The right to defensive arms

October 14, 2020 - 20:13

TEHRAN – As a UN arms embargo on Iran nears its end, Iran appears to be poised to exercise its right to freely buy and sell arms while securing the support of the remaining parties to a 2015 nuclear deal.

With the expiration date of the arms embargo a few days away, Iran is calling on the signatories to the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - to make clear that they would translate their political and diplomatic support for Iran into actions.

The UN arms embargo, which is scheduled to expire on October 18 in accordance with the provisions of the JCPOA, is a licensing process set by the 2015 nuclear deal that stipulates that arms trade with Iran would be subject to permissions from the UN Security Council for a period of five years after the implementation of the nuclear deal.

This restriction will come to an end in the coming days, setting the stage for a real showdown between the United States and the international community over the implementation of the UN sanctions which were unilaterally and reimposed by the U.S. on September 19.

Over the past months, the UN arms embargo has been a major point of contention between the U.S. and Iran, with other countries, especially those on the UN Security Council, being stuck in the middle in terms of which side they can support.

Iran has said many times that the UN arms embargo must end in mid-October as agreed in the JCPOA five years ago. On the other hand, the U.S. has said the arms embargo will continue to be in place after October 18.

In an effort to extend the arms embargo, the U.S. also unilaterally restored all UN sanctions on Iran in September, a move that was met with steadfast opposition from the remaining parties to the JCPOA and almost all UN Security Council members.

“Last week, the U.S. triggered the 30-day process to restore virtually all UN sanctions on Iran after the Security Council failed to uphold its mission to maintain international peace and security. These sanctions will snap back at midnight GMT on September 20,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on August 27, a week after he traveled to New York to submit a “notification” to the president of the Security Council calling for the restoration of the international sanctions on Iran in accordance with a highly controversial mechanism within the JCPOA that allows a “JCPOA participant state” to restore the UN sanctions on Iran in case it didn’t uphold its obligations under the JCPOA.

On September 19, Pompeo announced the return of all UN sanctions on Iran, throwing the Security Council into chaos and uncertainty as most members of the Council had already announced that they would not recognize the legality of the U.S. announcement that international sanctions against Iran have been restored. In addition, all signatories to the JCPOA, including Washington European allies, said the U.S. announcement on the restoration of UN sanctions was incapable of having legal effect.

Now that the U.S. has moved forward with its threat to restore the international sanctions, the world is holding its breath to see how the JCOPA parties would react when the expiration date of the UN arms embargo arrives. Will they translate their political opposition to the U.S. into actions?

Iran has said the arms embargo will be lifted by October 18. On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani already congratulated the Iranian people on the lifting of the arms embargo.

“Next week, we will be congratulating and giving glad tidings to the people that ten years of cruel arms embargo will come to an end. We fought with America on this issue for four years. Over the past four years, America used everything in its power to prevent the lifting of the embargo on October 18. The embargo will be lifted due to the endurance of the people,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA.

The president added, “The U.S. failed because of the efforts made by our diplomats. Those who say what the point of the JCPOA was, should know that this is one of the JCPOA’s privileges. It lifted the arms embargo and as of Sunday, we will be able to buy arms from anyone and sell arms to anyone.”

Russia and China are seen as the two main candidates that would sell arms to Iran after the expiration of the UN arms embargo, especially now that the two countries have firmly opposed the U.S. push to extend the arms embargo.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in September that there would be no limitations whatsoever on arms supplies to and from Iran, calling into the question the arms embargo itself.

“There is no such thing as an arms embargo against Iran. The Security Council, when it was adopting the comprehensive Resolution 2231, which endorsed [the] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which settled the nuclear issue for Iran, and this was adopted by consensus under the Chapter 7 of the United Nations’ charter,” the chief Russian diplomat said in an interview with Alarabiya in September, adding, “The Security Council in that resolution said that the supply of arms to Iran and from Iran would be subject to consideration by the Security Council and that on the 18th of October, 2020 this regime of sales to Iran would stop. There is no embargo and there would be no limitations whatsoever after the expiration of this timeframe established by the Security Council.”

In addition to Lavrov, many other Russian officials underlined that Russia would continue the military cooperation with Iran even after the U.S. announced the return of all UN sanctions.

In the months leading to the expiration of the UN arms embargo, some Russian media outlets showcased the weapons that Iran could purchase from Russia after the expiration of the arms embargo. Su-30SM fighter jets, the K-300P Bastion-P mobile defense missile system and the S-400 Air Defense System are among defense weapons that Russia could sell to Iran, according to the Russian website Russia Beyond.

Furthermore, the Russian ambassador to Iran, Levan Jagarian, has said his country has no problem in selling the S-400 missile defense system to Iran.

In an interview with Resalat daily, the ambassador also noted that the U.S. threats would by no means affect Russia’s arms cooperation with Iran.

Unlike Russia, the European stance on the arms embargo on Iran is still ambiguous. They said that they have their own arms embargo on Iran that will last until after 2020. This means that that they will almost certainly refrain from selling arms to Iran. But they didn’t clarify whether they will oppose other countries selling arms to Iran. Some analysts believe that the European signatories to the JCPOA may repeat what they did after the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran following the White House’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal: Publicly opposing the U.S. sanctions but stopping short of making any effort to defy U.S. sanctions in practice. If the Europeans do so, Rouhani’s “glad tidings” would be in danger of turning out to be bad news.

The Europeans’ record in relation to the JCPOA has created deep mistrust in Tehran, with some analysts believing that Europe may only announce that the UN arms embargo has been lifted without taking any tangible measures to help Iran enjoy what it’s entitled to. This may be the reason why a senior Iranian parliamentarian has recently called on JCPOA parties to formally announce the lifting of the arms embargo.

“Now, countries which are parties to the JCPOA must formally announce the lifting of arms restrictions in accordance with the JCPOA and let the world know that the Islamic Republic of Iran is allowed to buy and sell arms,” Mojtaba Zolnouri, who is the head of the Parliament’s National Security Committee, was quoted by the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) as saying.  

Regardless of what the Europeans would do, Iran seems to be determined to exercise its right to sell and buy defensive arms just like what other countries around the world freely do.

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