On Wednesday President Donald Trump said he will push the United Nations to reimpose sweeping international sanctions against Iran, setting up a contentious fight with U.S. allies that could leave his administration more isolated than ever. Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to New York to formally trigger the process of trying to restore the sanctions, which were suspended under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Foreign leaders said the Trump administration cannot invoke a provision of an agreement it jettisoned, and they could say the U.S. move is illegitimate. And for the starters the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran deal two years ago, a move Trump has repeatedly touted. And the Trump administration plans to argue that Iran is no longer compliant with the 2015 agreement, thus allowing the U.S. to invoke a provision in the deal that calls for a “snapback” of international sanctions. During a White House briefing on Wednesday, Trump told reporters “It’s a snapback. Not uncommon.” But Russia and China fiercely oppose reimposing sanctions on Iran, as do other Security Council members, including Britain and France. Those U.S. allies have tried to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, despite the U.S. withdrawal.
Trump took the U.S. out of the 2015 agreement, and the Iranian leaders initially said they would keep abiding by its terms, even as Washington slapped crippling sanctions on the country. Last year, as U.S.-Iran tensions spiked, Tehran breached the agreement by enriching uranium at higher levels than the deal allowed. To renew an international arms embargo against Iran the Trump administration’s latest sanctions push comes a week after the U.S. lost a bid at the U.N. In October the embargo expires and Pompeo has expressed concerns about the prospect of Iran being able to purchase weapons from Russia or China.
To renew the arms embargo failed the U.S. proposal with China and Russia opposing the move and 11 other member countries abstaining. If the U.N. restores global sanctions on Iran, that would extend the arms embargo and require Iran to suspend all nuclear-related enrichment activities. “We have every expectation that they’ll be enforced just like every other U.N. Security Council resolution that is in place,” Pompeo told reporters earlier on Thursday. “We are confident that every country will see that it is in their best interest that U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 is fully enforced as it is a valid, extant, continuing set of obligations,” he said, referring to the provision at issue by its official number.
“In fact, it is unique and unprecedented,” Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations and peacekeeping with the International Crisis Group, said in a tweet after Trump’s remarks. “It simply strains credulity for a state to withdraw from the nuclear deal, violate its provisions and then turn around and claim the ability to invoke it against an actual participant,” the Crisis Group said in a report issued Wednesday morning.
After Pompeo files the U.S. notice on Thursday, the sanctions will automatically come back into force unless the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution barring the penalties. The U.S. would seem to have a strategic advantage because as a permanent member of the Security Council, the Trump administration’s ambassador to the U.N. could veto such a resolution.