U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Explanation of Vote at a UN Security Council Vote on Resolution 2231 on Iran Non-proliferation
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
July 20, 2015
Thank you, Mr. President.
Today we have adopted a UN Security Council resolution enshrining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, agreed to six days ago in Vienna. By now, many are familiar with the basic tenets of the deal, which, if implemented, would cut off all pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon for the Islamic Republic of Iran, while putting in place a rigorous inspection and transparency regime to verify Iran’s compliance.
The JCPOA will cut the number of Iran’s centrifuges by two-thirds and prevent Iran from producing weapons-grade plutonium. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium – going from a quantity that could produce approximately ten nuclear weapons, to a fraction of what is needed for a single nuclear weapon. The deal will quadruple Iran’s breakout time – the time needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon – from the current estimate of two to three months, to one year. It will also require Iran and all states to comply with legally binding restrictions on nuclear-, conventional arms-, and ballistic missile-related activities.
Ninety days from today, when our respective capitals and legislatures have had a chance to carefully review the deal’s provisions, the commitments in the JCPOA should take effect. Sanctions relief will begin only when Iran verifiably completes the initial steps necessary to bring its nuclear program in line with the deal.
It is important today to step back from the JCPOA to its larger lessons – lessons about enforcing global norms, the essential role of diplomacy, the need for ongoing vigilance, and the absolute necessity of the unity of this Council – lessons that have implications both for ensuring implementation of the deal and for tackling other crises that confront us today.
This year we mark seventy years since the founding of the United Nations, which the second Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, famously said, “was not created to bring us to heaven, but to save us from hell.” In the wake of the devastating loss of life in the Second World War and the immeasurable suffering it caused, representatives from nations around the world came together with an aim: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”
The first lesson we can learn from how this deal was secured is that it is not enough to agree to global norms, such as that against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This Council and all the countries of the United Nations must actually take steps to enforce global norms. In 2006, in response to Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program, the United Nations Security Council put in place one of the toughest sanctions regimes in its history, which was complemented by robust sanctions imposed by the United States, several other countries, and the European Union. Faced with Iran’s ongoing noncompliance, the UN tightened its sanctions in 2007, 2008, and 2010. This sanctions regime played a critical role in helping lay the groundwork for the talks that would give rise to the JCPOA.
The second lesson is one most eloquently articulated more than fifty years ago by President John F. Kennedy and echoed last week by President Obama: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” Given the devastating human toll of war, we have a responsibility to test diplomacy. In 2010, when then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice spoke in this Chamber after the Council strengthened sanctions on Iran, she cited the ways in which Iran had violated its commitments to the IAEA and its obligations under prior Security Council resolutions. Yet she also said, “The United States reaffirms our commitment to engage in robust, principled, and creative diplomacy. We will remain ready to continue diplomacy with Iran and its leaders.” And when a credible opening emerged for negotiations, that is exactly what the United States and the other members of the P5+1 – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China – and the EU did.
There were many occasions over these last two years of grueling negotiations when any party could have walked away. The distances just seemed too great; the history between us searing; and the resulting mistrust defining. But the United States and our partners knew that we had a responsibility to try to overcome these obstacles and resolve the crisis peacefully. One only has to spend a week in the Security Council, any week, and hear accounts of the bloodshed and heartbreak in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Darfur, Mali, Libya or any other conflict-ridden part of the world – to be reminded of the consequences of war. Sometimes, as both the UN Charter and history make clear, the use of force is required, but we all have a responsibility to work aggressively in diplomatic channels to try to secure our objectives peacefully.
This nuclear deal doesn’t change our profound concern about human rights violations committed by the Iranian government, or about the instability Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program – from its support for terrorist proxies, to its repeated threats against Israel, to its other destabilizing activities in the region. That is why the United States will continue to invest in the security of our allies in the region and why we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missiles program and its human rights violations.
And this deal will in no way diminish the United States’ outrage over the unjust detention of U.S. citizens by the Government of Iran. Let me use this occasion to call once again on Iran to immediately release all unjustly detained Americans: Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for his religious beliefs; Amir Hekmati, falsely accused of espionage; and Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent who just a year ago was covering the nuclear negotiations. I also call on Iran to help locate Robert Levinson, who has been missing from Iran since 2007. No family should be forced to endure the anguish that the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian and Levinson families feel, and we will not rest until they are home where they belong.
But denying Iran a nuclear weapon is important not in spite of these other destabilizing actions, but rather because of them. As President Obama pointed out, “that is precisely why we are taking this step – because an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilizing and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world.” So while this deal does not address many of our profound concerns, if implemented, it would make the world safer and more secure.
Yet while reaching this deal matters, our work is far from finished. In the months and even years ahead, the international community must apply the same rigor to ensuring compliance to the JCPOA as we did to drafting and negotiating it. This is my third point: implementation is everything.
And that is precisely why so many verification measures have been built into this deal. The JCPOA will grant the IAEA access when it needs it, where it needs it, including 24/7 containment and surveillance of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities. Inspectors will have access to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s peaceful nuclear program – from mining and milling, to conversion, to enrichment, to fuel manufacturing, to nuclear reactors, to spent fuel. If the terms of the deal are not followed, all sanctions that have been suspended can be snapped back into place. And if the United States or any other JCPOA participant believes that Iran is violating its commitments, we can trigger a process in the Security Council that will reinstate the UN sanctions.
The fourth and final lesson we can learn from the process that led us here today is that when our nations truly unite to confront global crises, our impact grows exponentially. The founders of the United Nations understood this concept intrinsically and enshrined it in the Charter, which calls on each of us “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” In the twenty-first century, it is now an axiom that our nations can do more to advance peace, justice and human dignity by working together than any single country can achieve on its own. And indeed that only when we act as united nations can we address the world’s most intractable problems.
Although we don’t see this unity enough here at the UN, the countries of the United Nations did largely unite behind the cause of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran. And it was the persistent, multilateral pressure that came out of this unity – combined with a critical openness to seeking a diplomatic solution – that gave the P5+1 and EU negotiators the leverage they needed to get the deal that would advance our collective security.
Let me conclude. Ultimately, the only proper measure of this deal – and all of the tireless efforts that went into it – will be its implementation. This deal gives Iran an opportunity to prove to the world that it intends to pursue a nuclear program solely for peaceful purposes. If Iran seizes that opportunity; if it abides by the commitments that it agreed to in this deal, as it did throughout the period of the JCPOA negotiations; if it builds upon the mutual respect and diligence that its negotiators demonstrated in Lausanne and Vienna; and if it demonstrates a willingness to respect the international standards upon which our collective security rests; then it will find the international community and the United States willing to provide a path out of isolation and toward greater engagement.
We hope Iran’s government will choose that path – not only because it will make the United States, its allies, and the world more secure, though it will. But also because it will more fully empower the Iranian people, whose potential all of us should wish to see unlocked.
But just think, for one moment, how much more effective this Council would be if we were to bring the same approach to tackling other threats to international peace and security today – rigorous enforcement; a willingness to be relentless in our pursuit of tough, principled diplomacy – even when the odds seem stacked against us; a commitment not just to resolutions, but to their full implementation; and a willingness to overcome divisions to strengthen our collective security. If we did all this, just think what we might be able to achieve to mitigate the horrific suffering in Syria today. And just think what progress the United Nations could make were we to bring the same political will to advancing the human rights of the world’s most vulnerable people as we have to cutting off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. How many more girls worldwide would be in classrooms? How many more warlords and dictators worldwide would be behind bars? It is humbling to imagine how much more we could achieve. It should motivate us to do far more.