Snapback: An Innovative Feature of the Iran Nuclear Deal

Over the past two months, much has been said and written about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed with Iran on July 14. We are now drawing to the end of this phase, with the review of the agreement by the US Congress expected to come to its conclusion by September 17. During these two months, I have engaged, in my capacity as Ambassador of France to the United States, with many American lawmakers, experts, and ordinary citizens about the agreement. Whether they were supporting or opposing it, I have always been impressed by the seriousness of my interlocutors and their commitment to understanding the details of the agreement and reaching a fair assessment.

As for all of us, my perspective on the JCPOA is influenced by my personal experiences. Two of them are particularly relevant for me in understanding the crucial nature of this agreement.

The first is my experience as the negotiator with Iran for France from 2006 to 2009. At that time, the United States was not part of the negotiations, which were conducted by the three European countries—the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. We spent dozens of hours negotiating with the Iranian team and trying to find ways to address the concerns of the international community. The categories of issues were the same as the ones addressed in the JCPOA, though at the time the Iranian nuclear program was much less advanced. However, at the time, in a different international context, with a different government in Tehran, the conditions were not ripe and we couldn’t achieve an agreement.

This experience makes me more appreciative of the results achieved by the JCPOA and the strong limits to Iranian nuclear capabilities and tightly-written controls that it specifies. These provisions impose strong barriers to a uranium enrichment route by requiring Iran to reduce steeply its current stockpile of uranium (by 98 percent) and number of centrifuges (by 2/3). They close the plutonium route by transforming the Arak reactor so as to no longer produce plutonium in military quantity and grade. They give to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) better access and better means of verification. Iran commits to implementing and then ratifying better safeguards, including the IAEA Additional Protocol.

In view of my experience, I do not believe a better deal could have been achieved. These provisions address all pathways to a nuclear weapon. The lifting of sanctions will take place on condition of Iran’s fulfillment of its nuclear obligations and sanctions will be automatically reintroduced in the event of Iran’s violation of its nuclear commitments. And we will continue to challenge other elements of Iran’s behavior, such as unacceptable language regularly used by Iran’s leaders about Israel.

As a negotiator, I have always striven to keep in mind the difference between the means—the sanctions imposed on Iran—and the objective—to guarantee the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. Sanctions have helped bring Iran to the table. But the idea that Iran would offer more concessions if the international community walked away from the deal is unrealistic. Imposing now additional sanctions would not serve our purpose.

My other experience relevant to the JCPOA is my last posting, as the French representative to the United Nations. In the Security Council, I spent days and nights trying to hammer out solutions on matters of international security with the other members of the Council. While some successes spring to the mind, such as the Resolution 1973 authorizing necessary means to protect civilians in Libya, in many cases compromises were hard or impossible to achieve. This is why the “snapback” mechanism, which ensures our ability to reinstate all UN sanctions in the event of Iran’s violation of its obligations, is in my view a key part of the agreement. The provisions in place enable each member of the E3+3 to refer the matter to the Security Council and, through an “inversed veto procedure,” puts the burden of obtaining a majority on the opposing members, ensuring therefore that a veto cannot block the request. This is both a strong and an innovative mechanism, which represents an unprecedented flexibility from the five permanent members of the Security Council. It gives me full confidence in our ability to enforce the verification measures stipulated in the agreement and to maintain Iran’s strong incentives not to violate the agreement.

France is confident in the ability of this agreement to guarantee the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. Once all national procedures are complete, we therefore want to embark on the full implementation of the JCPOA. As a negotiator and signatory of the agreement, and as a permanent member of the Security Council, my country intends to play its full part in this implementation phase, abiding by the agreement and monitoring vigorously its implementation.

Gérard Araud is France’s Ambassador to the United States. Follow him on Twitter @GerardAraud.

Image: Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani (right), welcomes French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Tehran July 29, 2015. Fabius conveyed an invitation from French President François Hollande to Rouhani to visit France in November. (Reuters)