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Will World Powers Manage A Compromise Over Iran Arms Embargo?

New U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft casts a vote during her first U.N. Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 12, 2019

Precisely three months from now, the international arms embargo on Iran will expire, a development that Washington strongly opposes and attempts to block through all available diplomatic means.

While veto-wielding China and Russia have so far voiced their opposition to Washington's approach toward the case, three European countries, Britain, France and Germany, struggle to find a compromise satisfying all parties involved.

Preliminary estimates and reports have already put July as a crucial month for Iran's arms embargo.

The "crucial month" began with reports on some behind the scenes developments at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) disclosing that Washington had submitted a draft resolution to the members of the UNSC to extend the international arms embargo on the Islamic Republic.

The U.S. draft would ban the sale, supply, or transfer of arms or related materiel by Iran and prohibits countries from selling, supplying or transferring arms or related materiel unless approved by a Security Council committee.

It requires countries to inspect cargo in their territory if they have reasonable grounds to believe the shipment contains banned items and calls on countries to check vessels on the high seas - with the flag state's consent - for the same reason.

However, three weeks into July, no attempts have yet been made to formally present the draft to the UNSC and put it to a vote.

But why Washington has so far hesitated? Some speculate that strong opposition to the draft is the reason behind the hesitation. Nevertheless, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has categorically dismissed the speculation asserting that “there’s enormous consensus” among UNSC members “around the objective” but “how to achieve that objective, there are different views on”.

During a press conference on July 15, Secretary Pompeo stressed, “We’ve made clear– both publicly and in private to all the members of the Security Council – we intend to ensure that this arms embargo continues”.

Furthermore, he noted, "We hope that the U.N. Security Council resolution can do this, that all of the permanent members sign up for and, indeed, every member of the larger U.N. Security Council. But if that's not the case, we are still going to do everything in our power to achieve that. And we think we'll be successful ultimately, in doing that. The precise timing of that, we’re going to keep to ourselves until such time as we’re ready to move to the UN Security Council and introduce the resolution”.

One of Washington's obstacles is Russia, which has been holding high-level talks on arms embargoes on Iran in recent days. Russian President Vladimir Putin who along with his Chinese counterpart, strongly opposes adopting a resolution extending the arms embargo, discussed the case with the Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani last Thursday, and earlier spoke to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Europeans, including Germany, which has no veto power in the Security Council but chairs it in July, have expressed concern about the expiration of the arms embargo on Iran.

The Iran arms embargo dates back to 2010 when the Security Council passed Resolution 1929 to punish Iran for enriching uranium and not granting full access to U.N. inspectors. It aimed to prevent Iran from purchasing conventional armaments, such as tanks, and other dual-use materials, such as missiles and fighter jets that could also be used in a nuclear attack.

When Iran and major world powers in 2015 reached a nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Security Council passed Resolution 2231, which stipulated the arms embargo on Iran would expire in five years, precisely on October 18.

Although the European trio, Britain, France, and Germany have raised concern over the prospect of lifting the embargo, they do not necessarily support Washington's approach.

The U.S. has specifically threatened that if the arms embargo is not extended, it will use the “snap-back” mechanism also stipulated in the UNSC resolution 2231.

Although Washington has left the JCPOA back in 2018, it has argued that it can still use the “snap-back” which keeps the arms embargo intact. It will also reactivate all previous UNSC resolutions, including sanctions, against the Islamic Republic.

Yet, Washington's allies on the other side of the Atlantic are not so much in sync with their western counterpart.

Meanwhile, Pompeo is set to visit Britain on Monday, July 18 and probably one of the unannounced topics on the agenda will be the extension of Iran's arms embargo.

Deputy director of Middle East and North Africa Program at the Chatham House in London, Sanam Vakil, says “Pompeo will definitely raise the issue of Iran’s arms embargo on his trip to London”.

“At the same time Johnson’s government has an opportunity to take the lead and try and shepherd negotiations between E3 and the U.S.”, Ms. Vakil noted.

“Britain vehemently opposes the U.S. strategy of linking the arms embargo extension to snap-back” Vakil asserts, adding “For the UK , The French and the Germans their primary issue of importance is protecting the JCPOA” and “I believe the E3 and specifically in this scenario the UK might be amenable to an informal code of conduct or agreement with the US as a concession to avoid or guarantee that the US will not pursue the snap back option”.

“Such an informal agreement or code of conduct” Ms. Vakil says “would be the best possible scenario to demonstrate to the Islamic Republic that there is unity among the UNSC members and at the same time would send a strong signal that saving the JCPOA – which is in a very fragile state right now- is still on the agenda for all”.

The compromise which is being suggested by some analysts is a “code of conduct” for UNSC members to follow certain considerations over arms sales to the Islamic Republic.

Nevertheless, neither Tehran nor Washington have reacted to the idea of such a compromise.

Tehran, which trumpets the lifting of the arms embargo in October as an important political success, has threatened to retaliate if that does not happen. Retaliatory actions could lead to the complete collapse of the JCPOA and even Iran's withdrawal from NPT, the non-proliferation treaty.

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    Hannah Kaviani

    Hannah Kaviani is a Radio Farda staffer based in Prague, since 2008. She followed the nuclear negotiations between Iran and 6 world powers between 2013 and 2015 and covers the aftermath of Iran deal.