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Certifying Iran’s Compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Understanding the Roles of the IAEA, the Joint Commission, and the United States

Tzvi Kahn
18th September 2017 - FDD Research Memo

Download the full memo here.

On August 31, major Western media outlets reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had once again certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. This assertion, which purported to reflect the IAEA’s seventh and latest post-implementation  report on Tehran’s nuclear activities, mirrors statements by the Iranian government and key world leaders in response to the agency’s previous reports. The IAEA has repeatedly affirmed “that Iran has implemented  the deal faithfully, fully, and completely,” said Iranian  Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on July 16. Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, said on July 20 that the UN watchdog “has certified six times – not once, six times – the full implementation of the deal’s provisions.”

These accounts are false. In fact, the IAEA has never certified Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Rather, the IAEA’s mandate with respect to the JCPOA primarily entails monitoring and reporting on Tehran’s nuclear-related actions (or lack thereof ) pursuant to the JCPOA’s provisions. The determination of whether Iranian conduct constitutes compliance with the JCPOA remains the prerogative of the individual parties to the agreement: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran, with the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

In this context, the JCPOA stipulates that if any party believes Iran has violated its obligations, it may refer the issue to the Joint Commission, the body established by the JCPOA to monitor its implementation, for adjudication. Should the Joint Commission fail to resolve the dispute within a specified timeframe, the complainant may refer the matter to the UN Security Council. The Joint Commission, coordinated by High Representative Mogherini, consists of representatives of each JCPOA participant state.

The distinction between the roles of the IAEA and of the Joint Commission harbors significant policy implications. Misleading claims of IAEA certification of Iranian compliance implicitly bestow an authoritative legal imprimatur on Tehran’s nuclear activities where none exists. In so doing, they obscure not only key omissions in the IAEA’s reporting of Iranian behavior, but also evidence that Iran has violated the deal’s letter and spirit – problems that should have elicited a response by members of the Joint Commission.

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