The Trump administration has backed away from a hardline resolution on Iran that risked alienating UN Security Council allies, and will instead present a “clean” version to extend an arms embargo due to expire in October.
The new proposed US resolution, seen by the Financial Times and due to be made public on Wednesday, comprised four terse paragraphs in place of the earlier 13-page draft circulated among members. It dropped tough language condemning past Iranian actions, attempting to enlist other countries to conduct vessel inspections and weapons seizures and listing specific Iranians for travel bans and asset freezes.
Despite the changes, Security Council members were still expected to reject the effort, which will aim to extend indefinitely an arms embargo on Iran due to end on October 18, when it was set to expire under the terms of a landmark nuclear deal agreed in 2015 with Tehran.
“If the goal is still an indefinite extension of the embargo without any other concessions to Tehran, I still think China and Russia will veto this,” said Richard Gowan, UN director at the International Crisis Group. Russia and China are two of the Security Council’s five permanent members, who have veto rights. The resolution needs support from nine of 15 votes to pass.
Washington had earlier hoped to persuade Estonia or Tunisia — Security Council members friendly to the US — to submit a compromise resolution. But last-minute talks on Monday and Tuesday with US diplomats failed to produce a result, and Washington determined to submit the resolution itself, according to two people briefed on the matter.
The US mission requested comment from fellow members of the Security Council by 10am on Wednesday. The vote could take place as soon as Thursday or Friday, according to a UN security diplomat.
Observers said the Trump administration had been unusually undiplomatic in its initial approach, pursuing a resolution that even allies could not support.
A UN security diplomat said the new language was aimed at placating European allies and isolating China and Russia in their opposition. But the diplomat added that the US still did not believe the new resolution would secure the necessary votes to pass, and it was unclear whether the new approach would conciliate Washington’s allies.
The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to trigger the so-called snapback provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal if it cannot secure an arms embargo extension.
These would restore not only the arms embargo but also all UN sanctions suspended in return for Tehran agreeing to limits on its nuclear programme. While reimposing such sanctions would be largely symbolic, given the scope of existing sanctions against Iran, it could also effectively dissolve the faltering deal its members have sought to preserve.
“We’re deeply aware that snapback is an option that’s available to the United States, and we’re going to do everything within America’s power to ensure that that arms embargo is extended,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said last week.
France, Germany and the UK — the original European signatories to the 2015 multi-party landmark nuclear deal, from which the US withdrew in 2018 — have spent months seeking to convince Washington to drop its alienating language in order to make an arms embargo extension more palatable to China and Russia.
They argued that any unilateral attempt to trigger the snapback sanctions would have “serious adverse consequences” in the UN Security Council, on which the trio, known collectively as E3, sit.
Mr Pompeo has characterised the expiration of the arms embargo as one of the “central failings” of the nuclear deal and described it as “a bad thing” for the world to allow the buying and selling of weapons. Both Russia and China were among countries that have said they could sell weapons to Tehran, a move Mr Pompeo said would put the Middle East, Israel and Europe at risk.
“We’re not going to let it happen. And so we’re using every diplomatic tool we have in the toolkit,” he said.