Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 on Iran

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 18, 2017


Thank you so much, Mr. President. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for your comments at the opening of this session, which really moved me. And when I play them later for my children, it’ll move them, too. Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, Ambassador Cardi, and Ambassador de Almeida for your briefings and for all your help on this important topic. Ambassador Cardi, I know the U.S. Mission looks forward to working with you in your new role as this Council’s facilitator for Resolution 2231 to support the resolution’s full implementation. And I agree with the sentiment that you express in Italian, in terms of saying “goodbye, but we’ll see you soon.”

This will be my final session in the Security Council, I think, so I’d like to start by saying thank you. First, above all, I want to give thanks to President Obama for giving me this opportunity. And I want to thank my fellow diplomats here for your friendship, your camaraderie, your dedication – all of which you have shown in spades over these last three and a half years, toward me and toward the subjects that we work on together. Of course, we may not always agree. It seems, indeed, we have at times disagreed quite pointedly – but it has been the privilege of my life to be able to work with each of you. We haven’t achieved as much – not nearly as much – as I might have liked. The failures of this Council to respond to the mass atrocities in Syria and South Sudan are glaring and, indeed, haunting. But I know from working with every single individual at this table that we have achieved much more than we would have had it not been for your creativity and your individual will to find a way forward on tough issues. Diplomacy is about people in two respects – we diplomats must help people who are suffering the horrific costs of conflict; but we diplomats are people, and, when this Council functions, it is often because individuals here have lobbied their capitals for a change in instructions or for flexibility in the cause of peace.

While we who have the privilege of sitting around this table may get the attention, we also know that our work would not be possible without the people sitting behind us and in the booths above us, and many others in our governments who never even get to join us in the room – the teams of diplomats and Foreign Service Officers at our respective missions, the officials in our capitals and embassies abroad who feed into our work; as well as the staff here at the UN who make these meetings possible – from the Security Council Affairs Division, to the inexhaustible interpreters, to the staff from across the UN who brief this Council, write the reports we consume, and provide information from the field, often at great risk to themselves. Special thanks to my truly remarkable team at the U.S. Mission, who work tirelessly to try to make the world better. It has been an honor to work with all of you.

I am fortunate today to be able to deliver my last set of remarks on an issue that shows just how much we can achieve by using the tools in our toolbox here at the Security Council. An issue where the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union were able to all come together – first to impose powerful sanctions against Iran, including in 2010 after receiving information that Iran was building a covert enrichment facility – and then, to have the courage and the creativity to negotiate a deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – which cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and verified Iran’s compliance through the most extensive inspection regime ever developed for a nuclear program.

Now, I take note as I depart, that some on this Council are expressing what seems to be a growing skepticism about the efficacy of sanctions. And it is more than reasonable to raise questions – sanctions are not suited for every crisis; they alone are never a panacea; they cannot be treated as an end in themselves; and sanctions almost never provide instant gratification of the kind that the news cycle seems to demand. It took almost nine years from when this Council first imposed sanctions on Iran – and multiple rounds of new sanctions after that – before the P5+1 and Iran were able to conclude the JCPOA. But sanctions were an absolutely essential tool to bring Iran to the table and keep Iran negotiating until we reached the diplomatic outcome that we sought – one that has significantly enhanced our collective security. We never would have reached this goal without uniting to impose sanctions, and without working to ensure that our resolutions were enforced. And this lesson applies not only when dealing with the threat of nuclear nonproliferation, but also to other threats to international peace and security, from genocide to terrorism and violations of another state’s territorial integrity.

But beyond showing how effective sanctions can be, the JCPOA also shows the life-and-death importance of diplomacy – hard-nosed diplomacy. The United Nations was created as the premier venue for diplomacy. As Winston Churchill once put it, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Reaching this deal – the JCPOA – like so many of the collective achievements of which we are most proud – the global response to the Ebola outbreak, the Paris Climate Deal, the Sustainable Development Goals – required grueling – at times exasperating – negotiations, and countless hours invested by diplomats, technical experts, and even many of us at this table. There were times in each of these efforts when we thought we would not be able to reach an agreement, that the differences were just too great, the suspicions too deep. When we wanted to give up, walk away, and go home to spend more time with our families who are far easier to get along with than our foreign counterparts in negotiations. But in these and so many other instances, we achieved something together that none of us could have achieved – could have come close to achieving – alone. And while of course there are other threats to which we have invested similar time and energy and sweat but have not been able to find solutions or consensus – the Syria war and the quest for Middle East peace being the two most obvious examples – is there anybody here who would have rather we not have tried? Of course not. I am proud to have served a President who believes in the power of principled diplomacy – not out of a naïve belief that we will always succeed, but rather because of a clear-eyed, empirical assessment that our security often necessitates collective action. And that, while at times diplomacy may not be enough, there is never a time when it is not needed.

