Fact Check: Did Iran’s Majlis Approve the Nuclear Deal?
In the Fall of 2015, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported that Iran’s Majlis did not approve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “but rather an Iranian amended version [of] it . . . therefore the Majlis’ approval is meaningless.” The National Review then cited MEMRI’s report as evidence that “Majlis did not endorse the JCPOA. It approved its own amended version of the agreement that is drastically different, substantially limits Iran’s cooperation, and demands additional concessions.” These reports have continued to be repeated in American conservative media and by a Republican presidential candidate.
Majlis did not pass an amended version of the JCPOA, and its approval bill does nothing that “will make reliable verification impossible.” Iran’s MPs are surely aware that their Majlis cannot unilaterally impose binding commitments on the other parties to the JCPOA; the approval bill satisfies Majlis’ simple constitutional responsibility to approve or reject an existing treaty as is, which is why the Government of Iran has exercised its legal authority to fulfill its commitments under the nuclear agreement, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Majlis approved the JCPOA that was agreed in Vienna on 14 July 2015.
Majlis’ Approval Bill
Majlis’ approval bill includes nine additional resolutions addressed to the Rouhani Administration that refer to matters other than approval of the JCPOA. These resolutions were misleadingly cited by the National Review as evidence of a modified nuclear deal. However, they are not law and need not be satisfied in order for Iran’s government to have the legal authority to implement the JCPOA. In fact, Majlis’ bill explicitly recognizes the authority of the Supreme National Security Council (a decision-making body headed by President Rouhani whose decisions require confirmation by the Supreme Leader) over implementation of the nuclear deal.
The reaction of many hardline conservatives to Majlis’ bill was one of lament; for example, several said that Majlis had acted as a ‘rubber stamp Parliament’. This is a strong indication that domestic opponents of the JCPOA did not get the more favourable deal that they wanted, and that Majlis approved the nuclear agreement – as required by Iran’s constitution – without unilaterally mandating modifications in its provisions.
The additional resolutions Majlis passed were fairly innocuous with respect to the nuclear deal itself. For example, consider the resolution regarding Israel’s nuclear arsenal incorrectly cited by National Review. This resolution calls on Iran’s government to use legal, diplomatic, and ‘international’ means to bring Israel into a broader Egyptian-proposed Weapons of Mass Destruction-free Middle East Zone. It does not require the parties to the JCPOA to eliminate Israel’s nuclear weapons. Other resolutions call on the government to use financial assets unfrozen as a result of the lifting of sanctions to stimulate economic growth.
Sanctions Relief & JCPOA Implementation
One of Majlis’ resolutions calls on the Rouhani Administration to monitor the P5+1’s fulfillment of their obligations under the nuclear agreement. MEMRI and the National Review cite this resolution as evidence that Majlis has passed a different nuclear agreement. They make this claim because Majlis’ bill asks Iran’s government to render its adherence to the provisions of the JCPOA conditional on the P5+1 states’ fulfillment of the sanctions-relief commitments they made to Iran.
Simply put, Majlis’ resolution does nothing more than recognize the principle of reciprocity that is reflected in the JCPOA itself, and in the practice of international diplomacy more broadly. The resolution is an affirmation of the basic idea that if one party to an agreement fails to fulfill its obligations under said agreement, then the other party is not obliged to carry out its corresponding commitments. As stated in the text of the JCPOA, “Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of  sanctions . . . or such an imposition of nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part” (pp. 13-14). Majlis’ resolution is consistent with the text of the JCPOA itself, and concomitant with the P5+1 states’ expectation that Iran fulfill its commitments.
Moreover, MEMRI falsely claims that the JCPOA merely ‘suspends’ rather than cancels nuclear-related sanctions, and that since Majlis’ bill calls for ‘lifted’ or ‘canceled’ sanctions, the approval bill is an attempt to pass an “Iranian amended version” of the JCPOA. However, nowhere in their agreement do the parties to the JCPOA say that sanctions will be merely suspended. What they do say is that nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be “terminated” and “lifted” and only “reimposed” in the event of a UN Security Council resolution following an exhausted dispute resolution procedure.
In light of the advisory nature of the resolutions that Majlis included in its bill approving the JCPOA, and in recognition of the fact that Majlis’ approval bill reflects both the requirements and language of the nuclear agreement, we rate the claim made by MEMRI and the National Review that Majlis’ did not approve the JCPOA as “false”.