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Policy brief | 24 November 2021

Using ‘technical guarantees’ to restore and sustain the Iran nuclear deal

Image of Christopher Lawrence

Christopher Lawrence |Assistant Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs, Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service

Image of Sahil Shah

Sahil Shah |Policy Fellow, European Leadership Network

Iran JCPOA Global Security Iran

Executive Summary

  • As negotiations on the restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – or the Iran nuclear deal – resume in Vienna, this paper proposes how to address the Iranian demand for guarantees that the lifting of US secondary sanctions will deliver sustained economic benefits.
  • Due to the fraught experience of the JCPOA’s implementation and the consequences of former US President Donald Trump’s unilateral abrogation of the deal in 2018, the aims of the negotiating parties have shifted. Initially preoccupied with measures to monitor Iran’s compliance with its nuclear commitments, there is now a growing search for mechanisms to monitor and verify that the P5+1 will uphold their side of the bargain and ensure Iran derives tangible economic benefits from the deal.
  • Iran’s pursuit of guarantees is not only about protection from the re-imposition of sanctions but also reflects the need to address the concerns that private companies have which may otherwise deter them from investing even if sanctions are not reimposed.
  • This paper examines why political and legal guarantees are insufficient or implausible means to achieve this new aim. Explaining the validity of the Iranian demand for guarantees, the authors provide a selection rubric for the identification of economic projects that can act as technical guarantees.
  • The ideal features of such projects would help ensure that their implementation would support relevant stakeholders in their effort to ensure that sanctions relief is better delivered, build shared interests in cooperating to improve the credibility of economic incentives for Iran, and increase the cost of any decision to reduce compliance with the agreement.
  • In this way, technical guarantees can serve to increase the credibility of the long-term commitments enshrined in the JCPOA, paving the way for the deal’s restoration, sustainment, and ability to act as an enabling step toward further diplomacy in the future.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image Credit: Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs