Blog Post - Iran Matters

Explainer: Arms embargoes against Iran

| July 11, 2015

Iran July Negotians

Secretary of State John Kerry and members of the U.S. delegation speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Iranian delegation in Vienna on July 11, 2015. (U.S. Department of State)

Nuclear negotiations with Iran have apparently reached an impasse over the future of United Nations arms restrictions against Iran. What are these embargoes, and why is there controversy?

The debate over the UN embargoes tends to conflate three separate restrictions: on the export of arms to Iran, export of arms by Iran, and restrictions involving ballistic missiles. Each restriction was codified in resolutions by the United Nations Security Council; the resolutions are recapped in the chart below, excerpted from the Belfer Center’s comprehensive guide to Iran sanctions:

UN Security Council Resolutions Against Iran

Number

Date

Description of select elements

1696

July 2006

-Called upon states to “exercise vigilance and prevent the transfer” of material for nuclear and ballistic missile purposes.

1737

December 2006

-Banned export to Iran of “all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology” related to nuclear activities or development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.

-Banned provision to Iran of technical or financial assistance related to nuclear activities.

-Banned Iranian export of nuclear-related equipment and material.

-Froze assets of individuals and companies involved in nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

1747

March 2007

-Banned export by Iran of “any arms or related materiel.”

-Expanded list of sanctioned individuals and companies.

-Called upon states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” in exporting major weapons systems to Iran.

1803

March 2008

-Expanded prohibitions on trade in sensitive nuclear equipment and materials.

-Banned travel by sanctioned individuals.

-Expanded list of sanctioned individuals and companies.

 

1835

September 2008

-Reaffirmed previous resolutions.

 

1929

June 2010

-Prohibited Iranian investment in foreign nuclear activities.

-Banned export to Iran of major weapons systems and banned provision to Iran of technical or financial assistance related to acquiring these systems.

-Called on states to inspect “all cargo to and from Iran” if suspected of transferring illicit materials.

-Called on states to prevent the provision of financial services that would facilitate Iranian sanctions evasion.

-Expanded list of sanctioned individuals and companies.

Export of arms to Iran

Resolution 1929 prohibits states from selling or transferring seven weapons systems to Iran: battle tanks; armored combat vehicles; large caliber artillery; combat aircraft; attack helicopters; warships; and some missile or missile systems. It also prohibits the transfer of “related materiel” including spare parts. The resolution calls upon states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” in provided all other kinds of arms.

In addition, it calls upon states to inspect “all cargo to and from Iran” if the state has “reasonable grounds” to believe the cargo contains weapons prohibited above, and instructs states to “seize and dispose of” prohibited items.

Previously, Resolution 1747 called upon states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” in exporting those seven weapons systems to Iran. 

Export of arms by Iran

Resolution 1747 prohibits Iran from exporting “any arms or related materiel.” Resolution 1929calls upon states to inspect, seize and dispose of Iranian arms exports.

Ballistic missiles

In its first Iran sanctions resolution, the Security Council called on states to “exercise vigilance and prevent” the transfer of equipment that “could contribute” to Iran’s ballistic missile program (Resolution 1696).

Resolution 1929 orders Iran not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.” It also instructs states to “take all necessary measures” to prevent the provision of ballistic missile technology to Iran. It calls upon states to inspect “all cargo to and from Iran” if the state has “reasonable grounds” to believe the cargo contains ballistic missile technology, and instructs states to “seize and dispose of” prohibited items.

What are the points of contention?

The key disagreement is over what type of sanctions these arms restrictions are. Under a comprehensive accord, Iran will receive relief from all “nuclear-related” sanctions – sanctions passed by the UN, US and EU to coerce Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program. But the US and EU have sanctioned Iran for a variety of other reasons, too, such as support for terrorism and abuse of human rights. Those “non-nuclear related” sanctions would stay in place.

 All three arms limitations detailed above were passed in “nuclear-related” UN Security Council resolutions. In fact, all six resolutions are exclusively nuclear-related. Iran, therefore, argues that if the “nuclear-related” UN resolutions are lifted, and the arms limitations are part of those resolutions, then the arms limitations should be lifted, too.

 The United States and the European powers disagree. According to the April 2 fact sheetreleased by the United States, “important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, would also be incorporated by” the new UN Security Council resolution that would codify the comprehensive agreement.  Russia (apparently supported by China) supports a near term lifting of the ban on sales of heavy weaponry to Iran.    

 If no more negotiation extensions are issued, diplomats have until Monday to resolve this issue.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rome, Henry.Explainer: Arms embargoes against Iran.” Iran Matters, July 11, 2015, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/explainer-arms-embargoes-against-iran.

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