Part 4: Pompeo, Zarif Spar on U.N. Arms Embargo

On June 30, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif clashed over the future of the U.N. conventional arms embargo on Iran, which was set to expire in October. The two officials spoke at a virtual meeting of the Security Council convened to debate whether to extend the embargo. Pompeo warned that lifting the ban on selling arms to Tehran would further destabilize the Middle East. Zarif countered that extending the arms embargo would erode U.N. legitimacy. The timeline was originally outlined in U.N. resolution 2231, which was unanimously approved to enshrine the 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and the world’s six major powers. The Security Council began debate on the arms embargo on June 24.

UNSC meeting
The virtual U.N. Security Council session to debate the Iran arms embargo.

Pompeo urged the fifteen-member body to support a new resolution that would indefinitely extend the ban. He appealed to Russia and China – two of the five permanent members with veto power – to back the proposal for their economic and energy interests. “Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices,” he said.

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America’s top diplomat accused Iran of being a “rogue weapons dealer” that would be able to buy and sell advanced weaponry arm proxies in Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority. Iran would also be able to acquire submarines that could threaten international shipping in the Persian Gulf and advanced aircraft that could reach Europe, he added.

Zarif called on the Security Council to reject the U.S. proposal and allow the embargo to expire in October. He accused the United States of violating international law and “punishing” other states that adhered to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Security Council Resolution 2231. “Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?” Zarif asked.

The Iranian foreign minister also rejected a proposed compromise by European powers that would extend the arms embargo for up to 12 months. He said that there should be no “middle ground formula” that would allow the U.S. to save face. “Any attempt to change or amend the agreed timetable is thus tantamount to undermining Resolution 2231 in its entirety,” he said. The following are statements by Pompeo and Zarif.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Because of the flawed nuclear deal negotiated by the previous American administration, the arms embargo on the world’s most heinous terrorist regime is scheduled to expire on October 18th, a mere four months from now.  Four months.

This chamber has a choice:  Stand for international peace and security, as the United Nations’ founders intended, or let the arms embargo on the Islamic Republic of Iran expire, betraying the UN’s mission and its finest ideals, which we have all pledged to uphold.

If you fail to act, Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000 kilometer radius, putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in Iranian crosshairs. 

Iran will be free to upgrade and expand its fleet of submarines to further threaten international shipping and freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, and the Arabian Sea.

Iran will be free to purchase new and advanced technologies for its proxies and partners throughout the Middle East, including Hamas, Hizballah, and the Houthis.

Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices.

Iran will be free to become a rogue weapons dealer, supplying arms to fuel conflicts from Venezuela, to Syria, to the far reaches of Afghanistan.


In November of last year, President Rouhani himself said, quote, “When the embargo… is lifted next year, we can easily buy and sell weapons,” end of quote.  We should take him at his word.

Iran is not a responsible democracy like Australia or India.  We already know what Tehran will do, if given the ability to buy more weaponry.

Just consider the secretary general’s UNSCR 2231 report that we’re discussing today.  The report confirmed that weapons used to attack Saudi Arabia in September 2019 were of Iranian origin.  The report has also confirmed the weapons interdicted off the coast of Yemen in November of 2019 and February 2020 were of Iranian origin.

Iran is already violating the arms embargo, even before its expiration date.  Imagine if Iranian activity were sanctioned, authorized by this group, if the restrictions were lifted.

And we don’t need the secretary general’s report to see what else the regime is doing.  In January, Iran launched an attack on the coalition forces in Iraq with its own advanced missiles. 

Iran, even as we sit here today, supplies Shia militia groups like Kata’ib Hizballah – groups which have launched dozens of rocket attacks since the fall of last year against U.S. and coalition forces fighting the important continued important campaign against Daesh.

Iran unleashes ship-mining attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman, as it did in May and June of last year.

Nearly all countries have arms.  Mature nations use them for defensive purposes and to promote stability. 

But not the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Don’t just take it from me or from the United States; listen to countries in the region.  From Israel to the Gulf, countries in the Middle East – who are most exposed to Iran’s predations – are speaking with a single voice:  Extend the arms embargo.

This council has a responsibility to listen to them.

The United States’ overwhelming preference is to work with this council to extend the arms embargo to protect human life, to protect our national security, and to protect yours.

We’ve imposed arms restrictions on Tehran in various forms for 13 years, and with good reason, and to substantial effect.

