World Iran sanctions: US versus the world over 'snapback' option
If Biden, Then What, on Iran? | Opinion
Given the regime's strategy of nuclear incrementalism, there is no reason to believe Tehran will tone down its regional escalation just to please a new U.S. administration eager for diplomacy. The Islamic Republic has spent considerable blood and treasure on creating and entrenching what it calls "the Axis of Resistance"—a constellation of pro-Iran and anti-status quo actors—in the heart of the Middle East. These groups form a key component of Iranian security policy, exerting pressure on U.S. and allied interests in the region.
The United States will unilaterally declare this weekend that UN sanctions against Iran are once again in force, a move that risks increasing Washington's diplomatic isolation while also stoking international tensions.
"Virtually all UN sanctions on Iran will come back into place this weekend at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time (midnight GMT) on Saturday the 19th," said Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration's special representative for Iran.
Trump to Kill What’s Left of Iran Deal Then Confront UN Assembly
The Trump administration’s push to kill off what’s left of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran comes to a head this weekend at the United Nations, where allies and adversaries argue the U.S. effort to restore sanctions is groundless and a diplomatic crisis is set to explode. © Bloomberg The emblem of the United Nations is seen during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
But on this point, Washington is almost alone in the world: all the other great powers -- China, Russia and also the US' own European allies -- have challenged the claim.
How did the UN arrive at this spectacular stand-off between the leading superpower and the rest of the planet? To answer that, one has to go back at least one month.
In mid-August, President Donald Trump's administration suffered a resounding defeat at the UN Security Council when it tried to extend the embargo on conventional weapons being sent to Tehran, which was due to expire in October.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unusually vehement attack on allies France, Britain and Germany, accusing them of "siding with Iran's Ayatollahs," and on August 20 announced a controversial move known as the "snapback," which aims to re-establish all sanctions against Tehran a month later.
Trump administration insists UN sanctions on Iran are restored. No, they're not, says United Nations
Trump administration declares that UN sanctions eased against Iran as part of a nuclear accord have been reimposed. It is virtually alone in this.There's one problem: Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – the other signatories to the deal President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from – have no intention of enforcing those sanctions.
The sanctions were lifted in 2015 when Iran signed on to an international agreement not to seek to build nuclear weapons.
- A legal pirouette -
But Trump said that the landmark accord, negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, was insufficient and withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018, then renewed and even strengthened Washington's bilateral sanctions.
At the moment, the United States is insisting it is still a participant in the agreement that it stormed out of, but only so that it can activate the "snapback" option.
Virtually every other member of the Security Council disputes Washington's ability to execute this legal pirouette, and the council has not taken the measure any further.
But this dialogue of the deaf has gone on unabated: the Trump administration acts as if the international sanctions were coming back, while the rest of the international community continues to act as if nothing has changed.
Exclusive: U.S. to slap sanctions on over two dozen targets tied to Iran arms
Exclusive: U.S. to slap sanctions on over two dozen targets tied to Iran armsWASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday will sanction more than two dozen people and entities involved in Iran's nuclear, missile and conventional arms programs, a senior U.S. official said, putting teeth behind U.N. sanctions on Tehran that Washington argues have resumed despite the opposition of allies and adversaries.
So is this a symbolic gesture designed to recall Washington's hard line against Tehran, or are there more concrete measures in the offing?
The Americans will "pretend that they have activated the snapback and that therefore the sanctions are back up and running," said one European diplomat. But "this action will have no legal foundation" and therefore "cannot have legal consequences."
"I don't see anything happening," said another UN diplomat. "It would be just a statement. It's like pulling a trigger and no bullet coming out."
- Trump 'shock'? -
Another diplomat deplored the "unilateral" US act, saying that "Russia and China are sitting, happy, eating popcorn, watching" the "huge destabilizing fallout" between Washington and its European partners.
The US is, however, demanding that the arms embargo be prolonged "indefinitely," and that numerous other activities linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic programs be subject to international sanctions.
Pompeo said this week the US will "do all the things we need to do to make sure that those sanctions are enforced.
The Trump administration imposed a range of sanctions and restrictions on Iranian and Iranian-linked officials and entities on Monday after an effort over the weekend to reimpose UN sanctions on Tehran was largely rejected. © Mandel Ngan/Pool/AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC on June 24, 2020.
"We are going to act in a way -- and we have acted in a way -- that will prevent Iran from being able to purchase Chinese tanks and Russian air defense systems," he said
"We expect every nation to comply with UN Security Council resolutions -- period, full stop," he added.
That is where the issue risks stoking up international tensions.
Trump could announce secondary sanctions to punish any country or entity that violates UN sanctions, blocking their access to US markets and financial systems, even though the US is one of the only countries to believe that the sanctions are actually in force.
Six weeks away from possibly winning a second term, the US president could also use his Tuesday address to the General Assembly to "try and create a shock by announcing some sort of financial penalty on the UN because of his dissatisfaction over the snapback process," said Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group.
Video: Trump oversees Israel, 2 Arab states sign pacts (Associated Press)
Iran's Missiles are the Real Threat | Opinion .
It is important that the U.S. and its allies focus on the ballistic missile threat and see the nuclear program as part of a wider weapons system, instead of allowing Iran to pretend that each part of its weapons program is independent.Iran has been building ballistic missiles for many years—reverse engineering components, building on Russian or Chinese models and even working with North Korea to increase the range and precision of the rockets. When Washington announced new sanctions on Iran in late September, a U.S. official familiar with the sanctions said that Iran had resumed work with North Korea on long-range missiles.