After almost two years of negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 are closer than ever to reaching a comprehensive agreement that will end the financial sanctions in exchange for Iran suspending its nuclear activities. However, assuming a comprehensive deal is made, what if there is a dispute between the sides? Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi has said, "We will certainly have a dispute settlement mechanism according to which if any violation would occur, if any misunderstanding emerges, we will go to that mechanism and try to resolve that before we come to a situation to terminate the agreement."
Since the interim agreement of November 2013 between Iran and the five permanent members of the P5+1, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been the technical authority, but there are no formal mechanisms for resolving political or legal disputes. In other words, because of the short-term nature of this agreement, which had used the mechanism of suspension of new sanctions in exchange for suspension of some of Iran's nuclear activities, there was no need to set a mechanism for resolving disputes. The facts that the P5+1, and particularly the United States, have announced that Iran has acted responsibly regarding the content of this agreement and that Iran has made no complaints against the P5+1 show that the interim agreement was a success.
Now, after 12 years, Iran and the P5+1 are about to reach a comprehensive agreement that will be executed in a period of 10 to 15 years. Since the April 2 Lausanne understanding over the general framework of the final comprehensive agreement, Iranian and US officials have presented different interpretations of the content of the agreement, particularly about the removal of sanctions, and have accused each other of misinterpreting the original agreement.
So, even before reaching the final agreement, there are already alarming signs of the possible future disputes that may arise during the next 10 years.
Prior to this, the Iranian negotiation team had said that any violation of the agreement will result in Iran resuming its suspended nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to 20%. Such an action will mean that the agreement has failed.
It appears that deviating from this comprehensive agreement, on which both sides have spent a lot of time and political capital, returning to a period of hostility and tension will not be a desirable option for either side. Therefore, establishing a legal authority in charge of interpreting the content of the agreement and resolving possible disputes is quite necessary to guarantee its continuity.
There are four possible ways to establish the authority responsible for interpreting the agreement and resolving possible disputes between Iran and the P5+1:
UN Security Council
According to the charter of the United Nations, the Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. When countries have legal or political disputes with each other, they have the option of going to the Security Council and asking for help in resolving them (and will be granted it if the Security Council considers the dispute relevant to its duties). However, in the case of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1, the Security Council might not be the ideal authority. Five out of the six countries that make up the P5+1, as permanent members of the Security Council, have veto rights. Therefore, it is possible that Iran will not consider the Security Council a neutral authority regarding this matter.
The International Court of Justice
According to the UN charter, if the Security Council is not capable of resolving a dispute or if it requires additional consultations, some UN professional organizations (and also General Assembly) can ask the ICJ, based in The Hague, to advise on the matter. The ruling of the ICJ is not necessarily implemented.
However, in the context of legal proceedings, one side of this agreement is the European Union, and according to Article 34 of the Statute of the ICJ, only governments, and not international organizations such as the European Union, are allowed to present a dispute to the ICJ.
The prerequisite of presenting a dispute to the ICJ is for both sides of the dispute to accept the authority of the court. Both Iran and the United States have accepted, with reservations and in a case-by-case basis, the authority of the ICJ. In the final draft of the agreement, all sides can accept the authority of the ICJ for resolving any possible disputes between the countries. However, in this scenario, any possible disputes between Iran and the EU will be left unresolved. Taking the case to the European Union Court of Justice will not guarantee Iran’s rights. There have been cases where the European Union Court of Justice has accepted the complaints of certain Iranian companies and organizations and has removed them from the list of sanctioned organizations, but then the EU has used a new argument to once again impose sanctions on the same companies and organizations. Therefore, trying to take possible future disputes regarding this agreement to the ICJ will be very problematic.
New mechanism or new tribunal
A specific system of judging the disputes can be set up, similar to the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal formed after both sides reached an agreement regarding the hostage crisis in accordance with the Algiers Accords. This special tribunal could oversee and resolve possible disputes between Iran and the P5+1 and also have the authority to oversee disputes between the seven countries involved or between Iran and the European Union.
The problem, however, is that this style of interpreting the agreement and resolving predictable problems is very time consuming and will impose more expenses on all sides. Appointing jurors and reaching an agreement regarding the regulations can take a lot of time but is nonetheless one way of ensuring that this agreement will continue.
New committee under the supervision of the UN secretary-general
Looking at it objectively, forming a committee under the supervision of an international body may be simpler and more effective than forming a tribunal with the aim of quickly interpreting and resolving possible disputes. The committee could be appointed by the UN secretary-general by order of the Security Council and consist of neutral jurors who are there to resolve any possible disputes between Iran and the P5+1.
This way, a completely neutral system with minimal bureaucracy could be set up to guarantee the execution of this comprehensive agreement.
During the Iran-Iraq war, a committee was formed by the UN secretary-general to identify the aggressor. Following the same pattern, Iran and P5+1 can come up with a mechanism to resolve possible disputes between them. Although the Security Council failed to stay neutral and voted in favor of Saddam Hussein, the committee formed by the secretary-general managed to identify Iraq as the aggressor by referring to rulings by the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal. Therefore, it is a good example of such a committee acting neutrally.
Finding comprehensive and no-fault solutions to the disputes regarding the nuclear agreement is crucial because it will set a precedent for both international law and for individual countries and help expand the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. More importantly, it will also serve as an example of peacefully solving an international dispute.
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