Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement Saturday that the United States has unilaterally reimposed the United Nations sanctions against Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal has set off a kind of “world war.”
For weeks, Washington has been trying to drum up international support for extending the UN arms embargo on Iran, which is scheduled to expire October 18. If the embargo is not extended, the White House warned, the Trump administration would move to restore all UN sanctions imposed on Iran before the nuclear accord was reached in 2015.
Instead of support, Trump got the middle finger. His administration claims that the United States, as a party to the UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear agreement, retains the legal right to invoke the “snapback” mechanism. But the five other signatories to the deal – Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany – say that Washington lost legal standing when President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed American sanctions.
On August 14, a U.S. resolution to indefinitely extend the UN arms embargo on Iran was soundly defeated. The U.S. didn’t stand a chance anyway, because China and Russia were prepared to use their veto power.
Pompeo’s statement to restore UN sanctions was issued at 8 P.M. on Saturday, 30 days after Pompeo notified the council that Iran was in “significant nonperformance” of its obligations under the nuclear deal. The White House plans to issue an executive order on Monday spelling out how the U.S. will enforce the restored sanctions, and the U.S. Treasury and the State Department are expected to outline how UN member states as well as foreign individuals and businesses will be penalized for violations.
The move appears to be part of Trump’s efforts to prove to voters, ahead of the November election, his amazing talent for orchestrating foreign policy. But his presumed plan is full of holes.
Take Qatar, for example. While hosting one of the biggest U.S. military bases in the Middle East, this Gulf state is Iran’s most important economic partner, jointly operating the largest natural-gas field in the Gulf.
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Or even the UAE, which has just signed a deal with Israel. This year, it issued a permit allowing Iranian companies to renew their activities in Dubai, nearly all restrictions have been lifted on UAE visas for Iranian businesspeople and Iranians are snapping up properties in the Emirates, helping to rebuild industries that have suffered over the past two years.
Oman, another candidate to sign a treaty with Israel, has close ties to Iran and serves as a mediator with the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey too, has stopped buying petroleum and natural gas but maintains trade and other ties with Tehran.
Iraq, whose annual trade with Iran is estimated at around $12 billion, is dependent on Iran for electricity, water and natural gas, and allows Iran-sponsored Shi’ite militias to operate within its territory. Despite Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s pro-American policy and public opposition to Iran’s presence in Iraq, Baghdad has no alternative because Iran is its economic lifeline.
Should these countries, Washington’s good allies, expect to suffer at the hands of the Trump administration? Will the U.S. military remove its bases from Qatar and Oman?
China and Russia will continue to faithfully support the economy of Iran, which looks to them to weather sanctions. China has significantly reduced its Iranian petroleum purchases, but Beijing and Tehran are negotiating a strategic economic agreement under which China will invest a few hundred billion dollars in Iran over the next 25 years, in exchange for heavily discounted oil. The proposal is part of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” meant to extend Beijing’s economic and strategic influence across Eurasia.
Will Trump’s threats to punish China over its ties to Iran affect Beijing’s vision? China has already denounced the extension of the embargo and Washington's new sanctions.
Moscow has no intention of falling in line with Trump either, particularly at a time when the United States is increasingly withdrawing from the Middle Eastern arena. In a statement issued Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said: “Illegitimate U.S. initiatives and actions definitely cannot have international and legal consequences for other countries and create their obligations to limit legitimate cooperation with Iran.”
It’s hard to imagine how Trump will reconcile new sanctions with his declaration last week that he will strike a "great deal" with Iran if reelected. Experience teaches that any attempt to find even an iota of logic in Trump’s foreign policy is fated to end in resigned surrender.
The leader of the most powerful country in the world is tweeting his way to the November election, lobbing bombs in all directions. Now that has opened a front against his European allies and powerful rivals like China and Russia, he is turning Iran into an underdog that need to be protected from his madness.