TANZANIA – The Trump administration on Friday dismissed near universal opposition to its demand to restore all U.N. sanctions on Iran, declaring that a 30-day countdown for the “snapback” of penalties eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had begun.
U.S. allies and foes have joined forces to declare the action illegal and doomed to failure, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook strongly disagreed and questioned the motives of those who object.
Opponents say the U.S. lost the standing to trigger snapback when President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. Pompeo and Hook maintain that the United States retains that right and doesn’t need permission to use it.
“We don’t need anyone’s permission,” Hook told reporters in a briefing Friday. “Iran is in violation of its voluntary nuclear commitments. The condition has been met to initiate snapback. And so we have now started to initiate snapback.”
He said that “whether people support or oppose what we’re doing is not material,” adding that “today is day one of the 30-day process.”
The five countries now in dispute with the U.S. administration — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — remain supporters of the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Obama administration backed, to rein in Iran's nuclear program and prevent its development of nuclear weapons.
The European Union announced Friday that the five nations and Iran will meet in Vienna on Sept. 1.
That agreement was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in resolution 2231, and includes the snapback provision.
Pompeo officially informed the Security Council president and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday that the United States was invoking snapback, and has the “legal right” because the United States is mentioned as a party to the 2015 nuclear deal in resolution 2231.
The Europeans fear that the reimposition of sanctions may lead Iran to quit the nuclear deal entirely and plow ahead with efforts to develop atomic weapons. They are hoping to preserve the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, in the event President Donald Trump loses his bid for a second term. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has said he would try to revive the agreement.
Following the meeting with Pompeo, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, the current council president, began one-on-one consultations with its 14 other members on the legality of the U.S. action, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.
All members, except the Dominican Republic, informed the council president that since the United States is not a party to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the Trump administration's action is illegal. Many sent letters obtained by The Associated Press.
A Security Council diplomat said the U.S. letter from Pompeo did not trigger snapback and start the 30-day process to reimpose U.N. sanctions, stressing the importance of ensuring that Iran understands this and does not make any rash decisions.
Diplomats had predicted this overwhelming opposition from council members. In these circumstances, the U.S. action would have no effect and the council president would not be required to introduce a resolution to extend sanctions relief, which would face a U.S. veto, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.
Pompeo kept up his sharp criticism of U.S. allies Britain, France and Germany, who didn’t support a U.S. resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran. It was resoundingly defeated a week ago, with only the Dominican Republic supporting the Trump administration.
Pompeo accused the Europeans on Thursday of privately agreeing with the U.S. on the need to extend the arms embargo, but lacking courage to say so publicly and proposing “no alternatives.” Instead, he said, they chose “to side with ayatollahs.”
On Friday, Pompeo said it was “incomprehensible” that the Europeans didn’t support the arms embargo's indefinite extension.
“To side with the Russians and the Chinese on this important issue at this important moment in time at the U.N., I think, is really dangerous for the world,” he told Fox News.
Hook again repeated that “there was never a compromise proposal presented by any country” to the United States, but diplomats said there were extensive discussions, including on a six-month or one-year extension, and on lifting the embargo and requiring all arms sales to be approved by the Security Council — but there was no agreement among its 15 members.
The Europeans are still hoping that an agreement might be reached before the Oct. 18 expiration of the Iran arms embargo that could bridge the major differences between Russia and China, who support its lifting, and the United States, which seeks an indefinite extension, the diplomats said.
Russia has been the most vocal critic of U.S. action to impose snapback.
As soon as Pompeo delivered the letter invoking snapback, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, tweeted: “Looks like there are 2 planets. A fictional dog-eat-dog one where US pretends it can do whatever it wants without ‘cajoling’ anyone, breach and leave deals but still benefit from them, and another one where the rest of the world lives and where intl law and diplomacy reign.”
Pompeo expressed certainty in a Fox News interview that U.N. sanctions will be restored, saying, “Russia and China can talk a good game today, but I assure you the United States will use every tool in its arsenal to make sure that the Chinese and the Russians are incapable of delivering weapon systems to Iran that threaten us.”
He added, “We will do everything in our power to make sure that they don’t get the money that comes alongside being a global arms dealer as well.”
Earlier Friday, Pompeo announced visa restrictions on 14 Iranians, including 13 officials who posed as Iranian diplomats and assassinated Iranian academic and opposition figure Kazem Rajavi in Switzerland in 1990. He was the brother of Iranian opposition leader Massoud Rajavi, who has not been seen since 2003. Pompeo also imposed restrictions on Hojatollah Khodaei Souri, director of Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Lee reported from Washington.