Overview

The United Nations provides an important platform for the U.S. and its allies to build a unified, multilateral front against Iran and other states that fail to live up to their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which commits countries to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technologies. In this regard, the UN system as a whole, and the Security Council in particular, have been critical to advancing U.S.-led efforts to isolate Iran and sharpen the choices of its leaders regarding the country’s long controversial nuclear program. Provided below is a synopsis of how the U.S. and the UN have worked to help advance these goals.

UN Sanctions against Iran

In June 2010, the U.S. scored a major victory in its efforts to isolate Iran when the Security Council adopted Resolution 1929, creating the toughest multilateral sanctions regime ever faced by the Iranian government. The sanctions imposed restrictions not only on Iran’s nuclear activities, but also on its ballistic missile program and, for the first time, its conventional military.  The resolution also created a new framework to stop Iranian smuggling and crack down on Iranian financial institutions, targeting individuals and entities – including those associated with the Revolutionary Guard – that have supported Iran’s nuclear program and prospered from illicit activities.  The multilateral sanctions had an especially significant economic impact – with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling them “the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history” – and played a key role in bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

Role of the IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has played a critical role in helping to build the case for continued international attention to and action on the country’s nuclear activities. First established in 1957, the IAEA works to prevent, detect, and respond to illicit or non-peaceful uses of nuclear material. The IAEA currently monitors and inspects nuclear facilities in more than 140 countries to ensure that fissile material is not being diverted to produce nuclear weapons. These activities can help provide the international community with advanced warning of and trigger a global response to the existence of an illicit nuclear program.

The IAEA’s work on nuclear nonproliferation has produced a number of important results in recent years. In 2004, the IAEA verified the dismantlement of Libya’s nuclear program after Libyan authorities renounced it in 2003 and in 2014 the UN worked with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to help destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal.

Perhaps most widely known, however, is IAEA’s monitoring activities in Iran. The work IAEA has done in Iran played a pivotal role in shining a light on Tehran’s nuclear program and bolstering U.S.-led efforts to curb it. Partially as a result, on July 14, 2015 Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., China, Russia, France, United Kingdom, and Germany) reached an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. The UN Security Council voted later that month to approve the deal.

In the most general terms, Iran agreed to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium to a fraction of what would be needed to make a bomb, halt the use of advanced centrifuges, and allow UN inspectors access to nuclear sites. In response, U.S., UN and other multilateral and bilateral sanctions on Iran will be gradually removed.

Whether or not you agree with the deal reached between Iran and P5+1, the IAEA is critical to ensuring Iran abides by its commitments. The agreement empowers the IAEA to monitor, inspect, and verify every aspect of Iran’s nuclear program in order to ensure that the country is adhering to limits on its nuclear activities and not diverting materials to a secret weapons program. Moreover, international sanctions levied against Iran will not be lifted until the IAEA certifies that it has taken steps to dramatically reduce uranium enrichment, redesign its heavy-water reactor at Arak, and address the agency’s outstanding questions about past nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.