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Trump seeks ‘snapback’ to force return of UN Iran sanctions

After Security Council rejects bid to extend arms embargo, US president argues Washington still party to nuclear deal and can therefore restore penalties

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 15, 2020. (JIM WATSON / AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 15, 2020. (JIM WATSON / AFP)

US President Donald Trump said Saturday he will try a controversial “snapback” to force a return of UN sanctions against Iran, after the Security Council rejected Washington’s bid to extend the arms embargo against the Islamic Republic.

“We’ll be doing a snapback,” the US president said, referring to the contested argument that the US remains a “participant” in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — despite Trump’s withdrawal from it — and therefore can force a return to sanctions if it sees Iran as being in violation of its terms.

Trump added that the US will make its move next week.

The 15-member council on Friday resoundingly defeated a US resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo. Only the Dominican Republican joined the US in supporting the resolution. Russia and China opposed it, while the remaining 11 members abstained.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the vote “scandalous.”

“Iranian terrorism and aggression threaten the peace of the region and the entire world,” he said. “Instead of opposing weapons sales, the Security Council is encouraging them.” He said Israel would continue to cooperate with the US and act with “full force” against those who threaten it.

In this file photo, the UN Security Council meets at UN headquarters in New York City, February 12, 2020. (Johannes Eisele / AFP)

The Trump administration has said it will not allow the arms embargo provision in the Security Council resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers to expire as scheduled October 18.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously suggested the US would invoke the “snapback” mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal that would restore all UN sanctions on Iran. “Snapback” was envisioned in the event Iran was proven to be in violation of the accord, under which it received billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement, known as the JCPOA, in 2018. But the US circulated a six-page memo Thursday from State Department lawyers arguing the United States remains part of the 2015 Security Council resolution that endorsed the deal and still has the right to use the “snapback” provision.

The five other powers — Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany — remain committed to the deal, and diplomats from several of these countries have voiced concern that extending the arms embargo would lead Iran to exit the nuclear agreement and speed up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

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