By Rebecca Kheel
May 05, 2020
Hundreds of House lawmakers in both parties are calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take “increased diplomatic action” to renew a United Nations arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October.
“We write to urge increased diplomatic action by the United States to renew the expiring United Nations arms embargo against Iran and United Nations travel restrictions on those Iranian individuals involved with dangerous proliferation activities,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Pompeo obtained by The Hill ahead of its release.
“America must continue its longstanding, bipartisan leadership in order to limit Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the world,” they added. “We look forward to working with you to reauthorize these expiring U.N. restrictions, which are essential to protecting our national security and the American people.”
“Nearly every member of the U.S. House of Representatives is in agreement: Iran must not be allowed to buy or sell weapons,” McCaul said in a statement. “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, or even just an American issue. We need to extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran for the sake of international peace and security. I am proud the House is speaking with one voice to protect the world against Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing behavior.”
At issue is a U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed in 2015 in support of the nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers.
Under the resolution, an arms embargo on Iran, as well as an arms export ban, is set to lift Oct. 18. The resolution also said travel restrictions on officials and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs will expire in October.
President Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has re-imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. The administration has also been urging the United Nations to renew the arms embargo and travel restrictions, warning that allowing the sanctions to expire will let Iran spread what it describes as a destabilizing activity.
But a renewal of the arms embargo is likely to meet opposition from Russia and China, which have veto power in the Security Council.
Pompeo and other officials have indicated in recent weeks they could take another step to force the issue: argue the United States remains a participant in the nuclear deal as defined by the Security Council resolution despite Trump having withdrawn from the agreement. Doing so could allow the United States to invoke a snapback of U.N. sanctions that were in place before the nuclear deal, extending the arms embargo and effectively killing the nuclear deal.
“U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 is unambiguous where the United States is a participant,” Pompeo said at a press briefing Wednesday. “We are going to make sure that come October of this year, the Iranians aren’t able to buy conventional weapons that they would be given what President Obama and Vice President Biden delivered to the world in that terrible deal.”
In a briefing Thursday, Brian Hook, the administration’s special envoy for Iran, argued the United States is still a party to the U.N. resolution because its name is explicitly mentioned in the text.
“There is no qualification in 2231 where ‘participant’ is defined in a way to require participation in the JCPOA. And if the drafters wanted to make the qualification, they could have, but they did not,” Hook said, using the acronym for the official name of the nuclear deal.
Hook added that the administration is “very focused” on negotiating a resolution to extend the arms embargo that will pass the Security Council.
“So we are well within our rights under a plain reading of 2231, but we are very hopeful about being able to renew the arms embargo,” he said.
The Trump administration arguing it remains a participant is likely to irk the United States’ European allies, who continue to support the nuclear deal and view the administration’s argument as cherry-picking when to follow the deal to fit its agenda.
In the letter from House lawmakers, they urged Pompeo to work with “allies and like-minded partners” to renew the arms embargo.
“We urge you to work with allies and like-minded partners, including through a new United Nations Security Council resolution, to extend these provisions in order to prevent Iran from buying and selling weapons, while also working to increase accountability for violations of the existing embargo,” they wrote. “We also urge you to make clear to the international community that U.S. sanctions on Iranian arms transfers remain in place and will be fully enforced.”
The lawmakers also expressed concern about the expiring travel restrictions. Describing those subject to the restrictions as “some of Iran’s most notorious individuals who have long violated U.N. proliferation and weapons restrictions,” the lawmakers said continuing to restrict their movement is “critical to our national security.”
They also urged Pompeo to take steps to expand who is covered by the travel restrictions, including adding new Quds Force leader Esmail Ghanni. Ghanni became commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force after a U.S. drone strike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“Additionally, enforcement of these travel bans is key,” the lawmakers wrote. “Former [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force] Commander Qassem Soleimani routinely flouted these U.N. travel restrictions, including visiting Russia to coordinate Russia’s deadly intervention in Syria. We urge you to lead a campaign within the Security Council to expand this list and facilitate its full enforcement.”