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The head of American diplomacy Mike Pompeo went Thursday to the UN headquarters in New York to trigger the so-called “snapback” mechanism, aimed at restoring international sanctions against Tehran. France, Germany and the UK opposed this initiative. A legal battle is looming.
American-European duel at the UN. The United States formally activated, Thursday August 20, a controversial procedure to demand the reinstatement of international sanctions against Iran within a month. They came up against the categorical refusal of their European allies.
The tone rarely rose between the two shores of the Atlantic, the head of American diplomacy Mike Pompeo going so far as to accuse France, the United Kingdom and Germany by name of having “chosen to align with the ayatollahs “in power in the Islamic Republic.
While traveling to New York, UN headquarters, the US Secretary of State “notified the Security Council” of “Iran’s significant non-compliance with its commitments” provided for by the agreement reached in Vienna in 2015 to prevent him from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The United States specifies triggering this mechanism, called “snapback”, as a country “participating” in the Vienna agreement. The resolution 2231 of the Security Council which had ratified it indeed designated as “participants” all the initial signatories, that is to say the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Iran.
US President Donald Trump having slammed the door on this international compromise in 2018, Washington’s ability to avail itself of this status is, however, legally contested by most other countries, including its European allies.
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom note that the United States of America ceased to be a participant” during “their withdrawal from the agreement on May 8, 2018”, reacted the diplomats of the three countries in a joint statement. “So we cannot support this initiative,” they added. They stressed that they still wanted, “despite the major challenges generated by the withdrawal of the United States”, “to preserve” the agreement signed five years ago and presented at the time as the only chance to prevent an Iran nuclear.
The Chinese representation at the UN also considered that the United States was a country “not participating” in the agreement and that the letter from Mike Pompeo could not therefore “be considered as an activation of the snapback”. Same story on the Russian side, where we consider the “snapback” as “non-existent”.
The US notification “is null and void,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi ruled on Twitter, noting that all the other 2015 signatories were on the same line.
Donald Trump, who on the contrary considers this agreement “disastrous” and promises to obtain a “better” one by exerting “maximum pressure” on Tehran, has already restored and even tightened all American sanctions. In response, the Iranian authorities have started to go back on their nuclear commitments, particularly in terms of uranium enrichment.
While acknowledging the “extensive efforts and exhaustive diplomacy” carried out by the Europeans to bring the Islamic Republic back to the right path, its violations “persist”, asserts in his letter Mike Pompeo, estimating that “the United States has therefore no other choice “than to activate the” snapback “.
He criticizes Paris, London and Berlin for not having voted last week in favor of the American resolution to extend the embargo on conventional arms against Iran, which expires in October. The text has only been approved by two of the 15 Security Council countries.
“Their acts endanger the people of Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and also their own fellow citizens,” Mike Pompeo said to Europeans. “America is not going to join this leadership failure,” he insisted.
Complaint soon closed without follow-up?
Theoretically, the “snapback”, a complex process provided for by the 2015 resolution, should allow the rest of the international punitive measures to return in 30 days, almost automatically. Among them, the arms embargo and the sanctions related to uranium enrichment. But according to several observers, the Indonesian ambassador could, after consulting the other members of the Council, dismiss the American complaint.
Donald Trump could nevertheless claim in 30 days – at the time of the United Nations General Assembly – that international sanctions are again in force. This augurs lively legal and even judicial debates and battles.
If the sanctions were de facto back, Iran could mark the final death of the 2015 agreement. But it could also decide to wait and see if Donald Trump wins a second presidential term on November 3. In the meantime, Washington is more isolated than ever on this issue, and the Security Council more divided than ever.