U.S. Bid to Extend UN Arms Embargo on Iran Fails
UNITED NATIONS (Dispatches) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday sought to reassert America’s waning influence on the world stage, challenging the UN Security Council to extend a UN arms embargo that is due to expire in October. Instead, America’s top diplomat received a scolding from friends and foes alike in the 15-nation council, which roundly criticized Washington for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal two years ago.
On a day when the European Union pointedly excluded the United States from a "safe list” of countries permitted to travel to the 27-member bloc, the council’s chilly reception of Pompeo added to a portrait of an increasingly isolated United States and underscored how little deference other countries pay the Trump administration as it faces a grim reelection contest.
The pointedly critical tone of the debate saw Germany accusing Washington of violating international law by withdrawing from the nuclear pact, while Berlin aligned itself with China’s claim that the United States has no right to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, compared U.S. sanctions on Iran to the killing of George Floyd, saying they were akin to "putting a knee to one’s neck.”
The dispute centered on the fate of the nearly moribund 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the United States abandoned in May 2018. European parties to the deal, like Iran, want to keep it alive; the Trump administration wants to kill it before the election, lest any future Democratic administration bring it back to life.
The latest battleground is one provision of that deal, the planned expiry in October of a UN arms embargo on Iran—one of the sweeteners of the nuclear deal. U.S. allies, including the Security Council’s five European states, worry that extending the UN arms embargo, in clear violation of the pact signed in 2015, would drive Tehran to kick out nuclear inspectors and set the stage for an even quicker development of its nuclear energy program.
Since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal, Iran has increased its stockpiles of nuclear fuel and resumed its enrichment of uranium under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
At the opening of Tuesday’s virtual session, Rosemary DiCarlo, a former U.S. State Department official who serves as UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, praised the nuclear pact as a "significant achievement of multilateral diplomacy and dialogue” and expressed "regret” over the U.S. decision to withdraw, noting that Iran was in compliance with the pact before Trump’s abrupt decision to pull the plug.
DiCarlo, however, accused Iran of a role in missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia, as well as arms shipments to Yemen.
Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif dismissed claims that Iranian-made weapons were being transferred to Yemen and elsewhere in violation of UN sanctions.
"The international community in
general and the UN Security Council in particular are facing an important decision,” Zarif told the council. "Do we maintain respect of the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?”
The Trump administration this month circulated a draft resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran, but veto-wielding China and Russia signaled they would not support the U.S. plan. European powers also reacted coolly to the resolution, but Foreign Policy said they were expected to introduce their own stopgap proposal to extend parts of the arms embargo for up to six months. Iran is impossible to agree to anything short of a total lifting of the arms embargo.
Pompeo said that if the United Nations did not extend the arms embargo, it would pave the way for Iran to procure advanced military hardware from Russia and China that would undercut regional stability and potentially threaten capitals in Europe and even South Asia—reiterating misleading claims he made last week about the operational range of high-end Russian and Chinese fighters.
"If you fail to act, Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000-kilometer radius, putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in Iranian crosshairs,” Pompeo told the council during Tuesday’s virtual meeting.
In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani said the UN Security Council meeting once again put on display another American political defeat for the world to see.
The Americans, he said, might think they have made some gains in their economic pressure on Iran, but "they have certainly failed politically, legally and morally on numerous occasions during the past three and a half years”.
"Yesterday, they suffered another defeat,” Rouhani told a cabinet session Wednesday.
The president went on to say that Tehran will meet all its obligations under the nuclear agreement provided that the remaining sides do the same.
He further criticized France, Britain and Germany for failing to keep up their end of the bargain following Washington’s exit from the nuclear deal, which prompted Tehran to take a set of retaliatory measures.
"We waited for a whole year and remained committed to all of our obligations, but they did not do anything. In the second year, we gradually took five steps away from the deal. Again, they did not do anything,” Rouhani said.
Rouhani warned that the Islamic Republic would take a decisive action if the U.S. undermined the nuclear deal, apparently meaning if it succeeded in having the UN extend the arms embargo on Iran.