The Trump administration on Thursday formally notified the United Nations of its demand for all UN sanctions on Iran to be restored, citing significant Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the notification to the president of the UN Security Council, setting the stage for a showdown in the world body that could lead to a crisis of credibility for its most important and powerful institution.
Speaking to reporters at the UN, after delivering the letter Pompeo said the US had the right to reimpose sanctions under UN resolution 2231 that laid out the rules of the deal.
“We think this is really straightforward we think this is very simple. These UN Security Council resolutions will come back into place 31 days from now, and the United States will vigorously enforce them,” Pompeo said.
He said he expected the other UN Security Council members to “comply with their obligations”.
Iran’s Ambassador to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi said on Thursday the US letter was “inadmissible”.
“The US has no legal authority. The US has no legal argument whatsoever,” he said.
Ravanchi said the US had failed to utilise the dispute process under resolution 2231 and before notifying the Security Council must make “good faith efforts to resolve the issue” and said the US move is “doomed to failure”.
“We are confident that nothing is going to happen in the next 30 days. So, the US attempt is is in futility,” Ravanchi said.
Even before Pompeo presented the council president with the notice, other members rejected the step.
None of the other council members believes the United States has the legal right to demand the reimposition, or “snapback”, of sanctions because President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. As such, the demand is expected to further isolate the US at the UN and test the Security Council’s credibility.
‘Non-performance’ by Iran
In a letter that Pompeo presented to Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN, Dian Triansyah Djani, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the council, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said the US was notifying the body of “significant non-performance” by Iran related to the nuclear deal. As a result, Craft said the process leading to the reimposition of UN sanctions had been initiated.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has reported some Iranian violations of the agreement, but Tehran says those are the result of the US violating the accord by withdrawing from it and then reimposing harsh unilateral sanctions.
Craft noted that the European participants in the deal had attempted to bring Iran back into compliance. But she said “despite extensive efforts and exhaustive diplomacy on the part of those member states, Iran’s significant non-performance persists”.
“As a result, the United States is left with no choice but to notify the council that Iran is in significant non-performance of its JCPOA commitments,” she wrote, using the acronym for the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
US withdrawal from JCPOA
Craft’s letter was accompanied by a six-page explanation of why the US believes it retains the right to invoke snapback, a mechanism afforded to participants in the nuclear accord by the Security Council resolution that enshrined the deal.
The US maintains that its withdrawal from the nuclear deal does not obviate its right as an original participant and a permanent Security Council member to demand the restoration of sanctions.
That argument, however, has already been rejected by the other members of the council, including US allies the United Kingdom and France, along with China and Russia.
“We do not take it that they have the legal right or the reason to initiate this thing,” Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said Thursday before Pompeo’s notification. “So, of course, we will challenge it.”
China has said it agreed with the Russian position, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told UN chief Antonio Guterres in a phone call on Thursday that the Security Council must resist the US demand.
“This would have dangerous consequences for international law, it will bring nothing but the destruction of international mechanisms and it will discredit the Security Council,” Zarif said.
Under the terms of the Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal, Thursday’s notification starts a 30-day clock after which pre-2015 UN sanctions on Iran that were eased will be reimposed unless a resolution specifically extending their suspension is passed. The US, however, would use its veto power to block any resolution extending the sanctions relief.
Could be ignored
Because of the legal debate over US standing, it is possible that the snapback demand will simply be ignored by the other members, which could call into question the Security Council’s relevance and ability to enforce its own legally binding decisions.
Trump and Pompeo had made no secret of their intention to pursue snapback, particularly after the administration’s embarrassing defeat last week at the Security Council on extending the arms embargo on Iran that expires in October. The US won just one other “yes” vote, with China and Russia opposed and the 11 other members abstaining.
As with the arms embargo, Russia and China bitterly oppose reimposing other UN sanctions on Iran. So do US allies UK and France, which are hoping to preserve the nuclear deal in the event Trump loses his bid for a second term in November’s presidential election. Democratic Joe Biden has said he would try to revive the agreement.
The Europeans fear that the reimposition of sanctions may lead Iran to quit the deal entirely and plough ahead with efforts to develop atomic weapons. The Trump administration says it withdrew precisely because it eased sanctions, opening major revenue streams for Iran while gradually easing restrictions on its nuclear activities that money could pay for.