You may have heard that the sanctions imposed on Iran because of their nuclear program were lifted on January 16, 2016 in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) –the formal name for the Iran Nuclear Accord-- concluded in Vienna on July 14, 2015 and which went into effect October 18, 2015.
One of the criticisms of the JCPOA has been that it consists of “voluntary commitments” exchanged on a reciprocal basis. There is no language of binding obligation found in the agreement itself. Nor is there any understanding by any of the parties that it contains any other than “voluntary commitments”.
While the JCPOA itself does not contain such language, the Security Council of United Nations took steps that may have that effect. On July 20, 2015, Security Council adopted SC Resolution 2231 which placed the JCPOA within the framework of Article 41 of the United Nations Charter and emphasized that Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations states in its entirety that “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.”
Moreover, the JCPOA does include provisions establishing a Joint Commission as a dispute resolution mechanism under which either side could refer issues about compliance with commitments for consideration in a multi-step process.
Of course, we are early into the process of seeing how the JCPOA will function, but it appears that the commitments made are more binding than it would initially appear from a reading of the accord alone.