U.S. Orders Snapback Sanctions on Iran

On August 20, the United States notified the U.N. Security Council that it would reimpose multilateral sanctions on Iran for violating terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Security Council President Dian Triansyah Djani that the United States had triggered the so-called snapback mechanism negotiated as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In New York, Pompeo declared that all U.N. sanctions suspended under the JCPOA would resume after 30 days. 

The United States faced immediate pushback from the five other parties to the agreement: Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia. The three European (E3) parties to the agreement argued that the United States had no standing to trigger snapback since it had withdrawn from the historic accord in May 2018. “The U.S. ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal,” the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a joint statement. “We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA.” 

Russia and China also said they do not recognize U.S. authority to snapback U.N. sanctions on Iran. “The U.S. is not triggering a snapback,” U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. “Snapback can be triggered by a country which is a participant of the JCPOA, which the United States is not.” The Chinese mission to the U.N. rejected the move outright. “The U.S. demand has no legal ground and common sense. It is nothing but a political show staged by the United States. It receives no support of the Security Council members and no acknowledgment of the international community.”


Iran also said that the United States had no legal right to trigger snapback after leaving the JCPOA in May 2018. Iranian U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi called Pompeo’s letter “null and void” and urged the Security Council to side with Iran. “The U.S. move is a clear example of abusing the process, which is prohibited under international law,” Ravanchi said. “This is nothing but a legal and political bullying.”

Pompeo’s call for snapback sanctions followed the rejection of a U.S. resolution that would extend the ban on the sale of conventional arms to Iran. The embargo, which was put in place as part of the nuclear deal, is set to expire on October 18. The U.S. resolution was defeated on August 14 by a vote of only two in favor and two against with 11 abstentions. The Trump Administration insists that the embargo must continue because it invoked the snapback provision. “Our message is very, very simple,” Pompeo told reporters. “The United States will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles and other kinds of conventional weapons.”

In New York, Pompeo claimed that officials in Britain, France and Germany had “privately” told him they did not want the arms embargo lifted but had “provided no alternatives.” The E3 acknowledged that they had concerns about Iran’s potential acquisition of addition arms but they rejected the Trump administration’s approach as needlessly divisive. “Our efforts will be guided by the need to uphold the authority and integrity of the UN Security Council and to advance regional security and stability,” they said. 

On August 25, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, Security Council president for August, said he was “not in the position to take further action” on the U.S. initiative to snapback sanctions. Thirteen of the 15 council members had sent individual or joint letters to the president saying that the United States could not use the mechanism since it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.  

Ambassador Kraft criticized the other council members after Djani spoke during a meeting on the Middle East. “Let me just make it really, really clear: the Trump administration has no fear in standing in limited company on this matter,” she said. “I only regret that other members of this council have lost their way and now find themselves standing in the company of terrorists.”

In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Pompeo’s “lawless bullying leaves U.S. isolated again.”


United States

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on August 20: "Just a few minutes ago, I delivered letters to both the UN Secretary-General Guterres and to the president of the Security Council.

"I notified them that the United States is initiating the restoration of virtually all UN sanctions on Iran lifted under UN Security Council Resolution 2231.  This process will lead to those sanctions coming back into effect 30 days from today.

"Our message is very, very simple: the United States will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles, and other kinds of conventional weapons.  These UN sanctions will continue the arms embargo.

"I’m pleased to say, too, that these restored sanctions will also reimpose accountability for other forms of Iranian malign activity that the authors of the nuclear deal foolishly downplayed.  Iran will be again prohibited from ballistic missile testing.  Iran will be back under sanctions for ongoing nuclear activities – such as the enrichment of nuclear material – that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program.

"This is happening, of course, at a moment when Iran is refusing to allow the IAEA to inspect sites suspected of undeclared nuclear activity, that were formerly part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

"President Trump and this administration have discarded the fiction that the regime merely seeks a peaceful nuclear program.  We will never allow the Islamic Republic of Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

"Our actions today too should come as no surprise to anyone.  Our team has made every diplomatic effort over now almost two years to renew this arms embargo.  I want to thank the Dominican Republic for standing with us in this effort."

"Our friends in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom – the E3 – all told me privately that they don’t want the arms embargo lifted either.

"And yet today, in the end, they provided no alternatives, no options.  No country but the United States had the courage and conviction to put forward a resolution.  Instead, they chose to side with ayatollahs.  Their actions endanger the people of Iraq, of Yemen, of Lebanon, of Syria – and indeed, their own citizens as well.

"In stark contrast, the Gulf Cooperation Council nations deserve praise for showing courage and unity in warning about the danger from Iran.

"Two weeks ago, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates sent a letter to the Security Council urging a renewal of the arms embargo before it expired in October.

"As Iran’s neighbors, they know better than anyone else the havoc that Iran could create with these weapons.  Look, the world – and especially our European friends on the Security Council – should have heeded their words.

"America won’t join in this failure of leadership.  America will not appease.  America will lead.

"The leadership begins with recognizing the Islamic Republic of Iran for what it truly is: a theocratic, revolutionary, brutish regime that will not voluntarily seek peace or make life better for the Iranian people.

"The one-sided, foolish nuclear deal didn’t bring security for America, it didn’t bring stability to the Middle East, nor did it moderate the regime’s behavior – and it never can.  It never will.

"Today’s actions put additional pressure Iran to behave like a normal country, and to come back to the bargaining table.

"We call on the international community to join us in crafting a stronger deal that addresses the full range of Iran’s malign behavior and protects people of all nations that simply want to live free from Iranian predation. 



Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a letter to the U.N. Security Council's president on August 20: "The  reckless  and  unlawful  U.S.  position  disregards  well-established  rules  of international law and practices that have been formed over the course of centuries to save our world from anarchy.

"U.S. justifications for its self-arrogated right to the “reapplication of the provisions of terminated resolutions” on Iran have no credibility or legitimacy, and need to be rejected by the Council. It is imperative for the international community to be vigilant about such abuse of Security Council procedures. Iran urges the Council to halt this abuse of process—one that will have serious consequences for international peace and security."

"As indicated at the outset of Paragraph 10 of the UNSCR 2231, the Dispute Resolution Mechanism is only open to  the  actual  JCPOA  Participants—and not to a defected “original” participant that willfully and explicitly decided  to  “cease participation”, actively sought to destroy the instrument, and subsequently relinquished all its prerogatives and privileges."

The procedure is not a self-executive one and is subjected to conditions specified in Paragraphs 36 and 37 of the JCPOA as attached to and endorsed by UNSCR 2231 and operative Paragraphs 10-13 of UNSCR 2231.The illegal attempt by the U.S. to abuse the Dispute Resolution Mechanism for the purpose of destroying UNSCR 2231 and the JCPOA must be regarded as an abuse of process which will have a negative impact on the fundamental credibility and integrity of the U.N. Security Council."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has already and clearly shown its good faith and full responsibility. Now, it is the turn of the  international  community. Accordingly, I urge the Security Council to take  all  appropriate measures to prevent the  U.S.—an unapologetic and serial violator of UNSCR  2231—from  unilaterally and unlawfully abusing the Dispute Resolution Mechanism, with the stated objective of destroying the JCPOA and UNSCR 231, and refrain from admitting the notification and recognizing any effect arising therefrom. The Iranian people rightfully expect the Council to guarantee their rights under the Resolution, and bring the United States to account for the irreparable harm inflicted on the entire Iranian nation merely for reasons of personal aggrandizement or domestic political expediency."

U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi on August 20: "Today, the U.S. attempted to mislead the international community by resorting to lies and fabrications to supposedly initiate a mechanism under Resolution 2231. According to conclusive legal facts, the U.S. is not a “JCPOA participant” and has “no right” to trigger the so-called snapback mechanism, and its arbitrary interpretation of Resolution 2231 cannot change the reality.

"Thus, we are of the firm conviction that the letter sent by the U.S. today to the Security Council’s President, and all references therein is null and void and has no legal standing and thus inadmissible. Failed in its recent attempt to convince the Security Council to impose arms embargo on Iran, this time, the U.S. intends to apply its so-called “maximum pressure” policy on the UN, the Security Council and its members.

"The U.S. move is a clear example of abusing the process, which is prohibited under international law. This is nothing but a legal and political bullying. Through political maneuvering, media campaign and creating legal confusion, the U.S. wants to create a self-arrogated right which does not exist.

"The U.S. has no such right because it has officially ceased its participation in the JCPOA, and in practice, since then it has not participated in any JCPOA-related meetings, events or activities. The U.S. officials themselves have admitted repeatedly in the past two years that the U.S. has no right to snapback since it is not a JCPOA participant anymore. No country can claim for a right that it has already abandoned. This is an established principle of international law.

"Even if the U.S. was in the JCPOA, it could not have triggered snapback, for three reasons:

"First) It continues to grossly violate its obligations under Resolution 2231 and under international law, a party which does not fulfil its own obligations cannot be recognized as retaining the rights which it claims to derive from the relationship.

"Second) The exhaustion of the JCPOA dispute resolution process is an essential prerequisite of initiating snapback and the U.S. has not even started that process.

