Part 5: U.S. Bid on Arms Embargo Fails at U.N.

On August 14, a U.S. resolution that would require all U.N. member states to indefinitely forbid the sale of conventional arms to Iran failed at the Security Council in one of the worst diplomatic defeats ever for Washington. The vote in the fifteen-member body was only two in favor (the United States and the Dominican Republic), two against (Russia and China), and 11 abstentions. To win passage, any Security Council resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the Council’s five permanent members – Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.

UN voteWashington notably failed to win support from its traditional European allies – Britain, Belgium, Estonia, France and Germany – as well as Tunisia, a close security partner in the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the Security Council for enabling “the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell deadly weapons and ignored the demands of countries in the Middle East.” Kelly Knight Craft, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said that she was “sickened but not surprised” by the outcome.

The vote was in some ways a diplomatic win for Tehran, even though many U.N. member states expressed concern about what Iran might do or buy when the current embargo is lifted in October. The original ban was part of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers that was subsequently endorsed, unanimously, in U.N. resolution 2015. It included a five-year ban on arm sales to the Islamic Republic. As part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the Trump administration has pressed the United Nations to extend it.

Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian ambassador to the U.N., accused the Trump administration of “manufacturing” a crisis over the arms embargo. “The result of the vote in #UNSC on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US' isolation,” he tweeted.

Britain and France said that they shared U.S. concerns over Iranian arms proliferation but withheld support from the resolution because it would divide the Security Council. “The U.K. abstained on this resolution because it was clear that it would not attract the support of the Council and would not represent a basis for achieving consensus,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.

U.N. Security Council meets virtually after the vote

The failed U.N. vote set up an even more consequential fight in the Security Council over the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. President Donald Trump declared that the United States would “snapback” multilateral sanctions on Iran. “We knew what the vote was going to be, but we'll be doing a snapback,” he said the day after the vote.

The nuclear deal allows a “JCPOA participant state” to reimpose multilateral sanctions on Tehran if it violates the nuclear deal. The Trump administration has argued that the United States can still legally trigger snapback even though it pulled out of the agreement in May 2018. Iran waited one year after the U.S. withdrawal and then in July 2019 began incremental breaches of the agreement, such as surpassing limits on uranium enrichment.

Iran warned the Security Council against imposing multilateral sanctions. “As we have already stated, imposition of any sanctions or restrictions on Iran by the Security Council will be met severely by Iran and our options are not limited,” Ravanchi said in a statement. Iran had previously threatened more substantial breaches of the nuclear agreement if snapback sanctions were implemented.

The Trump administration’s threat to trigger the snapback provision drove a deeper wedge between the United States and its European allies. Britain, France and Germany all expressed concern that triggering U.N. sanctions could sabotage the nuclear agreement. “We do not support a move to snapback at this time, which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA,” Acting British Ambassador Jonathan Allen said.

Even some U.S. conservatives were skeptical of the administration’s approach. John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, said that the United States did not have standing to invoke snapback after leaving the JCPOA. “It’s too cute by half to say we’re in the nuclear deal for purposes we want but not for those we don’t,” Bolton wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

 

China and Russia, the two countries that voted against the U.S. resolution, said that the United States was ineligible to snapback sanctions after it withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. “Should the U.S. insist regardless of international opinion, it is doomed to fail,” said Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to convene a meeting of the parties who negotiated the nuclear deal to de-escalate tensions at the Security Council. But President Trump rejected the offer.
 

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International Reaction to the Vote

 

United States

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on August 14: The United Nations Security Council is charged with the responsibility of maintaining international peace and security. It failed today to uphold its fundamental mission set. It rejected a reasonable resolution to extend the 13-year old arms embargo on Iran and paved the way for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell conventional weapons without specific U.N. restrictions in place for the first time in over a decade. The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable.

The Security Council rejected direct appeals to extend the arms embargo from numerous countries in the Middle East endangered by Iran’s violence. Arab nations and Israel strongly supported extending the embargo. Last weekend, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council came together to ask the Security Council to extend the embargo. Israel also asked the Council to do the same to prevent Iran from expanding and modernizing its arsenal. These countries know Iran will spread even greater chaos and destruction if the embargo expires, but the Security Council chose to ignore them. 

