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Pompeo aims fury at Europe as Iran sanctions snapback bid rebuffed

Top US diplomat accuses countries of ‘siding with ayatollahs’; Russia withdraws request for UN meeting to extend sanctions relief after apparent US move to block summit

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wears a facemask as he departs after speaking to reporters following a meeting with members of the UN Security Council about Iran's alleged non-compliance with a nuclear deal and calling for the restoration of sanctions against Iran at United Nations headquarters in New York, August 20, 2020. (MIKE SEGAR / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wears a facemask as he departs after speaking to reporters following a meeting with members of the UN Security Council about Iran's alleged non-compliance with a nuclear deal and calling for the restoration of sanctions against Iran at United Nations headquarters in New York, August 20, 2020. (MIKE SEGAR / POOL / AFP)

European powers rejected a US bid to reinstate sanctions on Iran and torpedo the 2015 nuclear deal, drawing an accusation from Washington that they were “siding with the ayatollahs.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also feuded with Russia, which responded to the US move by asking for an open Security Council meeting Friday to discuss the extension of sanctions relief under the deal.

Pompeo personally submitted a letter to Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN, Dian Triansyah Djani, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the council, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York, accusing Iran of “significant” non-compliance with the terms of the 2015 accord.

The move was intended to launch the start of the process to snap back sanctions on Iran, using a mechanism built into the pact meant to deal with a situation in which Tehran has been determined to have broken its promise to curb nuclear enrichment activities. It comes after the US suffered a humiliating defeat at the Security Council last week when it failed to muster support for a resolution to extend a conventional arms embargo on Iran.

Though President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord in 2018, Washington maintains that under the Security Council resolution endorsing the agreement it retains the right as an initial party to invoke the provision to reinstate sanctions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is flanked by US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft as he speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the UN Security Council about Iran’s alleged non-compliance with a nuclear deal and calling for the restoration of sanctions against Iran at United Nations headquarters in New York, August 20, 2020. (MIKE SEGAR / POOL / AFP)

Russia, China, Britain, France and virtually all other council members say the Trump administration does not have the right since it is no longer a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Shortly after Pompeo submitted the letter, Britain, France and Germany released a joint statement saying they would not support the action “which is incompatible” with efforts to preserve the JCPOA.

“France, Germany and the United Kingdom note that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018. We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA.”

“We call on all UNSC members to refrain from any action that would only deepen divisions in the Security Council or that would have serious adverse consequences on its work,” they said.

Pompeo lashed out at the Europeans, accusing them of privately agreeing with the US concerns but lacking the courage to say so publicly, and accusing them of a “failure of leadership.”

“Instead they chose to side with ayatollahs,” he said. “Their actions endanger the people of Iraq, of Yemen, of Lebanon, of Syria and indeed their own citizens as well.”

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

Under the terms of the Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal, Thursday’s notification starts a 30-day clock after which pre-2015 UN sanctions on Iran that were eased will be re-imposed unless a resolution specifically extending their suspension is passed.

The US, however, would use its veto power to block any resolution extending the sanctions relief.

Pompeo said a Security Council resolution will be introduced as required under snapback, but he wouldn’t say which country would initiate it.

Because of the legal debate over US standing, it is possible that the snapback demand will simply be ignored by the other members, which could call into question the Security Council’s relevance and ability to enforce its own legally binding decisions.

Security Council president Djani is holding one-on-one consultations with members on the legality of the US action, council diplomats said, and the vast majority of members are virtually certain to agree that the US not legally entitled to invoke snapback — meaning snapback has not been triggered and the US action will have no effect.

In these circumstances, the Security Council president would not be obliged to introduce a resolution to extend sanctions relief, which would face a US veto, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Russia asked for an open council meeting Friday to discuss implementation of the resolution endorsing the nuclear deal, but later withdrew the request, according to CNN.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyansky indicated in a tweet that the US had blocked the meeting.

“After groundlessly claiming that they triggered #snapback our US colleagues objected to holding a SC meeting to discuss what’s happening around implementation of Resolution 2231,” he wrote.

“Looks like there are 2 planets. A fictional dog-eat-dog one where US pretends it can do whatever it wants without ‘cajoling’ anyone, breach and leave deals but still benefit from them, and another one where the rest of the world lives and where intl law and diplomacy reign,” he also tweeted.

Rules put in place at the UN for the coronavirus pandemic require Security Council members to agree to a meeting before it is accepted.

A Chinese spokesperson also rejected the US attempt, saying the US has “no legal ground” and Pompeo’s letter would not be considered as starting a snapback process.

“It is nothing but a political show staged by the United States,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The UK, France and Germany say they have serious concerns about the conventional arms embargo expiring on October 18 but believe the safest way to keep Iran in check is through the JCPOA.

The Europeans are hoping to preserve the nuclear deal in the event Trump loses his bid for a second term in November’s presidential election. Democratic Joe Biden has said he would try to revive the agreement.

The Europeans fear that the re-imposition of sanctions may lead Iran to quit the deal entirely and plow ahead with efforts to develop atomic weapons. The Trump administration says it withdrew precisely because the deal eased sanctions, opening major revenue streams for Iran while gradually easing restrictions on its nuclear activities that money could pay for.

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