taking action

White House set to trigger snapback sanctions on Iran

A U.S. proposal to extend the arms embargo on Iran was defeated last week in the Security Council

Hamed Saber/Wikipedia

Anti-aircraft guns guarding the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran in 2006.

At the behest of President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will notify the U.N. Security Council in New York today that the U.S. is beginning the process of invoking the “snapback” mechanism, part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo will also meet this afternoon with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres at his private residence.

The process: Under the 2015 measure (UNSC 2231) endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the U.S. could unilaterally reimpose all sanctions enacted by the international body if Iran violated the agreement. Once notice is given, a 30-day countdown to reimposing sanctions begins without the ability to veto the move. If a resolution to stop the snapback is introduced within 10 days, the body will meet to vote, but risks a U.S. veto. Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, Pompeo said the U.S.-led action will make it “a fully valid, enforceable U.N. Security Council resolution… it has a set of provisions, it has a set of rights and obligations, and we will be in full compliance with that.” 

Congressional backing: Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JI that the Trump administration has more public support following the Security Council’s rejection last week of the U.S. proposal to extend the arms embargo on Iran before it expires in October. “Pompeo offered that diplomatic path, willing to negotiate different languages to get the extension of the arms embargo without using the snapback,” explained Goldberg, who served last year as the National Security Council’s director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction. In May, 387 members of Congress signed onto a bipartisan congressional letter addressed to Pompeo, calling to extend the Iran arms embargo. Goldberg suggested Pompeo’s approach allows him to argue that the sanctions are a result of the body’s inaction on the arms embargo. 

Self-inflicted wounds: Ned Price, who served as a National Security Council spokesperson in the Obama administration, suggested Trump’s hand has been weakened by recent action. “The administration is now holding an even weaker set of cards after its historically humiliating defeat in the Security Council last week,” Price, who is now head of policy and communications at National Security Action, told JI. “What we’ve seen has not been a tactical failure — in other words, there was no maneuver that would’ve better served the administration’s interests. That’s because the table was largely set after the strategically disastrous decision to abandon the Iran deal and set about the course of so-called ‘maximum pressure.’ It’s a strategy that has backfired at every turn.”

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