U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on August 19 that the United States will "soon" seek a return of all international UN sanctions on Iran, in a move that could spell the end of 2015 Iran nuclear accord and plunge the UN Security Council into crisis.
The exact timing of the U.S. diplomatic salvo was unclear, but Pompeo was expected to travel to UN headquarters in New York on August 20 to notify the UN Security Council of the decision to invoke the Iran nuclear deal’s "snapback" mechanism.
The controversial U.S. attempt to reimpose all pre-nuclear deal sanctions follows on the heels of a failure at the UN Security Council on August 14 to extend an international arms embargo on Iran.
The United States has vowed not to let the arms embargo on Iran expire in October as stipulated in the Iran nuclear pact, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).
The diplomatic blow revealed how isolated Washington is at the UN over the issue -- the resolution failed with only the Dominican Republic joining the United States and Russia and China voting against, while 11 members including European allies abstained.
That same resistance at the UN Security Council is expected to intensify as the United States acts on threats to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under a provision, known as a snapback, in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which enshrined the JCPOA.
Russia and China, as well as European signatories to the nuclear pact, have questioned the U.S. right to trigger the snapback mechanism because U.S. President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed unilateral sanctions even though Tehran was complying with its commitments.
The United States claims it remains a "participant" in the accord because it was listed as such in UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Washington claims it can therefore bring back international sanctions on Tehran, since Iran breached some of its nuclear commitments after the United States exited the deal.
Iran has said it will come fully back into compliance with the JCPOA if the United States abides by its commitments and lifts unilateral sanctions.
Diplomats and analysts say a U.S. attempt to snap back sanctions on Iran would lead to a messy diplomatic battle that could undermine the UN Security Council and potentially collapse what is left of the nuclear deal.
Bureaucratic, Procedural Moves?
Analysts say UN Security Council members will likely use bureaucratic and procedural moves to stall or block the U.S. bid to bring back sanctions once it notifies the body of Iran's non-compliance.
Another option is for the UN Security Council members to respond to the U.S. claim that sanctions have been reimposed "with a collective shrug, making plain that they dispute the move’s legitimacy and that they will neither recognize new sanctions nor give them any effect," the International Crisis Group wrote in a briefing.
Iran has threatened to completely exit the JCPOA and hinted it will pull out of another key nonproliferation treaty if the arms embargo is extended or there is a snapback of sanctions.
Critics of the U.S. bid to extend the arms embargo say it was a cynical effort in order to try to snap back sanctions on Tehran, with the goal of killing the deal or making it difficult for any future U.S. administration to resuscitate it.
Britain, France, and Germany -- all signatories to the JCPOA who have sought to keep it alive -- have expressed worries about the arms embargo ending but oppose U.S. action at the UN because they feared it would end the nuclear deal and damage the UN Security Council.
Experts say U.S. allies in Europe and Iran appear to be trying to wait out the Trump administration, calculating that former Vice President Joe Biden will win the November presidential election and deescalate tensions with Iran.