U.S. bid to extend UN arms embargo on Iran hits a dead end

August 9, 2020 - 23:50

TEHRAN - While the U.S. attempts to build an international consensus on the extension of a UN arms embargo on Iran, an analyst tells the Tehran Times that the U.S. is going to face opposition from some of the UN Security Council permanent members.

As the UN Security Council prepares to vote on a U.S.-drafted resolution this week, the U.S. seems to be on a collision course with the international community. It is pushing for a vote on extending the UN arms embargo on Iran, despite diplomatic warnings that the measure lacks international support.

The UN arms embargo is slated to expire on October 18 according to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, the U.S. is spearheading a diplomatic campaign to extend the international embargo on Iran, despite the fact that it has unilaterally ceased its participation in the nuclear deal, which deprives the U.S. of the right to extend the arms embargo.
 
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the U.S. is going to move forward with its efforts to extend the arms embargo.

“The United States will put forward a resolution in the Security Council to extend the arms embargo on Iran,” Pompeo said, adding, “The proposal we put forward is eminently reasonable. One way or another we will do the right thing. We will ensure that the arms embargo is extended.”

Citing UN-based diplomats, the Foreign Policy magazine reported that the U.S. is expected to formally table the resolution on Monday, with plans to put it to a vote on Tuesday. The U.S. measure sets the stage for a diplomatic clash between the U.S. and other Security Council members including Washington’s European allies.

The U.S. resolution is widely expected to face firm opposition from Russia and China along with the Europeans, who fear the extension of the UN arms embargo would lead to a total collapse of the nuclear deal. Therefore, the resolution could be rejected even without a Russian or Chinese veto. According to an AFP report, UN diplomats say opposition to the resolution's current form is so widespread that Washington is unlikely even to secure the nine votes required to force Moscow and Beijing to wield their vetoes.

It’s clear that the U.S. resolution will not pass because diplomats say its content is taking a “maximalist position on Iran,” AFP reported.

Now, the question is what the U.S. would do if its resolution is vetoed or rejected by the Security Council members. At the official level, U.S. officials regularly say that they will extend the UN arms embargo “one way or another” and they will use all tools at their disposal to make sure that the arms embargo is not lifted. They continue to refuse to declare their next step toward extending the UN arms embargo.

“It’s highly likely that the U.S. resolution won’t be passed, and if it’s not passed the Americans will resort to the 2231 resolution by claiming that they are still a party in this resolution and thus they have the authority to trigger the snapback mechanism,” Amirali Abolfath, an expert on U.S. policies, told the Tehran Times. However, Abolfath cast doubt on the U.S. ability to use the 2231 resolution to extend the UN arms embargo.

According to Abolfath, the U.S. is making efforts to exploit the 2231 resolution to re-impose international sanctions on Iran, including the UN arms embargo.

Referring to a recent virtual meeting of the Security Council on Iran, which was attended by Iranian Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Abolfath said, “Russia and China strongly oppose the U.S. efforts to exploit the 2231 resolution. During the recent Security Council’s meeting, the German representative said that a snapback of UN sanctions should be triggered by the Europeans, suggesting that the Americans have no authority to do so.”

However, Abolfath believes that the Americans will pay no heed to the warnings of other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal.

It’s not clear yet how the Americans want to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran while Russia, China, and the E3 call into question the U.S. legal right to trigger a snapback of UN sanctions. Whether the remaining parties to the JCPOA would implement the UN sanctions in case they are re-imposed, is an open question.

Regardless of U.S. ability to restore UN sanctions against Iran, some analysts say that members of the Security Council would have no options but to adhere to UN sanctions if they are restored.

“If the U.S. triggers a snapback of UN sanctions, other countries including Russia and China would have no options other than getting along with the sanctions, because they can’t ignore the binding and legal nature of the 2231 resolution,” Omid Asiaban, a PhD candidate in international relations at the University of Tehran and a university lecturer at the University of Birjand told the Tehran Times.

The U.S. efforts to extend the UN arms embargo are shrouded in mystery, and their implications are yet to be fully known. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. has the capability to enforce UN sanctions. Abolfath said the UN sanctions would create a complicated circumstance because countries like Russia and China would theoretically oppose the UN sanctions but practically may find themselves obliged to comply with them.

It seems that the U.S. push to extend the UN arms embargo is not going smoothly. On Thursday, Pompeo surprisingly announced the resignation of Brian Hook, the former U.S. Special Representative for Iran.

“I thank Special Representative Brian Hook for his 3+ years of service to the State Department and Donald Trump as he moves on to the private sector. He has been a valued member of my leadership team,” tweeted Pompeo on Thursday.

Neither Pompeo nor the State Department offered any explanation for Hook’s surprise departure. However, it seems that the former Special Representative’s resignation has something to do with the U.S. efforts to extend the UN arms embargo.

The departure comes a week before the U.S. puts forward its resolution in the Security Council and almost 10 days after Hook’s tour of the region and Europe, during which he encouraged many Arab and European officials to back the U.S. in its effort to extend the UN arms embargo.

It’s likely that his failure to secure support for the U.S. campaign against Iran prompted him to resign. Hook didn’t say what reasons were behind his resignation, but a former official of the Trump administration implied that Hook wasn’t supporting the U.S. plan to trigger a snapback of UN sanctions.

“Elliott Abrams is one of the smartest and most capable U.S. Government officials in history. He knows the Iran portfolio well and has deep relationships throughout the Middle East [West Asia]. This is an inspired choice. Now on to snapback!” tweeted Richard Goldberg, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council, as if Hook was the major obstacle to triggering the snapback of UN sanctions now. 

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