India’s Hidden Message to UN on Iran

Sushma Swaraj

by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

In a remarkable and somewhat unprecedented rebuke of the US administration, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has announced that India will not respect unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and will recognize “only the UN sanctions.” Bound to raise tensions with Washington, India’s brave decision reflects both India’s political evolution and the primacy of her own national interests. It’s also another setback for the White House’s hawkish anti-Iran policy, which has already alienated key European allies who are struggling to preserve the Iran nuclear deal without the United States by offering Iran a package of incentives in the near future. Adding real bite to her major policy announcement, Swaraj then went on to meet Iran’s visiting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is seeking to shore up global sanctions-busting support through a flurry of diplomatic trips.

India’s principled stance of maintaining business as usual with Iran despite American pressure reassures Iran about one of its key energy trade partners. Indeed, India’s imports from Iran have peaked in recent months to over 600,000 barrels per day.   China, too, has invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a bilateral meeting in June ahead of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where Iran as an observer keen on full membership. Moreover, Beijing has signaled its intention to sustain its key energy connections with Iran, which include investment by Chinese firms in Iran’s vast South Pars Field. Together, India and China make up nearly 40 percent of Iran’s oil exports and this might jump even higher in the near future.

Swaraj’s statement has focused attentions on New Delhi and its growing economic and geopolitical ties with Tehran. This was vividly demonstrated in the February 2018 India visit by Rouhani that resulted in a number of new bilateral trade agreements, including on the expansion of the India-built Chah Bahar port, which is also key for Afghanistan’s development.

But there is also a hidden message regarding the role of UN in the present controversies swirling around unilateral U.S. exit from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). Indirectly, Swaraj is sending a message to the UN that it must take action in defense of the JCPOA in conformity with its own stance mandating full compliance with the terms of the agreement not only by the signatories but also the entire UN family of nations.

To elaborate, UNSC Resolution 2231 provides for the termination of the provisions of the previous seven Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue, retains a temporary arms embargo and ballistic missile technology ban, codifies the sanctions “snapback” mechanism (under which all Security Council sanctions will be automatically re-imposed if Iran breaches the deal), and assigns to the International Atomic Energy Agency the necessary verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA for their full duration. Also, the resolution calls on the UN chief to report to the Security Council on the JCPOA’s implementation and also sets up a Security Council facilitator to provide a brief on the JCPOA’s implementation parallel to the efforts of the secretary general. This resolution is invoked under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes it to adopt measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. All the other Iran resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran invoked Article 41 as well.

A Security Council resolution is “binding” when it creates obligations on its addressees. The starting point in interpreting a resolution should be the natural and ordinary meaning of the terms used by the Security Council and the weight and importance attached to its “demands” and or “requests” by the Council. Resolution 2231 “affirms” that the JCPOA’s adoption “marks a fundamental shift in its consideration of the issue,” urges all member-states to fully comply with the terms of the JCPOA, and “decides under Article 41” that “states shall comply” with the various provisions of the resolution. It “underscores” that “that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Security Council’s decisions” and then goes on to call for the agreement’s adoption by the member states. Indeed, the “binding” nature of the resolution can be confirmed by the resolution’s own explicit reliance on Article 25, which states: “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.” This is a legal obligation, enforceable under international law, which has a broad and evolving scope encompassing the decisions of Security Council increasingly acting as a fount of international law.

Given that Article 25 is placed in the Charter’s sections dealing with the general powers and functions of the Security Council, it clearly indicates the applicability of Article 25 for any of the Security Council’s actions, and not just those taken pursuant to other articles, above all its call on member-states to adopt and implement the provisions of the JCPOA. Substantive decisions within the meaning of Article 25 of the Charter are typically referrenced to as “legally binding decisions: ergo omnes (valid for the world) rather than an ordinary traité contrat.

So, why don’t the other JCPOA signatories collectively introduce a new Security Council resolution in defense of the JCPOA, just as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has done? The United States would of course veto such a resolution but in so doing it would be inflicting further damage on its own credibility and global image and, simultaneously, elicit more pressure both at home and abroad to re-think its ill-advised and, indeed, illegal move on the JCPOA, which has isolated the US in the international community. Who knows, perhaps India’s timely jolt will spur the JCPOA authoring states in the Security Council—UK, France, China, and Russia—to action against the blatant U.S. breach of a legally binding international agreement.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi is a former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign affairs, including Iran Nuclear Accord and the Remaking of the Middle East (with Nader Entessar).

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  1. Kaveh

    The latest news is that Reliance is pulling out of oil deals with the Ayatollahs. So you are wrong.

    Will you please stop defending the horrid Ayatollahs just because you don’t like US policies.

    Defend Iran, not Ayatollahs.

  2. Unlike as Mr.Mostofi had implied in last message,I think this is question of sovereignty of nation rather than strengthening Ayatollahs.Thesre should be more countries joining with India to create parallel narrative to give Iran ability to stand on own.

  3. The Bush administration bribed India under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a nuclear cooperation agreement (that itself was in violation of US obligations under the NPT) in order to get India to vote against Iran at the IAEA Board in late 2005 ad (illegally) refer Iran’s file to the UNSC – I wonder what price they will extract from the US now:

    India’s IAEA vote helped gain support for nuclear deal, says US official
    India Daily Oct. 19, 2005
    On the eve of his visit to New Delhi, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns has said that with India voting in favour of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme, Congressional opposition to the Indo-US nuclear agreement has disappeared and both sides would meet their commitments before President George W. Bush visits India next year.”

  4. The American Administration, despite the absence of a powerful enemy to challenge its military power, is nevertheless bound to face the same disintegration the British Colonial Empire faced in the inevitable process of decolonisation.

    The alarming undeniable ‘cracks’ in the structure of the US world image have already been on the increase, most notably being the the moral decline of its once renowned ‘liberating’ but then soon turned ‘detested’ ‘invading’ savage Imperialist army, followed by the devastating crisis of the American contradictory ‘capitalist culture’ and its ‘fractured’ delusional society trapped in its decomposed ‘American Dream’ constantly being manipulated by the American delusional corrupt politicians and institutions.

    The time will come when the military power will not signify real ‘power’ and the majority of world powers will no longer have much respect for the ‘destabilizing’ hypocritical American Administration; and the American domination of the world and its monstrous influence of the UN and global financial markets will be replaced by other more powerful nations. In this process, ‘inspiring’ will be the legacy of the nations who have dared to stand on their own feet and despite their ‘limited’ military and economic power had audacity to say ‘no’ to the American Imperialist values and policies.

    The disintegration of the American Power will come – and in this inevitable process as my dear friend the late Paulo Freire used to say, we must be “impatiently patient”!

  5. India is acting like a big power about time to get out of American shadow. Thankfully Trump has made America’s friends into a hate club.

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