Following the unilateral decision of the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, other parties to the agreement have insisted the deal is still intact. But the deal is dead, and the P4+1 have failed to admit this.
On August 20, at a United Nation Security Council (UNSC) meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo triggered the UN snapback sanctions on Iran. However, other Iran deal participants have verbally opposed the US position and argue that the snapback mechanism cannot be triggered by the US as it would be a breach of international law. Consequently, some have claimed that US President Donald Trump’s administration is diplomatically “isolated.”
However, there are clear indications that demonstrate that the group known as the P4+1 – Germany, France, the UK, China and Russia – cannot legally challenge the US on the issue, and in practice they will have to accept the Trump administration’s decision.
Triggering snapback sanctions came after the UNSC did not extend an arms embargo on Tehran on August 14. According to UNSC resolution 2231 adopted in 2015, those who oppose the decision would have 30 days after the US triggered the snapback to put forth an opposition proposal So far, no one has done this.
As of September 20, all related UN sanctions, including the indefinite arms embargo, the complete ban on uranium enrichment, and Iran’s ballistic missile program are fully enforced.
Furthermore, as an extra measure, in case any company or state fail to accept US position, Trump’s administration has already announced they will place secondary sanctions on anyone who violates the arms embargo against Iran or do business with Tehran.
As P4+1 and other UN members’ vulnerabilities mostly result from their interdependence with the US economy, due the size of American market, and the global role of the US dollar, it is highly unlikely that any country would oppose implementing UN sanctions.
Consequently, Iran can no longer benefit from any rights granted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), effectively marking the end of the Iran deal as the current circumstances are similar to the pre-2015 era before the deal was signed. The exception now is that the P4+1 rejects the US position, insisting that the JCPOA lives on.
The P4+1 argue that reimposing UN sanctions on Iran has no “legal effect.” However, the issue is political, rather than legal. And where the US interpretation is contradictory to that of the P4+1, the latter group has two options.
One option is that the UNSC considers a vote on sanction relief at its meeting in October. However, the US would probably use its veto power and subsequently prevent its passage.
The other option is that the P4+1 could take the matter to the other organizations, such as International Court of Justice (ICJ) if the Trump administration vetoes the UNSC vote. Nonetheless, this is highly unlikely as the process could take months, if not years.
Above all, taking a matter to an institution outside the UN would not only hamper the effectiveness of the UNSC, but it would also imply that the post-WWII structure of the UNSC, designed by P5 to defend their interests and resolve their issues collectively, is neither sustainable, nor is the UN a viable world organization is capable of finding solutions to complex issues.
Consequently, apart from issuing statements, it is highly unlikely that P4+1 would try to confront the US and prevent the Trump administration from reinstating UN sanctions on Tehran.
Prior to September 20, the P4+1 sought to convince the Trump administration to reverse its decision to trigger the snapback mechanism. Where Putin requested a meeting between the JCPOA participants and Iran, Trump rejected it. And on August 26, days after Secretary Mike Pompeo had announced triggering snapback sanctions, in order to appease Trump, P4+1 pressured Iran into agreeing to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEI) inspectors to visit two suspicious sites. Iran had previously rejected to allow the IAEI to have access to these sites, which was a violation of the JCPOA terms.
Ironically, the threat of triggering snapback mechanism also gave P4+1 an excuse to pressure Iran allowing the IAEI teams to conduct their missions in Tehran.
In short, whether we like it or not, this is where the political masterstroke of the Trump administration plays out. It has demonstrated political savviness in squeezing Iran further without other world powers – or Iran – being able to challenge Washington.
Furthermore, the focus of P4+1 from now on is to limit Iran’s nuclear activities by threatening to up pressure if the Islamic Republic violates the JCPOA. Consequently, the P4+1 will continue to ensure that Iran will obey the terms of the JCPOA even as sanctions are reinstated by the US – and this is exactly what the Trump administration benefits from.
When the UNSC rejected the US proposal to extend the arms embargo on a regime involved in terror and destabilizing behaviors across the region, it was apparent that the US would not accept the outcome, and that the decision was not in the interest of the Middle East. The US, given its global prominence, can act unilaterally without risk of being isolated, and it has done so to protect its interest in the region and ensure regional stability.
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