The United States will never abandon our friends in the region who expected more from the Security Council.  We will continue to work to ensure that the theocratic terror regime does not have the freedom to purchase and sell weapons that threaten the heart of Europe, the Middle East and beyond. 

 

Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft on August 14: The United States stands sickened – but not surprised – as the clear majority of Council members gave the green light to Iran to buy and sell all manner of conventional weapons. The Council’s failure today will serve neither peace nor security. Rather, it will fuel greater conflict and drive even more insecurity.

Failing to step up to this moral challenge validates the world’s number one state sponsor of terror, just to save face and protect a failed political deal made outside the Council. A flawed deal, it is worth noting, under which Iran remains in significant non-performance of its commitments.

I’ve spoken in the Council about Iran’s malign behavior. I’ve spoken of the risks in allowing the Iranian regime to import and export new and more powerful weapons. I’ve spoken to each of you about American determination to contain the Iranian threat.

Today, I would prefer that those Security Council members who opposed or stood silently by on this resolution do the speaking.

Speak to the mothers in Yemen watching their children wither and die as a direct result of Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels. Tell them how the Security Council works in their interests.

Speak to the families in Syria that have been shattered as a direct result of Iran’s support for the Assad regime. Tell them that the Security Council hears their pleas.

Speak to the people of Lebanon, who are still reeling from the disaster in the Port of Beirut, and know all too well the poisonous influence of Iran and Hezbollah on their nation.

Speak to the countries in the region, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel who have pleaded with this Council to do the right thing, the obvious thing, the moral thing and extend the arms embargo on Iran.

Tell them that the Security Council acknowledged the urgent threat posed by Iran, and recalls that they have been the targets of Iranian missiles and other aggression, as confirmed by the Secretary General in his recent 2231 Report.

Tell them that the last thing the Security Council would ever do is to trigger a regional arms race by unlocking Iran’s ability to purchase sophisticated missile batteries, fighter jets, tanks and other modern weapons.

And finally, speak to the people of Iran, who have been living under this regime’s violent and unrelenting repression for more than 40 years. Tell them that the Security Council understands their plight and supports their desperate cries for freedom.

I have yet to hear a single member of this Council make the national security argument that Iran should be able to freely buy and sell weapons, and don’t think for one minute I’ve grown weary of trying to coax this Council to return to its original purpose, to focus on the human implications of its actions.

The defeat of this resolution outlines perfectly this Council’s current condition of paralysis and inaction in the face of growing threats. The questions before us were simple today. Has Iran done anything to warrant reconsideration of its status as the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism? Should U.N. arms restrictions that have been in place for 13 years be lifted?

Rather than acknowledge these questions, members of this body sought refuge in the remnants of the failed Iran nuclear deal. Preserving the last threads of that deal became the objective, not the interests of humanity or the pursuit of peace.

And even in this context, I remind my colleagues from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom that their governments made clear just this June that, and I quote, “…we believe that the planned lifting of the UN conventional arms embargo established by Resolution 2231 next October would have major implications for regional security and stability.”

That belief appears to have been short-lived.

The United States has acted in good faith throughout this process, and made clear to all parties that failure was simply not an option. Under Resolution 2231, the United States has every right to initiate snapback of provisions of previous Security Council resolutions. In the coming days, the United States will follow through on that promise to stop at nothing to extend the arms embargo.

The Trump administration’s vision for peace in the Middle East will endure the abject failures of the UN Security Council. Just yesterday that vision was again validated in the historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States is a force for good in the world. And when multilateralism fails, we will not.

History will easily trace the path of leadership in this era, and unfortunately it will not go through the U.N. Security Council.

 

Iran

Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi on August 14: For many years, the U.S. had created a manufactured crisis about Iran’s nuclear program. However, the JCPOA’s conclusion rendered that ploy useless. Now, the U.S. is manufacturing a new crisis under the so-called label of “arms proliferation”. There is no “arms proliferation” by Iran as falsely claimed by the U.S. officials. We have already categorically rejected all such uncorroborated self-serving allegations.

After testing the waters in the Council for a few months, last week the U.S., in clear violation of Resolution 2231, proposed a draft resolution on arms embargo against Iran which was faced with a cold shoulder from members of the Council. In order to advance its goal by whatever means, the U.S. also resorted to deceptive methods like shortening its 13-page draft to 4 short paragraphs without any changes in its nature and intended goal, to illustrate its apparent flexibility. Likewise, to create a legal mess and confusion, it has also recalled, in its second draft resolution, 6 Resolutions of the Council, all of which were terminated almost 5 years ago!

