Vassily Nebenzia’s comments at a video news conference made clear that the Trump administration will have a tough time advancing any measures to impose further punishment on Iran in the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has veto power.
The United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution that would indefinitely extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which expires in October, to a small number of council members in late April. It would strike the expiration of the arms embargo from the council resolution that endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal between six major powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — and Iran, according to Trump administration officials and U.N. diplomats.
Russia has made no secret of its desire to resume conventional weapons sales to Tehran. Nebenzia said the arms embargo is “a byproduct” of the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, and was temporary. “It expires in October. ... And for us that’s clear, that’s clear,” he said. “I do not see any reason why an arms embargo should be imposed on Iran.”
Nebenzia was also asked about the controversial matter of the Trump administration possibly seeking to use the “snapback” provision in the 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear deal, which would restore all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased under the terms of the agreement.
The Russian ambassador stressed that “to trigger a snapback you have to be a participant of the JCPOA, and the U.S. proudly announced on May 8, 2018 that they withdrew from the JCPOA and closed the door behind.”
“Now, they knock on the door and say, `Now just wait a second we forgot to do one little thing on the JCPOA, but let us back, we’ll do it and we’ll leave again,’” he said. Nebenzia called the possibility the U.S. invoking snapback “ridiculous,” stressing that “for me it’s unequivocal. They are not members, they have no right” to use any instruments provided by the JCPOA.
He also asked the Trump administration what it would gain from triggering snapback “because snapback will definitely be the end of the JCPOA." Nebenzia that the reaction will be that “the most intrusive inspections" of any country which the International Atomic Energy Agency is carrying out in Iran “will cease."
“My question is, is it in the U.S. interests that it happens?,” he asked. The Trump administration is not planning at this point to raise the controversial issue of “snapback,” said U.S. officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Although President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, the U.S. maintains that it retains the right to invoke a sanctions snapback that the deal envisaged in the event of “significant non-performance” by Iran.
That position rests on a novel State Department legal argument that was first presented in December and asserts that although the U.S. is no longer in the nuclear deal, it remains an original “participant” under the terms of the Security Council resolution that enshrined it.
That resolution does, in fact, list the parties to the 2015 agreement by name, but numerous diplomats in addition to Russia have said the American argument is specious because the Trump administration has made such a point about no longer participating in the deal.
Nebenzia was asked who the legal arbiter of whether the U.S. still has standing to trigger snapback should be. “It is up to the members of the Security Council primarily, first of all, and to the remaining participants of the JCPOA itself,” he said.
Nebenzia quoted a letter from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday in which Zarif says not only is the U.S. is “in grave violation” of the 2015 resolution for non-performance, “but it is blatantly attempting illegal paths to reverse the resolution in actual contempt for well-established principles of international law.”
Solely by withdrawing from the JCPOA , the U.S. “has lost any right,” he quoted Zarif as saying. Nebenzia said he subscribes fully to Zarif’s words, adding, “this to me looks like a truthful legal interpretation.”