As the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly unfolds, the international community finds itself facing a pivotal moment in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
A report by the Henry Jackson Society has shed light on the urgent need for action, with a stern ultimatum facing the United Kingdom and its allies as the deadline for Iran’s “seismic trigger” nuclear threat approaches.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2015, was designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program and promote transparency through extensive international inspections. In exchange, Iran was promised sanctions relief worth billions of dollars.
However, Iran has repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement, prompting the United States under the Trump administration to withdraw and reimpose sanctions.
The UK, among others, chose to remain a party to the JCPOA, but a critical deadline, known as “Transition Day,” is looming on October 18, 2023.
Transition Day initiates a series of lapsing limitations that allow Iran to gradually escalate its nuclear programme while permitting the expiration of missile and military restrictions. Given Iran’s history of non-compliance with the JCPOA, they have a considerable head start in this regard.
The report stresses that the approach taken by the UK, Germany, and France, collectively known as the E3, to move UN sanctions into a domestic sanctions regime is an awkward compromise.
“While this shift is intended to create independent domestic substitutes for the original coordinated sanctions, it remains uncertain whether these measures will impose a sufficient burden on Iran to act as a diplomatic lever,” the report warns.
Furthermore, it opens a legal loophole that Iran could exploit to cease performing its JCPOA commitments, using a precedent previously established.
The report highlights the urgency of invoking the “snapback mechanism”, an immediate action that would reimpose all original sanctions from which Iran sought refuge. This would serve as a compelling diplomatic lever, forcing Iran to reconsider its nuclear ambitions and abide by the JCPOA’s terms.
The report reads: “The goal of the UK and its allies is to contain Iran’s nuclear armament ambitions, something which is needed for the security of the free world.”
It underscores the importance of the UK’s unique position, having stayed in the JCPOA, to exert significant influence by threatening the reinstatement of crippling sanctions or invoking snapback. This would effectively render the JCPOA obsolete and remove the need for the UK to withdraw prematurely.
However, time is of the essence. With the sunset clause scheduled for October 18, 2023, for various JCPOA terms, Resolution 2231 also establishes a sunset on snapback itself on October 18, 2025.
Unless snapback is invoked before this critical date, the opportunity to act decisively will be lost.
In the coming days, the UK and other JCPOA parties will face a defining moment. Their response will determine how the international community deals with the growing Iranian nuclear threat and whether they can restore the credibility of diplomacy and the rules-based international order.
The report concludes: “Either way, the UK wins – Iran desists with violations of the JCPOA or the Deal is obliterated through the triggering of the snapback provision.”