[Dan Joyner is Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is the author of the forthcoming book
Iran’s Nuclear Program and International Law, which is under contract with Oxford University Press, and is expected in print in 2016.]
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to by the P5+1 (Germany, France, the U.K., the U.S., China, Russia) and Iran on July 14 is a major success of international diplomacy, possibly to be credited with the avoidance of war. It is the culmination of twenty months of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran since the initial Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was agreed by the parties in November 2013. See my analysis here
of the JPOA when it was concluded.
The JCPOA is comprised of 159 total pages of text, consisting of 18 pages of the JCPOA itself, with a further 141 pages divided among five annexes. All of the documents can be found at this link
. It is a carefully drafted, well organized document, and compliments are due its drafters.
That being said, it is an extremely complex document, which attempts to address all of the issues in dispute between the parties concerning Iran’s nuclear program, from how many and what type of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran can maintain in operation, to the technical specifications of transforming the Arak heavy water reactor into an alternate less-proliferation-sensitive design, to excruciatingly detailed provisions on the precise sequencing of sanctions lifting by the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. and the E.U.
The general gist of the JCPOA is easy enough to summarize. It is a quid pro quo
agreement under which Iran agrees to significant limits on its civilian nuclear program, and to an enhanced inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify the continued peaceful nature of its program. In return, the P5+l agree to a coordinated lifting of the economic and financial sanctions that have been applied against Iran over the past six years by both the Security Council acting multilaterally, and the U.S. and E.U. in particular acting unilaterally. The end goal of the JCPOA is stated to be that Iran will ultimately be treated as a normal nuclear energy producing state, on par with Japan, Germany and many other Non-Nuclear Weapon States party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The precise sequencing of the implementation of the JCPOA’s commitments was one of the most difficult issues in the negotiations, and the JCPOA has one full annex, Annex V, devoted to the issue. The implementation plan provides for approximately a 10 year timeline over which the main commitments are to be implemented by the parties. Technically “UNSCR Termination Day,” on which all Security Council resolutions on Iran will terminate, and on which the Council will no longer be seized of the Iran nuclear issue, is set to occur 10 years from “Adoption Day,” which is scheduled for 90 days after the endorsement of the JCPOA by the Security Council.
Sanctions relief will be staggered, but will begin in earnest on “Implementation Day,” on which date the IAEA will certify that Iran has implemented its primary commitments limiting its nuclear program. This could occur within approximately six months from “Adoption Day.” The final, full lifting of all multilateral and unilateral sanctions is set to occur on “Transition Day,” which is defined as 8 years from “Adoption Day,” or when the IAEA reports that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful use, whichever is earlier. So the JCPOA envisions a full lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran within the next eight years at a maximum, with significant sanctions lifting to occur hopefully within the coming year.
There are a number of important legal observations to make about the JCPOA text.