US demands restoration of UN sanctions against Iran
Mike Pompeo sets stage for showdown that could lead to crisis of credibility for Security Council
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday began a bid to reimpose biting international sanctions on Iran despite opposition from Russia, China and Washington’s European allies.
Mr Pompeo formally submitted a complaint to the UN Security Council about Iran’s non-compliance with the nuclear deal it signed with world powers in 2015, even though Washington pulled out of it two years ago.
The move comes after the US failed in its bid to have an arms embargo, which is due to expire in October, against Iran extended by the Security Council.
It is likely to push the administration of US President Donald Trump towards a face-off with Russia, China and other UN members, further isolate the US from Europe and test the credibility of an already strained UN.
“The US will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles and other kinds of conventional weapons," Mr Pompeo said in New York.
"These UN sanctions will continue the arms embargo."
Mr Pompeo submitted his complaint to Indonesia’s UN envoy Dian Triansyah Djani, who is the council’s president for August.
He also met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
In a two-page letter of complaint, Mr Pompeo detailed Iran’s uranium-enrichment and other breaches of the 2015 deal between Iran, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and the US.
The agreement traded sanctions relief for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
In an accompanying six-page legal brief, the US said it was entitled to use the deal’s provisions for “snapback” UN sanctions .
Other major powers say the US has no legal right to use part of a deal from which it withdrew in 2018.
Russia’s UN envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, dismissed the US attempt, saying only a country that remained in the deal could call for a snapback.
“We will not take it as snapback,” Mr Nebenzia said on Thursday. “He’s not triggering a snapback."
Iran’s UN ambassador, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, accused the US of “abusing the process” laid out in the deal.
European states refuse to back US sanctions push
In a joint statement, Britain, Germany and France expressed “serious concerns” about the expiry of Iran’s arms embargo, but stopped short of backing the US initiative.
They called for a “path forward that preserves space for further diplomacy”.
Mr Guterres's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, on Thursday described the 2015 deal as an “important diplomatic achievement” that should be maintained.
The US has embarked on a “maximum pressure” campaign to push Iran to negotiate a new, broader deal.
In response, Tehran has breached several key limits of the 2015 accord, restarting its centrifuges and stockpiling fissile material.
After Washington’s complaint was filed, the Security Council has 30 days to adopt a resolution to extend sanctions relief for Tehran or the measures will be automatically reimposed.
The US is expected to veto a resolution to extend sanctions relief.
Few diplomats or analysts expect to see a straightforward return of UN sanctions on Iran.
Russia and China also have the power of veto, and they and other council members are expected to challenge the legality of the US move.
Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group think tank, said the US attempt was a “car crash”.
Mr Gowan predicted a deadlocked UN as members waited to see if Mr Trump won re-election in November.
“The administration’s goal is clear: kill the deal or make it that much harder for a successor administration to rejoin it,” Mr Gowan wrote in a policy brief.
“The remaining parties to the deal should be united in resisting Washington’s efforts.”
The US threatened to use the sanctions snapback provision if it lost its bid to extend the arms embargo on Tehran.
The GCC this month backed an extension of the embargo.
Mr Pompeo, when urging the council for the extension, praised the GCC’s member states for “showing courage and unity in warning about the danger from Iran”.
“As Iran’s neighbours, they know better than anyone else the havoc that Iran could create with these weapons,” he said.
Updated: August 21, 2020 12:21 PM