Donald Trump con il premier iracheno alla Casa Bianca (La Presse)

Can Trump Persuade the UN to Back the Arms Embargo on Iran?

Following an embarrassing defeat for the Trump administration at the United Nations last week, which witnessed the international body’s Security Council reject the US’s bid to extend an arms embargo on Iran beyond its expiration in October, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved on Thursday to restore UN sanctions on Iran.

Pompeo argued that Tehran was in violation of a nuclear deal it struck with global powers in 2015, even though US President Donald Trump abandoned the pact two years ago.

US Allies Nowhere to be Found at UN

The US’s defeat at the Security Council on Thursday August 13 was humiliating because none of Washington’s allies such as Britain, Germany and France supported an arms embargo extension.

Furthermore, Russia and China, who also vetoed an arms embargo extension, are closely aligned with Iran. This already presents the Trump administration with numerous obstacles if it intends to reinstate the arms embargo.

Iran Could Purchase Dangerous Weapons to use Against US Interests

The logic behind the US President’s thinking is that if the UN fails to extend the embargo, then there is a substantial risk that Iran will be allowed to purchase weapons that could pose a threat to Washington.

Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association argues that attempting to unilaterally snapback sanctions would be “a dangerous escalation in the Trump administration’s already irresponsible policy toward Iran.” He added that even if the US’s latest move succeeds, Iran has threatened to take further retaliatory action, which could involve boosting its uranium enrichment capabilities, curtailing cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, and maybe even exiting the 2015 deal itself.

This event has the potential to initiate a crisis of legitimacy at the Security Council. If the US reimposes sanctions without the authority of the UN, then that would be deemed illegal. This sets a dangerous precedent for selective implementation of UN sanctions in the future, which could paralyze the Security Council’s ability to enforce sanctions on North Korea.

Is the UN Security Council’s Legitimacy Under Threat?

However, James Jay Carafano of Fox News suggests that U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which implemented the 2015 deal, means that the U.S. has the right to reinstate – or snapback – sanctions on Iran for violating the pact.

He explains that snapback is a must-do step to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons program.

Despite this, the Fox News journalist believes that the Iranian Government was never interested in curbing its ambitions for a nuclear program, because of a cache of tens of thousands of documents the Israelis seized from Tehran detailing its weapons program.

The Trump administration has also consistently stated that Tehran is breaching the 2015 deal. The original agreement has many flaws to it such as its failure to prevent Iran from sponsoring terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. But the US President has been unable to draft an alternative to Obama’s landmark deal.

Iran Has Already Breached Obama’s 2015 Deal

Even Joe Biden, who has publicly stated that the US will rejoin the 2015 pact if he becomes president in November, will find it hard to enforce the agreement as Iran has violated many of its core elements since Trump cancelled Washington’s participation in the pact in 2018.

Regardless, the Iranian Government never allowed its nuclear facilities to be inspected before Trump quit the 2015 accord.

Pompeo has accused Britain, France and Germany of “making an enormous mistake not to extend this arms embargo,” and he is right. They are refusing to resist Iran’s attempts to develop its nuclear program, and Russia and China will only encourage Tehran to pursue such an ambition.

Trump Needs His Allies to Address the Challenge of Iran

Equally, the Trump administration needs to consult its allies’ views more. Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron was instrumental in drawing up a four-point plan that could have resulted in Iran surrendering its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions. But relations between Iran and the US have become so toxic that the US and Iranian Presidents have so far failed to act on Macron’s words.

Therefore, extending the arms embargo against Iran will be impossible to achieve as long as China and Russia continue to veto an extension to the arms embargo at the UN Security Council. The US President must focus his energies on drafting a new agreement to replace the 2015 accord instead.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration will have to rebuild its bridges with its allies first, as the US President cannot tackle the threat that Iran poses alone.