Mark Lennihan / AP

UN Security Council endorses Iran nuclear deal

International consensus makes reversing the deal more difficult for its domestic U.S. critics

The United Nations Security Council on Monday endorsed a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanction relief, making any effort by domestic political critics in the U.S. to change its terms potentially a breach of a consensus U.N. resolution.

The 15-member Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution codifying the terms of the deal reached in Vienna last week between Iran and the world’s major powers.

In return for lifting U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions, Iran will be subject to long-term curbs on an atomic program that many in the West feared would put the ability to create nuclear weapons within reach — although Iran insisted its intentions were peaceful, and.

Passage of the resolution triggers a complex set of coordinated steps, which if reneged on by Iran allows for the reimposition of sanctions. Economic relief for Iran begins only after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submits a report to the Security Council verifying Iranian compliance.  

The European Union separately approved the Iran nuclear deal on Monday, and the Obama administration has sent the nuclear agreement to Congress, which will have the next 60 days to review it.

U.S. lawmakers, a number of whom oppose the nuclear deal, requested that the Security Council vote be postponed until after Congress considered the agreement.

In a joint statement after Monday’s vote, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the committee’s ranking member, said they were “disappointed that the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on Iran this morning before Congress was able to fully review and act on this agreement. We are also greatly concerned that the resolution lifts restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles in eight years and conventional arms in five years. Regardless of this morning’s outcome, Congress will continue to play its role.”

In May, Congress voted to tie any final agreement to a subsequent congressional review, a bill that Obama reluctantly signed after it became apparent that it was unlikely to successfully conduct the agreement without a review from Congress. Under that legislation, Congress can register its opposition to the Iran deal, which would prevent Obama from lifting a number of sanctions that are key to making the deal work.

But the chief U.S. negotiator in the Iran talks, Wendy Sherman, rejected any postponement of the U.N. vote, saying, "It would have been a little difficult when all of the [countries negotiating with Iran] wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this, since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, ‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.’”

Speaking in advance of Monday's vote, Ali Vaez, a senior Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group said that a U.N. vote would likely put a damper on Congressional opposition. “While Congress might not care much about matters of international law, the repercussions of flouting an Iran deal and a U.N. Security Council resolution might temper their appetite for confrontation,” he told Al Jazeera

Once sanctions relief can be implemented, seven previous U.N. resolutions will be terminated and the measures contained in the resolution adopted on Monday will come into effect.

The resolution allows for supply of ballistic missile technology and heavy weapons, such as tanks and attack helicopters, to Iran with Security Council approval, but the United States has pledged to veto any such requests. 

The restrictions on ballistic missile technology are in place for eight years and on heavy weapons for five years. The resolution leaves in place an arms embargo on conventional weapons for five years. It also places restrictions on the transfer to Iran of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes for a decade. 

It allows all U.N. sanctions to be reimposed if Iran breaches the deal in the next 10 years. If the Security Council receives a complaint of a breach it would then need to vote within 30 days on a resolution to extend sanctions relief.

If the council fails to vote on a resolution, the sanctions would be automatically reimposed. This procedure prevents any of the veto powers who negotiated the accord, such as Russia and China, from blocking any snap-back of Iran sanctions. All the provisions and measures of the U.N. resolution would terminate in a decade if the nuclear deal is adhered to.

However, the six world powers and the EU wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week to inform him that after 10 years, they plan to seek a five-year extension of the mechanism allowing sanctions to be reimposed.

Wire services. Tom Kutsch contributed to this report.

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