Iran should not celebrate UN Security Council’s arms embargo vote
The US must act alone on behalf of its allies and to the detriment of its adversaries, who are willing to sell Iran advanced weapons to further destabilize the region. Russia and China on Friday voted against the US on keeping the arms embargo on Iran in place.
The arms embargo against the Islamic Republic is set to expire on Oct. 18. Iran will then be able to buy advanced offensive weapons to increase the capabilities of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy to threaten the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, and the Gulf of Aden. Iran will be able to upgrade its surface-to-surface rocket capabilities to threaten US regional allies. It will also be able to push more sophisticated weapons to its proxies, destabilizing the region from Iraq to Yemen.
How did we get here? How did we negate what was a permanent and unanimous decision to put an arms embargo on the most effective state sponsor of terror? The expiration of the arms embargo was a concession offered by the Obama administration to secure the Iran deal. Russia and China helped get this concession from the US in the last weeks of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations in Vienna in July 2015. When asked if the arms embargo was on the table, then-US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Dempsey said: “We should under no circumstances relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.”
The Obama administration caved days later and justified the five-year wait-and-see decision, believing that, by 2020, reformists and moderates would have used the economic windfall of the JCPOA to wrest power away from the regime. That did not happen. The windfall of $150 billion never touched the Iranian economy and instead went on funding destabilizing activities across the region — none more consequential than the shoring up of Syria’s Bashar Assad when he was at his weakest point. Some 600,000 deaths later, Assad, Iran and Russia are in control of most of the country.
The US must use all the tools at its disposal to keep the arms embargo against Iran from expiring in October. President Donald Trump says he’s ready. The White House insists it has the option to “snapback” all UN sanctions on Iran under the terms of the JCPOA. The administration has also repeatedly warned Russia and China that a vote against an extension of the embargo would not come without consequences.
Trump said on Saturday that he was prepared to act within days. “Well we knew what the vote was going to be but we’ll be doing a snapback, you’ll be watching it next week,” he said. US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft added: “The US has every right to initiate (the) snapback of provisions of previous Security Council resolutions,” and, “in the coming days, the United States will follow through on that promise to stop at nothing to extend the arms embargo.”
While Russia and China may have bought the regime a few more days, that doesn’t mean these countries are coming to Iran’s financial rescue — they only want oil and money from Tehran to secure weapons contracts that were agreed in 2015. Moscow and Beijing are trying to salvage a bad investment as a result of the Iran nuclear deal. This deal was supposed to open up Iran’s economy to Western investment and allow China and Russia to use Tehran’s new wealth to sell it offensive and defensive weapons and secure oil and gas rights, in addition to payments. The vision of Iran as an economic powerhouse by 2020 never materialized.
Even as former Secretary of State John Kerry was urging private European companies to jump in to Iran, the US Treasury was saying “not so fast.” Private sector companies on both sides of the Atlantic that were contemplating doing business in Iran were reminded of the IRGC’s penetration of all sectors of Iran’s economy and warned that investing in those sectors would trigger economic repercussions.
Despite pressure on private sector companies from their German, British and French governments, the CEOs of these companies weighed up being in the US’ disfavor or investing in a poorly managed and toxic Iranian economy — they made the right decision for their bottom line and stayed out.
Russia and China are now in the same position: If they bypass US sanctions by selling offensive weapons and investing in a toxic and shrinking Iranian economy, they risk being subjected to targeted sanctions and losing access to the US banking system.
The China-Iran deal that is in the works would do little to help Iran offset US sanctions. There is no guarantee Beijing will come through on the reported $400 billion investment over 25 years. It has only invested $27 billion over the last 15 years, according to a senior State Department official.
China would have all the power in whatever deal may or may not transpire. It will ensure any agreement with a desperate regime in Iran would be one where this predatory lender has the advantage. More importantly, the Chinese government is hesitant to put its companies at risk of US sanctions when it comes to Iran.
This is an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to salvage a very bad investment in Iran. Tehran is more isolated than ever and shouldn’t take Friday’s UN Security Council vote as good news. It is relying on Russia and China, two countries that will take more and more oil and water rights, and will never view the Islamic Republic as an equal.
Russia and China do not want the Iranian regime to have a nuclear weapon. They will hold Iran to complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — that is their red line. They went into the JCPOA to raid Iran’s economy, take oil, and sell advanced weapons. Beijing and Moscow are not partners with the regime; they are waiting to get all they can.
A deal with China would not result in joint military operations to help Iran threaten the Strait of Hormuz or invade Iraq; and Russia won’t use its S-400 missile defense system to protect Iran’s weapons or its militia corridor into Syria. Iran is desperate enough to give water, oil and gas rights to Russia and China in exchange for a veto in the UN Security Council, or perhaps a deal that is yet to be made.
Tehran is relying on Russia and China, two countries that will take more and more oil and water rights, and will never view it as an equal.
Iran cannot survive another four years of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign — the regime can barely even hold on through January 2021. But, like Russia and China, Iran is hoping for relief from a Biden administration, which would be willing to jump back into the Iran deal and lift all sanctions without conditions. However, that is not likely to happen. The original supporters of the Iran deal and Barack Obama’s people believed that, by now, the moderates would have outmaneuvered the hard-liners in Iran. They know now what our allies in the region have known for 40 years: The supreme leader decides everything.
With sunset clauses and ballistic missiles the topics of concern for all parties, including our European allies, the regime will find itself having to make concessions on these issues and its regional activity in even its best-case scenario.
- Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.