WASHINGTON – In defiance of overwhelming opposition, the United States is preparing to declare that all international sanctions against Iran have been restored. Few countries believe the move is legal, and such action could provoke a credibility crisis at the United Nations.
Virtually alone in the world, the Trump administration will announce on Saturday that U.N. sanctions on Iran eased under the 2015 nuclear deal are back in force. But the other members of the U.N. Security Council, including U.S. allies, disagree and have vowed to ignore the step. That sets the stage for ugly confrontations as the world body prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary at a coronavirus-restricted General Assembly session next week.
The question is how the Trump administration will respond to being ignored. It already has slapped extensive sanctions on Iran, but could impose penalties on countries that don't enforce the U.N. sanctions it claims to have reimposed. A wholesale rejection of the U.S. position could push the administration, which has already withdrawn from multiple U.N. agencies, organizations and treaties, further away from the international community.
In the midst of a heated campaign for reelection, President Donald Trump plans to address Iran in a speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. Officials say he will also touch on his brokering of agreements for Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations in part to solidify a regional bulwark against Iran.
And, as he seeks to demonstrate statesmanlike credentials ahead of the election, Trump has injected another element of uncertainty into the mix by threatening to retaliate “1,000 times” harder against Iran if it attacks U.S. personnel overseas.
His tweeted warning came earlier this week in response to a report that Iran is plotting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general at the beginning of the year. Neither Trump nor any other senior U.S. official has confirmed such a plot exists, although they have said Iran has a long history of political assassinations.
Amid uncertainty over that, the other 14 members of the Security Council and all but about five of the U.N.'s 195 member states say the U.S. lost its legal standing to act on sanctions when Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord more than two years ago. The U.S. argues it retains the right to enact the “snapback” of sanctions because the council resolution that endorsed the deal refers to it as a participant.
“These will be valid U.N. Security Council (actions) and the United States will do what it always does, it will do its share as part of its responsibilities to enable peace,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday. “We’ll do all the things we need to do to ensure that those sanctions are enforced.”