This week, the U.S. urged the Council to vote on the second version of the draft resolution even knowing in advance that it would not enjoy the support within the Council. The question is why it is resorting to such an exercise? Because, based on its miscalculations, the U.S. wants to use it as a pretext to realize its ultimate goal of killing the JCPOA forever through the snap back mechanism, while, as a non-participant to the JCPOA, the U.S. is not eligible to trigger that mechanism.

Here, the Council, as the guarantor of its own decisions, must act responsibly and decisively and prove that it is able and willing to support the JCPOA it has endorsed; protect Resolution 2231 it has adopted unanimously; and ensure its own authority and credibility.

As we have made it clear, the timetable for the removal of arms restrictions in Resolution 2231 is an inseparable part of the hard-won compromise enabling final agreement on the overall package of the JCPOA and that Resolution. The Resolution explicitly urges its “full implementation on the timetable”. Any attempt to change or amend the agreed timetable is thus tantamount to undermining Resolution 2231 in its entirety.

The Council must not allow the abuse and manipulation of its work as it did in the past when the Council was ineffective in preventing Saddam’s aggression against Iran and the use of chemical weapons against Iranians and Iraqis.

As we have already stated, imposition of any sanctions or restrictions on Iran by the Security Council will be met severely by Iran and our options are not limited. And the United States and any entity which may assist it or acquiesce in its illegal behavior, will bear the full responsibility.

Allow me to conclude, Mr. President, by underlining that no one can deny the ongoing alarming trend of regression from a rules-based multilateralism into a power-based unilateralism. The international community should not allow the “knee on neck” policy to be tolerated at our time anymore.

Let’s be fair and square. Historically, appeasement has never served humanity’s common interests. Conversely, it has only further emboldened the bullying powers. In this turbulent time, all States, particularly members of this Council, have a moral and ethical responsibility to do whatever in their power to restore faith in values, purposes and principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations who will have to live with the consequences of our action and inaction.

 

Europe

British mission to the U.N. on August 14: We have repeatedly set out our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, including through the transfer of weapons to Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, in violation of resolution 2231.

We therefore share the concerns expressed by a number of Council Members about the scheduled expiry of existing arms restrictions on Iran this October. E3 Foreign Ministers have been clear that expiry of these restrictions would have major implications for regional security and stability.

The UK abstained on this resolution because it was clear that it would not attract the support of the Council and would not represent a basis for achieving consensus. It would therefore not contribute to improving security and stability in the region. Nevertheless, we stand ready to work with Council Members and JCPOA participants to seek a path forward that could secure the support of the Council.

The United Kingdom remains resolutely committed to the JCPOA and to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. With our French and German colleagues, we are committed to taking forward the JCPOA’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism negotiations, with the desire to bring Iran back into compliance with the agreement.

We do not support a move to snapback at this time, which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA.

 

French mission to the U.N. on August 14: France reaffirms its commitment to the preservation of the JCPOA and to Council resolution 2231, which endorsed it.

Because we remain committed to the JCPOA, we are extremely concerned about the violations by Iran of its nuclear commitments under the Agreement. We urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA without delay, and we will continue our ongoing efforts under the JCPOA dispute resolution mechanism to bring Iran back to full compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA.

We are also very concerned about Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, including Iran’s repeated violations of the provisions of Resolution 2231 on conventional arms, through transfers toward Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, including to non-state actors. In this context, the expiry of the United Nations embargo on conventional arms established by Resolution 2231, scheduled for October this year, could have serious consequences for regional security and stability. We share the concerns expressed by several members of the Security Council and countries of the region on this issue. The Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have said it on several occasions and reaffirmed it in their statement of June 19th 2020.

However, France abstained on the proposed draft resolution because it does not constitute an appropriate response to the challenges posed by the expiry of the embargo and because it is not likely to advance the security and stability of the region, as it cannot gather the support of the Council, nor is it a sufficient basis for working towards a consensus.

We remain guided by the objective of respecting the authority and integrity of the Security Council and preserving regional stability and security and the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The period before the expiry of restrictions should be used to consider, in good faith, all diplomatic options.

