The U.S. said international sanctions on Iran are automatically “snapping back” in a move that most nations say the Trump administration doesn’t have the authority to demand since quitting a 2015 nuclear deal two years ago.
“Sanctions are being re-imposed on Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement late on Saturday. “The United States expects all U.N. Member States to fully comply with their obligations to implement these measures.”
That’s unlikely to happen.
Since quitting the nuclear accord in 2018, the Trump administration has plowed ahead with efforts to undermine the deal, ratcheting up sanctions on the Islamic Republic and even threatening allies if they do business with Tehran.
Yet instead of rallying allies to its side, the U.S. moves have united partners like the U.K., France and Germany with Russia and China, all of whom have sought to salvage the accord. Their support for the deal has left the U.S. isolated on the United Nations Security Council, and most nations say America has no authority to demand the return of international sanctions since it’s no longer a party to the deal.
The U.S. asserts that all of the U.N. resolutions on Iran that were in place before the 2015 deal — from a ban on arm deals to restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile activity and its nuclear enrichment — should have gone back into effect as of 8 p.m. New York time on Saturday.
To enforce those measures, if countries like Russia and China disregard them, the U.S. could use tools such as secondary sanctions on shippers, insurers and banks and may even threaten interdictions of ships at sea.
“In the coming days, the United States will announce a range of additional measures to strengthen implementation of U.N. sanctions and hold violators accountable,” Pompeo said in his statement. “Our maximum pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will continue until Iran reaches a comprehensive agreement with us to rein in its proliferation threats and stops spreading chaos, violence, and bloodshed.”
The U.S. says that while it isn’t a party to the nuclear deal, the broader U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined the accord doesn’t require it to still be in the agreement.
The dispute has paralyzed the U.N. Security Council and threatened lasting damage to the global body. Most Security Council nations appear to be trying to avoid any direct confrontation on the issue until after U.S. presidential elections in November. Democrat Joe Biden has said he would seek to return to the nuclear deal and build on it if elected as U.S. president in November.
“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy,” Biden wrote in an op-ed for CNN last week. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”
The U.S. move comes ahead of Trump’s expected address Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, which is being held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump may use that address to renew his past denunciations of Iran and vow to enforce the renewed sanctions.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump called the Iran nuclear accord the “worst deal ever,” saying it didn’t do enough to stop Tehran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons. But the president has also said Iran is eager to have talks with the U.S. and will do so soon after the November election, a statement officials in Tehran have repeatedly rejected. Instead, Iranian officials say, the U.S. needs to lift existing sanctions before any talks begin.
Earlier on Saturday, Iran ridiculed the U.S. bid to forcibly restore sanctions, and said it would set Washington’s military outposts in the Persian Gulf “on fire at once” if its adversary tried to start a war.