GP Insights # 405, 30 August 2020
On 14 August, the UNSC rejected a US proposal to extend the arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, that is due to expire in October. Only the Dominican Republic joined the US in favour of the resolution that was vetoed by Russia and China. The rest of the 11 countries abstained from voting on the resolution. The Indonesian ambassador to the UN (also serving as the President of the UNSC) stated that he was in no position to take 'further action' due to lack of consensus in the Council. Reacting to the failure of the resolution, the US Ambassador expressed regret that the other members of the Council had chosen to stand 'in the company of terrorists'. The US further threatened to invoke the snapback clause of the JCPOA to keep the sanctions going.
On 26 August 2020, in another meaningful development, amid high-level talks between the IAEA chief and Iran, an agreement to allow inspections in two secret nuclear sites in Iran was reached. In return, Iran secured the IAEA guarantee that it would not pursue any further questions on the issue.
What is the background?
First, the embargo on arms. Resolution 2231 that endorsed the JCPOA, eased certain sanctions on Iran in return for the cessation of its enrichment activities. It also placed an arms embargo on Iran for five years and sanctions on its ballistic missile programme for eight years. Iran was to refrain from procuring or manufacturing ballistic missiles which were nuclear-capable. The joint commission on the JCPOA is to have a joint meeting on 1 September.
Second, the 'snap back' provision. The resolution was initially submitted by AIPAC to Mike Pompeo and gained majority support in the US Congress. In early August, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and UAE sent a letter to the UNSC urging it to keep the pressure on Iran by refusing to lift the arms embargo. Despite reneging on its JCPOA requirements, on 27 August, the US tried to invoke additional punitive measures on Iran by accusing it of violating the agreement. This move was rejected by the other signatories of the deal, who claimed that upon withdrawing, the US has also given up its right to invoke any clause of the agreement. The US, however, has pledged to keep the embargo in place by exploring other diplomatic options.
What does it mean?
The approval to participate and facilitate IAEA inspections comes as Tehran wants to come across as the more accommodative and receptive signatory to the deal. By securing the IAEA guarantee, it wants to solidify its credibility and put a stop to accusations of violation from Israel, US and their partners in the Gulf.
The defeat at the UNSC is quite an attestation on how isolated the US is on the issue. That the abstentions and the vetoes by fellow council members got likened to support for terrorism and didn't even register in the US as a legitimate exercise in respective 'national interests' is hardly surprising. Committed and driven only by imposing its own militaristic will on countries and multilateral institutions, this latest tirade launched against Council members is a reaction to the fatigue with the US manipulation of geopolitics often to the detriment of the entire region. By riding roughshod on the deal and by placing conditions akin to complete strategic capitulation from Iran, the US has advertised that nothing short of the death of the deal is desirable.