U.S. Bid to Extend Iran Arms Ban Suffers Stinging Defeat at UN
Destroyed Israeli tanks used for military training by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) stand in a firing zone in Jordan Valley, Israel. (Photographer: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg)

U.S. Bid to Extend Iran Arms Ban Suffers Stinging Defeat at UN


A U.S. effort to extend an expiring arms embargo on Iran was soundly rejected at the United Nations Security Council on Friday evening, setting the stage for a diplomatic crisis pitting the Trump administration against both allies and adversaries.

Only the Dominican Republican joined the U.S. in voting for the resolution, with Russia and China against. Eleven other countries abstained.

“The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement after the vote. “The Security Council rejected direct appeals to extend the arms embargo from numerous countries in the Middle East endangered by Iran’s violence.”

The defeat of the resolution means that the U.S. may deliver as soon as next week on its threat to “snap back” international sanctions on Iran that were eased as part of the 2015 agreement to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Every other party to the multinational deal, including the U.S.’s European allies, say the Americans -- who have already imposed extensive sanctions of their own -- can’t also invoke the process for reimposing international sanctions from an accord that President Donald Trump quit two years ago.

“What the Americans hoped to create was a situation where China and Russia looked like spoilers by vetoing the resolution,” said Richard Gowan, UN director at the International Crisis Group. “But instead the vast bulk of council members are not playing along with the U.S. narrative.”

Brian Hook, the outgoing U.S. envoy for Iran, said this week that the U.S. had circulated a six-page legal memo justifying the American right to invoke the mechanism, but diplomats from Europe, Russia and China aren’t convinced.

Kelly Craft, the American ambassador to the UN, said the U.S. “stands sickened – but not surprised – as the clear majority of Council members gave the green light to Iran to buy and sell all manner of conventional weapons.”

“The United States has acted in good faith throughout this process, and made clear to all parties that failure was simply not an option,” she said. The resolution enshrining the Iran nuclear deal gives the U.S. “every right to initiate snapback” and “in the coming days, the United States will follow through on that promise to stop at nothing to extend the arms embargo.”

Germany’s UN ambassador, Gunter Sautter, said in a statement that his country “remained deeply concerned about Iran’s conduct in the region,” but added: “Germany abstained on this resolution because it does not enable us to effectively address the risks identified above and to improve security and stability in the region.”

A resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Russia, China, the U.S., the U.K., or France -- to pass.

“The voting result once again shows that unilateralism receives no support and bullying will fail,” said China’s ambassador, Zhang Jun. “Any attempt to place one’s own interest above the common interest of the international community is a dead end.”

Putin’s Proposal

Diplomats said there were still numerous efforts afoot to avert the American snapback threat. Europeans are floating ideas including a temporary extension of the arms embargo, which expires in October, but they said they needed more time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday proposed holding an online conference with leaders of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and Iran to discuss the future of the stalled nuclear deal.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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