New York: The U.S. will press the United Nations Security Council to vote on extending an arms embargo on Iran as soon as mid-July and is willing to reimpose wide-ranging UN sanctions if that effort fails, Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said.
Craft said she hopes that European allies, which have expressed concern about U.S. strategy toward Iran if the extension is rejected, would support the U.S. move for a vote on extending the embargo that’s set to expire in October. She conceded that Russia, backed by China, will put up a strong fight and may exercise a veto.
“We want to give the council the opportunity to talk through the renewal,” Craft said in an interview Wednesday. “But we will use every measure, every tool, and if that means a snapback, that’s exactly what we’ll do, we’ll be initiating it.”
The comments come a day after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo addressed the Security Council on the arms embargo, saying a negotiated extension is the U.S. “preference.” But Craft said the U.S. won’t hesitate to call for a “snapback” of all UN sanctions on Iran under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, even though the Trump administration withdrew from the multinational accord in 2018.
“This is about the security of the whole region,” said Craft, who served as U.S. envoy to Canada before taking up her UN post last year. “I really think people are going to stand up and hold Iran accountable.”
The U.S. last week formally circulated a resolution to the Security Council in an effort to renew the arms embargo indefinitely. Craft says the move is necessary because Iran has fomented trouble in the region by arming proxies, and allowing the weapons ban to expire could help Iran build up its military further.
That echoed Pompeo’s comments to the council on Tuesday that allowing the restrictions to expire would let Iran rearm and generate instability across the Mideast. On Wednesday he ruled out seeking a temporary extension of the embargo.
“Our objective is not to extend the arms embargo for another short period of time,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington. “That’s how we got into this mess. The arms embargo should be lifted when the Islamic Republic of Iran begins to behave in a way that is consistent with the ability to move arms around the world, to purchase – to act in a way that’s consistent with the way normal nations act.”
Iran, Russia, China and several European allies of the U.S. have countered the U.S. threat on snapback sanctions, saying the Trump administration doesn’t have the authority to invoke them since it quit the deal in 2018. As part of the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the UN had agreed to lift the arms embargo on Iran in October.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Security Council that the U.S. has been the source of instability in the Mideast, citing its invasions of Iraq and its support for Israel.
“The international community in general — and the UN Security Council in particular — are facing an important decision: Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?” Zarif said during the council’s virtual meeting on Tuesday.
State Department officials say that a close reading of the 2015 nuclear agreement allows the U.S. to invoke the snapback of sanctions, thereby effectively terminating the nuclear deal.
Beyond Iran, Craft said that a priority for the U.S. now is to maintain the UN’s ability to deliver humanitarian aid into Syria from neighboring countries.
Western powers and the UN are seeking to renew two border crossing points from Turkey that allow aid to reach Syria’s rebel-held northwest. They are also seeking to reopen an Iraqi crossing to the northeast to help fight a growing Covid-19 pandemic, but Syria and its ally Russia so far oppose those efforts.
The current authorization for cross-border aid access expires July 10. During previous negotiations over the access points in January, Russia argued that cross-border aid was a temporary response to the conflict that is running its course. In lieu of losing all access, the council was forced into cutting the number of cross-border access points from four to two.
“The humanitarian situation on the ground is dire, and if we don’t have a principled approach to these border crossings we are going to lose thousands of innocent civilians,” Craft said. “We have food insecurity and now we have Covid-19. When you tell refugees to shelter in place, where are they going to shelter?”
UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council this week that more than 2 million people in the northwest of Syria require humanitarian assistance. He added that Syrian authorities have confirmed 256 cases of Covid-19, though testing there remains severely limited.
“Covid-19 is the main reason we must have humanitarian access coming from the east,” Craft said. – Bloomberg