It’s time to end the awkward legal endorsement of the Iran nuclear deal. That’s because the first so-called sunset clause built into the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action kicks in this Fall. That’s per the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231, which in 2015 endorsed the deal. The D-Day is three weeks before our elections in November.
Washington is now pushing back. As the New York Times first reported Monday, Secretary of State Pompeo is circulating among allies new council resolution language that would extend the weapons ban. Doing so would further deny Tehran the luxury of arming terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, and elsewhere.
It would also ban legal sales of weapons to Iran, a country that repeatedly threatens to annihilate a, in Israel, UN member state.
Russia, which is eager to renew legal arms sales to Iran, would likely veto the US-proposed resolution — if it ever comes to a vote. China might join, and America’s European allies that cling on to the JCPOA would need a lot of convincing before they agree to tweak any part of the 2015 resolution.
Prime Minister Johnson, for one, is much closer to the American position than his colleagues from France or Germany. Yet London’s foreign office professionals are bound and determined to oppose anything that might harm the original Iran deal.
So Mr. Pompeo’s attempt to extend the arms embargo could fail, but then America just might get even more bold, using Resolution 2231’s self-destruct mechanism. Known as the “snapback” option, the resolution provided such a path to help the Obama administration sell it at home.
President Obama knew he had no way of turning his plan of action into a treaty. He couldn’t muster the necessary Senate majority to approve it. Instead, he took the deal to a much more sympathetic audience, the United Nations, where he inked it despite the fact that both houses of Congress were against it — overwhelmingly so in the opinion of the New York Times.
If Iran were ever to cheat on its obligations, promised top officialsin the Obama administration, we’d at any time be able to end the deal and reimpose full sanctions. Further, they added, no one at the UN could stand in our way.
Hence the “snapback” mechanism that, according to the UN resolution, allows any of the original parties to the JCPOA to “reimpose unilateral and multilateral nuclear-related sanctions in the event of Iran non-performance,” as Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate at the time.
Further, and uniquely in the context of UN traditions, neither Russia nor Communist China nor any other Iran-friendly permanent member of the Security Council would be able to veto the snapback clauses, we were told.
Indeed, according to resolution 2231, the original parties to the JCPOA — Russia, Communist China, France, Britain, Germany, and America (as well as the European Union and Iran) — can unilaterally launch a process leading to reimposition of prior strict Security Council sanctions.
But can we still claim that right at the Security Council even after leaving the JCPOA?
The US “will get tremendous pushback, because the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement,” one of Mr. Obama’s top JCPOA negotiators, Wendy Sherman, told the Times. Yet even she acknowledges the move may succeed.
Obama administration officials may cavill, but America “has the legal right to snapback UN sanctions pursuant to a binding Security Council Resolution,” says Richard Goldberg, a former Trump administration official, now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It's time to exercise that right to defend American national security.”
The point to mark is that Mr. Trump invoked executive powers to pursue not a treaty but a deal with the executive branch. The UN resolution, the only document that turned a “plan of action” into binding law, was never amended or rescinded.
In that resolution America is still listed as one of the original parties that can “snapback” — regardless of its current position on the JCPOA. Mr Pompeo is increasingly convinced that, one way or another, America shouldn’t allow the sunset clauses in the UN resolution to turn Iran into an even more heavily armed menace than it is now.
Hence, if a new resolution fails, a snapback of all international sanctions must proceed. The 2015 UN resolution had legally bound America to a deal that the Senate wouldn’t endorse. Ending the UN endorsement of the JCPOA would return the power of making such deals to the representatives of the American people. That in and of itself would be grounds for forcing a snapback.