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US says if no arms embargo on Iran it will seek UN sanctions

TANZANIA – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to seek to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran if the U.N. Security Council does not approve a resolution that would indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Tehran, which is set to expire in October.

Pompeo told a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday that without extending the arms embargo, “Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapons systems and become an arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world. This is unacceptable.”

He spoke ahead of a closed video briefing to Security Council members Wednesday afternoon on the U.S. draft resolution to maintain the arms embargo by U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook and U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have escalated since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers in 2018 and reimposed crippling U.S. sanctions.

A year ago, the U.S. sent thousands more troops, long-range bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East in response to what it called a growing threat of Iranian attacks on U.S. interests in the region.

The five other powers that signed the nuclear deal — Russia, China, UK, France and Germany — remain committed to it, saying the agreement is key to continuing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Lifting the arms embargo is part of the 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear agreement. The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the resolution's implementation on June 30.

Calling Iran “the leading state sponsor of terror,” Pompeo said the U.S. focus is to work with the Security Council to pass the resolution.

“But, in the event that doesn’t happen, I would remind the world that the Obama administration’s officials said very clearly that the United States has the unilateral ability to snap back sanctions into place,” he said.

The 2015 nuclear deal includes a “snap back” provision which would restore all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased if the nuclear deal is violated.

The State Department said that in his briefing, Hook pointed to Iranian arms transfers and “the full range of Iran’s malign activity, including its September 2019 direct attack on Saudi Arabia,” which violate current restrictions. Drone strikes hit two Saudi oil installations on Sept. 14, which the U.S. blamed on Iran.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has made clear Moscow’s opposition to a new arms embargo on Iran and has dismissed as “ridiculous” the possibility of the Trump administration trying to use the “snap back” provision.

Nebenzia said the U.S. pulled out of the agreement and “they have no right” to use any of its provisions.

But Pompeo and Craft insist the resolution makes clear the U.S. retains to right to use the “snap back” provision.

Diplomats said that at Wednesday’s closed briefing there was an exchange of views with the U.S. on one side and Russia on the other.

Some Western governments privately fear that maintaining an arms embargo will lead Iran to oust IAEA inspectors and move ahead on developing nuclear weapons.

The latest report by IAEA said Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The nuclear agreement promised Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear program, which Tehran said it hasn’t received, especially since the U.S. withdrawal in 2018. Iran has since slowly and openly violated the nuclear restrictions to try and pressure the remaining nations in the agreement to increase incentives to offset the economy-crippling U.S. sanctions.

The draft U.S. resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, would ban Iran from supplying, selling or transferring any arms or related material from its territory after the embargo expires on Oct. 18.

It would also ban the other 192 U.N. member states from buying Iranian weapons or allowing their nationals to train, provide financial resources or assistance related “to the supply, sale, transfer, manufacture, maintenance, or use of arms and related materiel” to Iran unless they get Security Council approval at least 30 days in advance.

The draft would authorize all U.N. member states to inspect cargo entering or transiting through their territory at airports, seaports and free trade zones from Iran or heading there if the member state “has reasonable grounds to believe the cargo” contains banned items.

It would also condemn the September 2019 attack against Saudi Arabia “carried out by Iran” and condemn December 2019 attacks against an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. And it would deplore “Iran’s transfers of arms to militias and other armed groups in the region” and demand that Iran stop such transfers immediately.

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.