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Western Powers Urge Defiant Iran To Reverse Nuclear Escalation

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The world is worried and determined to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon but has no way to reverse or even monitor its nuclear advances. 

At the UN Security Council, the UK, France and Germany released a statement in which they stated they “remain determined that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon and must reverse its nuclear escalation.”

It came on the back of a semi-annual United Nations Security Council meeting on the implementation Resolution 2231, the foundation of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) with P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Council — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, plus Germany).

The three European parties of the deal — so-called E3 — reiterated concerns on Tehran’s developing and testing ballistic missiles, transferring hundreds of drones to Russia, and enriching uranium to an unprecedented 60% level that has no non-military purpose. The Monday session aimed to address Iran’s ongoing violations of the resolution but came to little progress.

Amir Saeid Iravani, the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran, during the Security Council meeting on non-proliferation on December 18, 2023

Under the JCPOA, Tehran agreed to limit enrichment of uranium to levels necessary for the peaceful use of nuclear power in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Referring to a November report by UN’s nuclear watchdog that “starkly outlines the deplorable state of Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA,” they highlighted that the total stockpiles of Tehran’s 60% enriched uranium now stand at 22 times the JCPOA limit. 

“There is no credible civilian justification for the state of Iran’s nuclear program. The current trajectory only brings Iran closer to weapons-related capabilities; this is of utmost concern for international peace and security,” the E3 warned. 

The statement highlighted Iran’s lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), hindering the IAEA’s essential work in understanding the nature of Iran’s nuclear program and undermining global non-proliferation efforts. 

“It is especially concerning to see Iran flatly deny to the IAEA its legal obligation to implement Modified Code 3.1,” the E3 noted, referring to a subsidiary arrangement to IAEA safeguards agreement that requires countries to submit design information for new nuclear facilities to the agency as soon as the decision is made to construct, or authorize construction, of any nuclear facility.

Dismissing the charges by Britain, France and Germany, both Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Iravani and Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia blamed the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and Western sanctions for the current standoff. About a year after the US pulled out of the agreement in 2018, Iran began breaking the terms, enriching near weapons-grade levels and restricting monitoring access to the IAEA. Formal talks to try to find a roadmap to revive the JCPOA collapsed in August 2022 with both sides blaming each other for extraneous demands. 

At Monday’s council meeting, UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo stressed that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres still considers the JCPOA “the best available option to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful.” She said it was essential for Iran to now reverse steps taken since the deal fell apart “that are not consistent with its nuclear related commitments under the Plan and which it has pledged are reversible.”

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs

Counselor John Kelley, from the US mission in the UN, told the council, “Iran should take actions to build international confidence and de-escalate tensions and not continue nuclear provocations that pose grave proliferation risks.” He added that the US is “committed to resolving the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy” but “Unfortunately, Iran’s actions suggest this goal is not its priority.” 

Iran’s Iravani said Tehran “has persistently worked toward the revival of the JCPOA” and “stands prepared to resume the full implementation of its commitment on the JCPOA once it is revived.” 

UK Ambassador James Kariuki pointed out that Iran is “gaining irreversible knowledge” as it “manufactures and operates thousands of prohibited advanced centrifuges.” He added that “Iran is launching missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear weapons and is testing technologies directly applicable to medium and long-range ballistic missiles, in the form of satellite launch vehicles.” He concluded that Iran’s missile program remains of fundamental concern for the global nuclear non-proliferation, underlining that Iran supplied ballistic missiles to armed groups in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, which are targeting Red Sea shipping and the US-led Coalition personnel in the region.

In June 2022, Iran removed all IAEA JCPOA-related surveillance and monitoring equipment and since March it agreed to put them back on operation, but it has been stonewalling the process ever since. Additionally, Tehran withdrew the designation of several inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities in Iran under the Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement.