E3's greatest test: Will they defy U.S.?

September 20, 2020 - 16:42

TEHRAN – In a statement on Saturday night, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the return of “all previously terminated UN sanctions” on Iran, a move that was met with strong opposition from the international community.

“Thus today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran…. Sanctions are being re-imposed on Iran pursuant to the snapback process under UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2231,” the statement said.

On August 20, Pompeo traveled to New York to submit a letter to the president of the UN Security Council calling for the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran within 30 days. The letter sparked a diplomatic controversy after 13 of the 15-member UN Security Council questioned the legality of the U.S. measure. All opposing members sent letters to the Council’s president telling him that the U.S. measure was void and invalid because the White House withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - on May 8, 2018.

However, the U.S announced the reimposition of UN sanctions, ignoring fierce opposition from all JCPOA participants and almost all members of the UN Security Council. In a joint statement on August 20, European signatories to the nuclear deal –Germany, France, and the UK (E3) - rejected the U.S. notification to the president of the Security Council, saying the U.S. was no longer a participant to the JCPOA.

“France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (‘the E3’) note that the U.S. ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on 8 May, 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 the August statement.

The E3 foreign ministers also issued another joint statement on September 20 to question the U.S. measure.

“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 8 May, 2018. Consequently, the purported notification under paragraph 11 of UNSCR 2231 (2015), received from the United States of America and circulated to the UN Security Council Members, is incapable of having legal effect,” the foreign ministers said. “It flows from this that any decisions and actions which would be taken based on this procedure or on its possible outcome would also be incapable of having any legal effect.”

This is all while the U.S. says it expects “all UN Member States to fully comply with their obligations to implement these measures.”

The secretary of state said the sanctions the U.S. announced their return on Saturday include a variety of restrictions including a “ban on Iran engaging in enrichment and reprocessing-related activities, the prohibition on ballistic missile testing and development by Iran, and sanctions on the transfer of nuclear- and missile-related technologies to Iran.”

In a thinly-veiled threat, Pompeo said if a country refuses to implement the sanctions, the U.S. could impose sanctions on it. “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,” he said.

This would further complicate the situation around the Iran nuclear deal and the transatlantic relations. Because, under the JCPOA, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium, though at low levels. And the Europeans, along with Russia and China, have no problem with this provision of the nuclear deal. Indeed, Iran has increased the enrichment levels and began spinning more advanced centrifuges in recent months in a bid to encourage the Europeans to fulfill their economic obligations under the JCPOA. Whether the Europeans would stand up to a move they reject as illegal remains an open question.

Some analysts and commentators believe that the E3 could stop short of defying the U.S. unilateral sanctions and continue to express political support for Iran in upcoming months. The Europeans only produce a lot of rhetoric without taking any practical step, according to Mohsen Jalilvand, an expert on international relations.

“The Europeans are using rhetoric and they are unable to translate their rhetoric into actions. INSTEX is a case in point. They launched it with great fanfare, but nothing happened in practice,” Jalilvand told the Tehran Times.

Now that the U.S. virtually prohibited the implementation of the JCPOA, a European action in defense of the nuclear deal may be more urgent than ever. They need to take more actions to save the deal which is now on the line after the U.S. delivered another blow to it. The world is ripe for concrete action in support of the JCPOA. As the U.S. announced the return of all UN sanctions on Iran, international reactions poured in. Most of the world condemned the U.S. measure as illegal and void.

“The U.S. unilaterally ceased participation in the JCPOA by presidential Memorandum on 8 May 2018 and has subsequently not participated in any JCPOA-related activities. It cannot, therefore, be considered to be a JCPOA participant State and cannot initiate the process of reinstating UN sanctions under the UN Security Council resolution 2231. Consequently, sanctions lifting commitments under the JCPOA continue to apply,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell said in a statement on Sunday. “As coordinator of the JCPOA Joint Commission, I will continue to do everything possible to ensure the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA by all.”

Russia also rejected the U.S. measure, saying the 2015 UN Security Council resolution which endorsed the JCPOA is unchanged.

“The efforts on preserving and ensuring sustainable implementation of the JCPOA will continue,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. It added, “The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 remains unchanged and the commitments arising from it must be fulfilled in the initially agreed mode and volume on the basis of the reciprocity principle by all states.”

Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy also tweeted, “We all clearly said in August that U.S. claims to trigger snapback are illegitimate. Is Washington deaf?”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has refrained from taking any action following Pompeo’s announcement on Iran sanctions. In a letter to the Security Council seen by Reuters, Guterres said, “There would appear to be uncertainty whether or not the process ... was indeed initiated and concomitantly whether or not the (sanctions) terminations ... continue in effect.”

“It is not for the Secretary-General to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists,” he added.

According to Reuters, the UN secretary-general said that “pending clarification” of the status of the Iran sanctions, he would not take any action to provide administrative and technical support to the Security Council to implement its sanctions regimes.

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