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UN Security Council rejects US resolution to extend Iran arms embargo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends the UN Security Council meeting on Iran at the United Nations, in New York City on December 12, 2018. (Ron Przysucha/State Department)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The UN Security Council has rejected a U.S.-sponsored resolution to extend an arms embargo on Iran that is due to expire in October, setting the stage for Washington to act on threats that could kill the Iran nuclear deal and plunge the United Nations into diplomatic crisis.

The August 14 vote on the resolution was widely expected to fail in the 15-member Security Council due to strong opposition from veto-wielding members Russia and China.

“The UN Security Council failed today to hold Iran accountable. It enabled the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell deadly weapons and ignored the demands of countries in the Middle East. America will continue to work to correct this mistake,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after the vote.

In a diplomatic blow revealing Washington’s isolation at the UN over the issue, the resolution failed with two voting in favor and two against, while 11 members abstained. Washington didn’t even receive the nine votes it needed in favor that would have required Russia and China to use their vetoes.

“The result shows again that unilateralism enjoys no support, and bullying will fail,” China’s UN mission tweeted.

The U.S.-drafted resolution sought to extend an international arms embargo on Iran, which is set to be progressively eased beginning on October 18 under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that enshrined the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Washington has threatened to trigger a “snapback” of all UN sanctions on Iran if the embargo vote failed, a move experts say will throw the Security Council into crisis.

Pompeo and Iran hard-liners in Washington claim the United States remains a “participant” in the nuclear accord because it was listed as such in the 2015 resolution and can therefore bring back sanctions since Iran has not fully complied with its nuclear commitments.

“Under Resolution 2231, the United States has every right to initiate snapback of provisions of previous Security Council resolutions,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said in a statement. “In the coming days, the United States will follow through on that promise to stop at nothing to extend the arms embargo.”

Russia and China, as well as European countries that were signatories to the nuclear pact officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have questioned the U.S. claim it is able to trigger the snapback mechanism because it quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. In response to the U.S. withdrawal, Iran gradually started breaching its nuclear commitments.

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.

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.

Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi again warned the United States against trying to trigger a return of sanctions.

“Imposition of any sanctions or restrictions on Iran by the Security Council will be met severely by Iran and our options are not limited. And the United States and any entity which may assist it or acquiesce in its illegal behavior will bear the full responsibility,” he said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin 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. Russia is open to constructive cooperation with all those interested in moving away from the dangerous line.”