Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Wikimedia commons image
This article was originally published Sept. 20, 2020, on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The United States has unilaterally reimposed all UN sanctions against Iran, despite opposition from Washington’s closest European allies and uncertainty over the impact of the move.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 19 announced the so-called snapback of UN sanctions on Iran, threatening U.S. action against any violators.
“If UN member states fail to fulfill their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“In the coming days, the United States will announce a range of additional measures to strengthen implementation of UN sanctions and hold violators accountable,” he added.
Iran’s currency fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on September 20 following Washington’s announcement. The Iranian economy has been under extreme pressure ever since the United States reimposed unilateral sanctions on the country in November 2018.
In reaction to the move, Iran on September 20 called on the rest of the world to unite against Washington’s “reckless actions.”
“We expect the international community and all the countries in the world to stand against these reckless actions by the regime in the White House and speak in one voice,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference in Tehran.
The U.S. move sets the stage for a major clash at the United Nations, where Washington finds itself increasingly isolated amid tensions with both Iran and other parties to the 2015 nuclear accord, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).
“The Americans as a rule act as a bully and impose sanctions…. The world community should decide how to act towards bullying,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state television hours before the U.S. announcement.
President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to progressively infringe on its nuclear commitments as part of a calibrated response to the absence of expected economic benefits from the JCPOA.
The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal have tried to save the faltering agreement, rejecting an attempt by Washington to trigger a return of UN sanctions on Tehran over its infringement of its nuclear commitments.
Ahead of the U.S. announcement, Britain, France, and Germany said in a letter to the UN Security Council that international sanctions relief for Iran would continue beyond September 20.
“We have worked tirelessly to preserve the nuclear agreement and remain committed to do so,” the UN envoys for the three countries said in a letter to the UN Security Council on September 18.
Iran’s President Hassan Rohani claimed on September 20 that the Trump administration’s policy of trying to force Iran to negotiate a new nuclear deal by imposing punishing sanctions on the country — often referred to as a “maximum pressure” campaign — has backfired, resulting in “maximum isolation” of the United States at the UN.
“America is approaching a certain defeat in its sanctions move,” Rohani said in a televised speech.
China and Russia, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council and parties to the nuclear accord, have similarly rebuffed U.S. attempts to bring back international sanctions.
Russia on September 20 condemned the American move, saying that Washington’s statements lacked legal authority.
“The illegitimate initiatives and actions of the United States by definition cannot have international legal consequences for other countries,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in statement.
In an embarrassing diplomatic blow, the United States in mid-August suffered an overwhelming defeat at the UN Security Council when it tried to extend an international arms embargo on Iran that is set to gradually expire on October 18 under the terms of the Iran nuclear deal.
After that setback, the United States on August 20 formally began a 30-day process at the UN to trigger the return of international sanctions on Iran under a snapback provision in the Iran nuclear accord.
But the UN Security Council overwhelming rejected the United States’ claim that it remains a “participant” in the nuclear deal because it was listed as such in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that enshrined the deal.
Under the terms of Resolution 2231, if the Security Council does not pass a new resolution confirming the continuation of the sanction relief within 30 days, the sanctions automatically return into force.
The U.S. bid to bring back UN sanctions casts uncertainty and confusion over the future of the nuclear deal and sanctions.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on September 19 that he cannot take any action on the U.S. declaration because “there would appear to be uncertainty” on the issue.
Worry, Concern Among Allies
The International Crisis Group wrote in a recent analysis that the UN Security Council and diplomats are “likely to get bogged down in inconclusive debates” on technicalities.
“There is no individual or entity in the UN system that can rule on whether the U.S. snapback gambit has or lacks merit,” the conflict prevention group said. “For now, it is a political and diplomatic issue rather than a neat legal determination.”
Britain, France, and Germany have expressed worries about the end of the arms embargo on Iran but have opposed U.S. action out of concern it would kill what is left of the nuclear deal and delegitimize the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, U.S. allies in Europe and Iran appear to be trying to wait out the Trump administration, calculating that former Vice President Joe Biden will win the November presidential election and deescalate tensions with Iran.
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