New York/Washington: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo formally notified the United Nations of the U.S. demand to reinstate global sanctions against Iran and slammed European allies who oppose the move, accusing them of a failure to lead and appeasing the Iranian regime.
Pompeo traveled to New York Thursday to hand-deliver a letter to the president of the UN Security Council that says Iran isn’t complying with its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal “despite extensive efforts and exhaustive diplomacy” by the U.S. and other member states. The move was also aimed at keeping in place a 13-year-old arms embargo that’s set to expire in October.
The U.S. contends that the notification starts a 31-day clock that will end with the council required to “snap back” sanctions on Iran. It puts the administration on a collision course with other world powers who say the U.S. doesn’t have the standing to invoke the sanctions provision because President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal two years ago.
“In the end they provided no alternatives, no options,” Pompeo said of America’s European allies, adding that they “chose to side with the ayatollahs” and put their own citizens at risk. “America won’t join in this failure of leadership. America will not appease, America will lead.”
Condemnation of the U.S. move was swift. In a joint statement, France, Germany and the U.K. said they remained committed to the deal that eased sanctions in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. They called on all Security Council members to “refrain from any action that would only deepen divisions” in the body.
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom are committed to preserving the processes and institutions which constitute the foundation of multilateralism,” the nations said.
Diplomats from a number of nations indicated they saw no need for further steps because the U.S. action was void of meaning.
China’s UN mission said “it is nothing but a political show.” In a tweet before Pompeo’s letter was delivered, Russian’s UN envoy, Vassily Nebenzya, said the U.S. has no “legal right or reason to initiate this thing,” and “of course we will challenge it.”
Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s UN ambassador, told reporters that the “U.S. attempted to mislead the international community” and the letter Pompeo submitted “is null and void.”
Although many countries are wary of Iran, the U.S. has been almost completely isolated in its efforts to raise pressure on the Islamic Republic. Building a coalition may be even harder now for Trump, who’s trailing in opinion polls less three months before the presidential election.
But Trump administration critics and supporters alike say the true U.S. goal is to finally kill what’s left of the 2015 deal, which European nations have tried to keep alive, so that a future administration wouldn’t be able to revive it.
The U.S. legal argument, spelled out in a document accompanying Pompeo’s letter Thursday, hinges on the definition of the term “participant state” from UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which put the global body’s imprimatur on the nuclear accord known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action when it was agreed to in 2015.
All of the other participants in the accord — including France, Germany and the U.K. — argue that Trump’s decision to back out of the deal in 2018 means the U.S. is no longer a participant. The U.S., argues the opposite: It says the “participant states” were fixed by resolution 2231 and leaving the deal doesn’t change that.
“It would have been a simple task for the Council, for example, to have stated that the right to initiate snapback is available only to States considered to be ‘currently’ participating in the JCPOA or in full performance of their JCPOA commitments at the time of the initiation,” the document submitted by Pompeo says. “But it did not do so.”
In the clearest sign of how isolated the U.S. is at the global body, an American effort last week to extend indefinitely a 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran was defeated in historic fashion: 11 members of the Security Council abstained, with just the Dominican Republic joining the U.S. as China and Russia vetoed the measure.
Trump has long called the agreement reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama, the “worst deal ever” and has said he wants a new accord to help foster peace across the Middle East. His administration has used increasingly tough economic and diplomatic pressure to try to convince European allies to quit the 2015 nuclear deal, saying Iran used the revenue it got from eased sanctions to finance conflicts from Syria to Yemen.
European allies supportive of the nuclear deal struggled to find a way around the U.S. restrictions, depriving Iran of investment and causing its currency to plunge.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government ruled out any talks in response to what it calls “blackmail.”
Pompeo vowed to hold countries like Russia and China accountable if they refused to go along with the U.S. declaration that the nuclear deal was void and, instead, move ahead with sales of advanced weapons to Iran once the arms embargo expires in October.
Debate since 2015
Supporters of the agreement say it took Iran off a path toward nuclear weapons. But critics said it provided Iran with economic benefits in the short-term without any long-term guarantee the country wouldn’t eventually decide to restart its nuclear program.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors repeatedly affirmed that the Iranians were abiding by the accord before the U.S. withdrew. As Washington reimposed sanctions, Iran abandoned parts of the agreement, stockpiling enriched uranium beyond agree upon levels, saying it would reverse course if the U.S. returned to the deal.
The dispute between the U.S. and the rest of the permanent members of the Security Council could plunge the body into a crisis with no clear path toward a resolution.
“It will be one of the worst crises to face the UN Security Council in a generation,” said Richard Nephew, who was the lead sanctions expert for the Obama administration team that negotiated the accord. “The council will be hopelessly divided, without any clarity on how to move forward.” –Bloomberg