The Irish Times view on the US attempt to reimpose UN sanctions against Iran: A destabilising move

The Security Council is likely to ignore snapback

President Donald Trump told reporters: “It’s a snap back. Not uncommon,” PHotograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

An attempt by the US to invoke its supposed right unilaterally to reimpose UN arms sanctions on Iran is set to pit Washington against the majority of the UN Security Council and is in danger of scuppering the important Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). Under the deal, repudiated in 2018 by the US administration, Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The US is frustrated at the “inexcusable” failure last week of all other 15 Security Council states but one to back it in agreeing to extend a five-year UN arms embargo on Iran due to expire on October 18th under provisions of the accord. The US is trying to activate what has been called a “snapback” provision of the accord allowing signatories individually to reimpose sanctions if Iran is non-compliant.

France, the UK and Germany, also signatories, had refused to accept Trump's assertions of non-compliance and argue the US has forfeited the moral right to trigger snapback by withdrawing from the deal. "The US cannot be considered as a JCPOA participant," the European Commission said in a statement.

The US administration is worried that <a class="search" href='javascript:window.parent.actionEventData({$contentId:"7.1213540", $action:"view", $target:"work"})' polopoly:contentid="7.1213540" polopoly:searchtag="tag_location">China</a> and <a class="search" href='javascript:window.parent.actionEventData({$contentId:"7.1213540", $action:"view", $target:"work"})' polopoly:contentid="7.1213540" polopoly:searchtag="tag_location">Russia</a> want to sell sophisticated weapons, including missile defence systems, to Tehran

Although Iran continued to comply after the US withdrew, last summer it began compiling and enriching nuclear fuel beyond the agreement limits, prompting European officials this year formally to accuse Tehran of violating the deal. They have yet to support any moves to sanction Iran, remaining convinced that a collapse of the whole JCPOA would be deeply destabilising.


The Security Council, which was formally notified of the move yesterday by the US, is likely simply to ignore the snapback, and diplomats warn that an unsuccessful attempt will hurt the US diplomatically by undermining its Security Council veto and authority.

The US administration is worried that China and Russia want to sell sophisticated weapons, including missile defence systems, to Tehran. "It's a snap back. Not uncommon," president Trump told reporters on Wednesday evening, although the mechanism has never been used before.