UN arms embargo on Iran

In December 2006 the UNSC imposed a partial embargo on the export of technology related to nuclear weapon delivery systems to Iran, which includes certain technologies which can be used in conventional military applications. In March 2007 the UNSC added an embargo on arms exports from Iran. This was followed in June 2010 by a UN embargo on the export of most major conventional weapons to Iran. These UN restrictions on arms supplies to Iran remain in place. However, in July 2015 it was decided that from the day it is confirmed that Iran has implemented certain restrictions on its nuclear programme, supplies of major arms and related components and services would be possible with the specific approval from the Security Council and that all arms related sanctions would be lifted 5 to 8 years later.

The UN Security Council in December 2006 unanimously adopted Resolution 1737, which inter alia, established an embargo on the export to and import from Iran of certain items and technology potentially related to nuclear weapons. The resolution was a reaction to the fact that the IAEA, after over 3 years of investigations, was still unable to verify that there were no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran. The embargo does not deal explicitly with conventional arms. However, the coverage of the ban includes missiles and other technologies that can be used in both conventional and nuclear military applications.

The embargo is aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. It therefore prohibits states from directly or indirectly supplying, or helping to supply goods and technology to Iran which could contribute to Iran's uranium enrichment-related, nuclear fuel reprocessing or heavy water-related activities. The resolution also prohibits the transfer of goods and technology that could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.

The resolution does not detail these delivery systems or the types of technologies covered. For a more specific definition of the goods and technology related to delivery systems, the resolution refers to a document originally related to the arms embargo against North Korea, 'A list of items and technology related to ballistic missile programmes (S/2006/815)'. This document provides an overview of items and technology related to the delivery and production of rocket systems (including ballistic missile systems, space launch vehicles and sounding rockets) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems (including cruise missiles, target drones and reconnaissance drones) capable of delivering at least a 500 kg payload to a range of at least 300 km.

Many of the items mentioned in S/2006/815 are items commonly used in the production of conventional weapons, especially missiles and combat aircraft. Hence, the embargo may hinder Iran's efforts to procure conventional, as well as non-conventional weapons technology. In addition, the resolution obliges states to 'freeze the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories ... that are owned or controlled by the persons or entities designated in the Annex'. Included in the Annex are Defence Industries Organization (DIO) and subsidiaries of Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), companies that are involved in the production of conventional weapons for the Iranian armed forces from mainly foreign sourced components. The resolution may make it harder for these companies, and therefore the Iranian armed forces, to procure components, equipment and technology from abroad.

In March 2007 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1747, which inter alia, established an embargo on the export from Iran of all arms and related materials, thereby banning all states and groups from purchasing or receiving arms from Iran. The resolution also called on all states to 'exercise vigilance and restraint' in their supply of any items covered by the UN Register of Conventional Arms to Iran.

On 9 June 2010 Security Council Resolution 1929, not unanimously adopted, imposed further restrictions on arms exports to Iran. Resolution 1929 inter alia prohibits states to directly or indirectly supply, or help to supply, Iran with major conventional weapons as defined by the UN Register of Conventional Weapons - battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, certain missiles and missile launchers (more information on the UN Register and its coverage can be found here.) The resolution also prohibits the supply of related spare parts along with 'technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of' the listed items.

Unlike most UNSC arms embargoes, certain weapons including larger land based Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems and most Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and other equipment delivered specifically for military use are not covered by the arms embargo in resolution 1929. However states are called upon to exercise restraint in the supply of arms and related materiel not covered by the embargo to Iran.

As part of an international agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 14 July 2015, the UNSC adopted unanimously resolution 2231 on 20 July 2015. It stipulates its will change the UN sanctions on Iran as soon as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provides a report to the UNSC which conforms that Iran has taken the actions related to its nuclear programme specified in the JCPOA. From the JCPOA Adoption Day, the provisions related to restrictions on the export from and transfer to Iran of conventional weapons or related goods and services will no longer be blanket embargoes. 

Instead the Security Council will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to permit the transfer of goods and technology that could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems based on the inclusion of appropriate end-user guarantees and Iran committing not to use such items for nuclear weapon delivery systems. This provision will be lifted 8 years after the JCPOA Adoption Day.

Furthermore, all states will be allowed to participate in the supply of major conventional arms and related components and services to Iran provided that the Security Council decides in advance on a case-by-case basis to approve such supplies. This provision will be lifted five years after the JCPOA Adoption Day.

The embargo on the export from Iran of all arms and related materials will remain in place until 5 years after the JCPOA Adoption Day.

Different from other UN embargoes where arms can be supplied to governments if advance approval has been received from the relevant Sanction Committee, for the sanctions on Iran it is the Security Council that has to give approval. 

All three provisions will also be lifted if and when the IAEA has reached the so-called 'Broader Conclusion' in which it concludes that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, even if this occurs before the 8 or 5 years from the JCPOA Adoption Day.

Last updated 31 August 2015

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