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European leaders denounce US restarting Iran sanctions, say they have ‘no legal effect’

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks at the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit in New York City on September 25, 2018. (State Department/Released)
September 21, 2020

On Saturday, the U.S. State Department announced the reinstatement of United Nations economic sanctions against Iran. However, the United Kingdom, France and Germany argued the U.S. lost the right to return sanctions after withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Sanctions are being re-imposed on Iran pursuant to the snapback process under UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2231,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a press statement on Saturday. “On August 20, the United States notified the President of the Security Council of Iran’s significant non-performance of its JCPOA commitments. This notification triggered the 30-day process leading to the snapback of previously terminated UN sanctions, which became effective at 8 pm Eastern Daylight Time on September 19. This means that starting today, all of the provisions of UNSCRs 1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835, and 1929 that were terminated by UNSCR 2231 are back in effect. Furthermore, the measures contained in paragraphs 7, 8, and 16 to 20 of UNSCR 2231 are now terminated.”

Despite this U.S. justification to reimpose sanctions on Iran, the U.K., France, and Germany issued their own joint statement denouncing the U.S. position.

“France, Germany and the United Kingdom (“the E3”) note that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPoA following their withdrawal from the deal on 8 May, 2018,” the joint statement reads. “Consequently, the purported notification under paragraph 11 of UNSCR 2231 (2015), received from the United States of America and circulated to the UN Security Council Members, is incapable of having legal effect. It flows from this that any decisions and actions which would be taken based on this procedure or on its possible outcome would also be incapable of having any legal effect.”

While opponents of the U.S. sanctions move have noted President Donald Trump’s May 2018 move to withdraw from the Iran deal, Pompeo has argued that the U.S. right to call for the return of sanctions is still codified in the U.N. resolution that enshrines the Iran deal.

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“It’s important to emphasize this: 2231 gave every one of the participant states the right to execute snapback unconditionally,” Pompeo said in August.

While the Trump administration has voiced its support for returning to sanctions against Iran, other countries in the U.N. have not supported the return of sanctions on Iran. The opposing views leaves it unclear as to whether the return of sanctions is valid.

The move to trigger a sanctions snapback comes after a failed measure by the U.S. to extend an arms embargo against Iran, which is due to expire in October. The 15 member U.N. Security Council took the measure up for a vote, with the U.S. and the Dominican Republic voting for the measure, while veto-wielding China and Russia both rejected the measure. The remaining members of the council abstained from the vote.

Despite the disputed authority to add sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department, on Monday, went forward with an announcement of sanctions against several Iranian officials and entities.

The Treasury Department sanctioned Mohammad Ghannadi Maragheh, AEOI’s Deputy Head of Nuclear Planning and Strategic Supervision, and Javad Karimi Sabet, AEOI’s Deputy Head and the head of AEOI’s Nuclear Science and Technology Research Institute (NSTRI). Both were the previous targets of U.S. sanctions until January of 2016. The Treasury Department stated that the previous sanctions will be reapplied to the two officials.

The Treasury Department sanctioned seven other Iranian individuals along with subsidiaries of the AEOI, including the NSTRI, the Advanced Technologies Company of Iran (IATC), as well as the Mammut Industrial Group (Mammut Industries) and its subsidiaries, affiliated with Iran’s ballistic missile program.