Trump Demands Restoration of UN Sanctions on Iran

President Donald Trump speaks during an event at the Whirlpool Corporation facility in Clyde, Ohio, Aug. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday that the United States will formally demand Thursday that the United Nations restore nearly all previously ordered sanctions against Iran.

From the White House press briefing room on Wednesday night, the president said he officially directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to alert the United Nations security council on Thursday during his impending visit.

“It’s a snapback, it’s common,” Trump told reporters.

What is uncommon, however, is the U.S. demanding to play a role in a deal it already withdrew from some two years ago.

In 2018, Trump yanked the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or as it is more commonly known, the Iran nuclear deal. The deal removed sanctions from Iran in exchange for regular surveillance on its nuclear program by the U.S. and participating nations in the agreement.

The withdrawal by Trump was met with mixed reviews and sharp international criticism given that the deal’s construction was painstaking for all parties, taking the U.S. under the Obama administration and a host of other world powers years to finalize mutually agreeable terms.

Pompeo heads to the United Nations Thursday where he will file the formal complaint with the Security Council citing U.S. grievances. Once he does this, a full vote by the 15-member security council can be held. America is permitted a veto in this process.

In a statement earlier this week, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s policy chief rebuffed the suggestion that the U.S. even has a say in sanctions against Iran at this point. 

“Given that the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and has not participated in any JCPOA structures or activities subsequently, the U.S. cannot be considered as a JCPOA participant.” Borrell said on Aug. 16.

Therefore, Borrell added, the U.S. is “not in a position to resort to mechanisms reserved for JCPOA participants” like the snapback Pompeo will demand.

When the Trump administration first pulled out of the deal in 2018 and issued a series of new economic sanctions on the nation — and several others who might try to do business with the country — Iran, for a time, appeared to be holding steady and avoiding any activities aimed at nuclear proliferation.

But by November 2019, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported finding uranium enrichment activity unfolding inside of a fortified installation beneath an Iranian mountainside, according to the Associated Press. 

The same IAEA report confirmed the construction of nuclear centrifuges inside of Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant and elsewhere. Part of the JCPOA specifically, was the promise to convert the Fordow enrichment plant into a civilian research center.

“Mark it down,” Trump said from the White House on Wednesday.  “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”

Ultimately, it is a technicality that the Trump administration contends will permit the U.S. to invoke the snapback Thursday.

When the UN Security Council passed a resolution to enshrine the deal in 2015, the resolution listed the agreement’s “participants.” Those “participants” included the U.S., Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Other signatories included additional members from the EU.

But the U.S. pulled itself out of the deal as a participant, even in the process, releasing arguably unequivocal statements and administration fact sheets saying as much. At the top of one fact sheet issued by the White House on the day of its withdrawal, the sheet’s heading reads expressly that President Trump is “ending United States participation” in the “unacceptable” deal.

Yet, the Trump administration argues, the resolution to enshrine the agreement known as UN Security Council resolution 2231 also features language that says a “participant state” can submit its grievances and request that sanctions be applied. At a separate press conference held earlier Wednesday, Secretary Pompeo said the impending U.S. demand was “fully valid” and “enforceable.”

Whether it really will remains to be seen since the council is not a court of law but a diplomatic body and the JCPOA is not a contract that can be litigated anywhere other than inside of the U.N.’s hallowed halls.

Participating nations can ignore the submission from the U.S. altogether but regardless of that, once the complaint is filed, new wheels are set in motion: The Security Council will have 30 days to either adopt a new resolution that would extend sanctions relief to Iran even as America cracks down or the body will see an automatic snapback on sanctions kick in.

With its veto power on the council, the U.S. is expected to exercise it.

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