The Trump administration will move to reimpose UN sanctions against Iran this weekend despite the fact that global allies and adversaries alike are set to effectively ignore the move.
It is the latest move in the “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran – one that has left the US largely isolated. It comes after the administration failed to extend the conventional weapons embargo set to expire next month under the Iran nuclear deal.
Experts told CNN that this unilateral effort – which comes less than two months before the presidential election – is unlikely to have an impact on arms sales on its own. Some say the move further alienates the US from its E3 allies – Germany, France and the United Kingdom – and serves to further undercut the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
Although the US withdrew from that deal in 2018, administration officials have argued they have the legal authority to trigger the sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement.
Special Representative for Iran Elliott Abrams told reporters this week that come Saturday at 8 pm ET “virtually all UN sanctions on Iran will come back into place.”
“We expect every nation to comply with UN Security Council resolutions – period, full stop,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday. “And the United States is intent on enforcing all the UN Security Council resolutions. And come Monday, there will be a new series of UN Security Council resolutions that we enforce, and we intend to ask every country to stand behind them.”
But given that most countries have rebuffed the US’ legal argument and are poised to ignore the snapback sanctions, “absolutely nothing will change,” said Barbara Slavin, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
“It has no practical meaning, and in a sense it just makes look ridiculous and and more isolated, because we are running around screaming, you know, ‘This is the case,’ and the rest of the world is saying, ‘No, it’s not,’ ” she told CNN.
“It is still illegal under US law for American companies to sell arms to Iran. There is a European arms embargo, which will continue until 2023. And the rest of the world will wait for US presidential elections and then make its decision about whether or not to sell weapons to Iran,” Slavin said. “This is really more about the Trump administration trying to bury the JCPOA while it thinks it has the opportunity.”
Slavin and Eric Brewer, deputy director and senior fellow with the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, both noted that the US could already take a broad range of sanctions actions under its own authorities without reimposing snapback sanctions.
“I do think this is mostly at this point about inducing the collapse of the JCPOA, because I think the administration has kind of realized at this point that that is really standing in the way of what they argue is their goal of putting enormous pressure on Iran, to the point where it comes back to the table and is willing to make a range of concessions on the demands that the United States has laid out,” Brewer told CNN.
Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that “the JCPOA is basically dead already. We just haven’t had the funeral.”
Goldberg told CNN that he would expect President Donald Trump to issue an executive order “that authorizes sanctions to be imposed on any firm or individual connected to the transfer of advanced conventional arms to Iran going forward.”
“This is a major threat to their global defense sales, both from Moscow and Beijing,” he said. “They’ll have to make a calculation, if the President is willing to enforce those sanctions, do they want to sacrifice or put at risk their other sales around the world just to help the Islamic Republic.”
However, the experts said Russia and China are unlikely to move forward with any arms transfers until after the US election in November.
“Nobody is really in the mood to rush any of this before November, when we see what happens in the United States,” Brewer said.