments.

Sadly, all these commitments and posturing may yet be irrelevant pending the US presidential elections in 2016. Major shifts on the US commitment in the JCPOA could be the undoing of the whole deal. 

So, what is the answer to our initial question? A very tentative maybe.

Fran Hutchison
Senior Solicitor