First, the US attempted to prevent the 13-year-old arms embargo against Iran from expiring. But the Security Council voted on Aug. 14 to allow it to happen, with Russia and China exercising their power of veto and another 11 members abstaining. European leaders did not support an extension of the embargo, even though the major beneficiaries when it expires will most likely be Russia and China, who want to sell weapons to Tehran.
Then the Trump administration launched its attempt to re-impose international sanctions on Iran. These are the four rounds of UN sanctions that were in place before the P5+1 nations (Russia, the US, the UK, China, France plus Germany) and the EU signed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, also known as the nuclear deal. According to the agreement, any party to it can trigger a 30-day countdown to a “snapback” that would restore all UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, if Tehran is found to be failing to meet its obligations. Other members cannot veto such a move.
But when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to trigger the snapback, even though the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, 13 of the 15 countries that are members of the Security Council wrote letters stating their opposition to the US and to the re-imposition of international sanctions against Iran. The opponents included longtime transatlantic allies and partners of the US including France, the UK, Germany and Belgium.
This means that those 13 members do not consider that the US has triggered the 30-day countdown. As a UN Security Council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: “Faced with this very strong view of a majority of Security Council members that the snapback process has not been triggered, (the president of the Security Council is) not bound to introduce the draft resolution.”
What are the Iranian leaders doing in the midst of all this tension in the UN? They appear to be sitting back and enjoying the divisions and, more importantly, the US desperation as it attempts to find allies in the Security Council.
From the perspective of the Iranian regime, this is a significant strategic and political victory. As President Hassan Rouhani pointed out while commenting on the US effort to extend the arms embargo: “I don't remember (in the past) the US preparing a resolution for months to strike a blow at the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it garners only one vote (of support, from the Dominican Republic).”
Tehran has also been preaching to the UN about legal issues, and projecting itself as a law-abiding member of the international community that advocates for diplomacy. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote to the UN, saying: “The Islamic Republic of Iran expects the secretary-general and the Security Council member states to fulfill their legal duties and counter the US administration’s rogue behavior.”
He added: “It is imperative that the international community be wary of such (attempts at) abusing the Security Council’s mechanisms. Iran advises the council to stop this abuse of mechanism — which carries serious repercussions for international peace and security.”
It is ironic that Iran’s leaders are preaching to the UN about international peace and security while their regime is a major force of destabilization and insecurity in the Middle East. It is a top state sponsor of terrorism, it has repeatedly violated UN Resolution 2231 by launching ballistic missiles, it has funded, armed and trained militia and terror groups, and it is one of the world’s leading perpetrators of human rights violations.
The regime also claims it has shown good faith by continuing to adhere to the terms of the JCPOA. However, according to the latest report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has violated all of the restrictions imposed by the agreement.
It has increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 1,020.9 kilograms to 1,571.6 kg — almost eight times the 202.8 kg that is allowed under the JCPOA. The deal also specifies that Iran can enrich uranium up to a maximum of 3.67 percent but is now doing so at 4.5 percent, and possesses far more heavy water than is permitted by the agreement.
As the Iranian leaders watch the repeated failures by the US in the UN, and the overwhelming opposition to Washington among Security Council members, they have shrewdly shifted their policy from issuing threats (as they did when the US withdrew from the nuclear deal) to simply playing the victim card and calling on the UN to focus on international law.
In a nutshell, the Iranian regime is scoring strategic and political victories while the Trump administration continues to fail in its efforts to gain UN support.