September 9, 2020 | Washington Examiner

How Trump can enforce the snapback of UN sanctions on Iran

September 9, 2020 | Washington Examiner

How Trump can enforce the snapback of UN sanctions on Iran

President Trump recently demanded the indefinite restoration of the United Nations’s sanctions on Iran that were terminated by the Obama-Biden nuclear deal — including an arms embargo that was scheduled to expire in October. Russia and China will contest Trump’s assertion and threaten sales of advanced conventional weapons to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

To defend America’s security, Trump should use his own sanctions toolbox to enforce disputed multilateral restrictions, whether Moscow and Beijing like it or not.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the U.N. Security Council that Washington was triggering a 30-day process known as a “snapback” to restore international sanctions on Iran — a move that effectively delivers last rites to the nuclear deal and denies Iran its remaining strategic benefits.

In addition to billions of dollars in sanctions relief, Iran had won important changes at the Security Council in 2015: an expiration on the arms embargo in 2020, an expiration on the prohibition of foreign support to its missile program in 2023, removal of prohibitions on uranium enrichment and missile testing, and future legitimate pathways to an industrial-sized nuclear program. Under the snapback, all of these concessions disappear. Instead, older Security Council resolutions return to life, eliminating sunsets on key restrictions while demanding that Iran immediately halt all enrichment and missile-related activities.

Russia, China, and European countries that support the nuclear deal are contesting the U.S. snapback, arguing that America forfeited its standing to trigger the mechanism when it left the deal in 2018. Russia and China’s interests are apparent. The Defense Department reported that both countries want to sell fighter jets, tanks, and naval platforms to Iran when the arms embargo ends.

Supporters of the nuclear deal in London, Paris, and Berlin, on the other hand, know that a snapback is their last stand. If the snapback occurs, the deal is finally dead. They are willing to undermine their own security interests in letting the arms embargo on Iran expire just to preserve a more politically expedient appeasement foreign policy. According to senior advisers, former Vice President Joe Biden falls into this camp too.

Detractors claim that the refusal of most Security Council members to recognize America’s triggering of the snapback leaves the United States more isolated, ignoring widespread support from across the Middle East. These claims dismiss a more fundamental truth: Doing nothing would give Iran uncontested international legitimacy in developing its conventional, missile, and nuclear capabilities. By triggering the snapback, Trump puts a cloud of uncertainty and illegitimacy over any U.N. member state that considers breaching binding Security Council resolutions — a cloud he can turn into a thunderstorm of deterrence by enforcing the snapback with the threat of U.S. sanctions.

Trump is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly just hours after the U.S. completes the snapback. He should use this speech to announce an executive order threatening the full range of financial sanctions against any firm connected to the transfer of conventional arms, ballistic and cruise missiles, drones, and related components to Iran. Though not covered by the U.N. embargo, transfers of air defense systems like the Russian S-400 should be included.

If a Russian or Chinese defense firm tries to sell weapons to Iran, that firm and all the supporting institutions involved in a transaction would face secondary U.S. sanctions. Sanctions would apply not just to new sales but also to maintenance and modernization of existing equipment. Banks, underwriters, shippers, ports, freight forwarders, and other logistics firms would have to choose: involvement in Russian and Chinese military sales or a cutoff from the U.S. financial system and market.

Congress inserted a similar provision in a 2017 sanctions law, but that legislation failed to address the broadest range of possible military-related transfers and potential sanctions to deter them. Trump has an opportunity to take this bipartisan legislation and greatly expand its impact.

For a firm like Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state organization in charge of defense exports, a designation under this executive order could disrupt billions of dollars in global sales. While Rosoboronexport is already blacklisted by the U.S. for its activities in Ukraine, secondary sanctions have not been enforced.

China, whose arms export industry has grown in recent years, would face the same risks. Beijing uses several state-owned enterprises — NORINCO, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, and China South Industries Group Corporation — to sell military products.

Recent examples demonstrate that state-owned enterprises with global business behave just like other multinational corporations when it comes to U.S. sanctions compliance. China has gone to great lengths to distance its state-owned energy companies and banks from illicit oil transactions with Iran. Last November, a Russian state-owned nuclear fuel company suspended its work at an Iranian facility after U.S. sanctions were reinstated. Russian and Chinese diplomats can make all the speeches they want; their state-owned enterprises, nonetheless, typically make financially prudent decisions.

America may stand alone at the Security Council in recognizing the snapback of U.N. sanctions on Iran. But Trump can send a powerful message to a corrupt and dysfunctional multilateral system by unilaterally enforcing that snapback with the deterrent power of U.S. sanctions.

Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He served on Capitol Hill, on the U.S. National Security Council, as the governor of Illinois’s chief of staff, and as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer. Follow him on Twitter @rich_goldberg.

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Issues:

China International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Sanctions Russia Sanctions and Illicit Finance