World Rebukes US Over Iran

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Above photo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York City on Aug. 20, 2019. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images.

With Trump’s re-election prospects up in the air, a heated U.N. meeting on Iran shows world powers’ fading fear of confronting the United States.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday sought to reassert America’s waning influence on the world stage, challenging the U.N. Security Council to extend a U.N. arms embargo that is due to expire in October. Instead, America’s top diplomat received a scolding from friends and foes alike in the 15-nation council, which roundly criticized Washington for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal two years ago without a clear plan to limit Tehran’s nuclear activities.

On a day when the European Union pointedly excluded the United States from a “safe list” of countries permitted to travel to the 27-member bloc, the council’s chilly reception of Pompeo added to a portrait of an increasingly isolated United States and underscored how little deference other countries pay the Trump administration as it faces a grim reelection contest. The U.N. debate came amid a sharpening blowback in Washington to revelations that the Trump administration failed to act on months of intelligence warnings that Russia offered Taliban fighters bounties to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. 

The pointedly critical tone of the debate saw Germany accusing Washington of violating international law by withdrawing from the nuclear pact, while Berlin aligned itself with China’s claim that the United States has no right to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, compared U.S. sanctions on Iran to the killing of George Floyd, saying they were akin to “putting a knee to one’s neck.” 

The dispute centered on the fate of the nearly moribund 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which capped Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon but which the United States abandoned in May 2018. European parties to the deal, like Iran, want to keep it alive; the Trump administration wants to kill it before the election, lest any future Democratic administration bring it back to life. 

The latest battleground is one provision of that deal, the planned expiry in October of a U.N. arms embargo on Iran—one of the sweeteners of the nuclear deal. U.S. allies, including the security council’s five European states, share Washington’s concern about Iran’s arms trade, though Europe’s own arms embargo is set to continue until 2023 regardless. But they worry that extending the U.N. arms embargo, in clear violation of the pact signed in 2015, would drive Tehran to kick out nuclear inspectors and set the stage for an even quicker development of its nuclear program. 

“The [Iran nuclear pact], which is the result of compromise, can of course be seen as an instrument that can be improved,” France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière, told the council. “There is as yet no serious alternative to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and its disappearance would improve neither the regional situation nor the security of our populations.”

Since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal, Iran has violated key tenets of the accord by increasing its stockpiles of nuclear fuel and resuming its enrichment of uranium, according to assessments from the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

At the opening of Tuesday’s virtual session, Rosemary DiCarlo, a former U.S. State Department official who serves as U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, praised the nuclear pact as a “significant achievement of multilateral diplomacy and dialogue” and expressed “regret” over the U.S. decision to withdraw, noting that Iran was in compliance with the pact before Trump’s abrupt decision to pull the plug.

But she also expressed regret that since July 2019 Iran has violated key provisions of the nuclear pact, surpassing limits on the size of its stockpiles of heavy water and low-enriched uranium and engaging in prohibited nuclear research and development activities. 

DiCarlo also flagged Iran’s role in missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia, as well as arms shipments to proxies in Yemen that appear to run afoul of the provisions of the key U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed claims that Iranian-made weapons were being transferred to Yemen and elsewhere in violation of U.N. sanctions. 

“The international community in general and the U.N. Security Council in particular are facing an important decision,” Zarif told the council. “Do we maintain respect of the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?”

The Trump administration this month circulated a draft resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran, but veto-wielding China and Russia signaled they would not support the U.S. plan. European powers also reacted coolly to the resolution and are expected to introduce their own stopgap proposal to extend parts of the arms embargo for up to six months. It is unclear if the United States would support their plan. 

The Trump administration has charged Tehran with playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East through its support of proxy terrorist groups in the region. Pompeo said that if the United Nations did not extend the arms embargo, it would pave the way for Iran to procure advanced military hardware from Russia and China that would undercut regional stability and potentially threaten capitals in Europe and even South Asia—reiterating misleading claims he made last week about the operational range of high-end Russian and Chinese fighters. 