"Third) Resolution 2231 stipulates that a party initiating snapback must make good-faith efforts to resolve the issue before notifying the Council. The U.S. not only lacks “good faith” in initiating snapback but its policies and practices clearly indicate that it continues to have bad-faith towards the JCPOA and Resolution 2231.

"Therefore, the international community must resist the U.S. outlaw behavior and protect the UN’s credibility and ensure the rule of law."


Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saeed Khatibzadeh on August 21: "First of all, I deem it necessary to emphasize that in the course of reporting the news and developments relating to the United States’ baseless attempt to reinstate the Security Council resolutions that have been terminated under the Resolution 2231, we see the attempts from a series of foreign media to offer an incorrect interpretation." 

"Such news approach is seeking to portray that a mere request made by the U.S. has nullified the resolutions and the sanctions have been re-imposed subsequently, and Iran would be sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council."

"Nevertheless, the U.S. has no authority to take such action, and has only submitted a ‘request’ to the rotating president of the Security Council in a measure in violation of the international law’s regulations and norms and of the Resolution 2231. The US’ competence to submit such request has been rejected by all JCPOA members, and the US has become so isolated, even among its allies, that it has called the three European states (U.K., France and Germany) the allies of Iran’s ayatollahs."

"All remaining parties to the JCPOA, including the three European states of Germany, the U.K. and France, as well as Russia and China, have opposed such groundless and illegal request from the United States immediately and strongly, and have also informed the Security Council president about it. The other Security Council members will be adopting similar stances in the coming days as well."

"Washington will never achieve its illegitimate objective."

Iranian Mission to the United Nations on August 25: Today, the overwhelming majority of the Security Council members rejected once again the admissibility of the recent letter by the United States to purportedly initiate a process to re-impose Security Council sanctions on Iran.

Through individual or joint letters addressed to the Council’s President, 13 out of 15 members of the Security Council -- including remaining participant States of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- as well as Iran have already strongly refuted the legal merit of the U.S. letter. 

The Council members have made it clear that, the U.S., following its withdrawal from the JCPOA, is not a “JCPOA participant” anymore and as such has no right to initiate a process to re-impose Security Council sanctions on Iran as this right has been reserved only for “the JCPOA participant States”. 

They believe that the U.S. has forfeited its right to initiate a process to re-impose Security Council sanctions on Iran, and accordingly, its letter cannot be considered as the qualified notification for the purpose of Resolution 2231, thus is void of any legal effect now and in future.

Iran’s position regarding the U.S. attempt is also quite clear. That letter, including all references therein, are null and void, have no legal standing and effect and are thus completely inadmissible. Our relevant solid legal arguments and detailed supporting references are contained in the letter of our Foreign Minister addressed to the Council’s President and issued as a Security Council document.

Today’s deliberations in the Security Council showed once more the U.S.’s isolation on the JCPOA and Resolution 2231. Given that the stated objective of the U.S. is to destroy Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA, Iran trusts that the Council members will continue preventing that country from undermining the UN, including the Security Council.

Regarding unfounded accusations against Iran raised in the Council meeting by the U.S., it must be stressed that almost all problems in the Middle East stem from the continued occupation of Palestine by the Israeli regime and its expansionist policies supported by the U.S., as well as the meddling, destabilizing policies and destructive practices of the United States, which cannot be covered up by no amount of smear campaign.



Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Britain, France and Germany on August 20: "On August 20th, the US sent a letter to the UN Security Council requesting to initiate the ‘snapback’ mechanism, which allows a participant to the JCPOA to seek the reimposition against Iran of the multilateral sanctions lifted in 2015 in accordance with resolution 2231, adopted by the UN Security Council. France, Germany and the United Kingdom (“the E3”) note that the U.S. ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018. 

"Our position regarding the effectiveness of the U.S. notification pursuant to resolution 2231 has consequently been very clearly expressed to the Presidency and all UNSC Members. We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA.

"France, Germany and the United Kingdom (“the E3”) are committed to preserving the processes and institutions which constitute the foundation of multilateralism. We remain guided by the objective of upholding the authority and integrity of the United Nations Security Council. We call on all UNSC members to refrain from any action that would only deepen divisions in the Security Council or that would have serious adverse consequences on its work.

"We remain committed to the JCPOA despite the significant challenges caused by US withdrawal. We believe that we should address the current issue of systematic Iranian non-compliance with its JCPOA obligations through dialogue between JCPOA participants, including through the Joint Commission and use of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism. In order to preserve the agreement, we urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with its nuclear commitments and return to full compliance without delay.

"As we have already underlined, including in our June 19 statement, we have serious concerns regarding the implications for regional security of the scheduled expiry of the UN Conventional arms embargo, particularly given Iran’s destabilising activities, which continue unabated. The E3 are determined to bring adequate answers to these challenges and will continue to work with all UNSC members and stakeholders to seek a path forward that preserves space for further diplomacy. Our efforts will be guided by the need to uphold the authority and integrity of the UN Security Council and to advance regional security and stability. 


