'Maximum pressure... has turned into maximum isolation'

Iran’s Rouhani warns of ‘crushing response’ to US sanctions declaration at UN

Tehran says Trump administration ‘isolated’ after other world powers reject American assertion that sanctions on Islamic Republic are back in force

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press briefing with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran, Iran, July 21, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press briefing with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran, Iran, July 21, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday warned the US it faces defeat after the Trump administration declared that UN sanctions are back in force against the Islamic Republic, a move rejected by other world powers.

“America is approaching a certain defeat in its sanctions move … It faced defeat and negative response from the international community. We will never yield to US pressure and Iran will give a crushing response to America’s bullying,” Rouhani said during a televised cabinet meeting, according to Reuters.

He added: “America’s maximum pressure against Iran, in its political and legal aspects, has turned into America’s maximum isolation.”

Rouhani’s remarks echoed those of Iran’s foreign ministry.

Saeed Khatibzadeh (Screen capture: YouTube)

“The United States is very, very isolated in its claims,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “The whole world is saying nothing has changed.”

The comments came after the Trump administration announced the so-called “snapback” of the sanctions was in effect and threatened to “impose consequences” on any UN member state that fails to comply.

The sanctions in question were lifted in 2015 when Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — reached a landmark nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But US President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, saying the deal — negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama — was insufficient. He also renewed and even strengthened Washington’s own sanctions.

The US insists it is still a participant in the agreement that it stormed out of, but only so it can activate the snapback option, which it announced on August 20.

Virtually every other Security Council member disputes Washington’s ability to execute this legal pirouette, and the UN body has not taken the measure any further.

Members of the Security Council vote at United Nations headquarters on the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, July 20, 2015. (AP/Seth Wenig, File)

On Sunday, two permanent council members — France and Britain — issued a joint statement along with non-permanent member Germany saying the US’s “purported notification” was “incapable of having any legal effect.”

Russia also said the US lacked legal authority.

“The illegitimate initiatives and actions of the United States by definition cannot have international legal consequences for other countries,” said its foreign ministry.

‘Reckless actions’

Iran brushed off the move and called on the rest of the world to unite against what it called the US’s “reckless actions”.

“This is all much ado about nothing, and I imagine these are the most bitter days and hours for” the United States, said Khatibzadeh.

“Tehran’s message for Washington is clear. Return to the international community, to your commitments, stop rebelling and the world will accept you.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Washington’s latest move in a statement on Saturday evening.

“Today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.

Pompeo promised measures would be announced in the coming days against “violators” of the sanctions to ensure that “Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the UN Security Council, with US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, left, and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, right, at the United Nations, August 20, 2020. (Mike Segar/Pool via AP)

With around six weeks to go until the November 3 US election, Trump could unveil those measures in a speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Iran issued a stark warning if the US follows through with the measures.

“If the United States acts on these threats, directly, or with the cooperation of a handful of its puppets, it will face a serious response and be responsible for all the dangerous consequences,” its foreign ministry said.

It added that Washington, by leaving the nuclear deal, has “explicitly denied itself of any rights” to use the mechanisms in agreement and UN Resolution 2231, which enshrined the nuclear accord.

‘Nothing worse’

In mid-August, the US suffered a resounding defeat at the Security Council when it tried to extend the embargo on conventional weapons being sent to Tehran, which was due to expire in October.

Pompeo responded with an unusually vehement attack on Britain, France and Germany, accusing them of “siding with Iran’s ayatollahs” before announcing the snapback.

The Trump administration, however, is acting as if the international sanctions are in place, while the rest of the international community acts as if nothing has changed.

Washington is hammering home that the arms embargo has been extended “indefinitely” and that many activities related to Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are now subject to international sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Pompeo of not having read UN resolutions or the nuclear deal.

“He’s now probably waiting for the movie to come out so he can begin to understand it,” he told state television.

While dismissing the US move, Iran’s currency dropped to a record low of 272,500 to the US dollar at money exchange shops across Tehran due to the mounting economic pressure from Washington.

The rial has lost more than 30% of its value to the dollar since June as sweeping US sanctions on Iran continue to crush its ability to sell oil globally. Iran’s currency was at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

A man exchanges Iranian Rials for US Dollars at an exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran, August 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

On the streets of Tehran, Iranians complained of difficult economic conditions they attributed to US sanctions.

“It’s really difficult for the people right now. Whether sanctions are reimposed or not, we are living with utmost difficulty,” said Leila Zanganeh, a martial arts instructor.

Danial Namei, an architect, seemed to care little for returning UN sanctions and doubted things could get worse.

“We’ve been through difficult things and it is still ongoing. There’s nothing worse than the worst, after all,” he said.

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