Sep 17, 2020
Showdown Set as US to Declare UN Sanctions on Iran Are Back
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By MATTHEW LEE and EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — In defiance of overwhelming opposition, the United States is preparing to declare that all international sanctions against Iran have been restored. Few countries believe the move is legal, and such action could provoke a credibility crisis at the United Nations.
Virtually alone in the world, the Trump administration will announce on Saturday that U.N. sanctions on Iran eased under the 2015 nuclear deal are back in force. But the other members of the U.N. Security Council, including U.S. allies, disagree and have vowed to ignore the step. That sets the stage for ugly confrontations as the world body prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary at a coronavirus-restricted General Assembly session next week.
The question is how the Trump administration will respond to being ignored. It already has slapped extensive sanctions on Iran, but could impose penalties on countries that don't enforce the U.N. sanctions it claims to have reimposed. A wholesale rejection of the U.S. position could push the administration, which has already withdrawn from multiple U.N. agencies, organizations and treaties, further away from the international community.
In the midst of a heated campaign for reelection, President Donald Trump plans to address Iran in a speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. Officials say he will also touch on his brokering of agreements for Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations in part to solidify a regional bulwark against Iran.
And, as he seeks to demonstrate statesmanlike credentials ahead of the election, Trump has injected another element of uncertainty into the mix by threatening to retaliate “1,000 times” harder against Iran if it attacks U.S. personnel overseas.
His tweeted warning came earlier this week in response to a report that Iran is plotting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general at the beginning of the year. Neither Trump nor any other senior U.S. official has confirmed such a plot exists, although they have said Iran has a long history of political assassinations.
Amid uncertainty over that, the other 14 members of the Security Council and all but about five of the U.N.'s 195 member states say the U.S. lost its legal standing to act on sanctions when Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord more than two years ago. The U.S. argues it retains the right to enact the “snapback” of sanctions because the council resolution that endorsed the deal refers to it as a participant.
“These will be valid U.N. Security Council (actions) and the United States will do what it always does, it will do its share as part of its responsibilities to enable peace,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday. “We’ll do all the things we need to do to ensure that those sanctions are enforced.”
Pompeo traveled to the United Nations on Aug. 20 to formally notify the Security Council that the U.S. was triggering snapback because Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal. He dismissed suggestions that the administration was engaged in anything legally questionable or even controversial.
He said the snapback mechanism was the “one thing that the previous administration got right” in the nuclear deal that Trump has denounced as the worst deal ever negotiated. The agreement was a signature foreign policy achievement of President Barack Obama and gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on it nuclear program.
Yet, aside from Israel and the Gulf Arab states, almost no country in the world agrees with the U.S. Russia and China, along with American allies Britain, France and Germany, who often disagree but remain parties to the 2015 agreement, are united in declaring the U.S. action “illegal.”
Nonetheless, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Elliott Abrams, told reporters Wednesday that all U.N. sanctions would “snap back" at 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
”We expect all U.N. member states to implement their member state responsibilities and respect their obligations to uphold these sanctions,” Abrams told reporters.
“If other nations do not follow it,” he said, “I think they should be asked ... whether they do not think they are weakening the structure of U.N. sanctions.”
U.N. diplomats said the three European countries remaining in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, who are all currently Security Council members, will likely respond by issuing a statement reiterating their position that the United States cannot trigger snapback.
Trump administration officials been attacking the 2015 nuclear deal for years. They say it is fatally flawed because certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity gradually expire and will allow the country to eventually develop atomic weapons.
The U.N. sanctions the U.S. is seeking to reimpose include a ban on uranium enrichment, all missile activity, and the indefinite extension of an arms embargo that would otherwise expire on Oct. 18. The Security Council rejected a U.S. effort to extend the embargo in a lopsided vote that got support from only one country, the Dominican Republic.
Pompeo reiterated Wednesday that Iran “remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and we don’t believe that them being able to trade in weapons of war with impunity is remotely acceptable.” He called the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions “good for the peoples of all nations.”
