Introduction

On July 14, 2015, the “P5+1” countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany, also referred to as the “the E3/EU+3”) announced an agreement to curtail significantly Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for providing phased economic sanctions relief.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) creates a framework, subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring, under which Iran will cease certain non-compliant nuclear activities and develop its civil nuclear energy program over a period of 15 years.  See Annex I, Annex II (with attachments), Annex III, Annex IV, and Annex V to the JCPOA.  See also our previous international law advisories regarding Iran sanctions.

The JCPOA calls for Iran to take certain initial steps with regard to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.  Once the IAEA certifies that Iran has taken these steps – a process that is expected to take several months – the United States and European Union will lift many (but not all) economic sanctions targeting major sectors of the Iranian economy, including the energy, financial, shipping, shipbuilding, and automotive industries.  The United States and European Union also will remove certain individuals, entities, vessels, and aircraft from sanctions lists.  In parallel, the P5+1 have also committed to pass a UN Security Council resolution to lift provisions of previous resolutions regarding the Iranian nuclear program. 

Most of the US sanctions relief is directed at “secondary” sanctions applicable to non-US persons, with a narrower class of relief applicable to US persons and foreign entities owned or controlled by US persons.  Most of the agreed-upon sanctions relief will occur when the IAEA verifies that Iran has implemented measures to restrict its uranium enrichment, nuclear fuel reprocessing, and production and storage of fissile material; additional sanctions relief will occur much later, upon further verification of Iran's peaceful nuclear development years down the road.  Notably, most aspects of the US embargo against Iran, which restricts most trade between US persons (and their foreign subsidiaries) and Iran, will remain intact except as noted below.  The United States also will leave intact certain secondary sanctions imposed due to Iran’s human rights record, support for terrorism, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

The EU sanctions relief is much broader than the US sanctions relief, and will eventually lift all of the EU sanctions on Iran.  The initial round of sanctions relief will lift restrictions on Iran-related funds transfers, trade finance, and insurance; imports of Iranian crude oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals, as well as investment in, and exports of key equipment to, those industries; Iran-related trade in gold and precious metals; and trade related to the shipping and shipbuilding industries.  Later on, following further IAEA verification of Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA – a period that could take up to eight years – the European Union will lift restrictions on exports of dual-use items, certain industrial metals, and certain software.  Finally, ten years after the initial adoption of the JCPOA, the EU will lift remaining sanctions related to nuclear proliferation.

Until sanctions relief is triggered under the JCPOA, the temporary sanctions relief set out in the preliminary Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) remains effective.  To read more about the current state of Iran sanctions relief, please see Steptoe’s alert on the JPOA here (and subsequent updates here, here, and here.)  See also a statement on the JCPOA released by the US Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Frequently Asked Questions guidance issued by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

US Sanctions Relief

Current Sanctions Relief under JPOA

The United States relaxed certain sanctions pursuant to the JPOA reached between Iran and the “P5+1” countries on November 24, 2013, and first implemented on January 20, 2014.  Specifically, the United States relaxed economic sanctions directed at non-US persons aimed at restricting such persons from conducting business with Iran related to petrochemical products; the automobile industry; Iran’s purchase and sale of gold and other precious metals; and Iran’s export of crude oil to China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and Taiwan.  The United States also authorized US persons to supply to Iran spare parts in support of the safe operation of Iran’s civil aircraft.  Furthermore, the JPOA established a “financial channel” to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.  OFAC has implemented the JPOA through the publication of Guidance, Frequently Asked Questions, and a Statement of Licensing Policy.

The JCPOA extends the sanctions relief under the JPOA through “Implementation Day,” the date on which the JCPOA becomes effective, which is discussed below.  See OFAC’s statement, which provides that “all specific licenses that: (1) were issued pursuant to OFAC’s Second Amended Statement of Licensing Policy on Activities Related to the Safety of Iran’s Civil Aviation Industry, and (2) have an expiration date on or before July 14, 2015, are hereby authorized to remain in effect according to their terms until Implementation Day.”  In essence, and assuming the JCPOA is implemented, the current "interim" relief has become permanent.

Timeline of Sanctions Relief

On “Adoption Day” – 90 days after the JCPOA is approved by the UN Security Council (expected the week of July 20), which likely would fall in late October 2015 – JCPOA Annex V requires the President to take some preliminary actions such as issuing waivers to applicable statutory provisions, directing the Executive Branch to take the necessary steps to terminate relevant (but not all) economic sanctions Executive Orders, and preparing new licensing processes.  We do not believe any sanctions relief, beyond that described immediately above, will take place during this time period.

On “Implementation Day” – when the IAEA certifies Iranian compliance with certain JCPOA provisions, which may occur late this year or early next year – the US will “cease the application of” certain sanctions provisions, terminate relevant Executive Orders, begin approving licenses, and remove certain individuals and entities from US sanctions lists, including the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List, Foreign Sanctions Evaders List, and the Iran Sanctions Act List.  Most of the sanctions relief will occur on “Implementation Day.” 

There will be additional sanctions relief on “Transition Day,” when the IAEA provides further verification regarding Iran’s compliance, which could take up to eight years to occur.

Initial Expanded Relief / “Implementation Day”

As of Implementation Day, the US will not impose restrictions on non-US persons (which do not include foreign subsidiaries of US companies) that engage in the following activities:

  • Financial and banking
    • Transactions with and the provision of financial services to numerous Iranian entities, including the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and other Iranian financial institutions, the National Iranian Oil Company, the Naftiran Intertrade Company, the National Tanker Company, and certain specified SDNs. 
    • Trading in Iranian rials and providing banknotes to the Government of Iran.
    • Dealing in Iranian sovereign debt.
    • Bilateral trade limitations on Iranian revenues held abroad. 
    • Provision of financial messaging services (such as SWIFT messaging) to the CBI and Iranian financial institutions.  Notably, as discussed below, EU restrictions on the provision of such services will remain in effect until “Transition Day,” which could take up to eight years.  In practice, this could mean that the only financial messaging services that will be available to Iran before “Transition Day” are non-US, non-EU services.
  • Energy and petrochemicals
    • Purchase, acquisition, sale, transportation, and marketing of Iranian petroleum, petrochemical products, and natural gas. Note that currently, no restrictions exist on the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products, as well as amounts of Iranian crude oil destined for six specific countries.
    • Investment in the Iranian energy sector.
    • Provision of refined petroleum and petrochemical products to Iran. 
    • Transactions with the Iranian energy sector, including with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), and the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).
  • Shipping, shipbuilding, and ports:  Transactions with Iran’s shipping and shipbuilding sectors and port operators, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), South Shipping Line, NITC, and operators of the port of Bandar Abbas.  Notably, Annex II states that this commitment is dependent on the port operator (s) of Bandar Abbas no longer being controlled by an SDN.  Reportedly, the port operator currently is controlled by Tidewater Middle East Co., which has been designated as an SDN for WMD proliferation activities.
  • Automotive:  Provision of goods and services to Iran’s automotive sector.  Note that this activity already is the subject of sanctions relief under the JPOA.
  • Insurance:  Underwriting services, insurance, and reinsurance for activities that enjoy sanctions relief under the JCPOA.
  • Precious metals: Trade in gold and other precious metals.  Note that this activity already is the subject of sanctions relief under the JPOA.
  • Metals and software:  Transactions with Iran related to graphite, raw or semi-finished metals, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes, but only for activities that enjoy sanctions relief under the JCPOA.  As noted below, the United States will lift the full range of secondary sanctions related to such metals and software on “Transition Day,” which could take up to eight years to occur.
  • Designations: US will also remove numerous individuals and entities from the SDN List, Foreign Sanctions Evaders List, and/or the Iran Sanctions Act List.

In order to effectuate this relief, the President will terminate Executive Orders 13574, 13590, 13622, and 13645, and Sections 5-7 and 15 of Executive Order 13628.

Furthermore, there will be a narrower set of sanctions relief applicable to US persons and entities that they own or control:

  • Foreign subsidiaries of US companies should be able to obtain individual licenses (or a general license) to engage in activities that non-US persons will be able to perform without risk of secondary sanctions.  However, it is not clear if foreign subsidiaries will be authorized to engage in activities that would otherwise be restricted by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR, 15 C.F.R. Parts 730-774) and/or the Iran Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR, 31 C.F.R. Part 560) (for example, exporting or reexporting US origin items to Iran).
  • Foreign subsidiaries of US companies may be able to engage in “associated services” (i.e., technical assistance, training, insurance, re-insurance, brokering, transportation or financial services) that are “necessary and ordinarily incident” to permissible activities for which non-US persons will not be exposed to secondary sanctions.
  • It is less clear whether OFAC will license foreign subsidiaries of US companies to engage in activities that would otherwise be restricted to US persons under the ITSR.  Note that the legal authority extending the ITSR to foreign subsidiaries is section 218 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, which does not contain any waiver provision.  Rather, the statute provides that the President may only terminate such sanctions after he certifies to Congress that Iran has ceased its support for international terrorism and its “pursuit, acquisition, and development of, and verifiably dismantled its, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launch technology.”
  • For US persons as well as their foreign subsidiaries, OFAC can license the export, reexport, and transfer of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.  This builds upon the interim relief now available under the JPOA, which authorizes the provision to Iran of spare parts necessary for aircraft safety.
  • For US persons and their foreign subsidiaries, OFAC can license the import of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs, including pistachios and caviar, into the United States.  Previously, this was authorized under the ITSR.  However, these imports were prohibited under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA).

Additional Relief / “Transition Day” – Could Take up to Eight Years

The United States further has committed to additional sanctions relief to occur on “Transition Day,” including measures to “seek such legislative action as may be appropriate” to terminate sanctions related to:

  • Activities authorized on “Implementation Day,” listed above.
  • Iran’s trade in graphite, raw or semi-finished metals, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes for all activities, not only those covered by the JCPOA.
  • Iran’s acquisition of nuclear-related commodities and services consistent with nuclear activities contemplated in the JCPOA.
  • Joint ventures related to the mining, production, or transportation of uranium.
  • Exclusion from the United States of Iranian citizens seeking to participate in higher education coursework related to careers in nuclear science, nuclear engineering, or the energy sector.

Furthermore, the United States will remove additional specified persons from sanctions lists on “Transition Day”.

State and Local Laws

To the extent that state or local laws prevent the implementation of the JCPOA, the United States has committed to “encourage” state and local officials to refrain from actions inconsistent with the agreement.  This likely is a reference to state laws that provide for divestment from, and/or prohibit awarding state contracts to, companies that engage in certain types of business with Iran.  Congress authorized states to enact such laws through the passage of CISADA.  At least 20 states have passed such laws.

Exclusions from Sanctions Relief

The JCPOA provides that the United States is not required to suspend section 211(a) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (Pub. L. 112-158).  This provision authorizes the imposition of sanctions on non-US entities that provide vessels, shipping services, and insurance for the foregoing to transport goods to Iran to be used in proliferation-related and terrorism-related activities.  This will be an area where non-US persons engaging with Iran will need to exercise care and appropriate due diligence.

Furthermore, the United States will leave intact secondary sanctions targeting Iran’s human rights abuses, WMD proliferation, and support for terrorism.  Notably, this appears to allow the US Government to impose restrictions on non-US persons that engage in transactions with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its agents and affiliates, as provided for under section 302 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act.  This is a potentially significant risk point for non-US persons who re-engage with Iran, as the IRGC reportedly is extensively integrated into various sectors of the Iranian economy. 

Moreover, the US embargo set forth in the ITSR, applicable to US persons and their non-US subsidiaries, will remain in place, with the exception of certain activities noted above.  This includes the blocking of the Government of Iran pursuant to Executive Order 13599, which remains in effect.

The United States also will continue to maintain an arms embargo against Iran.

EU Sanctions Relief

The European Union has agreed to terminate all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions currently in place against Iran over the next ten years.  EU sanctions relief will be more comprehensive than the US sanctions relief discussed above.  Similar to the US, EU sanctions relief will be phased, with extensive relief on “Implementation Day,” nearly all Iran-related trade restrictions lifted on “Transition Day,” and the final Iran-focused sanctions lifted on “UNSCR Termination Day.”  Moreover, it should be noted that the European Union, unlike the United States, has never imposed secondary sanctions against non-EU persons operating in Iran.  EU trade restrictions related to human rights, terrorist financing, and conventional weapons proliferation are expected to remain in place.

With regard to current sanctions relief and like the United States, on July 14, 2015 the EU separately agreed to extend sanctions relief to Iran under the Joint Plan of Action of November 24, 2013 (see Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1148).  This includes sanctions relief related to the transport of Iranian crude oil, import of Iranian petrochemical products, supply to Iran of gold and precious metals, authorization of certain funds transfers to Iran, and supply to Iran of spare parts for civil aviation safety.  The EU has stated that the prolonging of the suspension of certain limited EU sanctions until January 14, 2016 is so as to “allow the EU to make the necessary arrangements and preparations for the implementation of the new [JCPOA].”

Timeline of Sanctions Relief

On “Adoption Day”, the European Union will adopt an EU Regulation terminating certain provisions of Council Regulation (EU) No 267/2012 (as amended), which is the EU Regulation that implemented all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Iran. 

On Implementation Day, the new EU Regulation will take effect, and the covered provisions will terminate.  As described below, this relief will cover trade finance, funds transfers, and transactions related to Iran’s energy, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors, and transactions related to precious metals and Iran’s currency.

Next, there will be additional sanctions relief on “Transition Day” which could take up to eight years to occur.  Notably, this will include a lifting of the ban on export to Iran of dual-use items.

Finally, on “UNSCR Termination Day” the European Union will terminate all remaining provisions of Council Regulation (EU) No 267/2012 and Council Decision 2010/413/CFSP.  These final provisions relate in particular to the export of metals and software.

Initial Expanded Relief / “Implementation Day”

On “Implementation Day,” the European Union will terminate sanctions as follows:

  • Financial and banking and insurance measures:
    • EU persons/entities/bodies and Iranian persons/entities/bodies will be permitted to transfer funds without the requirement for authorization or notification.
    • Iranian banks will be permitted to open new branches/subsidiaries or representative offices within the territories of EU Member States.
    • EU persons will be permitted to open representative offices, subsidiaries and bank accounts in Iran, in addition to entering into joint ventures. 
    • The provision of insurance and reinsurance to Iran, the Government of Iran, Iranian legal persons, entities or bodies, or natural persons will be permitted.
    • Iran will be able to enter into trade financing commitments with EU Member States.
    • The sale or purchase of public or public-guaranteed bonds to and from Iran (the Government, the Central Bank or Iranian banks and financial institutions) will be permitted.
    • Associated services (including insurance services and technical assistance) for the above will be permitted.
  • Oil, gas and petrochemical sectors:
    • The import, purchase, swap, or transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products, natural gas or petrochemical products and related financing will be permitted. 
    • The sale, supply, transfer or export of oil, gas and petrochemical equipment, technology and technical assistance related to exploration, production and refining of oil and natural gas (including liquefaction of natural gas) to any Iranian person, inside or outside Iran, or for use in Iran, will be permitted.  Note that the transport of Iranian crude oil currently is the subject of limited sanctions relief under the JPOA.
    • The granting of financial loans or credits to any Iranian person engaged in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors inside or outside Iran will be permitted.
    • Associated services (including insurance services and technical assistance) for the above will be permitted.
  • Shipping, shipbuilding and transport sectors:
    • The sale, supply, transfer or export of naval equipment and technology for ship building, maintenance or refit, to Iran or to any Iranian persons engaged in this sector will be permitted.
    • The design, construction or participation in the design or construction of cargo vessels and oil tankers for Iran or Iranian persons; the provision of vessels for storage or transport of oil and petrochemical products to Iranian persons/entities/bodies; and the flagging and classification services of Iranian oil tankers and cargo vessels, will all be permitted.
    • The provision of fuel, engineering and maintenance services to Iranian cargo aircrafts not carrying prohibited items will be permitted.
    • Associated services for technical assistance for the above will be permitted.
  • Gold, other precious metals, banknotes and coinage:
    • The sale, supply, purchase, export, transfer or transport of gold and precious metals, and provision of related brokering, financing and security services, to, from, or for the Government of Iran, its public bodies, corporation and agencies or the Central Bank of Iran will be permitted.  Note that this activity already is the subject of sanctions relief under the JPOA.
    • The delivery of newly printed or minted or unissued Iranian denominated banknotes and coinage to, or for the benefit of the Central Bank of Iran, will be permitted. 
    • Associated services (including insurance services and technical assistance) for the above will be permitted.
  • De-listing of persons, entities and bodies: The European Union will remove certain specified persons from sanctions lists.  As a result, their funds which are currently frozen will be released and they will be allowed entry into, or transit through, EU Member States.

Additional Relief / “Transition Day” – Could Take up to Eight Years

On “Transition Day,” the European Union will terminate sanctions as follows:

  • Trade restrictions – it will be permissible to:
    • Export dual-use items to Iran
    • Export certain nuclear technology to Iran
    • Provide technical assistance and brokering services related to items on the Common Military List
  • Financial and banking and insurance measures:The supply of specialized financial messaging services to any Iranian person will be permitted.
  • Metals: The sale, supply, transfer or export of graphite and raw or semi-finished metals (e.g., aluminium or steel) to any Iranian person, or for use in Iran, would be permitted, so long as it is in connection with activities that enjoy sanctions relief under the JCPOA.
  • Software: The sale, supply, transfer or export of software for integrating industrial processes, including updates, to any Iranian person, or for use in Iran, will be permitted, so long as it is in connection with activities that enjoy sanctions relief under the JCPOA.
  • Transport
    • Bunkering and ship supply services or any other servicing of vessels, to Iranian-owned or Iranian-contracted vessels not carrying prohibited items will be permitted.
    • Cargo flights operated by Iranian carriers or originating in Iran will be permitted access to airports under the jurisdiction of EU Member States.
    • EU Member States will cease to inspect, seize and dispose of items which are no longer prohibited within cargoes to and from Iran in their territories. 
    • Associated insurance services and technical services related to the transport sector will be permitted.
  • De-listing of persons, entities and bodies: The European Union will remove the remaining specified persons from sanctions lists.  As a result, their funds which are currently frozen will be released and they will be allowed entry into, or transit through, EU Member States.

Additional Relief / “UNSCR Termination Day” – in Ten Years

On “UNSCR Termination Day,” the European Union will terminate all of the remaining nuclear-finance and economic sanctions against Iran, which include:

  • Metals: The sale, supply, transfer or export of graphite and raw or semi-finished metals (e.g., aluminium or steel) to any Iranian person, or for use in Iran, will now be permitted for non-JCPOA purpose activities.
  • Software:  The sale, supply, transfer or export of software for integrating industrial processes, including updates, to any Iranian person, or for use in Iran, will now be permitted for non-JCPOA purpose activities.

Dispute Resolution Mechanism and Sanctions “Snapback” Provisions

The JCPOA establishes a step-by-step dispute resolution process that can be triggered by any party complaining that another party is not meeting its commitments under the JCPOA.  Disputes will be referred to a Joint Commission, which is comprised of representatives of P5+1 member states and Iran.  Upon consideration by the Joint Commission, either of the disputing parties may request that the issue be considered by a three-member Advisory Board that will issue a non-binding opinion which the Joint Commission may further consider to resolve the issue.  If the issue is still not resolved to a complainant’s satisfaction, the complainant may treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments under the JCPOA and/or notify the UN Security Council of the alleged significant non-performance.

Importantly, if the dispute resolution process fails to remedy an issue, it could trigger so-called “snapback” mechanisms to reinstate the prior sanctions regime.  Once a complaining party fails to receive sufficient relief from the Joint Commission and Advisory Board, it can notify the UN Security Council of the responding party’s alleged non-performance under the JCPOA.  This notification sets up a UN Security Council vote on a resolution that is needed to continue lifting sanctions.  If the Security Council either vetoes or does not vote on the resolution within 30 days, the previous Security Council resolutions targeting Iran will be re-imposed, or “snapped back” into place.  However, the Security Council will have flexibility to negotiate an alternate resolution that does not trigger the sanctions snapback. 

On the other hand, if Iran believes that other participants have not fully lived up to their commitments and remains unsatisfied with the outcome of the dispute resolution process, it may cease performing its commitments under the JCPOA.

UN Security Council Resolution

Pursuant to the terms of the JCPOA, on July 20, 2015 the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution (S/2015/547) endorsing the JCPOA and terminating the following existing resolutions on Implementation Day: Res. 1696 (2006); Res. 1737 (2006); Res. 1747 (2007); Res. 1803 (2008); Res. 1835 (2008); Res. 1929 (2010); and Res. 2224 (2015). 

Most importantly, the resolution authorizes the reinstatement of UN sanctions under the “snapback” mechanism described above.  If UN sanctions are reinstated under such a mechanism, the resolution states that they will not apply to any contracts or transactions entered into while sanctions were lifted, so long as such transactions are compliant with the terms of the JCPOA and the resolution, and the previous resolutions prior to the application of these provisions.  In essence, the “snapback” mechanism contains a “grandfathering” provision to avoid undue disruption of commercial relationships established during any period of sanctions relief.

The resolution would authorize countries to permit the supply, sale, and transfer to Iran of UN Register of Conventional Arms military items, although the arms embargo has not been fully lifted because the Security Council must approve such transactions for the first five years of the JCPOA.  Presumably, any permanent member of the Security Council could block a sale by exercising a veto over the approval.  It would also prohibit Iran from developing and testing nuclear weapons delivery systems such as ballistic missiles.

US Congressional Review

On May 22, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (Pub. L. 114-17).  Under this Act, the President must transmit the text of the JPCOA and all annexes to Congress and withhold any rollback of statutory sanctions until Congress completes a 60-day review period.  This 60-day period will begin when Congress receives an official copy of the accord and will expire once Congress returns from recess in September 2015.  At that point, Congress either can pass a joint resolution supporting the agreement, pass a joint resolution disfavoring the agreement, or take no action.  If Congress passes a disfavoring resolution, the President is constrained from lifting sanctions for another 12 days.  If President Obama vetoes such a resolution, that time period is extended 10 more days for Congress to reconsider its resolution.  For more information on this law, please see Steptoe’s prior advisories here and here.

In recent years, Iran sanctions have galvanized strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, with the Senate casting unanimous votes in favor of expanding Iran sanctions legislation.  The White House and congressional Republicans have already launched extensive campaigns to sway members to endorse or oppose the JPCOA, respectively.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) – who co-sponsored the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – and Senate Republican leadership only need six Democrats to pass a resolution of disapproval in the Senate.  The House, where Republicans enjoy a substantial voting majority, is more likely to pass a resolution of disapproval.  On July 16, 2015, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and 164 House Republican co-sponsors introduced a disapproval resolution (H. Res. 367), which has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The White House still hopes to win approval of the JCPOA from Congress, but President Obama has already announced that he will veto a resolution of disapproval.  At that point, Senate Republicans would need to convince 12 Senate Democrats to vote to override the veto, which may be achievable because a number of them have been viewed as skeptical of the JCPOA in their initial conversations with the Obama Administration as reported in the media.  However, any veto override effort is less certain to succeed in the House because 150 Democrats – more than one-third of the lower chamber – signed onto a letter supporting Obama’s Iran policy, thus signaling their intention to block a veto override attempt (more than two-thirds of the house, or 290 out of 435 members, must vote in favor of override).

The JCPOA anticipates congressional opposition and includes provisions to discourage further US legislative action by: requiring termination or modification of statutory sanctions to insure it complies with the terms of the JCPOA and refraining from re-introducing or re-imposing sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.  If the United States – via the Executive Branch or Congress – re-imposes or enacts new sanctions, then Iran has stated that it could cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA.   This provision has already drawn strong criticism from several high-profile Republican presidential candidates who oppose the JCPOA.

On July 19, 2015, the US Department of State issued a statement announcing transmission of the JCPOA and related materials to Congress.  The statement provides that the 60-day congressional review period begins on July 20, 2015.  Therefore, Congress will have until September 18, 2015 to vote on the JCPOA.

Conclusion

The JCPOA represents a sweeping change in US, EU, and UN sanctions regimes targeting Iran and its nuclear program.  Through a succession of stages, nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted, subject to verification by the IAEA of Iran’s compliance with the terms of the JCPOA, but it is important to note that most of the relief is directed at non-US persons only.  In the near term, it will be important to monitor the congressional review process in the United States.  In the medium term – assuming that the deal survives congressional review and the IAEA verifies Iran’s compliance with its first round of commitments – it will be vital to note the nature, extent, and varied timing of sanctions relief, and to follow closely any guidance that US and EU regulators may issue.

Overall, the sanctions relief set out in the JCPOA figures to authorize a broad range of economic activity between non-US persons and Iran and largely re-integrate Iran into the global community, but concerns and questions remain: 

  • As noted above, the sanctions relief mostly applies to non-US persons, and the US embargo will remain in effect.  For non-US persons, it will be important to insulate US persons from Iran-related activity, as US persons remain subject to the ITSR prohibition on “facilitation” of restricted activity; this can be a challenge for globalized companies with US individuals and entities integrated into their operations. 
  • In addition, non-US persons must be mindful of certain “secondary sanctions” risks that remain, since the US Government is maintaining such sanctions with regard to certain activities related to terrorism, human rights abuses, and WMD proliferation, as well as dealings with the IRGC.
  • EU persons who engage? with traders and investors in Iran will have to manage the risks associated with any jurisdictional nexus to the United States.
  • It is not clear if the United States will ease its embargo against Iran (other than the civil aviation measures described above) if Iran fully complies with the JCPOA.
  • The JCPOA may be subject to political pressures even after the period of congressional review, as some presidential candidates have begun to campaign on a promise to terminate the deal. 
  • The United States has pledged to continue stringent enforcement of its existing sanctions regime.