 

German mission to the U.N. on August 14: Germany remains committed to fully implementing Security Council resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA. Together with France and the United Kingdom, we have been working hard to preserve the JCPOA despite the challenges caused by the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018 and Iran’s systematic non-compliance with key JCPOA commitments since July 2019 – and we will continue our efforts. We remain committed to the preservation of the JCPOA and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the agreement and return to full compliance without delay.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned about Iran’s conduct in the region. Since resolution 2231 was adopted, Iran has repeatedly violated the provisions of the Security Council’s conventional arms restrictions, including through the transfer of weapons to Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, including to non-state actors. We therefore share the concerns expressed by a number of Council Members about the scheduled expiry of the UNSC’s conventional arms restrictions on Iran this October. E3 Foreign Ministers have been clear that the expiry of these restrictions would have implications for regional security and stability.  

However, Germany abstained on this resolution because it does not enable us to effectively address the risks identified above and to improve security and stability in the region. It was clear that the draft would fall short of attracting the support of the Security Council. We rather believe that more time and more consultations are needed to seek a path forward that could provide adequate answers to the challenges arising from the arms embargo expiry and that would be acceptable to all UNSC member states.

We have been engaging with Council members in this sense and have discussed a number of possible ways forward. We are ready to continue these discussions in order to find a pragmatic way forward, which addresses our collective concerns. In this regard, we are guided by the objectives of upholding the authority and integrity of the U.N. Security Council, working towards regional security and stability and preserving the JCPOA as a cornerstone of regional security and the global non-proliferation Regime.

 

Russia

President Vladimir Putin on August 14: Debates around the Iranian issue within the U.N. Security Council are becoming increasingly strained. Tensions are running high. Iran faces groundless accusations. Resolutions are being drafted with a view to dismantling decisions that had been unanimously adopted by the Security Council.

Russia maintains its unwavering commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Its approval in 2015 was a landmark political and diplomatic achievement that helped fend off the threat of an armed conflict and reinforced nuclear non-proliferation.

In 2019, Russia presented an updated version of its Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Region, outlining concrete and effective paths to unravelling the tangle of concerns in this region. We strongly believe that these problems can be overcome if we treat each other’s positions with due attention and responsibility, while acting respectfully and in a collective spirit.

Like anywhere else in the world, there is no place for blackmail or dictate in this region, no matter the source. Unilateral approaches will not help bring about solutions

It is essential that the positive experience gained earlier through intensive effort is maintained when building an inclusive security architecture in the Persian Gulf.

Accordingly, we propose convening an online meeting of the heads of state of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, with the participation of the heads of Germany and Iran, as soon as possible, in order to outline steps that can prevent confrontation or a spike in tensions within the U.N. Security Council. It is important to secure collective support for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 that sets forth an international legal framework for the execution of the JCPOA.

During this leaders’ meeting, we propose agreeing on parameters for joint efforts to facilitate the emergence of reliable mechanisms in the Persian Gulf region for ensuring security and confidence building. This can be achieved if our countries and the regional states combine their political will and creative energy.

We call on our partners to carefully consider this proposal. Otherwise, we could see the further escalation of tension and an increased risk of conflict. This must be avoided. Russia is open to working constructively with anyone interested in taking the situation back from the dangerous brink.

This is an urgent matter. Should the leaders agree in principle to have this conversation, we propose that the foreign ministries of the seven countries agree on a meeting agenda, make the necessary arrangements and schedule a video summit.

 

Russian Mission to the U.N. on August 14: The Russian delegation voted against the draft Security Council resolution on “arms embargo” against Iran proposed by the USA.

We consistently oppose attempts to impose through the U.N. Security Council “arms embargo” on Iran. A case by case approval procedure for arms transfers to and from Iran in the UNSC resolution 2231 (2015) has neither been linked to Iran’s right to develop its peaceful nuclear program, nor it has been a subject to any other conditions. From the very start it has been temporary, introduced exactly for a five-year term and has never been meant to be extended.

We continue to proceed from the assumption that there are neither legal, nor any other reasons to review such approach.

Moreover, the US proposal is a clear violation of Annex B of U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which clearly stipulates that the only legitimate way to revise the timeline for the above-mentioned regime of arms transfer is the consensus decision of the JCPOA Joint Commission. However, the US forfeited the right to make use of this instrument since it deliberately withdrew from the Plan in 2018 and never made secret out of it.

