Obama's Snap-Back Sanctions Won't Snap Back

Nuclear proliferation will be able to expand much faster than the procedure for sanctioning allows.

Baruch Stein,

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Baruch Stein
INN: Stein
While international treaties and other political documents like UN resolutions may often seem intimidating, the Iran nuclear framework agreement (which gives a good indication of what the next few hours will bring)  is a simple document of about two pages. Though it does contain some technical language, references to UN resolutions, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement, and things like “Modified Code 3.1” or “the Additional Protocol of the IAEA,” a simple reading of the document is telling, even for someone unfamiliar with all of its references.

The Obama administration has touted its provisions for snap-back sanctions should Iran violate a final agreement, to be called the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).

Referring to American and European sanctions that are now in place, to the exclusion of UN sanctions, the framework states that, “If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.” It only takes a layman’s reading, though, to see that the snap-back provisions are not as decisive as the administration is presenting them to be.

The framework requires that Iran be confronted with any, “disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments,” through, “A dispute resolution process.”

It certainly seems fair that if Iran is accused of wrongdoing there should be a procedure to examine the situation before they are simply declared guilty and sentenced. The problem is not the idea of “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” The problem is that even once proven guilty, sanctions would still not snap-back.

Once found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, assuming that to be the standard of the “dispute resolution process” (my how western values have taken over) the only thing Iran would have to do would be to, “resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments.” That is to say, if you get caught, just correct your behavior. Thanks for trying, come back and try again soon.

The reapplication of UN sanctions requires, “significant non-performance [that] cannot be resolved through [the dispute resolution] process,” and even in such an event the wording is that sanctions, “could be re-imposed.”  

When it comes to sanctions imposed by the US and EU, though, the framework is clear that they would snap-back, “If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments.” How that would fit in with the “dispute resolution process” and the opportunity to “resolve” violations, is not so clear.

So, break the rules and there will be a trial procedure that will last an unspecified length of time. During the trial the actions about which the parties
So, break the rules and there will be a trial procedure that will last an unspecified length of time.
“disagree” may or may not be ongoing. Be found guilty, by a yet unnamed judge/panel using yet unspecified procedures, and there appears to be no penalty as long as you reverse course once you are convicted. Decide to continue to violate the agreement, and the punishment specified in the framework "could" reach the same level of sanctions that are in place today, or could be less.

All this within a system about which Obama told NPR on April seventh, “In year thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, they [will] have advanced centrifuges that can enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”

The administration has backtracked on those comments, but breakout timetables for after the tenth year remain unclear. We do know, however, based on information provided by the framework, that after year ten restrictions will begin to be lifted and the breakout times will drop significantly, to a point where they will be considerably less than the two to three months they are now.

So it seems that under the final agreement, expected to be completed at any moment, Iran’s nuclear proliferation could snap back more easily than the sanctions meant to deter their development of nuclear weapons, while as of yet there have been no signs that the agreement will provide for any sanctions stronger than what is currently in place, no matter what the circumstances of the situation may be.

Baruch Stein holds a BA in Political Science from Penn State University with minors in Middle Eastern Studies, and Philosophy. After growing up in Pennsylvania, he has lived in Jerusalem for seven years.