Israel Hails ‘Courageous’ U.S. Move, but Security Council Members Oppose Reimposing Iran Sanctions

Noa Landau
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, May 20, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, May 20, 2020. Credit: AFP
Noa Landau

The United States moved to restore all UN sanctions on Iran on Thursday, arguing Tehran was in violation of a nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 even though Washington itself abandoned that agreement two years ago.

The United States submitted a letter to the 15-member UN Security Council alleging Iranian non-compliance, in theory starting a 30-day process that could lead to the "snapback" of UN sanctions even though major powers like Russia reject the U.S. stance and say they will not restore economic penalties.

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Israel was supportive of the U.S. move, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing the Security Council of "dereliction of its duty to protect international peace and security ... Israel stands proudly and firmly with the United States, as do governments across the Middle East who opposed the JCPOA quietly and now support the restoration of sanctions publicly. Ultimately, the tyrants of Tehran must understand this: If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, it must start acting like a normal country."

Ambassador Gilad Erdan called on other states to back the move to restore sanctions. “If Security Council member states don’t abide by the sanctions that would be reimposed, it will cause massive harm that would hurt the council’s ability to function and protect peace and security around the world,” said Erdan.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said Israel was grateful for the U.S. move. "This is an important and courageous decision by the U.S. administration aimed at restoring law and order to the international system after Iran's repeated violations of the agreements it signed, which are reflected, among other things, in the arming of terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East," Ashkenazi said in a statement. "Iran's violations began on the day that UN Resolution 2231 was adopted and have continued unabated until today. We call on the international community to support the American initiative and thus restore the stability of the international system that rests on full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions."

Resolution 2231 enshrined the nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. That deal aimed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons by restricting its atomic activities in return for wide relief from economic sanctions.

The United Kingdom, France and Germany meanwhile said they could not back the move, saying the action was incompatible with efforts to support the Iran nuclear deal. "In order to preserve the agreement, we urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with its nuclear commitments and return to full compliance without delay," the three nations said in a joint statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that as the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal, it cannot be seen as a participant state "for the purposes of possible sanctions snapback foreseen by the resolution."

The Iranian foreign minister said in a letter to the United Nations that the U.S. has no right to trigger the reimposition of all UN sanctions on Iran, calling on Security Council members to reject Washington's move. 

"The U.S. push to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran will have dangerous consequences ... Iran has exercised restraint in good faith ... Now it is the international community's turn to counter the unlawful push by the United States," Javad Zarif said in the letter.

Iranian state TV said the letter was sent to the head of the UN Security Council by Iran's UN envoy Majid Takhteravanchi.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump has directed him to trigger the 'snapback' of all UN sanctions on Iran at the Security Council in New York on Thursday.

In a bid to reimpose the sanctions, the United States will submit a complaint to the 15-member body about Iran's non-compliance with a 2015 agreement on its nuclear program, even though Washington quit the accord in 2018.

Zarif said Washington had no right to trigger the snapback mechanism as it was no longer a party to the pact.

Russia backed up the Iranian stance.

Russia's UN ambassador rejected the U.S. plans as "nonexistent," saying only a country that remains in the 2015 agreement can trigger the return of the sanctions. "We will not take it as snapback," Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters, rejecting Pompeo's expected announcement.

"He's not triggering a snapback. Snapback can be triggered by a country that is a participant of the JCPOA, which the U.S. is not," he said, referring to the accord by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). "We consider snapback as nonexistent. We will not take it as a snapback," Nebenzia added.

When asked if Russia would reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, the Russian ambassador replied: "How can Russia reimpose UN sanctions on Iran if the resolution 2231 continues?"

Susan Rice, U.S. national security adviser at the time of the deal, also spoke out against the move, writing on Twitter: "Invoking 'snap-back,' when the U.S. first violated the Iran Deal by withdrawing unilaterally, will undermine the U.S. veto in the UNSC and global sanctions regimes. Dumb and Dumber."

A range of UN sanctions will be restored through the "snapback" mechanism, including the requirement that Iran suspend all nuclear enrichment-related activities, according to a U.S. State Department statement. The sanctions will be reimposed thirty days after Secretary Pompeo’s notification.

The snapback sanctions will also extend the 13-year arms embargo on Iran after the United States lost its long-shot bid in the UN Security Council last week to indefinitely extend an international arms embargo on the Islamic republic.

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