In the later days of the negotiations between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany) and Iran over the country’s nuclear program, another in a long line of standoffs emerged. Iran’s negotiators argued that since the deal was supposed to eliminate all nuclear sanctions against Iran, the language against Iran’s missile program in a 2010 Security Council resolution should be stricken when the Council passes a new resolution endorsing a nuclear deal. They argued that since the resolution’s language addressed the missiles in the context of their use as a potential nuclear delivery mechanism, they should be considered nuclear sanctions. The United States, a geopolitical adversary of Iran, disagreed. America’s European allies sided with the United States. Critically, Russia and China sided with Iran .
The fissures among Iran’s interlocutors led to a compromise that sets the current debate about the Iranian missile and SLV programs. In the last few weeks, after Iran’s testing of a Space Launch Vehicle (SLV), a number of experts have weighed into the technical and legal dimensions of the current row, but important political issues underpinning this debate need to be understood to put those valuable contributions to the debate in the proper context.
The compromise made in the context of the nuclear deal meant that the new resolution endorsing the agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would address the Iranian missile program but significant changes would be made in comparison to the 2010 resolution it supersedes.
The now-superseded Security Council resolution 1929 stated the following:
“Decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities;”
While the new, superseding resolution 2231 says: