On July 14, 2015, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany (the “P5 + 1”) announced a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran intended to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. The agreement builds on the JCPOA framework announced on April 2, 2015, and is intended to provide Iran with phased sanctions relief based on verification that Iran has implemented key nuclear commitments.
Under the JCPOA, Iran agrees to cap its uranium enrichment capability for 10 years and to accept international monitoring of its nuclear program. In exchange, the United States, European Union, and United Nations will relax sanctions on Iran in stages. Once international nuclear inspectors verify that Iran has implemented the agreed to nuclear-related restrictions, the United Nations will pass a new resolution that will terminate various resolutions currently in place. If, at any time, Iran is determined to be out of compliance with its obligations, those resolutions will “snapback” or be re-imposed against Iran. The EU further agreed to terminate its regulations implementing all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions at the time the inspectors verify Iran is in compliance.
U.S. sanctions relief will initially be limited to the suspension of secondary sanctions that target the commercial activities of non-U.S. companies in key sectors of the Iranian economy, such as oil, gas and petrochemical industries, as well as companies in the shipping and shipbuilding and automotive sectors. In other words, the sanctions relief that was provided to non-U.S. persons earlier in the negotiations will continue. Eventually, these secondary sanctions may be eliminated (rather than suspended) but only if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has implemented key nuclear-related measures described in the JCPOA.
It is anticipated that the United Nations Security Council will endorse the Agreement over the new few days. The JCPOA and its commitments will come into effect 90 days after the Security Council’s endorsement, which will be known as “Adoption Day.” Beginning on Adoption Day, the P5+1 and Iran will prepare for implementation of the agreement, but no sanctions relief will be granted until inspectors have verified Iran is in compliance with its commitments.
What changes, if any, will be made in primary U.S. sanctions, such as the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), is less certain. Under the Iran Nuclear Review Act, passed into law in May 2015, the president must transmit the agreement to Congress, which then has 60 days to review it. During Congress’ review period, the president may not waive, suspend, reduce, or provide relief from statutory sanctions or refrain from applying existing sanctions. In other words, there will be no sanctions relief for U.S. persons in the immediate future. If, as some members of Congress have threatened, Congress issues a joint resolution of disapproval, which the president in turn has threatened to veto, there is another waiting period during which the president may take no action to reduce sanctions.
Thus, the status quo will likely continue for quite some time, and from the perspective of U.S. primary sanctions – those that apply to U.S. individuals and entities, as well as entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons – no changes are imminent.