This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
President Donald Trump says the United States will try to trigger a “snapback” of sanctions on Iran at the United Nations next week, in a move that could kill the Iran nuclear deal and plunge the UN into a diplomatic crisis.
“We’ll be doing a snapback,” Trump told reporters on August 15, the day after the UN Security Council rejected a U.S.-sponsored resolution to extend an arms embargo on Iran. “You’ll be watching it next week.”
When asked whether he would join a Russian-proposed summit to deescalate tensions with Iran, Trump said, “probably not.”
Washington has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under a provision, known as a snapback, in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that enshrined the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Russia and China, as well as European signatories to the nuclear pact officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have questioned the U.S. right to trigger the snapback mechanism because Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018.
The United States claims it remains a “participant” in the accord because it was listed as such in the 2015 resolution and can therefore bring back sanctions, since Iran breached some of its nuclear commitments after the United States exited the deal.
Diplomats and analysts say a U.S. attempt to snap back international sanctions on Iran would lead to a messy diplomatic battle that could undermine the UN Security Council and potentially collapse what is left of the nuclear deal.
The United States lost a vote at the UN Security Council on August 14 to extend an international arms embargo on Iran, which is set to be progressively eased beginning on October 18 under the nuclear deal.
The diplomatic blow revealed how isolated Washington is at the UN over the issue — the resolution failed with only the Dominican Republic joining the United States and two countries voting against, while 11 members including European allies abstained.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani on August 15 said the United States had failed to kill the “half-alive” 2015 nuclear deal.
“The United States failed in this conspiracy with humiliation,” he said.
The United States says it has the support of Israel and Arab states in the region worried that the end of the arms embargo will embolden Iran’s “malign” behavior in the Middle East.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the UN Security Council’s decision not to extend the arms embargo on Iran will lead to further Middle East instability.
“The extremist regime in Iran doesn’t just finance terrorism: it takes an active part in terrorism through its branches around the world and uses it as a political tool. This behavior represents a danger to regional and international stability,” Ashkenazi said in a statement on August 15.
Britain, France, and Germany — all signatories to the JCPOA who have sought to keep it alive — have expressed worries about the arm embargo ending but opposed the U.S. resolution because they feared it would end the nuclear deal and damage the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, U.S. allies in Europe and Iran appear to be trying to wait out the Trump administration, calculating that former Vice President Joe Biden will win the November presidential election and deescalate tensions with Iran.
Iran has threatened to completely exit the JCPOA and hinted it will pull out of another key nonproliferation treaty if the arms embargo is extended or there is a snapback of sanctions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 14 proposed that the next step should be an online summit gathering China, France, Russia, Britain, the United States, Germany, and Iran to try to avoid further “confrontation and escalation” at the United Nations over Iran.
“Further growth of tensions and greater risks of a conflict are the alternative,” Putin said in a statement posted on the Kremlin’s website before the vote. “This march of events must be avoided.”