Statement by EU High Representative Josep Borrell on August 20: As I have repeatedly recalled, the US unilaterally ceased participation in the JCPOA by presidential Memorandum on 8 May 2018 and has subsequently not participated in any JCPOA-related activities. It cannot, therefore, be considered to be a JCPOA participant State for the purposes of possible sanctions snapback foreseen by the resolution.

As coordinator of the JCPOA Joint Commission I will continue to do everything possible to ensure the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA by all. The JCPOA remains a key pillar of the global non-proliferation architecture, contributing to regional security.


Statement by EU External Action Service on September 1A meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) took place in Vienna on Tuesday 1st September. Under the terms of the JCPOA, the Joint Commission is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement. The Joint Commission was chaired, on behalf of EU High Representative Josep Borrell, by EEAS Secretary General Helga-Maria Schmid and was attended by representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran at the level of Political Directors/Deputy Foreign Ministers.

All participants reaffirmed the importance of preserving the agreement recalling that it is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, as endorsed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015). Full implementation of the agreement by all sides remains crucial.

In light of recent discussions in the UN Security Council in New York concerning the issue of the attempted reinstatement of previously lifted UN sanctions, the participants reaffirmed that the United States unilaterally announced its cessation of participation in the JCPOA on 8 May 2018 and that it had not participated in any JCPOA-related activities subsequently. Participants reconfirmed that it therefore could not be considered as a participant State. In this regard, participants also reaffirmed their various statements and communications made previously at the UN Security Council including that of the High Representative of 20 August as the Coordinator of the JCPOA to the effect that the US cannot initiate the process of reinstating UN sanctions under UNSC resolution 2231.

Participants welcomed the Joint Statement of Iran and the IAEA dated 26 August, the implementation of which has already started. In this context, they recalled the important role of the IAEA as the sole impartial and independent international organisation responsible for the monitoring and verification of nuclear non-proliferation commitments.

The Joint Commission addressed nuclear as well as sanctions lifting issues under the agreement. Experts will continue discussions on all issues of concern.

Participants reiterated the importance of nuclear non-proliferation projects, in particular the Arak Modernisation Project and the stable isotope project in Fordow. Taking into account the potential consequences of the US decision in May to end the Arak waiver, participants reiterated their strong support and collective responsibility for the continuation of the project.

The meeting took place against the background of the coronavirus pandemic. Participants expressed their solidarity with all countries affected and with their efforts to address the outbreak. The Joint Commission had not been able to convene recently due to relevant travel restrictions.



U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on August 20: "The U.S. is not triggering a snapback. Snapback can be triggered by a country which is a participant of the JCPOA, which the United States is not. It officially withdrew from the JCPOA. That is the question that every delegation in the Security Council will inevitably face… we consider snapback as non-existent. We will not take it as a snapback what they presumably notify today the Presidency of the Security Council."


Ambassador to International Organizations Mikhail Ulyanov on August 20: "I wonder if supporters of snapback considered implications? Let’s imagine they succeed in restoration of UN sanctions and derailing #JCPOA ( which isn’t going to happen). In this case the Iranian nuclear program would become non-transparent and verification-free. Great result?"



Chinese Mission to the U.N. on August 20: "The U.S. demand has no legal ground and common sense. It is nothing but a political show staged by the United States. It receives no support of the Security Council members and no acknowledgment of the international community.

"The JCPOA, endorsed by UNSC Resolution 2231, has the force of international law. In May 2018, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and reinstated illegal unilateral sanctions against Iran. This violated the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution 2231. Having quit the JCPOA, the United States is no longer a participant to the JCPOA and has no right to demand the Security Council invoke a snapback as stipulated in Resolution 2231. In the meantime, a snapback mechanism should never be invoked until all efforts are made to exhaust dispute resolution process specified in the JCPOA. Therefore, the JCPOA participants and overwhelming majority of the Security Council members believe that the US demand has no legal basis, and a snapback mechanism has not been invoked. Ambassador Zhang Jun has sent a letter to the President of the Security Council, expressing China’s opposition to the U.S. demand.

"China will work with relevant parties to continue to uphold the just position, resolutely preserve the JCPOA and UNSC resolution, safeguard multilateralism, the authority of the Security Council, the international non-proliferation regime and regional peace and stability, and seek a political and diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. At the same time, we are firmly against US unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction” against other countries in the name of Iranian nuclear issue, and will continue to safeguard our legitimate rights and interests."


Some of the information in this article was originally published on August 21, 2020.