Gunpoint diplomacy: US to ‘snap back’ all UN sanctions on Iran if expiring arms embargo isn’t renewed

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Two years after spectacularly exiting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the US has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions – once lifted under those accords – if it doesn’t renew an arms embargo set to expire in October.

Brian H. Hook, the US special representative for Iran and senior adviser to the Secretary of State, made the unambiguous threat in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Washington, he wrote, will make sure an arms embargo imposed on Iran remains in place, “one way or another.”

Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – known simply as Iran nuclear deal – the UN ban on selling conventional weapons to the Islamic Republic ends in the fifth year of the pact, which is this October. As Hook puts it, “the violent and revolutionary regime in Tehran” will be able “to import and export combat aircraft, warships, submarines and guided missiles.”

Reiterating his previous statements, the top official said the US is readying a UN Security Council resolution seeking to extend the embargo and will pave the way for it with the help of diplomacy.

However, the UN Charter specifies that a successful resolution must garner nine “yes” votes and face no vetoes from the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely China, France, Russia, the US and the UK. The latter requirement appears to be the hardest part of the US’ plans.

Hook then tried to win minds in Moscow and Beijing, writing that they “have more to gain from Mideast stability than from selling weapons to Iran for its sectarian wars.”

Hence, if persuasion doesn’t work, Washington will do it all alone, Hook revealed.

If American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the US retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means.

The US diplomat then argued that a party to the Iran deal is able to trigger a so-called “snapback” of all UN sanctions on Iran.

This, in turn, could raise more than a few eyebrows, as the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the hard-earned 2015 accord three years after it was signed, re-imposed the US’ own sanctions targeting Iran’s key industries and invoked what it calls the “maximum pressure” policy.

The US’ willingness to keep their foot in the door even after leaving the deal hasn’t gone down well with other powers. Washington “shut the door” two years ago, noted Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s envoy to the UN. To enact something set out by the Iran deal, one has to be a part of it, the diplomat stressed.

Now they’re knocking on that door, saying ‘Wait, we forgot to do one thing in the JCPOA – let us do it and we’ll leave again.’ This is just ridiculous.

The UN sanctions in question were lifted in return for Iran abandoning plans to develop nuclear weapons, again as part of the 2015 pact. The sanctions relief saw a revival of economic activity in the Islamic Republic, just as international inspectors reported Tehran’s full compliance with the respective provisions.

In recent weeks, Iran has been threatening a “firm” response if the arms embargo doesn’t lapse in October. Among the ramifications would be the nuclear deal “dying forever,” as a top military official described it.