Claims that the Iran nuclear deal is not legally binding are based in some truth. But some details of the complex deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been mischaracterized.
The idea that the Iran nuclear deal is not legally bending resurged after President Trump announced in May 2018 that he would withdraw U.S. support for the international agreement. And again, that’s technically true. It’s also true that Iran didn’t sign the JCPOA. But what, exactly, those details mean has caused quite a bit of confusion. We’ll do our best to untangle it here.
Rumors that the Iran nuclear deal isn’t legally binding first surfaced in 2015. Mike Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas at the time, questioned why a JCPOA submitted to Congress wasn’t signed by Iran. The State Department acknowledged that Iran didn’t sign the JCPOA.
A letter states, “The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose — and ramp up — our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.” John Kerry said as much during a Senate hearing.
The JCPOA outlined “political commitments” of the nuclear deal. And the JCPOA was unsigned. The U.S. and its international partners approved a UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) that “calls on” member countries to support implementation of JCPOA. But the Council on Foreign relations notes that neither JCPOA and UNSCR “does not obligate the United States to do so as a matter of international law.” That means the United States is not legally bound to lift sanctions on Iran, even if Iran upholds its end of the deal. For that reason, it wasn’t necessary for Iran to sign the deal.
It’s true that the Iran nuclear deal is not legally binding, and that Iran didn’t sign the agreement. But those details of the complex international agreement have often been misrepresented.