US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday urged the UN Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Iran, warning that its expiration would risk the stability of the oil-rich region.
“Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices,” Pompeo told the virtual session, referencing two opponents of prolonging the embargo.
The United States is adamant about prolonging the ban on conventional arms sales to its adversary, which expires in October, and has threatened to use a disputed legal move to force a return of UN sanctions on Iran.
The session heard a UN report that found that cruise missiles and drones from an attack last year in Saudi Arabia — a close US ally and Tehran’s regional rival — were of Iranian origin.
“Iran is already violating the arms embargo even before its expiration date. Imagine if Iranian activity were sanctioned — authorized — by this group if the restrictions are lifted,” Pompeo said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif questioned the credibility of the report on the Saudi attacks, saying the UN secretariat was “utterly unprofessional.”
He questioned in turn why there was no outcry about US weapons, pointing to Washington’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and President Donald Trump’s arms sales that have contributed to Saudi Arabia’s devastating offensive in Yemen.
“This very regime absurdly accuses Iran of ‘meddling’ in its own region,” Zarif told the session, with a mid-level US diplomat listening after Pompeo left.
Zarif called the timely end of the arms embargo “inseparable” from the preservation of the nuclear deal and Security Council Resolution 2231 which backed it.
“We cannot accept an attempt to get a blessing for the US-desired maximum pressure policy through the Security Council,” said the Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia.
“What we get in the end is an uncontrollable escalation,” he said.
China also rejected the US bid, saying that Washington could not legally bring back UN sanctions.
“Having quit the JCPOA, the US is no longer a participant and has no right to trigger a snapback at the Security Council,” Chinese envoy Zhang Jun told a Security Council session, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal by its acronym.
European allies of the United States have voiced support for extending the embargo but also oppose new sanctions, saying the bigger issue is Iran’s nuclear program.
“We would not,” French envoy Nicolas de la Riviere said, “support unilateral proposals leading to the return of sanctions.”
“They would only deepen divisions in the Security Council and beyond and would not be likely to improve the situation on the ground of nuclear non-proliferation,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the United States to move forward with its threat to reimpose “snapback” sanctions on Iran.
In a meeting in Jerusalem with Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s pointman on Iran, Netanyahu urged that “in response to repeated Iranian provocations and violations…it is time to implement, now, snapback sanctions. I don’t think we can afford to wait. We should not wait for Iran to start its breakout to a nuclear weapon, because when that happens it will be too late for sanctions.”
Hook is on a Middle East tour, meeting with US allies seeking support for Washington’s demand of extending a 13-year UN weapons embargo on Iran set to expire in October. He visited the United Arab Emirates over the weekend.
If the UN Security Council fails to extend the embargo, the US would seek to trigger the broad array of “snapback” sanctions due to Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The US abandoned that deal in 2018, triggering a series of Iranian violations in the ensuing years.
On Sunday, during his visit to the UAE, Hook told the Associated Press that the expiring UN weapons embargo on Iran must remain in place to prevent it from “becoming the arms dealer of choice for rogue regimes and terrorist organizations around the world.”
The UN arms embargo so far has stopped Iran from purchasing fighter jets, tanks, warships and other weaponry, but has failed to halt its smuggling of weapons into war zones in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
US sanctions imposed since the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty has created intense financial pressure on Tehran that has led to sporadic anti-government protests, including nationwide demonstrations in November that Amnesty International says saw over 300 people killed. While the Trump administration has maintained it doesn’t seek to overthrow Iran’s government, its pressure campaign has exacerbated public anger against Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has broken all of the accord’s production limits. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iranian nuclear activity as part of the deal, says Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium continues to grow.
While not at weapons-grade levels, the growing stockpile and increased production shortens the one-year timeline analysts believe Iran would need to have enough material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one. Iran has long denied seeking atomic bombs, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003, following the US invasion of Iraq.