US says UN sanctions on Iran are back as allies, rivals object

Bloomberg September 20 | Updated on September 20, 2020 Published on September 20, 2020

The US said international sanctions on Iran are automatically snapping back in a move that most nations say the Trump administration does not have the authority to demand since quitting a 2015 nuclear deal two years ago.

“Sanctions are being re-imposed on Iran,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement late on Saturday. “The United States expects all UN Member States to fully comply with their obligations to implement these measures.”

However, that is unlikely to happen.

Since quitting the nuclear accord in 2018, the Trump administration has ploughed ahead with efforts to undermine the deal, ratcheting up sanctions on the Islamic Republic and even threatening allies if they do business with Tehran.

Yet instead of rallying allies to its side, the US moves have united partners like the UK, France and Germany with Russia and China, all of whom have sought to salvage the accord. Their support for the deal has left the US isolated on the United Nations Security Council, and most nations say that the US has no authority to demand the return of international sanctions since its no longer a party to the deal.

New sanctions

The US asserts that all of the UN resolutions on Iran that were in place before the 2015 deal -- from a ban on arm deals to restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile activity and its nuclear enrichment -- should have gone back into effect as of 8 PM New York time on Saturday.

To enforce those measures, if countries like Russia and China disregard them, the US could use tools such as secondary sanctions on shippers, insurers and banks and may even threaten interdictions of ships at sea.

“In the coming days, the United States will announce a range of additional measures to strengthen implementation of UN sanctions and hold violators accountable,” Pompeo said in his statement. “Our maximum pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will continue until Iran reaches a comprehensive agreement with us to rein in its proliferation threats and stops spreading chaos, violence and bloodshed.”

Lasting damage to UNSC?

The US says that while it is not a party to the nuclear deal, the broader UN Security Council resolution that enshrined the accord does not require it to still be in the agreement.

The dispute has paralysed the UN Security Council and threatened lasting damage to the global body. Most Security Council nations appear to be trying to avoid any direct confrontation on the issue until after US presidential elections in November. Democrat Joe Biden has said he would seek to return to the nuclear deal and build on it if elected as US president in November.

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy,” Biden wrote in an op-ed for CNN last week. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”

Trump’s UNGA address

The US move comes ahead of Trump’s expected address on Tuesday to the UN General Assembly, which is being held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump may use that address to renew his past denunciations of Iran and vow to enforce the renewed sanctions.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump called the Iran nuclear accord the worst deal ever, saying it did not do enough to stop Tehran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons. But the president has also said Iran is eager to have talks with the US and will do so soon after the November election, a statement officials in Tehran have repeatedly rejected. Instead, Iranian officials say, the US needs to lift existing sanctions before any talks begin.

Earlier on Saturday, Iran ridiculed the US bid to forcibly restore sanctions, and said it would set Washingtons military outposts in the Persian Gulf on fire at once if its adversary tried to start a war.

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Published on September 20, 2020
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