U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to “hold Iran accountable” and extend an arms embargo due to expire in October.
“Renewing the embargo will exert more pressure on Tehran to start to behave like a normal nation,” Pompeo told a virtual meeting of the council that is held twice a year to review implementation of the resolution endorsing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “The world needs this to happen. The long-suffering Iranian people need it to happen.”
President Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – or JCPOA as the deal is commonly known – in May 2018 and reimposed all U.S. sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the agreement. In response, 14 months later, Iran began taking a series of steps to cease carrying out its nuclear commitments.
In January, Tehran said it had taken its final step back from the deal and would no longer abide by limits on the numbers of its uranium-enriched centrifuges.
The Trump administration has threatened to trigger a “snapback” of all international sanctions if its effort to extend the arms embargo fails in the Security Council.
Pompeo detailed what he said is “overwhelming evidence” that Iran is a threat to international peace, including reminding council members of Iranian-made weapons used in an attack on Saudi Arabia in September, missile attacks on coalition troops in Iraq in January, and its supplying of rockets and other hardware to Shiite groups in the Middle East.
“Iran is already violating the arms embargo before its expiration date,” he said. “Imagine Iranian activity if restrictions are lifted.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the council that the United States is “flouting” Security Council Resolution 2231, which codified the nuclear deal in international law, and is pressuring other states to do so.
“The international community in general – and the U.N. Security Council in particular – are facing an important decision,” Zarif said. “Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?”
Of Iran’s actions in the region, Zarif dismissed what he called accusations of “meddling” as wanting to “partner with all our neighbors” to strengthen the region.
He rejected U.S. attempts to extend the arms embargo.
“Any attempt to change or amend the agreed timetable is thus tantamount to undermining Resolution 2231 in its entirety,” he said. “The council must not allow a single state to abuse the process.”
All council members expressed regret about the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. They also urged Iran to return to full compliance.
The JCPOA was agreed to by Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.) plus Germany in July 2015, and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2231. The five remaining powers have repeatedly declared their intention to preserve the deal and expressed concern for its current state.
“It is very unfortunate that the United States left the JCPOA, and by doing this, actually violating international law, because the JCPOA is enshrined in a binding resolution – in Resolution 2231,” Germany’s Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said.
Russia and China also rejected outright any chance of extending the arms embargo through a U.S.-drafted resolution that has been circulated among council members.
“It won’t fly. It is not a basis for any negotiations,” said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who holds a veto.
“We cannot accept an attempt to get a ‘blessing’ for the U.S.-designed ‘maximum pressure’ policy through the Security Council and to legitimize it,” he added.
“China opposes the U.S. moves for extending the arms embargo on Iran,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said. “Having quit the JCPOA, the U.S. is no longer a participant and has no right to trigger snapback at the Security Council.”
The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany said on June 19 that they "firmly believe that any unilateral attempt to trigger U.N. sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences” in the Security Council and would not support such an effort. Instead, they seek to preserve the deal since there is currently no better alternative.