Calls for extending Iran’s arms embargo backed by UN findings

The arms embargo applies to Iran importing or exporting most kinds of weapons, including aircraft and tanks.

Thursday 02/07/2020
Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir (R) and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook (3rd-R) speak with a Saudi Army officer in Riyadh with parts of Iranian-made missiles in the background. (Reuters)
Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir (R) and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook (3rd-R) speak with a Saudi Army officer in Riyadh with parts of Iranian-made missiles in the background. (Reuters)

LONDON – Calls for the extension of the arms embargo on Iran have been backed by findings contained in a recent UN report about the origin of missiles fired against targets in Saudi Arabia last year.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the Trump administration’s aim is not to extend the United Nations arms embargo on Iran for a short period of time, adding that it would do what it can to ensure the embargo, due to expire in October, stays in place indefinitely.

“The United States has the unambiguous right, without the consent of any other nation, to ensure that this arms embargo stays in place,” Pompeo told reporters.

The embargo is due to expire in October, a date written into UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed and helped implement the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and Iran has exceeded the accord’s limits on uranium enrichment since then, part of a steady escalation of tensions that have at times pushed the two countries dangerously close to war.

Washington’s appeal to extend the arms embargo was supported by Saudi Arabia, with the kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi urging the Security Council to “very carefully” consider the issue.

Extending the ban is “the right [and] cautious thing to do, and the minimum response that can be expected from the world community [to Iran’s] actions and activities,” said Mouallimi.

The Security Council was briefed on Wednesday on a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, which confirmed the cruise missiles used in attacks on oil facilities and an airport in Saudi Arabia, last year, were of “Iranian origin.”

“Iran is already violating the arms embargo, even before its expiration date,”  Pompeo said in the Security Council meeting, which was held by video link. “Imagine if Iranian activity were sanctioned, authorised by this group, if the restrictions are lifted.”

“Iran will be free to become a rogue weapons dealer, supplying arms to fuel conflicts from Venezuela, to Syria, to the far reaches of Afghanistan,” he added.

Mouallimi condemned the actions of Iran and said Saudi Arabia has constantly brought to the attention of the Security Council “the grave violations that Iran has been committing (by supporting) the Houthi militias in Yemen in launching numerous attacks against civilian targets in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, contrary to the provisions of Security Council Resolutions 2231 and 2216,” which prohibit the supply of arms to Iran-backed Houthis.

“Iranian pattern of behaviour aims to create anarchy in the region by supporting and promoting outlaw groups, whether it is in Yemen or Lebanon or Syria or Iraq. We can only imagine how this behaviour would develop … should the ban on arms and weapons be lifted in October,” the Saudi envoy said.

Iran, according to Mouallimi, has exploited the differences that emerged between Washington and European nations, Russia and China, and capitalised on them.

“While Iran continues to take advantage of the divisions within the international community, we are trying to promote a unified vision, and a more constructive approach,” he said.

The American bid is expected to fail in the Security Council; it might not even collect enough support to be put to a vote, diplomats said.

The Trump administration has threatened that if the embargo is not extended, the United States will try to invoke a “snapback” provision of the 2015 deal to reimpose former UN sanctions on Iran.

Representatives of Britain, France and Germany voiced unease at both the expiration of the embargo and Washington’s approach.

The European powers said they hoped to find some way to limit Iranian access to arms through a compromise negotiated in the framework of the 2015 agreement, not an action imposed by the Security Council.

The arms embargo applies to Iran importing or exporting most kinds of weapons, including aircraft and tanks. Some limits on missile and nuclear technology will remain in place for a few more years.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, dismissed claims of Iranian aggression based on what he called “self-serving allegations and forged documents.”

Since leaving the nuclear deal, the US administration has tried to cut off Iran from doing business with the rest of the world, threatening economic sanctions for countries and companies that do not go along. Though most of the world opposes Washington’s stance, much of it has complied.