Russia remains totally committed to the JCPOA. Its adoption in 2015 was a landmark political and diplomatic achievement that helped avert the threat of an armed conflict and reinforced nuclear non-proliferation.

We strongly believe that there is an alternative to threats and blackmail, confrontation and coercion. The mutually acceptable solution lies in the field of multilateral actions that take into account legitimate security concerns of all regional players. It is high time to launch a broad regional dialogue embracing all interested parties to de-escalate tensions and look for pragmatic compromised-based decisions. All of the concerns could be addressed if we treat each other’s positions with due regard and responsibility, while acting respectfully and in a collective spirit.

Therefore, on August 14 the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin suggested convening an online meeting of the heads of state of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, with the participation of the heads of Germany and Iran, as soon as possible, in order to outline steps that can prevent confrontation or a spike in tensions in the U.N. Security Council. We circulated the text of his statement today as a document of the Security Council.

At this leaders’ meeting, the Russian Federation proposes agreeing on parameters for joint efforts to facilitate the establishment of reliable mechanisms in the Persian Gulf region for ensuring security and confidence building.

We call on our partners to carefully consider this proposal. Otherwise, we could see the further escalation of tension and an increased risk of conflict. This must be avoided. Russia is ready to work constructively with all parties interested in taking the situation back from the dangerous brink.

 

 

China

Ambassador Zhang Jung on August 14: On 14 August 2020, the United Nations Security Council voted on the United States draft resolution on extending arms embargo on Iran. China and Russia voted against the draft, and 11 Council members abstained in the voting. The draft resolution was not adopted at the Security Council. The overwhelming majority of the Council members were against the US wrongdoing, and held the view that the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231 should be earnestly preserved and implemented. Ambassador Zhang Jun, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, made an explanation of vote.

Ambassador Zhang Jun pointed out that the US draft resolution is about reimposing sanctions on Iran, and a continuation of the "maximum pressure" policy which is inconsistent with the spirit of the JCPOA and the provisions of UNSCR 2231. The US draft has no legal ground and common sense. The overwhelming majority of the Security Council members have expressed reservations about the draft. However, the US has ignored those concerns and insisted on asking the Security Council to take action. Under such circumstances, China has voted against the draft resolution with a view to safeguarding the authority of the Security Council, the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, and regional peace and stability.

Ambassador Zhang Jun pointed out that the US unilaterally announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, and has been advancing the so-called "maximum pressure" policy and trying all means to obstruct the implementation of the JCPOA by other parties. These acts have further escalated tensions on the Iranian nuclear issue. Recently the US has repeatedly claimed it will invoke the snapback mechanism. Having withdrawn from the JCPOA, the US is no longer a JCPOA participant and therefore ineligible to demand the Security Council invoke a snapback. The overwhelming majority of the Security Council members believe that the US attempt has no legal basis. Should the US insist regardless of international opinion, it is doomed to fail again.

Ambassador Zhang Jun pointed out that the voting result once again shows that unilateralism receives no support and bullying will fail. Any attempt to place one's own interest above the common interest of the international community is a dead end. In recent years, in pursuing unilateralism and "America first", the US has abandoned its international obligations, and withdrawn from multilateral agreements and international organizations, shattering its own credibility. China urges the US to abandon unilateralism, and stop unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction. The US should adopt a reasonable and realistic attitude, and return to the right track of observing the JCPOA and the UNSC resolution.

Ambassador Zhang Jun emphasized that diplomatic dialogue and consultation is the only right way forward. Preserving and implementing the JCPOA is of vital importance. We should facilitate dialogue and consultation among relevant parties through established channels including the Joint Commission, and a new regional cooperation mechanism, to properly address differences among regional countries. China will continue to work with the international community to jointly uphold the JCPOA and the UNSC resolution. China will always be on the side of international fairness and justice, world peace and stability, and multilateralism, and work hard for the political settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue.

The JCPOA was reached between Iran and China, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the European Union on 14 July 2015. According to the JCPOA, Iran commits to restricting its nuclear program and the international community will lift sanctions imposed on it. On 20 July 2015, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2231 endorsing the JCPOA.