All International Sanctions on Iran Reimplemented, Killing Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo / Getty Images
September 19, 2020

All international sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the Obama administration’s landmark nuclear deal with the country have come back into effect as of Saturday evening, removing the last remaining vestiges of the agreement that were still in place.

The renewal of these sanctions comes after months of last-ditch diplomatic efforts by the Trump administration to ensure a United Nations ban on Iran’s purchase of advanced weapons was not lifted. This effort was unsuccessful after it failed to garner backing from traditional European allies on the U.N.’s Security Council. Following that bid, the United States exercised its right under the original 2015 accord to reimpose a litany of sanctions on Tehran that have been waived since the accord was signed and endorsed by the U.N. With the reimposition of these sanctions, the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 is effectively voided.

Members of the U.N. Security Council were powerless to stop the United States from triggering what is known as "snapback"—a mechanism written into the original agreement that permits any member nation to reimpose international sanctions. The move is likely to further enflame ongoing tensions with Iran and also complicate America’s relationship with some its closest allies, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Each of these countries stood in the way of U.S. efforts to extend the Iran arms ban as they sought to keep the nuclear accord on life support.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed European powers on the Security Council for forcing the United States to invoke snapback.

"The United States took this decisive action because, in addition to Iran’s failure to perform its commitments [under the nuclear deal], the Security Council failed to extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which had been in place for 13 years," Pompeo said on Saturday evening. "The Security Council’s inaction would have paved the way for Iran to buy all manner of conventional weapons," including from Russia and China.

The Trump administration could use the sanctions to penalize any country or business that does not end its relationship with Iran. Pompeo indicated the administration will not hesitate to enforce the sanctions.

In addition to extending the arms embargo, the reimposed sanctions include restrictions on Iran’s processing of uranium—the key component in a nuclear weapon—and its testing of ballistic missiles, which have been a source of regional tension since the nuclear deal took effect. They also bar countries from transferring nuclear and missile-related technologies to Iran.

The Trump administration also will announce "a range of additional measures" on Iran in the coming days, according to Pompeo, a move meant to "hold violators accountable."