(CNSNews.com) – After the U.N. Security Council decisively defeated a U.S. bid to extend the arms embargo against Iran, the administration is preparing in the coming days to invoke a “snap back” of sanctions against the regime, President Trump confirmed at the weekend.
“We’ll be doing a snapback,” Trump told reporters in Bedminster, N.J. “You’ll be watching it next week.”
He was speaking the day after Russia and China vetoed a U.S. measure aimed at extending the embargo, currently due to expire in October. The Dominican Republic alone joined the U.S. in voting in favor, while the other 11 members all abstained.
Britain, France and Germany, the remaining parties to the nuclear deal which Trump withdrew from in 2018, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), said they abstained because it was clear the resolution did not have the council’s support.
The three are hoping to bring Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA.
After Trump exited the deal, U.S. sanctions were reimposed in stages. But snapback would restore all U.N. sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the deal, and so have the effect of extending the arms embargo, among other measures.
In an apparent bid to avoid this, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed on Friday that the heads of state of the original “P5+1” parties to the Iran deal (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany), plus Iran itself, hold a video summit urgently to prevent “the further escalation of tension and an increased risk of conflict.”
“Russia is open to working constructively with anyone interested in taking the situation back from the dangerous brink,” he said.
Asked in Bedminster whether he would take part in the online summit Putin was proposing, Trump said, “Probably not. No, I think we want to wait until after the election.”
NBC News reported on Sunday that, “according to four people familiar with the discussions” Trump was interested in having an in-person meeting with Putin before the election. But National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien shot down the idea.
“If Russia is a bad actor, why does the president want a summit with Vladimir Putin in the United States before the election?” host Chuck Todd asked O’Brien on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We’re not having a summit with Vladimir Putin before the election,” he replied.
“So, the president doesn't want something here?” asked Todd.
“No, we’ve rejected that,” O’Brien said.
“What the Russians are proposing is a summit with Russia, Germany, Iran and the other P5 members, to try and bully the U.S. back into this terrible JCPOA deal, which is the worst appeasement since Munich,” he said. “And so we’re not going to do that.”
Obama administration’s ‘unique’ diplomatic achievement
Although the U.S. has withdrawn from the Iran deal, the administration argues that it can still push for sanctions snapback, since the Security Council resolution that enshrined the JCPOA (resolution 2231) says that any of the countries that originally negotiated the deal can invoke snapback.
Critics of the U.S. decision to withdraw, most notably Iran itself, but also other P5+1 parties, have argued that because the U.S. left the JCPOA, it no longer has the right to push the option.
Time will tell if the attempt succeeds.
The provision was touted by the Obama administration in 2015 as an adroit bit of diplomacy ensuring that Iran’s allies on the Security Council could not block the reimposition of sanctions.
Rather than have the UNSC hold a vote on restoring the sanctions – a measure that Russia and China would almost certainly veto – the Obama team pushed for a “reverse vote.”
Under clause 37 of the JCPOA, the Security Council would vote not on restoring the sanctions, but on “continu[ing] the sanctions lifting.” The U.S. could then veto that resolution, and in so doing, automatically restore the sanctions.
As then-Secretary of State John Kerry explained it to the Council on Foreign Relations in July 2015, “What we negotiated is a unique arrangement where one nation alone – say, the United States, if we’re not happy, we can go to the Security Council and we alone can force a vote on the snapping back of those sanctions.”
“The vote will be on whether or not to continue the lifting of the sanctions,” Kerry said. “So one country alone – the United States – could veto that vote and we don’t lift – we don’t continue the lifting, and they all snap back. Unique.”
President Obama reaffirmed this “unique” arrangement, in a letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who was torn over whether to support a deal with Iran that his Jewish colleagues in New York’s congressional delegation opposed.
In August 2015 Obama wrote Nadler, “the snapback provision we secured in the U.N. Security Council is unprecedented. If at any time the United States believes Iran has failed to meet its commitments, no other state can block our ability to snap back those multilateral sanctions.”
In a fact sheet issued that year, the White House reaffirmed that.
“The U.N. Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran will be replaced by a new U.N. Security Council resolution  that will last for a decade,” it said. “For the first decade of the deal, we can snap back these multilateral sanctions if Iran violates the deal – a snapback that cannot be vetoed by Russia or China.”
In recent days, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has taken to quoting Kerry and Obama’s comments, including at a State Department briefing and on Twitter, in support of what the current administration hopes to achieve in New York.