World

Iran derides U.S. attempt to reinforce sanctions at UN

Iran's foreign minister in a letter to the UN Security Council said the United States has no right to demand the restoration of UN sanctions against Iran, the Foreign Ministry's website said Friday.

It appears U.S. has little support elsewhere for using snapback move on 2015 nuclear deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is shown in Lebanon on Aug. 14. He accused the United States of misusing the UN Security Council resolution process. (Dalati Nohra/Reuters)

Iran's foreign minister in a letter to the UN Security Council said the United States has no right to demand the restoration of UN sanctions against Iran, the Foreign Ministry's website said Friday.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said the U.S. lost the right to make demands in 2018 when it withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers. He also said America's unilateral pullout violated a UN resolution that required signatories to avoid any damage to the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday officially informed the United Nations it is demanding the restoration of all UN sanctions on Iran, citing significant Iranian violations of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

But allies and opponents declared the U.S. action illegal and doomed to failure.

Pompeo insisted the U.S. has the legal right to "snap back" UN sanctions even though U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers that was endorsed by the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks off the stage following a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday, where he defended the legitimacy of using the 'snapback' provision at the UN for sanctions on Iran. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

He said UN sanctions will continue the arms embargo on Iran, set to expire on Oct. 18, as well as prohibit ballistic missile testing and nuclear enrichment that could lead to a nuclear weapons program — which Tehran insists it is not pursuing.

The U.S. insistence on snapping back international sanctions against Iran sets the stage for a contentious dispute. The U.S. demand could be ignored by other UN members — calling into question the Security Council's ability to enforce its own legally binding decisions.

Zarif said the term "snapback" was never mentioned in the deal or in the UN resolution that supported the deal. "The U.S. intentionally has applied the word to suggest speed and [an] automatic" return of sanctions, he said.

The Trump administration wants to reimpose all international sanctions that had been eased under the nuclear deal. Other nations claim the U.S. has no standing to make the demand because the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the deal.

Under the agreement, Tehran received sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. The "snapback" mechanism was created in the event Tehran was proven to be in violation of the accord.

Zarif said the Security Council should stop the U.S.'s unilateral "misuses" of council resolutions, saying "the people of Iran expect the council to force the U.S. to be accountable" for its "damages" to Iran.

The U.S. imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran and sent the country's economy into free fall following its pullout from the deal.

October deadline

The Trump administration ran into immediate opposition after Pompeo officially informed the UN of its move.

Russia and China, along with European allies Britain, France and Germany, which often disagree, are united in declaring the U.S. action "illegal" on grounds that you can't withdraw from a deal and then use the resolution that endorsed it to reimpose sanctions.

Pompeo travelled to the UN on Thursday to deliver a letter to Indonesia's ambassador to the UN, Dian Triansyah Djani, whose country currently holds the rotating council presidency.

Pompeo was sharply critical of "our friends in Germany, France and the United Kingdom" who didn't support a U.S. resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, which was resoundingly defeated a week ago.

He accused them of privately agreeing with the U.S. but lacking courage to say so publicly and proposing "no alternatives."

"Instead, they chose to side with ayatollahs," Pompeo said. "Their actions endanger the people of Iraq, of Yemen, of Lebanon, of Syria and indeed their own citizens as well."

This photo, released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Iran does not deny violating some terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action but says its hand has been forced by the withdrawal from the pact. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/AP)

Following Pompeo's half-hour meeting, the council president began one-on-one consultations with its 14 other members on the legality of the U.S. action, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.

Pompeo said a Security Council resolution will be introduced as required, but he wouldn't say which country would initiate it. Only the Dominican Republic supported last week's defeated U.S. resolution to extend the arms embargo.

Diplomats said the likely outcome of the council president's consultations is that the majority of members inform him that the U.S. is not legally entitled to invoke "snap back," and therefore they consider that "snap back" has not been triggered and the U.S. action will have no effect.

In these circumstances, the council president would not be required to introduce a resolution to extend sanctions relief, which would face a U.S. veto, the diplomats said.

Outspoken critics

The Europeans are still hoping that an agreement might be reached before the Oct. 18 expiration that could bridge the major differences between Russia and China, which support its lifting, and the United States, which seeks an indefinite extension, the diplomats said.

The Russians have been the most outspoken critics of the U.S. decision to invoke "snap back."

Before Pompeo's notification, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the U.S. didn't have the legal right to initiate "snap back," and said, "Of course, we will challenge it."

As soon as Pompeo delivered the letter invoking "snap back," Russia's deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky tweeted: "Looks like there are 2 planets. A fictional dog-eat-dog one where US pretends it can do whatever it wants without 'cajoling' anyone, breach and leave deals but still benefit from them, and another one where the rest of the world lives and where [international] law and diplomacy reign."

Russia then asked for an open council meeting Friday to discuss implementation of resolution 2231 endorsing the nuclear deal, which the Trump administration rejected.

Looming on the horizon, and an unspoken consideration for many Security Council members in this dispute, is the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3.

The Europeans fear that the re-imposition of sanctions may lead Iran to quit the nuclear deal entirely and plow ahead with efforts to develop atomic weapons, and they are hoping to preserve the JCPOA in the event Trump loses his bid for a second term. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has said he would try to revive the agreement.

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