With snapback gambit, U.S. puts its veto power in danger

August 22, 2020 - 18:51

TEHRAN - The U.S. move to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran strategically puts the U.S. veto power in danger given the widespread opposition to its measure, an analyst tells the Tehran Times.

With 13 countries on the UN Security Council expressing their outright opposition to the U.S. bid to restore the international sanctions on Iran, the U.S. finds itself more isolated than ever. As the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a letter of complaint to the Security Council, the reactions began to pour in.

According to a Reuters report, 13 countries out of 15 on the Council rejected the U.S. move in letters they sent to the president of the Security Council.

On Thursday, Pompeo traveled to New York to “notify” the Security Council of a “significant non-performance” by Iran of its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal as defined in the UN Security Council Resolution 2231. However, most Security Council members strongly questioned the legality of the U.S. measure. They said with one voice that the U.S. had no legal authority to initiate the snapback process, a mechanism built into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to allow the parties to the deal to restore the international sanctions on Iran in case it didn’t uphold its obligations under the nuclear deal.

“France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (“the E3”) note that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018. Our position regarding the effectiveness of the US notification pursuant to resolution 2231 has consequently been very clearly expressed to the Presidency and all UNSC Members. We cannot, therefore, support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA,” the E3 foreign ministers said in a joint statement, moments after the U.S. submitted its letter to the UN.

Other signatories to the deal – Russia, China, and the EU - echoed the same position, a move that raised concerns in Washington over a possible undermining of the U.S. veto power.

“Invoking ‘snap-back,’ when the U.S. first violated the Iran Deal by withdrawing unilaterally, will undermine the U.S. veto in the UNSC and global sanctions regimes. Dumb and Dumber,” Susan Rice said.“Invoking ‘snap-back,’ when the U.S. first violated the Iran Deal by withdrawing unilaterally, will undermine the U.S. veto in the UNSC and global sanctions regimes. Dumb and Dumber,” tweeted Susan Rice, the former national security advisor during Barack Obama’s administration.

Another former national security advisor – John Bolton- echoed the same concern. He said that Donald Trump’s threat to trigger the snapback will have long-term consequences for the U.S. veto power.

“Trump's threat to invoke ‘snapback’ sanctions from Obama's 2015 nuclear deal, which we have withdrawn from, risks long-term, permanent damage to U.S. veto power in the UN Security Council,” tweeted Bolton on August 17, three days before the U.S. requested a return of the UN sanctions on Iran.
Bolton added, “As I noted back in 2015, ‘snapback’ provisions were a central feature of Obama's Iran Deal & a key failing from the outset. By design, they bypass UN Security Council veto power & establish a precedent for defeating the veto powers of permanent members.”

He also wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal to warn against invoking the snapback.

“The agreement’s backers argue that Washington, having withdrawn from the deal, has no standing to invoke its provisions. They’re right. It’s too cute by half to say we’re in the nuclear deal for purposes we want but not for those we don’t. That alone is sufficient reason not to trigger the snapback process,” Bolton admittedly wrote, adding, “Why afford any American legitimacy to this misbegotten creature? Further, the U.N. Charter allows no vetoes to decide ‘procedural’ questions, and that is how between nine and 13 members may categorize, and thereby stymie, Mr. Trump’s ploy.”

Experts and analysts also believe that the triggering of the snapback is a strategic danger to the U.S. veto power in the Security Council.

“We have never seen such a consensus against the U.S. in the Security Council in the past 75 years. Naturally, this is a strategic and legal failure for the U.S.” Hanif Ghaffari, an Iranian political expert, told the Tehran Times.

According to Ghaffari, the U.S. move to trigger the snapback can be viewed from legal and strategic perspectives.

“Legally, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was adopted to endorse the JCPOA and it’s not detached from the JCPOA. In other words, it’s not independent of the JCPOA. Therefore, when a certain party to the deal withdraws from it, automatically loses the privileges stipulated in resolution 2231,” the expert said.

Ghaffari added that strategically the U.S. efforts to force a return of the UN sanctions pose a danger to the U.S. veto power in the Security Council because the U.S. is now accused of using its veto to secure illegitimate interests.

Bolton and Rice’s concerns are indicative of this accusation, he added.

It’s not clear yet if the U.S. would use its veto to restore the UN sanctions. But it’s difficult to see how it would trigger the snapback without using the veto and while the entire world says the U.S. has no legal right to initiate the snapback mechanism. The U.S. submitted its notification to the UN with the purpose of restoring UN sanctions on Iran, but it may end up undermining its legal authority to wield veto power in the UN Security Council. If the U.S. fails to use veto in its efforts to kill the JCPOA, it will set a precedent for how other countries can question its veto power, which could permanently damage the U.S. interests in the UN.

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