Russia: US doesn’t have legal right to initiate snapback
China: US demand ‘has no legal ground, common sense’
Iran: US measure would discredit UNSC
The administration of US President Donald Trump was left isolated Thursday on the world stage as foreign allies and opponents alike declared demand to restore UN sanctions on Iran illegal and doomed to failure.
Despite Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on Thursday that the United States has “every capacity” under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which enshrined the international agreement, to trigger so-called snapback sanctions, because the US was initially a party to the deal.
Pompeo pointed to Iranian reduction of commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as justification for the unilateral US move.
He said UN sanctions will continue the arms embargo on Iran, set to expire on Oct. 18, as well as prohibit ballistic missile testing and nuclear enrichment at higher levels.
The Trump administration wants to reimpose all international sanctions that had been eased under the nuclear deal.
Other countries that remain party to the deal – China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany – disagreed with Pompeo’s legal rationale for the move, as many believe the full return of UN sanctions would kill the JCPAO. They say the US has no standing to make the demand because the Trump administration pulled the US out of the deal.
‘We cannot support this action’
Germany, France and Britain, known as “the E3,” on Thursday described the US attempt to trigger the snapback as “incompatible” with their efforts to support the nuclear deal.
The E3 said “the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018,” in a joint statement on Thursday. “We cannot therefore support this action.”
The trio said that they “remain committed to the JCPOA despite the major challenges posed by the US withdrawal.”
“We call on all UNSC members to refrain from any action that would only deepen divisions in the Security Council or that would have serious adverse consequences on its work,” they said.
They were backed by China, Russia and the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who said in a statement that because it withdrew from the deal, the US “cannot, therefore, be considered a participant state for the purposes of possible sanctions snapback foreseen by the resolution.”
“As coordinator of the JCPOA Joint Commission, I will continue to do everything possible to ensure the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA by all. The JCPOA remains a key pillar of the global non-proliferation architecture, contributing to regional security,” Borrell added.
Pompeo came to the UN to deliver a letter to Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN, Dian Triansyah Djani, whose country currently holds the rotating council presidency.
Following Pompeo’s half-hour meeting, the council president began one-on-one consultations with its 14 other members on the legality of the US action.
Diplomats said the likely outcome of the council president’s consultations is that the majority of members inform him that the US is not legally entitled to invoke snapback, and therefore they consider that snapback has not been triggered and the US action will have no effect.
The Europeans are still hoping that an agreement might be reached before the Oct. 18 expiration of the Iran arms embargo that could bridge the major differences between Russia and China.
Speaking to reporters later, Pompeo was sharply critical of “friends” who he said “chose to side with” Iran.
When Trump pulled the US out of the international agreement, he called it “the worst deal ever negotiated.” The agreement offered Iran relief from a broad array of sanctions in exchange for a freeze on aspects of its nuclear program.
The snapback mechanism was created in the event Tehran was proven to be in violation of the accord.
‘No legal ground’
Russia and China were also critical of the US on Thursday, saying it was “illegitimate.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun asked Indonesia, the council president of August, “not to identify and circulate the US communication as a notification” to invoke the snapback process and to consult with all council members on how to proceed.
A spokesman for China’s mission to the UN said that the US demand “has no legal ground and common sense” and that it is “nothing but a political show.”
“It receives no support of the Security Council members and no acknowledgment of the international community.”
US plan ‘nonexistent’
Before Pompeo’s notification, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected the US plan as “nonexistent” and said the US didn’t have the legal right to initiate snapback. “Of course, we will challenge it.”
“We will not take it as snapback,” Nebenzia told reporters.
“Snapback can be triggered by a country that is a participant of the JCPOA, which the US is not,” he said.
As soon as Pompeo delivered the letter invoking “snapback,” Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky tweeted: “Looks like there are 2 planets. A fictional dog-eat-dog one where US pretends it can do whatever it wants without ‘cajoling’ anyone, breach and leave deals but still benefit from them, and another one where the rest of the world lives and where int’l law and diplomacy reign.”
The US demand could be ignored by other UN members — calling into question the Security Council’s ability to enforce its own legally binding decisions.
Despite a wide range of criticism, Pompeo said the US is “confident” that a resolution to trigger the snapback sanctions will proceed and that the UN sanctions would be reimposed in 31 days. He indicated that the US may impose sanctions on countries that don’t enforce them.
The next moves are uncertain and will be largely left to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who met with Pompeo on Thursday afternoon.
Experts say the snapback attempt raises questions about the legitimacy of UN resolutions.
They foresee a situation in which the United States acts as if the sanctions have been reimposed – and the rest of the Council continues as before.
The procedure, never before used, comes after the US suffered a humiliating defeat at the Security Council last week when it failed to muster support for a resolution to extend the conventional arms embargo on Iran.
US destruction of international mechanisms
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Guterres in a Thursday phone call that the Security Council must resist the US demand.
“This would have dangerous consequences for international law, it will bring nothing but the destruction of international mechanisms and it will discredit the Security Council,” Zarif said.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Zarif said the US has no right to demand the restoration of UN sanctions against Iran.
He said the US lost the right to make demands in 2018 when it withdrew from the nuclear deal. The top diplomat also said America’s unilateral pullout violated a UN resolution that required signatories to avoid any damage to the deal.
Zarif said the term “snapback” was never mentioned in the deal or in the UN resolution that supported the deal. “The US intentionally has applied the word to suggest speed and (an) automatic” return of sanctions, he said.
Zarif said the Security Council should stop the US unilateral “misuses” of council resolutions, saying “the people of Iran expect the council to force the US to be accountable” for its “damages” to Iran.
Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi expressed confidence at a news conference that the Security Council will reject the US move because it violates international law, “has not enjoyed the political support” of council members, “and is definitely doomed to failure.”
“A permanent member of the Security Council is acting like a child, is being ridiculed by the other members of the international community,” he said.
CNN, AP, Reuters, and AFP contributed to this story.