It has now been a year and a half since the JCPOA was concluded, and one year since what we call “Implementation Day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran had completed the nuclear-related commitments required for sanctions relief. What we know after all this time is that the JCPOA is working. All of the deal’s participants are keeping their commitments.

Consider what that means, what the deal has achieved. Iran’s plutonium reactor core at Arak is now filled with concrete. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran has dismantled two-thirds of its centrifuges, and shipped out 98 percent of its enriched uranium. What is left of Iran’s uranium stockpile is under continuous watch to make sure that it stays within the limits that the JCPOA put in place.

For our part, the United States has fully implemented our commitments to lift nuclear-related sanctions, as specified in the JCPOA.

Here in the Council, the mechanisms we created to support the JCPOA are working as intended. When states want to pursue the nuclear-related activities permitted under the JCPOA that require this Council’s approval, the Council is ready to consider their requests. Reporting is also happening with the appropriate division of labor: with the Secretary-General reporting on the restrictions that apply to Iran under Resolution 2231, while the Joint Commission monitors implementation of the JCPOA.

But recognizing this progress on Iran’s nuclear issues should not distract this Council from Iran’s other actions that continue to destabilize the Middle East in ways that affect a lot of issues on this Council’s agenda. This is, after all, a regime that repeatedly threatens Israel, and that continues to violate the human rights of its own people. Under-Secretary-General Feltman has informed this Council about reports of Iranian non-compliance with the remaining arms transfer and travel restrictions in Resolution 2231. These reports include new information about interdictions of arms exported from Iran – transfers Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has openly boasted about in his public speeches, even as Resolution 2231 prohibits these shipments. Israel has also reported to the UN that Iran uses commercial flights to supply arms to Hizballah. According to the Secretary-General’s report, Iran did not even deny these allegations when the UN asked about them. These arms transfers should be deeply troubling to each member of this Council, in part because Iran is clearly defying a resolution this Council unanimously supported. So even though Iran is living up to its nuclear commitments, we on the Council need to come together to push Iran to effectively implement the binding provisions of Resolution 2231 – especially restrictions that ban Iran’s export of arms and related material, and that ban all Member States from transferring to Iran advanced weapon systems like missiles, tanks, and combat aircraft.

That also means every member state needs to enforce the travel restrictions that remain in effect under Resolution 2231. The Secretary-General’s report notes that both Major General Qasem Soleimani and Brigadier General Mohammed Reza Naqdi have traveled to Iraq and Syria, in defiance of this Council’s decisions. That is – and should be to all of us – unacceptable. As we have said before, the strength of this Resolution 2231 comes from the commitment of Member States to enforce it, and the United States calls on them to do so.

It is clear that with the JCPOA, the world today is better off than it was before. Even though there is a long way to go in countering Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the Middle East, any world where Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon is a safer world.

Looking ahead, as this deal is likely to be subjected to even greater scrutiny than it is at present, it is important for all of us – here and outside, in all of our nations – to remember that it is much harder to build up frameworks and institutions than to tear them down. The progress we have achieved so far depends on maintaining our collective determination to sustain the JCPOA. So we and each of the JCPOA participants needs to stand by the commitments we have made, and work even harder to make sure that all states comply with their obligations under Resolution 2231. And we need to remember that if negotiating an Iran nuclear deal was possible, we on the Council have it within our power to act decisively when other crises demand it.

Let me conclude if I may, Mr. President, with an idea – fittingly, given the Swedish presidency – from a renowned Swedish author, Elin Wägner, who said that values and ideals are like those old fashioned bicycle lights: they don’t light up until and unless you start to pedal forward. That can be said for so much of the work we aspire to do on this Council. And it is true of all of the principles in the UN Charter – unless we pedal, they don’t light up. They don’t become real, those principles don’t become real for real people out in the real world; problems don’t get fixed; conflicts drag on; crushing poverty persists. Unless we pedal hard, and pedal together, we don’t make the impact that we seek. We don’t make the impact that we are here to make, sent by our citizens, our people.

And we must keep working to make these principles real. Because, as I’ve tried to underscore so often, the lives of so many people depend on those principles being turned into practice. To the girl fleeing armed soldiers in South Sudan, making protection more than a promise in a mandate means the difference between life and death. To the child in a besieged city in Syria, the prohibition on the bombing of schools and hospitals – may mean the difference between life and death. To the man or woman in Uganda or North Korea, the idea that you should not be locked up for who you love or for what you believe – that may mean the difference between a life of freedom and a life of imprisonment or harassment.

So as I leave, I urge you all to keep pedaling. Do not give up, even when it seems hard. Especially when it seems hard. Make sure that these principles in the UN Charter light up. Do not let them go dark for the people who count on us. I wish you all the best in the months and years ahead, and I reiterate my thanks to you for your professionalism and your friendship. Thank you.