As the US continues its efforts to generate support for the renewal of an embargo on weapons sales to the Iranian regime, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now emphasizing that a short-term extension of the embargo would not be considered adequate. On Wednesday, he told reporters that the Trump administration’s goal is to impose indefinite limits on Tehran’s international activities, pending previously outlined, fundamental changes in the state’s behavior.
“The United States has the unambiguous right, without the consent of any other nation, to ensure that this arms embargo stays in place,” Pompeo said, reiterating the position that the US took with regard to the use of enforcement mechanisms written into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Although the US pulled out of that agreement in 2018, citing the Iranian regime’s malign activities, to initiate its “maximum pressure” strategy, it technically remains listed as a participant. This has led the US to assert its right to trigger the “snap back” of multilateral sanctions, in response to the Iranian regime’s violations.
The regime began gradually halting compliance with the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action after having failed to blackmail European signatories to compensate for the effects of re-imposed US sanctions. This culminated in the abandonment of all limits on nuclear enrichment stockpiles and purity levels in the first month of 2020. The European signatories did respond by initiating the dispute resolution mechanism that could result in “snap back,” but they have remained hesitant about actually bringing the deal to a formal end.
The US has expressed impatience over its allies’ actions and has publicly examined unilateral options. However, questions persist about the practicality of these options, given that four out of the five other JCPOA signatories wield veto power in the United Nations Security Council, just as the US does. China and Russia, in particular, are standing fast in opposition to American plans, and have explicitly rejected both the broad prospect of re-imposing sanctions and the narrower goal of just extending the arms embargo.
Pompeo has sought to encourage support for the American plans by highlighting the specific dangers associated with a less restrained Iranian regime’s arms trade. In his remarks on Wednesday, the Secretary of State noted that mullahs’ regime is poised to become an arms dealer for other rogue states, including that of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
Pompeo specifically called out Russia and China as prospective partners in Iranian arms deals, adding that “more civilians in the Middle East will die at the hands of the regime and its proxies” if the Iranian regime gains access to those export markets.
What is clear, however, is that if the US somehow succeeds in its effort, it would almost certainly be the final nail in the coffin of the JCPOA. The regime’s Foreign Minister and chief apologist Javad Zarif desperately pleaded on Tuesday that the embargo’s expiration is guaranteed by the nuclear deal, and that the two issues are inseparable.
This was no doubt both intended as a warning against European support for the embargo, and yet a desperate plea showing the regime’s utter fear of a united front against its belligerence. Unfortunately, although EU’s enthusiasm to succumb to the regime’s nuclear extortion is at odds with other European concerns regarding malign Iranian activities, there is still little sign of willingness to abandon the former in favor of the latter. At a minimum, Zarif’s comments highlight and reinforce this impasse.
The public commentary from Zarif demonstrates persistent defiance and absolute fear of the consequences of their actions. As the US has highlighted, the maximum pressure strategy is causing Tehran to grow steadily weaker behind the scenes. This was the implication of, for instance, a recent Reuters report that suggested economic sanctions, along with the coronavirus pandemic and other crises, had sharply cut into Iran’s support for regional proxies, particularly in Iraq.
The report indicated that whereas Iran had been spending as much as 15 million dollars per month on such entities before sanctions went into place, these expenditures are now down to between two and three million. And this reflects something like a 50 percent decline just since the beginning of the current year. Reuters notes that the prior beneficiaries of that spending are now scrambling for other sources of revenue. This means they are following a similar pattern already observed in other militias, including Iran’s most prominent and longstanding proxy, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
In addition, the regime faces a restive society that showed its willingness to overthrow the mullahs’ regime during the nationwide Iran protests in November and by boycotting the regime’s sham parliamentary elections. The regime needs the export of terrorism and will continue its nuclear and missile program to prolong its life. This will only increase chaos across the globe. If western countries are willing to prevent this regime, they should stand with the people of Iran and recognize their right to resistance and overthrowing the mullahs’ regime, which is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism.