If the American maneuver doesn’t work out, Israel could face two problems: Iran will be able to buy weapons, and veto power in the UN Security Council will be called into question.
https://www.jpost.com-By LAHAV HARKOV
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited “incontestable” evidence that Tehran has violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran is known. Those include enriching uranium beyond the 3.67% limit listed in the agreement, accumulating a stockpile of over 300 kg. of low-enriched uranium and more heavy water than permitted and restarting enrichment at the Fordow plant. Plus, Iran has blocked International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from visiting suspected nuclear sites.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the US for the move, calling it “the right decision” to counter the “fatal flaw” in the JCPOA, “the so-called sunset clauses. I urged the P5+1 not to agree to a framework which automatically lifts the restrictions on Iran and the sanctions on the regime’s import and export of armaments, its missile program and its nuclear activities.
As Pompeo and Netanyahu present it, the situation sounds simple enough: Iran is violating its nuclear deal, the JCPOA allows for sanctions if that happens, so the US is triggering those restrictions.
But it is anything but simple, and if the American maneuver doesn’t work out, Israel could face two problems: Iran will be able to buy weapons, and veto power in the UN Security Council, which the US has used countless times to protect Israel, will be called into question.
The issue of snapback sanctions does not only hold the future of arms sales to the world’s biggest supporter of terrorism, which seeks to destroy Israel, in the balance, it has the potential to cause the UN equivalent of a constitutional crisis.
The snapback mechanism reverses the usual process in the UN, in which there is a resolution and then a vote in which the P5 – five permanent members of the UN Security Council – have veto powers. In this case, any one of the P5 can announce the return of sanctions, as the US did on Thursday, and there would have to be unanimity among all five countries to stop the snapback.
What UNSC Resolution 2231 does not say is what happens if someone leaves the JCPOA, as the US did in May 2018. The US is listed as a JCPOA participant in the agreement itself, and the US is relying on that text as the reason it can keep the arms embargo going. But none of the other parties to the nuclear deal agree with the American interpretation.
“It’s too cute by half to say we’re in the nuclear deal for purposes we want but not for those we don’t. That alone is sufficient reason not to trigger the snapback process,” US President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week.
The E3 – France, UK and Germany – released a statement soon after Pompeo announced the snapback that they “note that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal… We cannot, therefore, support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA.”
Any UNSC member can submit a resolution to ignore the snapback and enact the sunset clauses, and it must go to a vote within 30 days. There’s a good chance China, Russia, France or the UK will do this. China and Russia want to be able to start selling weapons to the mullahs in October.
The E3’s situation is more complicated. The EU’s arms embargo on Iran lasts through 2023, so they’re not looking to do business. They triggered the dispute mechanism of the JCPOA in January to criticize Iran’s violations of the deal. They clearly know that Iran is in breach of the agreement. But they have not had the courage to do something about it involving actual consequences.
Instead, they insist on maintaining the framework of the lame-duck JCPOA, which means the arms embargo has to go in October. Without the carrot of the sunset clauses, it’s not clear Iran will heed the stick of the nuclear restrictions, they argue – even though Iran is already violating the JCPOA.
But here’s the catch: P5 countries can’t automatically veto a snapback request, but they can veto the resolution to ignore the snapback. This means the US can veto any resolutions to reverse continuation of the arms embargo until the 30 days run out.
But the other four of the P5 have their own tricks they can use, such as a motion to adjust UNSC Resolution 2231 to say the US is no longer a member of the JCPOA.
In the UNSC, only substantial votes can be vetoed by one of the permanent members; procedural votes are not subject to veto power. Russia and China argue that officially excluding the US from the JCPOA is a matter of procedure, while for the US, it’s a matter of substance to reinterpret a UNSC resolution that is legally binding.
And then – as if this isn’t complicated enough – the US could veto a vote on the question of whether this is procedural or substantive. This is what is called a double veto, something none of the P5 has used in decades.
With the clock ticking on the 30-day deadline to oppose snapback sanctions, we still don’t know exactly where this crisis of using veto powers will go. As of Sunday, no one had done anything other than release statements against the US triggering the mechanism.
The E3’s best bet for saving face is to submit a resolution against the American snapback move. The Americans would veto it, but they can then honestly say they tried to preserve the nuclear deal if they decide to negotiate with Iran again, while also not undermining the central UN structure.
China and Russia, however, will probably ignore the renewed sanctions. This will destroy any semblance of relevance for the JCPOA, and it will weaken the power of the UN Security Council as a body making binding decisions.
That is a problem for the rules-based world order and the role of Western democracies therein. The US may suffer from it immediately, but it will eventually hurt France’s and the UK’s power in the UNSC resolution, as well.
And if the US loses its gambit in the Security Council, Israel will lose twice. First, the Iranian regime that has its genocidal intent against Israel apparent get access to advanced weaponry. Then, the Security Council veto that the US has used again and again to stop binding resolutions against Israel could be weakened and called into question.