The United States will seek a permanent extension of an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire later this year, setting up a confrontation at the United Nations with Russia and China, Iranian allies poised to block the Trump administration's efforts.
The October expiration of the United Nations arms embargo on Iran was a key part of the Obama-era nuclear deal that blocked nations from exporting arms to Tehran. The Trump administration has vowed to keep the embargo alive and in recent months expended significant diplomatic capital preparing a U.N. resolution to accomplish that goal. Russia and China promise to veto any such measure and are able to unilaterally do so as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Both countries remain close allies of Iran and have already discussed plans to sell Tehran billions of dollars' worth of advanced weaponry once the embargo lifts.
The Trump administration has made extending the arms embargo a centerpiece of its "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran, which includes crippling economic sanctions. The diplomatic push comes as Iran ramps up its contested nuclear work, particularly the enrichment of uranium, the key component in an atomic weapon. For months, Tehran has blatantly violated the nuclear deal by, among other things, preventing international atomic inspectors from accessing key military sites believed to contain undeclared nuclear materials. As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches, the arms embargo could be the Trump administration's last chance to prevent Tehran from becoming an international arms dealer.
Amid the showdown between the United States, Russia, and China, European countries on the U.N. Security Council have sought to forge a compromise. Under this proposal, the arms embargo would be extended, but only for a short time, and might be limited in other ways, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ruled out such a plan on Wednesday in some of his clearest comments on the matter to date. The United States, he said, will not tolerate any plan that only extends the embargo for a limited time.
"Our objective is not to extend the arms embargo for another short period of time," Pompeo said in response to questions from the Washington Free Beacon during a briefing at the State Department.
The embargo is "not a time-limited matter," Pompeo said. "Extending it for six months or a year or two years fundamentally falls into the same trap that the previous administration fell into."
The only other option to extend the arms embargo would involve revoking the nuclear deal itself through a "snapback mechanism" written into the original U.N. resolution that endorsed the deal and lifted the embargo. Iran hawks in Congress have long called for such a move, but Pompeo on Wednesday said snapback "is not our first objective."
As part of the administration's efforts to extend the arms embargo, Brian Hook, the administration's top Iran diplomat, has been meeting with Middle Eastern and European allies. Hook won the support of several key nations, including Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. He also pushed France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—collectively known as the E3—to publicly support U.S. efforts to extend the arms ban.
Richard Goldberg, the former director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction at the White House National Security Council, told the Free Beacon that Europe should not stand in the way of U.S. efforts to extend the embargo.
"Remember, the president vowed in 2016 to dismantle the Iran Deal," Goldberg said. "It was a major campaign promise. But here we are four years later, the Iran Deal is on its last legs despite the Deep State's efforts to save it, and now on the one-yard line the Europeans want the President to take a phony, temporary arms embargo extension instead of completing the snapback?"
On Tuesday, Pompeo delivered a major address to the U.N. Security Council in which he emphasized the dangers of letting the arms embargo lapse.
"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 its crosshairs," he said. "Iran will be free to upgrade and expand its fleet of submarines to further threaten international shipping and freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea."
All of these weapons, Pompeo said, will be shared with Tehran's terror proxy groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Houthi militia groups in Yemen.