By Samuel Hickey, Research Analyst
On January 14, 2020, the E3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) together triggered the dispute resolution mechanism (DRM) enshrined in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal. The E3 have been threatening this action for months and the E3 countries are now sending a strong signal that diplomacy is the only way forward. In as few as 65 days, all previous UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions lifted under Res. 2231 could be reimposed on Iran, effectively collapsing the JCPOA. With all of the speculation in the air about what will happen next, here is a quick guide to the JCPOA DRM.
Step One: The Joint Commission. Duration: 15 days. Once the DRM is triggered, the Joint Commission (comprising China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Iran) meets to discuss any complaints. If the Joint Commission resolves the issue at this stage, then the process is done. If not, the Joint Commission can seek a secondary opinion. Joint Commission members can also decide to extend this consultation period by consensus for an indefinite period of time.
(The United States no longer sits on the Joint Commission since ceasing its participation under the JCPOA on May 8, 2018.)
Step Two: Issue referred to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and/or a three-member Advisory Board. Duration: 15 days. For a secondary opinion, the Joint Commission can request a non-binding opinion from the Joint Commission’s own Ministers of Foreign Affairs “in parallel with (or in lieu of)” an Advisory Board opinion. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs can also decide to extend this consultation period by consensus for an indefinite period of time. The Advisory Board would be made up of one member from each side of the dispute and “an independent member,” and it was anticipated that the Advisory Board would investigate technical matters.
Step Three: The Joint Commission considers the Ministers of Foreign Affairs/Advisory Board opinion. Duration: 5 days. If the issue remains unresolved after 5 days and “if the complaining participant deems the issue to constitute significant non-performance,” then the complaining participant may (note this is not necessary) notify the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that it believes the violation constitutes “significant non-performance.” At this point, if notification is given to the UNSC, the DRM has been exhausted and UNSC resolution 2231 – which is legally binding – guides the process at the UNSC.
(At the end of this 35-plus-day consultation period, there is no obligation to notify the UNSC and the JCPOA would continue operating under its original terms.)
Step Four: Notifying the UNSC. Duration: 30 days. If a notification is sent to the UNSC, that body shall vote on a resolution to continue lifting sanctions on Iran within 30 days. Any permanent member of the security council, including the United States, can veto the resolution, which is referred to as the “snapback mechanism.” If a vote approving the resolution to “continue the lifting of sanctions” on Iran is not passed then, at that point, all previous UNSC sanctions resolutions would be reimposed on Iran under Res. 2231, and all states would be required to comply.