December 17, 2015 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1213

Will The West Ease The Sanctions Even Though Iran Is Not Meeting Its JCPOA Obligations?

December 17, 2015 | By Y. Carmon and A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1213



With the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors' closure, on December 15, 2015, of Iran's PMD (Possible Military Dimensions) dossier, the JCPOA is now back on track for the implementation that began on Adoption Day, October 18, 2015.

It is now Iran's turn to meet its JCPOA obligations, which include removing nine tons of low-level enriched uranium from the country, dismantling centrifuges so that only 6,000 active ones remain, pouring concrete into the core of the nuclear reactor at Arak in a way that will prevent it from being used for producing plutonium, adopting the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and more.

Once the IAEA confirms that Iran has done this, Implementation Day will be declared; under it, the lifting of some of the sanctions on Iran and the suspension of others will take place, as promised by the U.S. and European countries on October 19, 2015. 

However, at this point, Iran is providing only a show of making progress in its implementation of its obligations. Inactive centrifuges are being transferred from site to site, and not a single active centrifuge has yet been dismantled. Iran has reached agreements with Russia to store its enriched uranium, and documents have been signed with the superpowers for changing the designation of the Arak reactor. But so far Iran has actually met none of its obligations.[1]

Holding back Iran's implementation is the October 21, 2015 letter from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to Iranian President Hassan Rohani setting nine new conditions that must be met first.

According to various reports, Iran is holding contacts with the U.S. vis-à-vis implementation of the JCPOA. On November 29, 2015, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the U.S. must do its part, that is, lift the sanctions, even before Iran meets its obligations - expressly contradicting the JCPOA.[2] Zarif also announced, upon his arrival in New York on December 17, 2015, that there is a possibility that he will meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry "for discussions on the implementation of the JCPOA."[3]

Could The U.S. And Europe Ease Or Lift Sanctions Even If Iran Does Not Meet Its JCPOA Obligations?

U.S. representatives have given no indication that the sanctions will be eased or lifted if Iran does not meet its obligations under the JCPOA. However, in his December 15, 2015 statements, when he presented his PMD report to the IAEA Board of Governors, IAEA secretary-general Yukiya Amano hinted at such a possibility. He said: "First, Iran needs to complete the necessary preparatory steps to start implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed with the E3/EU+3 countries. JCPOA Implementation Day will occur when the Agency has verified that Iran has implemented measures specified in that agreement. I will inform the Board promptly when the Agency has verified that the preparatory steps have been completed [emphasis MEMRI's]."[4]

The term "preparatory steps" does not appear in the JCPOA. It is not reasonable to suppose that the West would be satisfied with mere "preparatory steps" on Iran's part instead of full implementation of its obligations before sanctions are eased.

It should also be noted that Amano said on the same occasion: "All parties must fully implement their commitments under the JCPOA."[5]

At this stage, it is unclear whether Amano's use of the words "preparatory steps" instead of the words "fully implement... commitments under the JCPOA" represents intentions on the part of the U.S. administration; it could be nothing more than a general statement. This will become clear in the near future.  

In the meantime, in his December 16, 2015 address to the nation, Iranian President Rohani effusively praised the JCPOA and Iran's gains under it, and stated that in "January" the sanctions on Iran would be lifted.[6]

However, "January" is not a reasonable time frame. Iran would not succeed in completing all its tasks in such a short time, and IAEA would certainly not be able to submit a report verifying it had done so by then. 


*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.



[3] ISNA (Iran), December 17, 2015. It was also reported that secret talks were held in Oman in November 2014 between U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Atomic Energy Agency of Iran (AEAO) director Ali Akbar Salehi, on the possibility that Kazakhstan would be the country to which Iran would sent its enriched uranium, instead of Russia. The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2015.

[4], December 15, 2015.

[5], December 15, 2015.

[6] President Rohani said: "I announce to the Iranian people that in January the sanctions will be lifted; thus, one of the 11th government's election promises to the people will be kept, the sanctions will be lifted from the feet of the Iranian economy, and the way will be opened for more cooperation with the world." (Iran), December 16, 2015.


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