WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The United States said on Wednesday it plans to impose sanctions on those who violate a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which Washington says will now stay in place instead of expiring in October as agreed under a 2015 nuclear deal — under which Tehran limited its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Elliott Abrams, said Washington could deny access to the U.S. market to anyone who trades in weapons with Iran, which President Donald Trump’s administration accuses of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has denied it is developing nuclear weapons.
Abrams told reporters Wednesday that all U.N. sanctions would “snap back” at 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
But the other members of the U.N. Security Council, including U.S. allies, have objected to the move. A wholesale rejection of the U.S. position could push the Trump administration, which has already withdrawn from multiple U.N. agencies, organizations and treaties, further away from the international community.
Trump plans to address Iran in a speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday as the world body prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary at a coronavirus-restricted General Assembly session next week. Officials say he will also touch on his brokering of agreements for Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations in part to solidify a regional bulwark against Iran.
But the other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia and most of the U.N. Security Council have said they do not believe the United States can reimpose the U.N. sanctions, saying the U.S. lost its legal standing to act on sanctions when Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018.
The U.S. argues it retains the right to enact the “snapback” of sanctions because the council resolution that endorsed the deal refers to it as a participant.
“It’s like pulling a trigger and no bullet comes out,” a senior U.N. Security Council diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “There will be no snapback, the sanctions will remain suspended, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA nuclear deal) will remain in place.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to the United Nations on Aug. 20 to formally notify the Security Council that the U.S. was triggering snapback because Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal.
“These will be valid U.N. Security Council (actions) and the United States will do what it always does, it will do its share as part of its responsibilities to enable peace,” Pompeo said on Wednesday. “We’ll do all the things we need to do to ensure that those sanctions are enforced.”
The U.N. sanctions the U.S. is seeking to reimpose include a ban on uranium enrichment and all missile activity, and the indefinite extension of an arms embargo that would otherwise expire on Oct. 18. The Security Council rejected a U.S. effort to extend the embargo in a vote that got support from only one country, the Dominican Republic.
Pompeo said the snapback mechanism was the “one thing that the previous administration got right” in the nuclear deal that Trump has denounced as fatally flawed because certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity gradually expire and will allow the country to eventually develop atomic weapons. The agreement was a signature foreign policy achievement of President Barack Obama and gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on it nuclear program.
”We expect all U.N. member states to implement their member state responsibilities and respect their obligations to uphold these sanctions,” Abrams told reporters.
“If other nations do not follow it,” he said, “I think they should be asked … whether they do not think they are weakening the structure of U.N. sanctions.”
Asked if Washington is “making concrete plans now for secondary sanctions” to enforce the arms embargo, Abrams told reporters: “We are, in many ways, and we will have some announcements over the weekend and more announcements on Monday and then subsequent days next week.”
U.N. diplomats said the three European Security Council member countries remaining in the JCPOA will likely respond by issuing a statement reiterating their position that the United States cannot trigger snapback.
Earlier this week, the president tweeted retaliation “1,000 times” harder against Iran if it attacks U.S. personnel overseas as a response to a report that Iran is plotting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general at the beginning of the year. Neither Trump nor any other senior U.S. official has confirmed such a plot exists, although they have said Iran has a long history of political assassinations.
Pompeo reiterated Wednesday that Iran “remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and we don’t believe that them being able to trade in weapons of war with impunity is remotely acceptable.” He called the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions “good for the peoples of all nations.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.