“If you fail to act, Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000-kilometer radius, putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in Iranian crosshairs,” Pompeo told the council during Tuesday’s virtual meeting. 

“Don’t just take it from the United States; listen to countries in the region. From Israel to the Gulf, countries in the Middle East—who are most exposed to Iran’s predations—are speaking with one voice: Extend the arms embargo,” he said. 

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

  • Jeff

    I hate all nukes, no exceptions. Uranium, like oil, should remain in the ground.

    But that said, if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons — no idea how realistic this possibility is — would that mean the end of Israeli/Saudi domination of that area of the world? Maybe not, as nukes are a deterrent, can’t be used unless you’re willing to sacrifice your own country and probably the entire planet, but they can be a powerful deterrent.

  • Bill Rood

    Granted that the US becoming ever more isolated is important information, couldn’t P.R. have found an article with a little less US Deep State propaganda?

  • Bill Rood

    Good comment, Jeff. There’s plenty of other US establishment propaganda in the article, but the bit about Russia bribing the Taliban is the most egregious. It’s risible. Why would Russia bribe the Taliban to do something they were going to do in any case? It’s no wonder there was no consensus on the veracity of the claim and it was never briefed to Trump himself!

    Most of the rest is propaganda as well, the stuff about Yemen and Iran’s supposed “violations” of JCPOA. It has done nothing not provided for in the JCPOA itself and remains an NPT signatory and in compliance with it. The only decent information is the growing isolation of the US.

  • Wendell F. Perks Jr.

    I agree, Foreign Affairs is on par with The New York Times as a voice of corporate US Government propaganda.

  • Jon

    The only safe nuclear “facility” is 93 million miles away.

  • Jeff

    Or as Buckminster Fuller put it: The sun is a perfect example of a nuclear reactor, and it’s a perfect example of how close a nuclear reactor should be to the Earth.

  • Jeff

    Yeah, all the Rosemary DiCarlo stuff is BS, I forgot about that part.

  • Jon

    Nice to be congruent with the thinking of this outstanding man.

  • SCM

    All anyone has to do to screw USA in Afghanistan hard is arm Taliban with MANPADS – everyone has them to give – the Russians, the Chinese the Pakistanis. Without close combat air support and air transit our mission in Afghanistan would be over very quickly similar to when Taliban Got Stinger missiles and pushed USSR out. Bribing to kill is the most ridiculous story ever and IMO has more to do with progressives loudly calling for defense cuts more than anything. We’ll never see a “peace dividend” so long as we believe this BS.

  • Jeff

    I was watching a science fiction series where a few non-human characters that were living on an interplanetary space station in the future traveled back in time to Earth in the 1960s. One of the things that astounded them was nuclear, both power and weapons, and they asked an Earthling why we would do that to our own planet. I have my own answer, but the question demands some thought. (Hint, it’s not about the big bad capitalists, it goes way beyond that problem.)

  • Jon

    Care to elaborate? I would say it has to do with the psychology perpetrated to be macho masculine, full of bravado, which is only one of the reasons we badly need more real woman (not of the Hillary Thatcher brand) in power at the highest levels, including military.

  • Jeff

    The root cause goes back thousands of years. At some point a long time ago, humans as a whole decided, consciously or unconsciously, to obsess on ego, intellect, and the physical/natural world, instead of focusing on empathy, wisdom, and expanding our consciousness. The latter is the only legitimate role of humans on the Earth, because humans are not a necessary part of any ecosystem, because everything humans do to the physical/natural world beyond hunting & gathering is harmful, because we are grossly physically inferior to other mammals of similar size, and because our brain/mind power allows us to expand our consciousness.

    From that wrong-headed “decision” came agriculture and its resulting overpopulation, wars, industrial society, and eventually nukes. Couple that with the fact that as humans become ever more disconnected from the natural world, they are oblivious to the environment.

    This question is a bit much for here and requires an essay or maybe even a book. Suffice to say that things like nukes are logical results of moving away from living naturally in much smaller numbers as hunter-gatherers and focusing our lives on expanding our consciousness. I’m a root cause kind of guy, not really interested in symptoms or symptoms of symptoms.