The United States unilaterally proclaimed on Saturday that the United Nations (UN) sanctions against Iran are back in force and promised to punish those who violate them, in a move that risks increasing their isolation, but also international tensions.
“Today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran previously lifted,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
According to him, these punitive measures are “again in force” since Saturday 8pm.
Above all, Donald Trump's government clearly threatens to set up a system of so-called secondary sanctions to punish any country or entity that violates UN sanctions, even though it is one of the only ones in the world to believe that they are in force. It is a formidable weapon: the offenders designated by Washington would be blocked from access to the market and to the American financial system.
“If UN member states do not meet their obligations to apply these sanctions, the United States is ready to use its own tools to punish these failures,” Pompeo warned. He promised that US “measures” would be announced “in the coming days” against “those who violate UN sanctions”.
Six weeks away from running for a second term, President Trump could unveil the measures during his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
Only here, Washington is almost alone and against all: the other great powers, Russia, China, but also the European allies of the Americans, dispute this assertion.
“Any decision or measure taken with the intention of restoring” the sanctions “will have no legal effect”, France, the United Kingdom and Germany replied in advance in a joint letter sent to the Council Presidency on Friday. security and of which AFP has obtained a copy.
The Americans “realize themselves that this is a false statement”, also assured the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
How did we come to this spectacular face-to-face between the world's leading power and the rest of the planet? To understand it, we have to go back a month.
In mid-August, the Trump administration suffered a resounding setback in the UN Security Council in its attempt to extend the embargo on conventional arms against Tehran, which expires in October.
Accusing in an attack of rare violence Paris, London and Berlin of having “chosen to align with the ayatollahs” in power in the Islamic Republic, Mike Pompeo launched, on August 20, a controversial procedure, nicknamed ” snapback ” and supposed to restore all UN sanctions against Iran a month later.
These sanctions were lifted in 2015, when Tehran pledged, in an international agreement, not to acquire nuclear weapons.
However, President Trump, deeming this text negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama insufficient, withdrew from it in 2018 the United States, which, in the process, reinstated, even toughened, their own bilateral sanctions.
Now, in a legal twist, the United States is invoking its status as a country “participating” in this agreement which it has left with a crash, with the sole aim of activating the ” snapback “.
Washington's ability to avail itself of this status is contested by almost all of the other member countries of the Security Council, which has therefore not followed up on its approach.
But the dialogue of the deaf continues: the Trump administration is now acting as if international sanctions are back, while the other powers intend to act as if nothing had happened.
American diplomacy insists in particular that the arms embargo is extended “indefinitely” and that many activities related to Tehran's nuclear and ballistic programs are now punishable at the international level.
“Nothing is going to happen,” predicted a diplomat at the UN. “It's like when you pull the trigger and the bullet doesn't go.”
Another deplores a “unilateral” act: “Russia and China are watching, satisfied, while eating popcorn, the Europeans and the Americans are divided”.
But if the United States were to follow through on the threat of secondary sanctions, the escalation could continue.