When we unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1747 back in 2007 – which, among other actions, prohibited arms transfers from Iran – the United Kingdom’s representative to the council said, quote, “The path of proliferation by Iran is not one that the international community can accept,” end of quote.

I welcome the statement from the United Kingdom, from France and Germany, recently recognizing that lifting the embargo would have major implications for regional security and stability.

I also welcome the support of almost 400 members of the United States Congress.  For those of you not tracking, there’s only 435.  Those almost 400 members supported my diplomacy to extend this arms embargo.  Our concern is a matter of national security, not partisan politics.

We saw from Iran’s actions while implementing the JCPOA that the regime doesn’t moderate when we lift sanctions or weaken accountability.

In fact, it does just the opposite.

While still claiming to remain in the deal, Iran, by its own admission, and as confirmed by the IAEA, is showing no signs of slowing its destabilizing nuclear escalation. 

Iran is also accumulating dangerous knowledge.  For example, late last year Iran announced that its scientists were working on a new centrifuge – the IR-9 – that would allow Tehran to enrich uranium up to 50 times faster than the IR-1 centrifuges allowed under the JCPOA.

Even as Iran pursues research that could threaten its breakout time to a nuclear weapon, it’s also denied IAEA inspections access to locations Iran is obligated to provide.

This council cannot simply hope that Iran acts in good faith, given its indisputable fact pattern.

The council must hold Iran accountable.  And we all have the chance to do so. 

I’ll close with this.  I’ll close with an appeal to our greater purpose.

Article I of the UN Charter says the purpose of the UN is to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to … peace.”

Consider the overwhelming evidence that I’ve detailed today.  It’s a fraction of the evidence available.  If Iran isn’t a threat to peace that demands a collective measure, I do not know what is.

The council must reject extortion diplomacy.  President Rouhani recently declared, quote, “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”  End of quote. 

Given the Iranian regime’s history of resorting to terrorism and violence, perhaps we should take this threat seriously.  Iran’s foreign minister will speak today.  I hope he’ll tell us – I hope he’ll tell us whom he intends to crush and how he will crush them.     

Renewing the embargo will exert more pressure on Tehran to start behaving like a normal nation.

The world needs this to happen.  The long-suffering Iranian people need this to happen.

Seventy-five years ago, the founders of the UN came together after the devastation of World War II to ensure that the world would never again have to face such horrors.

Let’s not shrink from the challenge before us simply because the path ahead seems hard.

Let’s uphold the mission of this body to address the threats to international peace and security that the Islamic Republic of Iran presents.    

And let’s take real action in the name of this council by extending the arms embargo. 

Thank you all for allowing me to be here today.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

I wish to begin my statement with words Prime Minister Mosaddegh used in this Council 59 years ago.

“The Security Council was established so that large and small nations alike might sit around the same table and cooperate for the maintenance of peace in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. The Council cannot perform its great task … unless big powers respect the principles which it was created to embody.”

Two years later, he was overthrown in a CIA coup.

Mr. President,

If this Council falters again, it will be a generational setback for the cause of multilateralism and the rule of law.

We have all in past years seen how malign U.S. unilateralism has intently assaulted international cooperation and international institutions. Through its parallel endeavor to supplant international law with U.S. domestic laws, this has directly undermined global peace and security.

Regrettably, complacency has enabled and encouraged this recklessness.

Indeed, complacency is a root cause for why we are gathered here today.

Iran and other members of the international community have, since the 8th of May 2018, been witnessing the U.S. Government—a co-sponsor of Security Council Resolution 2231—persistently flouting the Resolution, while also trying to force other States to join it in violating the very text it put forward itself. More dangerously, and for the first time in UN history, a permanent member of the Security Council is punishing law-abiding States and private citizens for not violating a Council resolution, which emphasized, and I quote, “promoting and facilitating the development of normal economic and trade contacts and cooperation with Iran.”

And yet, not a single Council session has been convened to reprove the U.S. Government, or to at least investigate its repeated violations. Instead, some European members of the Council are contemplating further undermining the Resolution and the Council while further reneging on their own JCPOA commitments.

To cover this up, the U.S. has—with some of its enablers—pressured the Secretariat to adopt a perverse reading of Resolution 2231—rejected by 3 JCPOA Participants, which is the polar opposite of the clear affirmation by the Security Council “that conclusion of the CPOA marks a fundamental shift in its consideration of this issue…”

The U.S.—along with its accomplices in war crimes in Yemen—have gone further in their now-infamous campaign of intimidation against international institutions. Most recently, they coerced the Secretariat to rely on self-serving allegations and forged documents to produce an utterly unprofessional report outside the scope of its mandate under UNSCR 2231. Not surprisingly, the Secretariat simultaneously absolved the Saudi coalition of its well-documented child-killing in Yemen.

