U.S. Takes Final Shot at Extending Iran Arms Embargo

Pompeo vows to extend U.N. arms ban ‘one way or another’ as Russia, China veto looms

Secretary Of State Pompeo Testifies On Department's Budget Request Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee
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August 6, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed that an international arms embargo on Iran would be extended "one way or another," as the United States gears up for a final showdown at the United Nations Security Council with Russia and China over the soon-to-expire weapons bans.

The Trump administration is expected to present as soon as next week a U.N. Security Council resolution that would extend the arms embargo on Iran indefinitely and ensure that Russia and China cannot begin to sell Tehran advanced weapons and military equipment.

The arms embargo is set to lift in mid-October as part of concessions written into the landmark nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has been working for months to galvanize support for an extension of the embargo, but these efforts have been complicated by opposition from Russia and China, which have grown increasingly close to Iran and have expressed a desire to sell the country advanced arms. Either country can unilaterally veto the U.S. measure as part of their membership on the U.N. Security Council.

Pompeo, during a Wednesday briefing with reporters, would not discuss contingency plans in case the measure is vetoed, but said the United States will "ensure that the arms embargo is extended." Pompeo appeared to be hinting at what is known as snapback—a failsafe measure written into the nuclear accord that permits the United States and other nations to lobby for a full reimposition of all sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear agreement, including the arms ban. Pompeo and other senior Trump administration officials have been vague about whether snapback remains an option, but it could be the only route to extend the arms embargo before the November 2020 election, should Russia or China veto a U.S. resolution.

Brian Hook, the administration’s top Iran envoy, told the Washington Free Beacon that he has been lobbying U.S. allies to back an extension of the arms embargo. Hook said Iran’s allies are attempting to quash the measure by invoking procedural hurdles at the Security Council.

"No country can make the case that Iran's behavior merits lifting the arms embargo," Hook said. "That's why Iran's supporters are hiding behind procedural arguments to distract attention from the national security risks at stake."

Pompeo also adopted a hard line during Wednesday’s briefing.

"The Security Council’s mission is to maintain ‘international peace and security,’" he said. "The Council would make an absolute mockery of that mission if it allowed the number-one state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons freely."

Pompeo said the United States will not accept any scenario that allows the arms embargo to be lifted.

"You’ve seen the comments in the press about a deal between Iran and China," he said. "There are nations lining up to sell weapons that will destabilize the Middle East, put Israel at risk, put Europe at risk, risk American lives as well. We’re not going to let it happen."

When pressed about the snapback mechanism, Pompeo acknowledged that it is an option, but would not commit to invoking it should the U.S. measure extending the arms ban fail.