Iran cries victory after UNSC rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

Updated 16 Aug 2020

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This combination of file pictures created on July 23, 2018 shows US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting on July 18, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC and a handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows President Hassan Rouhani giving a speech on Iranian TV in Tehran. — AFP/File
This combination of file pictures created on July 23, 2018 shows US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting on July 18, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC and a handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows President Hassan Rouhani giving a speech on Iranian TV in Tehran. — AFP/File

Iran on Saturday hailed a United Nations Security Council vote rejecting a United States bid to extend an arms embargo on the Islamic republic, saying its foe has “never been so isolated”.

President Hassan Rouhani said that 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,” Rouhani told a televised news conference.

“In my opinion, this day will go down in the history of our Iran and in the history of fighting global arrogance.”

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 May 2018.

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

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

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

The result increases the likelihood that 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'

“The Security Council's failure to act decisively in defence of international peace and security is inexcusable,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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 (JCPOA).

Since Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and slapped unilateral sanctions on Iran under a campaign of “maximum pressure”, Tehran has since taken small but escalating steps away from compliance with the nuclear accord as it presses for sanctions relief.

European allies of the US — 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 agreement.

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

Pompeo announced that members had failed to back the proposal around 30 minutes before Indonesia, the current president of the Security Council, announced that the official results included two votes against and 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 that is 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 called on 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 nuclear accord 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 that the attempt may delegitimise the Security Council.

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

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

“The fact is that everybody at the UN believes this (resolution) is just a prelude to a US effort to trigger snapback and sink the Iranian nuclear deal,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.