On 14 January 2020, the UK, France and Germany, (the Europe/EU 3) triggered the dispute resolution mechanism contained within Article 36 under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), thereby taking the first step towards possible re-imposition of United Nations and EU sanctions against Iran.
The three signatories openly accused Iran of breaking the 2015 agreement in a joint statement of E3 foreign ministers, saying that Iran has been warned as of 6 December 2019 that unless it “reversed course, we would have no choice but to take action”, to which Iran is said to have responded with further non-compliance.
Under Article 36 the dispute resolution mechanism allows for 60 days of negotiations with Iran in order to revert to full compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. Failure to resolve the dispute during this timeframe could lead to the re-imposition of United Nations and EU sanctions against Iran, currently suspended under the JCPOA.
For the time being however, the submission of the notice does not result in any new sanctions or restrictive measures being imposed. As such, in the EU the restrictive measures regime on Iran contained in Council Regulation (EU) No Regulation 267/2012 (nuclear programme) remains, for the time being, unchanged.
Food for thought
Although the issuance of the notice might be perceived in negative terms in terms of EU-Iran relations, at the same time the exercise of legal mechanisms of the JCPOA demonstrate a willingness of the parties (at least the E3) to continue to work within the wording and spirit of the historic agreement, further strengthening the principles of the rule of law at an international level. Indeed, the finalisation of the JCPOA in 2015 is widely seen as the biggest international relations achievement of President Obama’s administration.
Growing concerns regarding the escalation of tension in the Middle East reinforce the necessity of preserving compliance with the JCPOA in order to avoid the risk of a nuclear proliferation crisis in the region.
However following the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the agreement in 2018 and the consequent reimposition of sanctions, Iran is said to have moved beyond the permissible limits of uranium enrichment under the JCPOA on several occasions. The recent killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian commander, by the US earlier this month has ratcheted tensions even further. Iran has indicated that it may no longer abide by any restrictions on its uranium enrichment programme, adding further to past declarations made to the effect that Iran may also be willing to quit the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty should UN sanctions be reimposed.
The joint statement by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the UK can be found here.
The full text of the JCPOA can be found here.
Harneys has published relevant articles on Iranian sanctions and our most recent updates on Iran sanctions are here: