China brands Washington’s UN bid to restore penalties ‘a political show’

The international community has condemned as invalid a move by the United States to formally notify the United Nations on Thursday of its demand for all UN sanctions on Iran to be restored.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday accused Iran of violating a 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. He said the US action would extend an arms embargo that had been set to expire on Oct 18 and also prohibit Iran from testing ballistic missiles and enriching nuclear material.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that China has repeatedly stated that the US is no longer a participant in the JCPOA and has no right to demand the Security Council invoke a snapback.

“The JCPOA participants and most members of the UN Security Council agree that the US demand has no legal basis and the ‘snapback of sanctions’ mechanism has not been triggered,” he told a daily news conference in Beijing.

A spokesperson for China’s mission to the UN in a statement on Thursday called the US move “nothing but a political show”.

The UN Security Council on Aug 14 rejected a bid by the US to extend the arms embargo on Iran. The US was supported only by the Dominican Republic within the 15-member body, with 11 abstentions and two opposing votes from China and Russia.

Joseph Borell, the European Union foreign policy chief, said on Thursday that the US unilaterally ceased participation in the JCPOA by presidential memorandum on May 8, 2018, and has subsequently not participated in any JCPOA-related activities.

“It cannot, therefore, be considered to be a JCPOA participant state for the purpose of possible sanctions snapback foreseen by the resolution,” he said in a statement.

“The JCPOA remains a key pillar of the global nonproliferation architecture, contributing to regional security,” said Borrell, who also discussed the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “they reaffirmed the lack of any legal grounds for the recent US initiatives”.

E3 joint statement

The JCPOA was reached in July 2015 by Iran with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US, Germany and the EU. The US unilaterally reimposed some sanctions on Iran when it pulled out of the deal in 2018.

In a joint statement by their foreign ministers on Thursday, the UK, France and Germany, known as the E3, also emphasized that the US ceased to be a participant in the JCPOA following its withdrawal.

“We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA,” the statement said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a tweet on Thursday called the US attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran as “illegitimate and felonious”.

He told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a phone call on Thursday that “the US’ move will have dangerous consequences for the international law, and will result in nothing but damaging international mechanisms and discrediting the Security Council”.

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the UN Security Council President, Dian Triansyah Djani, is holding one-on-one talks with members on the legality of the US action. And the vast majority of members are virtually certain to agree that the US is not legally entitled to invoke the snapback. If this view prevails, the snapback is not triggered and the US action will have no effect.

If deemed legally entitled, Thursday’s notification by the US would start a 30-day countdown to restore the pre-2015 UN sanctions on Iran, according to Security Council Resolution 2231.

Nicholas Burns, a US undersecretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush, said that Barack Obama and Bush, during their presidencies, succeeded in leveraging Iran because they joined forces with the UK, Germany and France.

“Trump has abandoned our allies, stands alone and is on the road to failure,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.

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