The United States is formally demanding that the United Nations (U.N.) reimpose sanctions on Iran for its failure to meet commitments to limit its nuclear program set forth under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). U.N. sanctions on Iran were lifted in 2015 as part of the terms of the JCPOA, which included the United States, European Union, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China as signatories. The U.S. formally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and reinstated sanctions on Iran.
According to President Trump, the U.S. intends to restore “virtually all of the previously suspended U.N. sanctions on Iran. It’s a snapback.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to go before the United Nations this week to officially notify the Security Council that the U.S. intends to restore U.N. sanctions on Iran. According to the Department of State’s press release, a range of U.N. sanctions will be restored within thirty (30) days, including the requirement to end all nuclear enrichment activities and the extension of the arms embargo on Iran, which is currently set to lapse in October.
The decision to request a snapback of U.N. sanctions on Iran follows the failure of an effort to extend a five-year U.N. arms embargo on Iran. The legality of the requested snapback by the U.S. has been questioned by other members of the JCPOA and the U.N. Security Council because the U.S. is no longer a party to the agreement. The Administration, however, maintains that as a permanent member of the Security Council, it has the authority under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 to push for a snapback of sanctions.
As a “participant state” in the JCPOA under the resolution, the U.S. claims it can assert “significant non-performance of commitments” by Iran to force a snapback within 30 days. It is not clear how the U.S. without support from Europe would enforce the U.N. sanctions. Without support from the rest of the Security Council, the U.S. will need to enforce sanctions unilaterally.
Camron Greer is an Assistant Trade Analyst in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Washington D.C. office.