Iran cries victory after US bid to extend arms embargo flops at UN

August 15, 2020
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Iran on Saturday hailed a UN Security Council vote rejecting a US bid to extend an arms embargo on the Islamic republic, saying its foe has “never been so isolated”.

President Hassan Rouhani said the US had failed to kill off what he called the “half alive” 2015 deal with major powers that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

“The United States failed in this conspiracy with humiliation,” said Rouhani.

“This day will go down in the history of our Iran and in the history of fighting global arrogance.”

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Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo, highlighting the division between Washington and its European allies since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord in 2018.

Washington’s European allies all abstained, and Iran mocked the Trump administration for winning the support of just one other country, the Dominican Republic.

“In the 75 years of United Nations history, America has never been so isolated,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi tweeted.

“Despite all the trips, pressure and the hawking, the United States could only mobilise a small country (to vote) with them.”

People on the streets of Tehran had mixed reactions.

“This is an American political game. One day they give a resolution to the Security Council, the next they say they have taken” Iranian fuel, said a worker at the city’s Grand Bazaar who gave his name only as Ahmadi.

A drugstore employee named Abdoli told AFP she was happy Iran won, but added that it “should interact with the United States and establish relations”.

The result increases the likelihood the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions, which experts say threatens to plunge the Council into one of its worst-ever diplomatic crises. 

– ‘Inexcusable’ –

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Poland on Saturday, made it clear the United States would press on despite the defeat at the UN.

“It is unfortunate that the French and the United Kingdom… didn’t support what the Gulf states have demanded, what the Israelis have demanded… I regret that deeply,” Pompeo told reporters in Warsaw. 

“The United States is determined to make sure that the Iranians and this regime, this theocratic regime does not have the capacity to inflict even more harm on the world.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced a “scandalous” UN vote.

“Iranian terrorism and aggression threaten the peace of the region and the entire world. Instead of opposing weapons sales, the Security Council is encouraging them,” he said.

“The State of Israel will continue to act with full force against whoever seeks to undermine its security,” added Netanyahu.

The embargo on conventional arms is due to expire on October 18 under the terms of a resolution that blessed the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Since Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and slapped unilateral sanctions on Iran, Tehran has taken small but escalatory steps away from compliance with the accord as it presses for sanctions relief.

European allies of the United States — who, along with Russia and China, signed the deal with Iran — have voiced support for extending the 13-year-long conventional arms embargo, saying an expiry threatens stability in the Middle East.

However, their priority is to preserve the JCPOA.

The US text, seen by AFP, effectively called for an indefinite extension of the embargo on Iran, which diplomats said would threaten the nuclear deal.

Iran says it has the right to self-defence and that a continuation of the ban would mean an end to the agreement.

Apart from 11 abstentions, Russia and China opposed the resolution.

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

– ‘Snapback’ –

Ambassador Gunter Sautter of Germany, which abstained, said “more consultations are needed” to find a solution acceptable to all Council members.

During a call between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, the leaders “discussed the urgent need for UN action to extend the arms embargo on Iran”.

Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin appealed to China, France, Russia, Britain, the US, Germany and Iran to convene an emergency video summit to avoid an escalation of tensions in the Gulf.

Washington has threatened to try to force a return of UN sanctions if it is not extended by using a controversial technique called “snapback”.

Pompeo has offered the contested argument that the US remains a “participant” in the JCPOA as it was listed in the 2015 resolution — and therefore can force a return to sanctions if it sees Iran as being in violation of its terms.

European allies have been sceptical on whether Washington can force sanctions and warn the attempt may delegitimise the Security Council.

Nevertheless, the US is expected to deliver the snapback letter next week, AFP understands.

Analysts suspect Washington purposely put forward a hardline draft that it knew Council members would not be able to accept. 

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