The US has slapped a raft of new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons programme, claiming it is enforcing a UN arms embargo – and demanded that the European Union follows suit.
The Trump administration on Monday named 27 individuals and entities, including officials at the Iranian ministry of defence, nuclear scientists, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and anyone found trading in conventional weapons with Iran.
Announcing the sanctions, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the UK, France and Germany would be required not just to comply with the sanctions, but to enforce them.
But the UN has asserted that the decision is not up to Washington, and the European powers have warned that the US does not have the legal power to do so.
The State Department declared: “The UN arms embargo on Iran is now re-imposed indefinitely, and we will ensure that it remains in place until Iran changes its behaviour. The new executive order gives us the tools to hold accountable actors who seek to evade the embargo”.
Meanwhile, the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said he was willing to trade all US citizens in Iranian jails with jailed Iranians in the US.
Speaking at a virtual event with the Council on Foreign Relations, Zarif was asked whether Iran was still considering retaliation for the killing of Qassem Suleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander. He replied: “Trump ordered the assassination of a national hero for Iran and for the region. I’m not in the business of making threats, but the books are not closed.”
Asked about the prospect of prisoner exchanges, Zarif said: “Let us do a universal deal. We can exchange all the prisoners. Period.”
Pompeo also announced sanctions on Nicolas Maduro, saying that the Venezuelan president and other officials had worked with Tehran to “flout the UN arms embargo”.
“Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide. No matter who you are if you ignore UN sanctions, you risk sanctions.”
Pompeo said Donald Trump has issued an executive order “that is a new and powerful tool to enforce the UN arms embargo, and to hold those who seek to evade those sanctions accountable”.
The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, appearing with Pompeo, also announced separate sanctions on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, including three deputy directors, and against five named nuclear scientists accused of seeking to steal nuclear secrets from the west.
The US claimed the president’s executive order came with the authority of the UN since the US, an original signatory to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, had declared Iran in breach of the deal. This entitled the US to order UN sanctions be reimposed.
Both the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the vast majority of the 15-strong UN security council have insisted the US does not have the legal power to take the steps under the banner of the UN. France, Germany and the UK said in a joint statement that the US move was incapable of having legal effect.
The UN is due to lift its embargo on sales of conventional weapons to Iran in the middle of October, but Washington claimed its actions ensure the embargo cannot be lifted.
In practice, no EU state is likely to sell arms to Iran, and the US action is designed to deter China and Russia from selling arms.
But Matt Oresman, a sanctions expert at the law firm Pillsbury, said: “There is virtually nothing the US can do to enforce sanctions as a result of what it has done that it could not have done last week under US domestic law. This is mainly a way for the US to say the UN arms embargo will not be lifted in October. That embargo can be enforced by the interdiction of Iranian ships.”
Iran, celebrating the US’s diplomatic isolation, believes Trump is trying to raise the profile of the Iranian crisis ahead of the 3 November elections, but is not clear if he is trying to provoke a military clash with Iran, or how far he is prepared to go to confront his European allies, including the UK.
Kelly Craft, the US envoy to the UN, made a virtue of American diplomatic isolation at the UN, saying: “As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security. We do not need a cheering section to validate our moral compass. We do not find comfort based solely in numbers, particularly when the majority had found themselves in the uncomfortable position of underwriting chaos, terror and conflict. We refuse to be members of that club.”
Source: The Guardian