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US starts procedure at UN to reactivate Iran sanctions

August 20, 2020

The Trump administration has notified the United Nations of its demand that sanctions on Iran be restored due to violations of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Security Council has already refused to extend an arms embargo.

Iranian nuclear plant
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA

The United States on Thursday formally began the process of activating a controversial mechanism aimed at reimposing United Nations sanctions on Iran. The contested move threatens the Iranian nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a letter to the president of the UN Security Council notifying him of Iran's "significant" non-compliance with the terms of the historic accord, according to a copy seen by news agencies.

The letter sets the stage for a showdown in the world body that could lead to a crisis of credibility for its most important and powerful institution.

Read more: Iran sentences 2 men to prison over spying for Germany, Israel and the UK

The US wants to invoke a snapback of sanctions even though major world powers including Russia and China have rejected Washington's stance and just days after the UN Security Council voted against a plan to extend an arms embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October.

Thursday's notification starts a 30-day clock after which pre-2015 UN sanctions on Iran that were eased will be re-imposed unless a resolution specifically extending their suspension is passed. The US, however, would likely use its veto power to block any resolution extending the sanctions relief.

France, Germany and Britain said in a joint statement that they would not support the US demand.

After formally starting the process, Pompeo hit out at the three countries for not having "had the courage and conviction to put forward a resolution. Instead, they chose to side with the ayatollahs."

Within hours, Reuters reported that Moscow had demanded a virtual meeting of the 15-member Security Council, citing Russian diplomats.

US slapped its own new sanctions

US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the deal reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and has been slapping tough sanctions on Iran ever since.

Read more: US Ambassador Kelley Currie: 'Iranian regime is the greatest enemy of its people'

The deal was intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and prior to the US withdrawal, there was no sign of a major violation by Tehran.

The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has recently reported some Iranian violations of the agreement, but Tehran says those are the result of the US violating the accord by withdrawing from it and then re-imposing harsh unilateral sanctions.

In his letter, Pompeo noted that the European participants in the deal had attempted to bring Iran back into compliance. But he said: "despite extensive efforts and exhaustive diplomacy on the part of those member states, Iran's significant non-performance persists."

"As a result, the United States is left with no choice but to notify the council that Iran is in significant non-performance of its JCPOA commitments,'' Pompeo wrote, using the acronym for the deal's formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Read more: Iran's declining birth rate alarms country's leaders

Most countries on the Security Council doubt the legality of Washington invoking the snapback since Trump unilaterally exited the agreement reached in Vienna five years ago.

The US argues it can, as it is still named in a UN resolution backing the nuclear accord.

Iran also argues the US is not within its rights.

China has said it agrees with the Russian position, while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told UN chief Antonio
Guterres in a Thursday phone call that the Security Council must resist Washington's demand.

mm/rt (AP, dpa, AFP)