Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally notified the United Nations on Thursday that the United States is initiating a “snapback” of all international sanctions on Iran dating back to 2006.
“Our message is very, very simple,” Pompeo told reporters at the U.N. “The United States will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks and missiles and other kinds of conventional weapons. These U.N. sanctions will continue the arms embargo.”
He said President Donald Trump and his administration had “discarded the fiction” that Iran merely seeks a peaceful nuclear program.
“We will never allow the Islamic Republic of Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Pompeo spoke to reporters after presenting a two-page letter to the Security Council president that said after “substantial efforts” by several members to remedy Iran’s “significant non-performance” of obligations in the deal, the U.S. was seeking reimposition of sanctions.
He cited several examples related to Iran’s uranium enrichment levels and stockpiles that exceed the limits of the nuclear deal. However, all occurred after May 2018 when the U.S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is formally known. One year after the U.S. pulled out, Iran responded by gradually breaching agreed upon levels. Until then, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency had said Iran was in compliance with its obligations.
The snapback move comes a week after the U.S. failed to persuade Security Council members to extend a 13-year-old embargo on conventional weapons that will expire in mid-October under the terms of the JCPOA.
The United States received the support of only one other Security Council member (the Dominican Republic), and Pompeo had strong words for European allies who did not.
“Our friends in Germany, France and the U.K. — the E3 — all told me privately they don’t want the arms embargo lifted either, and yet today, in the end, they provide no alternatives, no options,” Pompeo said. “Instead they chose to side with the ayatollahs.”
Washington says it has an “explicit right” to invoke snapback “irrespective of its current position on or activities in relation” to the JCPOA, because the deal is enshrined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. The other participants disagree.
In a joint statement, the E3 pointed out the U.S. had withdrawn from the JCPOA in 2018.
“We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA,” they said. “We remain committed to the JCPOA despite the significant challenges caused by U.S. withdrawal.”
The Europeans also called on Iran to reverse the steps it had taken outside the deal and to return to full compliance.
“We will not take it as snapback,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters.
“The United States is not a JCPOA participant and has no right to trigger the so-called snapback, and its arbitrary interpretation of Resolution 2231 cannot change this,” Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told reporters. “We are of the firm conviction that the letter sent to the U.N. Security Council president is null and void.”
In the nuclear deal, the original participants, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, agreed with Iran to gradually lift the sanctions in return for limits on Tehran’s nuclear activities that would prevent it from making a nuclear bomb.
A return to pre-deal sanctions would mean in addition to extending the arms embargo, Iran would no longer be allowed to enrich any uranium and would find its banking and shipping sectors subject to international scrutiny.
To trigger snapback, a JCPOA member must notify the Security Council that Iran is in noncompliance. That starts a 30-day clock, during which the council would need to adopt a new resolution keeping the current termination of sanctions in place. But the U.S. will veto that, and if at the end of the 30 days there is no new resolution extending the sanctions relief, the old pre-2015 sanctions would automatically snapback.
But analysts and diplomats say the U.S. effort is dead on arrival and that even if the U.S. declares success 30 days from now in reimposing sanctions, countries who disagree with Washington’s right to do so may choose to simply ignore and not enforce the old sanctions.
They say this process will damage the Security Council and may ultimately lead to both the JCPOA collapsing and an unrestricted Iran ramping up its nuclear activities.