But opposition to the U.S. move is widespread and strong, including from 13 of the other 14 Security Council members.
“Under intl law you can’t withdraw from an agreement and then claim you can still benefit from its provisions. Under 'rules-based intl order where the rules are defined by the US this seems to be OK provided it serves US interests,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky tweeted.
European Union High Representative Josep Borrell, in softer terms, delivered the same message in August saying the United States “cannot be considered to be a JCPOA participant state for the purposes of possible sanctions snapback foreseen by the resolution.”
Lederer reported from the United Nations.
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UN meeting that began with unity concludes with divisions
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — This year’s U.N. General Assembly meeting began with calls for multilateralism and cooperation — a declaration that the urgency for countries to unite “has rarely been greater.” It concluded with a parade of divisive grievances that echoed when the final gavel fell.
Leader after leader in days of speeches delivered virtually stressed the importance of working together to navigate the coronavirus outbreak and the challenges that lie beyond it. As Germany’s foreign minister put it, COVID-19 “shows that international cooperation is neither an ideology nor an end in itself. On the contrary, it delivers results, far beyond the actual pandemic.”
Words, though, are not results. Though the U.N. and most of its member states largely envision a multilateral world, the underlying issues and challenges that divide nations sat squarely in the spotlight, as the “right of reply” at the end of the closing session demonstrated vividly.
One by one they came forward — lower-level diplomats tasked with replying to leaders’ speeches with intense responses.
On the hot-button conflict of the moment, between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, diplomats from the two countries went after each other over responsibility for the latest fighting. Bangladesh went after Myanmar over the more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a crackdown by Myanmar’s military in 2017 and are living in camps in Bangladesh, still fearful of returning home — and Myanmar responded.
Iran went after Israel over the speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed that the Islamic Republic would have “enough enriched uranium in a few months for two nuclear bombs” after it recently began exceeding limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
An Iranian diplomat accused Israel of disregarding U.N. resolutions on negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and countered that Israel “poses the most serious threats to the security of the states in the Middle East” because of its widely reported nuclear program, which Israel has never acknowledged.
The United Arab Emirates took the floor over a dispute with Iran over three Iranian-occupied islands the UAE claims and Tehran’s “destabilizing conduct” in the region, including supporting Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen. The UAE, in turn, vehemently dismissed Iran’s allegation that the UAE was destabilizing Mideast security.
Iran, again asked to reply, insisting on its claim to the islands and accusing the UAE of using starvation “as a war tactic in Yemen.” The UAE intervened for a second time, insisted the islands are occupied.
A Yemeni diplomat then responded to the Iranian, saying: “How does he dare speak about the situation in Yemen while he is responsible for the situation?” The Yemeni accused Iran of “continuing their intervention to destabilize my country by providing money, weapons, training and equipment to establish their expansionist plan across the region.”
While all the leaders delivered prerecorded speeches, the diplomats late Tuesday spoke in person, seated behind their country’s nameplate in the vast General Assembly Hall where virus restrictions meant only one representative of each of the 193 U.N. member nations was allowed.
The main in-person event was a virtual U.N. Security Council meeting that sparked one of the few real-time exchanges and centered the escalating U.S. confrontation with China. The clash at the meeting was over responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw Russia back Beijing. But the U.S.-China confrontation extends to trade issues, claims in the South China Sea and Taiwan.
China’s U.N. Mission issued a statement just before midnight Tuesday night protesting U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft’s participation in an online event hosted by Taiwan on Monday. It said her remarks undermined China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” the mission said.
In his remarks opening the global gathering, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had painted a grim picture of the state of the world: an “epochal” health crisis, economic calamity, threats to human rights and worries of a new Cold War between the U.S. and China.
Guterres called for global unity, foremost to fight the pandemic, and sharply criticized populism and nationalism as failed answers that often worsened the situation.
General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir ended the six-day meeting Tuesday night on an upbeat note, returning to the need for multilateralism and unity.
“The challenges facing us are enormous, but so are the possibilities of solutions,” he said. “By working together, we can overcome them.”
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