This status quo is neither acceptable nor sustainable.

The international community in general—and the UN Security Council in particular—are facing an important decision: Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?

Mr. President,

In spite of our strong and legitimate objections to the historic mistreatment of Iran by the Security Council—particularly throughout 8 years of aggression by Saddam Hussein, as well as in the course of the unnecessary nuclear crisis—Iran showed its good faith by engaging in negotiations to reach a diplomatic solution as called for by all Security Council Resolutions on the nuclear issue . After thirteen years of complex negotiations, in 2015 Iran and the five permanent members of this Council plus Germany signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is annexed to—and inseparable from—Resolution 2231. Iran clearly stated its positions immediately after the adoption of the Resolution and again more recently. Yet, it fulfilled all its commitments in good faith, verified by numerous IAEA reports.

In spite of this great achievement of multilateral diplomacy, the president of the United States in May 2018 announced his country’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, and the unlawful re-imposition of all U.S. sanctions, in material breach of Resolution 2231. Prior to that, the U.S. had persistently committed multiple cases of “significant nonperformance” of its JCPOA obligations. It is important to note that even the previous U.S. Administration made every effort to minimize the positive impact of its sanction lifting obligations under the JCPOA and Resolution 2231.

This has all been documented in my numerous letters to the JCPOA Joint Commission Coordinator and the UN Secretary-General, all of which, unfortunately, have been ignored by the European JCPOA Participants.

Following the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, the UN Secretary General, the remaining JCPOA participants and many other members of the international  community called on Iran to address its concerns through the mechanisms established in the JCPOA and to allow the remaining JCPOA participants to redress the unlawful withdrawal.

The European JCPOA Participants requested Iran to wait for only a few weeks to allow them to compensate for the losses Iran incurred as a result of re-imposed U.S. sanctions.

While expressly reserving Iran’s immediate right under Paragraph 26, I initiated the Dispute Resolution Mechanism under Paragraph 36 of the JCPOA on 10 May 2018. However, acting in good faith, we refrained from applying the ‘remedy’ in order to enable the remaining JCPOA participants to make good on their promises. For a full year, we continued full implementation of the JCPOA. I trust you are all aware of the 15 consecutive IAEA reports which verified Iran's full compliance with its JCPOA commitments.

Unfortunately, the E3 response to our “strategic patience” was not a long overdue assertion of European “strategic autonomy.” Rather it was over-compliance with the U.S.’ “maximum pressure” targeting all Iranians.

On 6 November 2018, I made a final call on the Coordinator and the remaining JCPOA Participants under paragraph 36 of the JCPOA. “The United States has now re- imposed with full effect all sanctions specified in the JCPOA and its Annex II, and as elaborated above, no remedial measure has been implemented by the remaining JCPOA Participants. Most have effectively joined the restrictive measures against Iran…Either EU/E3+2—who have repeatedly underlined the security and strategic ramifications of JCPOA—should ensure Iran's legitimate benefits by fulfilling their commitments made in their statements of 6 July and 24 September 2018 in real and practical terms without further delay, or Iran will have no option but to restore a semblance of balance –as ‘the remedy that the participants contemplated if the dispute mechanism did not resolve the issue’… In view of the above, I formally call for the convening of another ministerial meeting of the Joint Commission.”

No meeting was convened and none of the European JCPOA Participants even bothered to write a rebuttal for another 6 months. Having repeatedly exhausted the Dispute Resolution Mechanism to absolutely no avail, my Government was left with no recourse but to exercise its rights under Paragraphs 26 and 36 of the JCPOA to apply remedial action and cease performing its commitments in part on 8 May 2019.

In spite of all this, our remedial measures have until now had no impact on the IAEA’s monitoring and verification of our peaceful nuclear program, thereby making any proliferation risks irrelevant. Indeed, Iran’s peaceful nuclear program remains subject to the “most robust” inspection regime in history. From 2016 through 2019, over 92 percent of the Agency’s total comparable global inspections were carried out in Iran.

Even the recent controversial report by the Director General of the IAEA on 5 June 2020 states that “The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and locations outside facilities where nuclear material is customarily used (LOFs) declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement.”

