The US broke with all other permanent members of the UN Security Council and unilaterally declared that all UN sanctions against Iran stand reinstated, inviting a rebuff from allies and adversaries who called the move illegal.
Iran has welcomed the world response to the United States’ “bullying” and vowed to “give a crushing response.”
The US unilaterally proclaimed on Saturday that UN sanctions on Iran are back in force and threatened “consequences” for any UN member state that does not comply with the punitive measures.
Those sanctions against Tehran were lifted under a landmark nuclear deal that was signed between six world powers and Iran in 2015 but the Trump Administration abandoned it more than two years ago.
As a result, Iran began breaching some commitments it had made, including enriching more uranium than it should.
Now the US claims the Iran sanctions were being re-imposed under the mechanism of the same that it had walked out.
The UK, France and Germany say Washington has no power to carry out such a move.
The three countries – alongside China, Russia and the US – were parties of the 2015 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
Pompeo’s announcement about UN sanctions on Iran
“Today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
According to him, the measures were “back in effect” from 8pm Washington time (0000 GMT Sunday).
In addition to adhering to a conventional arms embargo that is due to expire next month, he said member states must comply with restrictions such as the ban on Iran engaging in nuclear enrichment and reprocessing-related activities; the prohibition on ballistic missile testing and development; and sanctions on transfer of nuclear and missile-related technologies.
“If UN Member States fail to fulfil their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity,” Pompeo said.
The threat is formidable as those deemed to be in defiance by the US could be denied access to the US financial system and markets.
Pompeo said that measures would be announced in coming days against “violators”.
With 45 days to go until the Nov 2 election, Trump could unveil those measures during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
Opposition to illegal US move
Washington is almost alone on the issue as the other two great powers, China and Russia, as well as America’s own European allies, have challenged the claim.
“Any decision or action taken with a view to re-installing [the sanctions] would be incapable of legal effect,” France, Britain and Germany said in a joint letter sent Friday to the Security Council.
The Russian foreign ministry on Sunday condemned the United States’ unilateral declaration, saying that Washington’s statements lacked legal authority.
“The illegitimate initiatives and actions of the United States by definition cannot have international legal consequences for other countries,” the foreign ministry said in statement.
Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, also lamented the decision.
“It’s very painful to see how a great country humiliates itself like this, opposes in its obstinate delirium other members of UN Security Council,” he tweeted.
“We all clearly said in August that US claims to trigger #snapback are illegitimate. Is Washington deaf?”
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said Saturday the Americans themselves realize the statement is a “false claim.”
In a televised speech on Sunday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would “give a crushing response to America’s bullying”.
He added: “America is approaching a certain defeat in its sanctions move… It faced defeat and a negative response from the international community.”
Earlier, Iran’s foreign ministry described the US efforts as “futile”, saying that the “US approach is a major threat to the international peace and security and an unprecedented threat to the UN and the Security Council”.
“Iran emphasizes that if the US, directly or with the co-operation of a number of its allies, makes any move in line with these threats, it will face a serious reaction and should account for all its dangerous consequences,” it said in a statement, without elaborating.
Wedge between US and its European Allies
In mid-August, Trump’s administration suffered a resounding defeat at the UN Security Council when it tried to extend the embargo on conventional weapons being sent to Tehran, which was due to expire in October.
Pompeo made an unusually vehement attack on France, Britain and Germany, accusing them of “siding with Iran’s ayatollahs”, and on August 20 announced a controversial move known as the “snapback”, which aimed to re-establish all sanctions against Tehran a month later.
The sanctions were lifted in 2015 when Iran signed on to an international agreement not to seek to build nuclear weapons.
But Trump said that the landmark accord, negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, was insufficient and withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018, then renewed and even strengthened Washington’s bilateral sanctions.
A diplomat deplored the “unilateral” US act, saying that “Russia and China are sitting, happy, eating popcorn, watching” the “huge destabilizing fallout” between Washington and its European partners.
But if the United States were to carry out the threat of secondary sanctions, tensions could continue to spiral.
At the moment, the US is insisting it is still a participant in the agreement that it stormed out of, but only so that it can activate the “snapback” option.
Virtually every other member of the Security Council disputes Washington’s ability to execute this legal pirouette, and the council has not taken the measure any further.
The Trump administration acts as if the international sanctions are in place, while the rest of the international community continues to act as if nothing has changed.
Washington is hammering home that the arms embargo has been extended “indefinitely” and that many activities related to Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are now subject to international sanctions.
But “I don’t see anything happening”, said one UN diplomat. “It would be just a statement. It’s like pulling a trigger and no bullet coming out.”
On Saturday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council he could not take any action because “there would appear to be uncertainty” on the issue.