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European Confusion Over Traditional Iranian Weapons

European Confusion Over Traditional Iranian Weapons

Thursday, 2 July, 2020 - 12:00
UN Security Council virtual meeting on 30 June (AFP)
Paris - Michel Abu Najm

Once again, the three European countries that are directly concerned with Iran's nuclear program (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) have found themselves in a difficult position between the need to comply to US pressures to extend the ban of arms trade with Iran starting this October and also their caution to maintain a line of communication with Tehran and keep the 2015 Nuclear Deal alive despite the battering it has already taken.

They are trying to reconcile positions that appear either contradictory or incomprehensible. For instance, the European trio considers that lifting the United Nations’ arms embargo on Iran, which the UN has imposed on traditional weapons through Resolution 2231, "may have a major implications for regional security and stability”, agreeing to follow the US position.

Meanwhile, Paris, Berlin, and London rejected the draft resolution that Washington presented to the Security Council last Tuesday, which was also firmly opposed by the Chinese and Russian delegates.

European sources in New York told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Europeans had "advised" the Americans not to submit the Draft, they believed that it would not pass for two reasons: First, it would not receive the nine votes needed for approval in the event of the absence of a veto, second, the Russians and the Chinese would use their veto if the US project were to reach the nine vote threshold. This implies that the five Europeans who are currently in the Security Council, according to what the aforementioned sources said, “will not go as far as voting against the draft resolution, to avoid upsetting the US and creating tension between the two sides of the Atlantic; rather, they would abstain.” The sources added: “If things remain the same and positions do not shift, it is likely that Washington will not put its project to a vote and will resort to an alternative method instead. ”

The alternative method is the so-called "snapback" measure; a process outlined in the nuclear deal that allows for the reimposition of international sanctions that were lifted under the 2231 Resolution at the behest of a signatory to the agreement if the six signatories (5 + 1) and Iran are unable to resolve their differences through negotiations.

The Europeans deny Washington's claim that the latter is still party to the agreement despite its exit from it in the spring of 2018. Olaf Skoog, the European Union's representative to the United Nations, said this week that Washington “has not participated in any meetings or activities within the framework of the 2015 Nuclear Agreement, which means that it cannot claim to still be inside it despite its exit from it.”

In a statement issued after their meeting in Berlin, foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain had previously rejected "any unilateral (US) attempt to reimpose UN sanctions against Iran."

Thus, the precariousness of the European position is obvious: The rejection of the two US proposals aimed at extending the embargo on conventional weapons sales to Iran and the assertions that lifting the embargo "will have major implications for regional security and stability".

The sources admit that the Europeans "are in a far more awkward position" today, and they had angered both Iran and the US. However, it seems that they have "discovered" a way out that would allow them to distance themselves from this complex problem, at least temporarily. They are privy to a European decision to ban arms sales to Iran that is extended annually and is valid until the spring of 2021. The Europeans thereby assert that the US draft “is not their concern”, while the refusal to re-impose international sanctions on Iran stems from the desire to maintain the agreement.

Earlier this week, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, took advantage of the Security Council meeting to exert more pressure on the Europeans by linking the lifting of the arms embargo to his country committing to the agreement, despite the widespread violations that have made it void.

In light of all of these complications, the whispers are growing louder in the corridors of the Security Council about a US alternative plan, which may be the "last way out" for Washington to reach its goals in terms of re-imposing international sanctions, including the extension of the arms embargo on Iran.

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