Washington will do everything it can to enforce UN sanctions on Iran if they are violated, says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following the US move to restore all UN sanctions on Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, US, August 20, 2020.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, US, August 20, 2020. (Reuters)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused America's European allies of "siding with the ayatollahs" over Iran after he initiated a controversial procedure to reimpose UN sanctions on Tehran.

"No country but the United States has had the courage and conviction to put forward a resolution. Instead, they chose to side with the ayatollahs," Pompeo told reporters on Thursday after formally starting the disputed process.

The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations of its demand for all UN sanctions on Iran to be restored, setting off an immediate confrontation with Russia and other Security Council members who called the US move illegal.

Pompeo cited significant Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, a requirement to “snap back” UN sanctions.

READ MORE: World divided on Iran nuclear deal

Russia fires back

Russian deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky shot back: “Looks like there are 2 planets. A fictional dog-eat-dog one where US pretends it can do whatever it wants without ‘cajoling’ anyone, breach and leave deals but still benefit from them, and another one where the rest of the world lives and where intl law and diplomacy reign.”

At the heart of the showdown in the UN’s most powerful body is President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between six global powers and Iran.

The US maintains that under the Security Council resolution endorsing the agreement it retains the right as an initial party to invoke the provision to “snap back” sanctions.

READ MORE: How serious are European efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal?

'US has no right on Iran talks'

The US insistence that it can authorise snapback had already been rejected by virtually all other members of the 15-nation council. Germany, a participant in the Iran deal but not a council member, is also opposed.

“France, Germany, and the United Kingdom note that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018,” the group said in a statement released after Pompeo presented the letter. “We cannot, therefore, support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA.”

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said: “We do not take it that they have the legal right or the reason to initiate this. "So, of course, we will challenge it.”

China has said it agrees with the Russian position, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told UN chief Antonio Guterres in a Thursday phone call that the Security Council must resist the US demand.

"This would have dangerous consequences for international law, it will bring nothing but the destruction of international mechanisms and it will discredit the Security Council,” Zarif said.

READ MORE: Iran warns EU powers of 'consequences' in nuclear compliance dispute

What US can do to prevent sanctions relief?

Under the terms of the Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal, Thursday’s notification starts a 30-day clock after which pre-2015 UN sanctions on Iran that were eased will be re-imposed unless a resolution specifically extending their suspension is passed. The US, however, would use its veto power to block any resolution extending the sanctions relief.

Because of the legal debate over US standing, it is possible that the snapback demand will simply be ignored by the other members, which could call into question the Security Council’s relevance and ability to enforce its own legally binding decisions.

Trump and Pompeo had made no secret of their intention to pursue snapback, particularly after the administration’s embarrassing defeat last week at the Security Council on extending the arms embargo on Iran that expires in October. The US won just one other “yes” vote, with China and Russia opposed and the 11 other members abstaining.

The US allies Britain and France are hoping to preserve the nuclear deal in the event Trump loses his bid for a second term in November's presidential election. Democratic Joe Biden has said he would try to revive the agreement.

The Europeans fear that the re-imposition of sanctions may lead Iran to quit the deal entirely and plow ahead with efforts to develop atomic weapons. 

The Trump administration says it withdrew precisely because it eased sanctions, opening major revenue streams for Iran while gradually easing restrictions on its nuclear activities that money could pay for.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies