The United States will demand Thursday that all United Nations sanctions be reimposed against Iran, President Donald Trump announced, a move that follows the US’s embarrassing failure to extend an arms embargo against Tehran.
The administration’s insistence on snapping back international sanctions against Iran sets the stage for a contentious dispute. It is possible that the US call will be ignored by other UN members – an outcome that could call into question the UN Security Council’s ability to enforce its own legally binding decisions.
“It’s a snapback,” Trump said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Trump said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to New York on Thursday to present the US demand to reimpose the sanctions, accusing Iran of significant non-compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Trump administration wants to reimpose all international sanctions that had been eased under that deal. Other nations claim the US has no standing to make the demand because the Trump administration pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal two years ago.
“Iran will never have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said.
Pompeo and Trump have made no secret of their intention to invoke the rare and controversial diplomatic move in the wake of its defeat at the United Nations last week on extending the arms embargo. The US won just one other “yes” vote, with China and Russia opposed and the 11 other members abstaining.
As with the arms embargo, Russia and China bitterly oppose reimposing sanctions on Iran. So do other Security Council members, including US allies, the UK and France, a dispute that could result in a battle over the legitimacy of the UN’s most powerful body.
“Iran’s support for its proxies in Syria only helps to bolster the Assad regime and undermine the UN process,” said US Ambassador Kelly Craft in remarks at Wednesday’s council meeting on Syria. “How will giving Iran access to more weapons serve the interests of international peace and security?”
The Trump administration seeks to reimpose all UN sanctions against Iran under the so-called “snapback” mechanism that was approved with the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers. Under the deal, Tehran received billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The “snapback” mechanism was created in the event Tehran was proven to be in violation of the accord.
Trump called the 2015 Iran nuclear accord a “ridiculous” deal and noted that sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy.
“When I win the election, within the first month, Iran will come to us” and seek a deal, Trump said, noting how sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy.
While other members of the UN Security Council said the US no longer has any say regarding the Iran deal, the Trump administration argues that it retains its standing as an original participant in the accord and as a permanent member of the Security Council that endorsed the agreement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that, since the US is no longer a party to the nuclear deal, it “has no right to demand the Security Council to activate the rapid reinstatement of sanctions mechanism.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the Trump administration of unleashing a politically motivated campaign against Iran and called for “universal condemnation” of the US attempt to impose a permanent arms embargo on Iran.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Pompeo defended the US decision to invoke the snapback provision. It’s unclear whether other members of the council can stop it through technical procedural means.
“This will be a fully valid enforceable Security Council resolution and we have every expectation that it will be enforced just like every other Security Council resolution that is in place,” said Pompeo, who is to meet on Thursday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at his residence. “We will be in full compliance with that and we have every expectation that every country in the world will live up to its obligations.”
The US argument is highly controversial. Not only has it been ridiculed by the Chinese, Russians and Europeans, not even the biggest Iran hawks in the United States all agree with it.
Former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has long held anti-Iran positions, has said the US lost its snapback standing when it withdrew from the deal and that moving ahead is not worth the damage it could do to US veto power in the council.
In a rare moment of agreement, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif praised Bolton this week. “At least he is consistent – a trait notably absent in this US administration,” Zarif tweeted.
And, former US Under-secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, a lead negotiator of the nuclear deal during the Obama administration, said: “It was never expected that someone who withdrew from the (deal) would have standing to, in fact, bring the snapback provision.”
Whether any other council member will respond to the US move by introducing a resolution to extend sanctions relief is an open question. Some UN experts believe the others will just ignore the Americans, leaving the Trump administration in the possible position of having to introduce its own resolution to extend sanctions relief for the sole purpose of vetoing it.
“We don’t know if any country will do that,” said Richard Gowan, the UN director of the International Crisis Group. “If the general view of the council is that the US doesn’t have standing, it’s quite possible that no council member will even engage at that level.”
“The US could actually table a resolution of its own and then veto it, just to show that it is going through the procedural motions, although that would look a little bit farcical,” Gowan said.
Separately on Wednesday, Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia to join the agreement announced last week by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship.
“I do,” Trump replied when asked at a White House news conference if he expected Saudi Arabia to join the deal.
Under the accord, which Trump helped broker, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. The agreement also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia’s first official comment since the agreement was announced, its foreign minister said on Wednesday the Sunni kingdom remained committed to peace with Israel on the basis of a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
Saudi Arabia, which does not recognise Israel, drew up the initiative by which Arab nations offered to normalize ties with Israel in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
Earlier in the news conference, Trump called the UAE-Israel accord a good deal and said that “countries that you wouldn’t even believe want to come into that deal.” He did not name any other countries besides Saudi Arabia.