A possible clash between the US and Iran is on the cards after the UN Security Council (UNSC) rejected a resolution seeking an “indefinite extension” of the arms embargo on Iran.
“We’ll be doing a snapback,” US President Donald Trump told reporters on Saturday “You’ll be watching it next week,” referring to unilateral reinstatement of all pre-2015 international sanctions on Iran.
The US’ envoy to the UN, Kelly Craft, said the US will “follow through on that promise” and “stop at nothing” to trigger a snapback of sanctions on Iran.
According to reports, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the council’s “failure to act decisively” was inexcusable, is likely to submit a complaint to the UN body on Thursday.
The US will be accusing Iran of “significant non-performance” in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, to trigger the sanctions’ snapback mechanism, as per reports.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has maintained that the US move to trigger this measure against his country would be “illegal and unacceptable.”
European participants of the 2015 nuclear agreement remain unconvinced on the legality of the move, since Trump had announced a unilateral withdrawal from the deal in May 2018.
The move, according to experts, is likely to polarize the Security Council and plunge it into further dispute.
In response to the prospect of the reinstated sanctions, Iran’s parliament has asked the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to return to pre-2015 nuclear activities if the US initiates the snapback.
After days of intense speculation, the Security Council late on Friday rejected the US move to extend the 13-year arms embargo on Iran. Only two of the 15-member UNSC voted in favor of the move.
The European allies of the US — who were the original signatories of the nuclear deal — were torn between extending the arms embargo on Iran and preserving the nuclear deal.
Pompeo made no effort to hide his disappointment in Europe. “It is unfortunate that the French and the United Kingdom […] didn’t support what the Gulf states have demanded, what the Israelis have demanded […] I regret that deeply,” he told reporters after the vote.
The spokesperson of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the US was “not entitled” to trigger the snapback mechanism and force reimposition of international sanctions on Iran since “it cannot be considered as a JCPOA participant.”
The arms ban had been imposed by the UN Security Council on Iran in 2007 and is slated to expire on Oct. 18 under UNSC resolution 2231 that forms the basis of the deal.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had earlier offered to host an emergency online summit between China, France, Britain, the US, Germany, and Iran “to avoid an escalation of tensions” in the region.
Trump has already declined the invitation, saying he would consider it after the November general elections in the US. Iran has said the summit was “unlikely to produce results,” as the US “lacks any sincere intention.”
Iranian officials have in recent days issued strong statements, warning of “consequences” if the pre-2015 sanctions are reinstated.
Zarif has said the US move would be “unjustifiable.” “US recourse to Dispute Resolution Mechanism in 2231 has no leg to stand on,” Zarif said on Twitter Sunday.
Iran’s parliament, dominated by conservative lawmakers, has taken a strong stance over the US move to force the pre-2015 international sanctions.
In a statement Tuesday, the parliament’s foreign policy commission said the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran should “immediately return all nuclear activity to the level before 2015, using IR4, IR6, and IR8 generation centrifuges to meet the country’s need for enriching 190,000 SWU” if the US went ahead with its threat.
“According to international criteria, the United States, by withdrawing from the second annexation of the resolution and not fulfilling its obligations under JCPOA, does not have the legitimacy to use the Dispute Resolution Mechanism (DRM) as reiterated in Articles 36 and 37 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” read the statement.
It further said that a “double-urgency bill” had been prepared to be introduced in parliament that would call on Iran to leave the 2015 deal.
According to experts, the process to invoke a snapback would be problematic as many UNSC members remain skeptical about the move, and would also kill the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Since May 2018, when the Trump administration announced its unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, Washington has intensified sanctions against Iran, while Tehran has responded with scaling back its commitments to the deal and increasing its enrichment efforts.
According to experts, the snapback of sanctions would require Iran to suspend all its nuclear-enrichment activities, reimpose the arms embargo, and sanction on specific individuals and entities. It would also reimpose sanctions and limitations on Iran’s nuclear program as described in multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
UNSC Resolution 2231 defines a “sunset” on the snapback in 2025, after which the sanctions and restrictions cannot be reimposed with the snapback mechanism. Whether the US will be able to force it through or if procedurally there emerges a way for other UNSC members like Russia and China to veto the move is a legal matter not entirely clear.
Experts say the wording of UN resolution 2231 is too vague and ultimately boils down to acting “in spirit” of the agreement. Alireza Ahmadi, a Tehran-based geostrategic analyst, told AA that the US was not in a position to reintroduce the sanctions since it is no longer a “participant” of the deal.
“They are trying to force countries into accepting their edicts, essentially threatening to throw the Security Council into chaos if they don’t get their way,” he said. “The rest of the members have already been clear that they won’t allow this.”
Ahmadi said that if other countries back down, Iran will have to take “aggressive action to maintain credibility in future bargains and confrontations,” with options ranging from abandoning all JCPOA obligations to leaving the international Non-Proliferation Treaty, which bars states from seeking nuclear arms.
In 2015, world powers including the US, China, Russia, France, Germany, and the UK agreed to lift economic sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran agreeing to limit its nuclear activity to civilian purposes.
But in 2018 US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal and stepped up pressure on Tehran by reimposing broader sanctions.
Despite their criticism of Iran’s nuclear program and its activities in the region, Germany, France, and the UK have repeatedly underlined their commitment to the 2015 deal and urged Tehran to return to full compliance.