Having said that, the Agency must resist external pressures to manipulate its agenda. The litany of forged documents at its doorstep have a stated objective of forever killing the JCPOA, thereby ending the Agency’s robust monitoring of current activities in Iran. Resuscitating 17-year-old allegations with no proliferation risk—which were investigated and permanently closed by the IAEA Board of Governors in 2015—will certainly not serve the Agency.

Mr. President,

Matters which are extraneous to the JCPOA by mutual agreement—such as Iran’s defensive capabilities and regional policies—are being maliciously raised by the U.S. Administration and parroted by a handful of its allies and clients.

Here, it must be underlined that the bargain made in the JCPOA was in total cognizance of our disagreement with the Western members of the P5+1 over certain issues. Do not be deceived: we mutually agreed not to address these issues; most importantly because the United States was not prepared to—or probably even capable of—addressing our grave concerns over its unfathomable level of arms sales and build-up in our neighborhood, as well as its malign behavior and constant interventions, which have left our region in ruins.

The United States has carried out numerous acts of armed aggression against Iran and its neighbors; invaded our neighbors 3 times in the last 3 decades; milked the region of its resources through destabilizing arms sales; systematically supported terrorists; and provided material support for crimes against humanity in Yemen. The peoples of our region have had enough of the malign U.S. presence, and demand its termination. The bitter irony here is that most Americans also want their troops returned home, where they belong.

This very regime absurdly accuses Iran of “meddling” in its own region. Yes. Of course. We want to partner with all our neighbors to create a strong region that precludes the emergence of hegemonic aspirations, by any power—regional or global. A strong region that requires homegrown political and territorial stability. And a strong region for which all neighbors need to exercise strategic self-restraint. It was to this end that, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran put forward the Hormuz Peace Endeavor—HOPE. And we can do it. Without U.S. meddling some 6000 miles away from its shores.

Mr. President,

The International Court of Justice clearly underlined in its 1971 advisory opinion on Namibia, and I quote, “One of the fundamental principles governing international relationship thus established is that a party which disowns or does not fulfil its own obligations cannot be recognized as retaining the rights which it claims to derive from the relationship.”

After officially and explicitly ceasing its participation in the JCPOA at the highest level, and having violated each and every one of its obligations under the JCPOA and Resolution 2231, the U.S. cannot arrogate to itself any right under that Resolution. Nor can its enablers try to save its face via so-called middle-ground formulas.

The timetable for the removal of arms restrictions embodied in Resolution 2231 is an inseparable part of the hard-won compromise enabling the JCPOA Participants to finally agree on the overall package of the JCPOA and Resolution 2231. 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 a single State to abuse the process.

As specified in the letter of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the leaders of remaining JCPOA participants on 8 May 2019, any new restriction by the Security Council is against the fundamental commitments made to the Iranian people. In such a scenario, Iran’s options, as already notified to the remaining JCPOA participants, will be firm. And the United States and any entity which may assist it —or acquiesce in its illegal behavior—will bear full responsibility.

Mr. President,

The unlawful U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and the re-imposition of its sanctions entail the U.S. responsibility under the UNSCR 2231, UN Charter and applicable international law. The United States has also disregarded the decision of the International Court of Justice.

It’s long overdue for the international community, and in particular this Council, to hold U.S. Government accountable for the consequences of its wrongful acts—including its malicious endeavors to wage economic terrorism on the entire Iranian nation, willfully deprive them of food and medicine, and irreparably harm their economy and their standard of living. The United States must fully compensate the Iranian people for all damages it has inflicted upon them—appallingly, for no reason other than to satisfy domestic constituencies and personal aggrandizement.

While the Islamic Republic of Iran has shown—in words and deeds—our desire and preference for constructive engagement, we do not depend on others for our security, stability or prosperity. We have learned to solely depend on ourselves. That is why more than 40 years of U.S. pressure—whether through demonization or war, sanctions or terror—including the cowardly assassination of our region’s counter-terrorism hero, General Qassem Soleimani—has failed to “bring Iranians to their knees” or affect our people’s decision-making calculus.

For my final words, let me again borrow from Prime Minister Mossadegh’s speech before the Security Council in 1951: “The Council will not have failed to note the cogency of our arguments to the law. Yet, this is not a legal body, but primarily a political body charged with the highest political responsibilities. It will readily understand therefore, that we will not be coerced whether by foreign governments or by international authorities.”

Thank you, Mr. President.