Facing pushback from China, US vows to extend Iran arms embargo ‘one way or another’

Iranian Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri on Sunday said that the country’s economy faces “perilous conditions.”
Friday 15/05/2020
President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting on April 29 2020, in the capital Tehran. (AFP)
President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting on April 29 2020, in the capital Tehran. (AFP)

TUNIS  – The United States is threatening to “snap back” all sanctions on Iran through the UN Security Council if the body does not renew an arms embargo on Tehran that is set to expire in October, but the plan is drawing backlash from permanent members Russia and China, who could veto any resolution.

UN special envoy for Iran Brian Hook said President Donald Trump’s administration viewed the embargo as a top priority and would make sure it remained in place “one way or another.”

Iran’s 13-year arms embargo is scheduled to be lifted in October under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran reached with world powers.

The US withdrew from the accord in 2018, arguing it was “one-sided” and ineffective in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Washington has since reimposed crippling economic sanctions on Tehran, driving tensions between the two countries to a near all-time high.

However, Washington argues it can still activate a return of UN sanctions on Iran as the 2015 resolution lists the US as a participant.

Hook, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, warned that failing to renew the arms embargo on Iran would leave “the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism and anti-semitism free to import and export combat aircraft, warships, submarines and guided missiles.”

“To prevent this, the Security Council must pass a resolution to extend the arms embargo. If this effort is defeated by a veto, the Trump administration is prepared to exercise all legally available options to extend the embargo,” he wrote.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Evaluating the Trump Administration’s Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force” in Washington, last February.(AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Evaluating the Trump Administration’s Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force” in Washington, last February.(AFP)

A draft resolution by the US would need to secure nine UN Security Council votes, and no votes from the council’s permanent members, which include Iran-friendly Russia and China.

Moscow and Beijing both said they were opposed to US efforts to extend the arms embargo, arguing Washington could not appeal to the terms of a deal it is no longer a party to.

“To trigger a snapback, you have to be a participant of the JCPOA, and the US proudly announced on May 8, 2018, that they withdrew from the JCPOA and closed the door behind,” said Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia on May 12.

China’s UN mission wrote on Twitter that the US “has no right to extend an arms embargo on Iran, let alone to trigger a snapback. Maintaining JCPOA is the only right way moving forward.”

Iran has been accused of violating several key provisions of the 2018 deal, including exceeding its limit on enriched uranium.

China and Russia boast strong ties with Iran and provide crucial trade lines to its strained economy, but even those links are in jeopardy due to the prospect of widened US sanctions.

China, Iran’s second biggest exporter, has taken steps to prevent US retaliation over its trade links, scaling back its oil imports with Tehran to a 20-year low.

In need of foreign buyers, Iran has strengthened ties with fellow OPEC member Venezuela, which is also hit by US sanctions as part of Washington’s campaign to push out President Nicholas Maduro.

Maduro’s 2018 election was disputed by international watchdogs, and some Western nations have called on him to step down.

On Friday, Reuters reported that Tehran had sent a shipment of fuel to crisis-hit Venezuela in return for gold, which a senior US official slammed as a sign of Maduro’s “desperation.”

The official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the step was “unwelcome” by the US and the entire region and that Washington was looking into “measures that can be taken” in response.

Iran’s economy has been wracked by years of US sanctions, tumbling oil prices and one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the region. On May 12, the Iranian rial dropped to its lowest rate in years, trading at 170,000 to the dollar.

Iranian Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri on Sunday said that the country’s economy faces “perilous conditions.”