America’s diplomacy aimed at globalizing its “maximum pressure” Iran policy appears increasingly likely to flounder in the United Nations. Better strike a decisive blow to the nuclear deal instead.
That’s the outlook in the wake of a new report by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. One might expect it would help convince the Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Iran, due to expire in October. It won’t. The UN is currently out to lunch.
So the better part of wisdom is to skip it and instead trigger “snapback.” Snapback is the jargon for a quick restoration of harsh sanctions that was promised, even by the Obama administration, if Iran were to violate the articles of appeasement that were negotiated by Secretary of State Kerry.
The IAEA issued a periodic report this week, detailing Iranian non-cooperation with inspectors. Iranians, according to the report, have blocked inspection visits to two suspected sites and otherwise stymied attempts to verify compliance with the 2015 Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal, known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. .
The IAEA report was a one-off for the agency, which to date has refrained from clearly accusing the Islamic Republic of violating the JCPOA. Since assuming office back in December, the agency’s new director general, Rafael Grossi, an Argentine, has changed its stance toward Iran.
“I think Grossi's done a great job,” says Andrea Stricker of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “He's really reiterated that the IAEA has a mandate and an obligation to look into undeclared nuclear material and activities.”
That should help Washington, which is concerned about sunset clauses contained in the 2015 Security Council resolution, numbered 2231. Specifically, the resolution would allow the regime, as of October, to resume sale and purchase arms. “We have drafted a resolution that would extend the arms embargo,” the State Department point man on Iran, Brian Hook, said Tuesday in a briefing sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.
Mr. Hook sounded cautiously hopeful about council’s ability to pass the proposed resolution. He added, though, that if the draft fails, America can unilaterally trigger the “snapback,” which would revert to the UN’s pre-2015 sanctions.
Russia expressed public opposition to the American text and China is eager as well to exploit Iran’s thirst for weapons. “We’ve argued that it’s not in their interest” to sell arms to Iran, Mr. Hook said, adding that despite “tactical” differences with top European council members, they and America “share the same threat assessment.”
What if, rather than policy differences, the problem is that a near-dormant council will just yawn and ignore the issue altogether? Since March the council has rarely convened in person, using instead Covid19-era videoconferencing.
During that time it failed to coalesce around even a short resolution addressing the world-wide epidemic. If it won’t rebuke a friendless virus, can it condemn a country boasting powerful allies within the General Assembly?
A major change to a security council resolution would require heavy lifting that may be beyond the ability of an administration preoccupied with social unrest, public health issues, and a looming economic crisis.
Mr. Hook, meanwhile, acknowledges that the Iranian regime’s strategy is “to wait until November” in hopes of a Biden administration. Even allied Security Council members may prefer dealing with Iran when Washington is friendlier toward the United Nations.
America isn’t asleep at the switch, though. Even as relations with council members like Germany get icier, and with the UN in an auto-pilot mode, Secretary of State Pompeo announced new sanctions Monday against an Iranian regime’s shipping firm, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, and its Shanghai-based subsidiary, E-Sail Shipping Company. He warned anyone cooperating with IRISL against doing so.
Mr. Pompeo also called Secretary General Guterres Wednesday. The Secretary General is preparing a report on Iran compliance. At Turtle Bay, though, America is eyed with suspicion. At the council, a tweak to resolution 2231 may be a lost cause. Why, then, not skip it altogether and, instead, trigger the resolution’s built-in self destruct mechanism?
Moscow is trying to build up council support for a parliamentary maneuver that would bar America from doing so. Mr. Hook noted, though, the Obama-era authors of the resolution promised an easy, unilateral “snapback” path for America if Iran reneged on its JCPOA obligations, which it now clearly has.
“Moving forward with the snapback,” says Richard Goldberg, a former Trump administration official now with the Defense of Democracies foundation, “will be important not just for the Trump administration.” It would also help “a potential Biden administration to reset the policy and to gain maximum leverage for its own engagement potentially with Iran.”