October 10, 2023 | Washington Examiner

The clock is ticking on UN missile and drone prohibitions against Iran 

The Hamas terrorist attacks against Israelbacked by Iran, underscore a grim deadline: The restrictions from the United Nations on Tehran’s testing, transfer, and procurement of missiles and drones expire next week. The Biden administration and Europe have said they will henceforth use their own national sanctions, as opposed to the U.N. sanctions, to hold Iran and buyers of its weapons accountable. But that’s not enough to stem Russia’s slaughter of Ukrainians using Tehran-made weapons or to curb Iran’s support for Palestinian terrorists. The United States and its European allies must stop the embargoes’ expiration and reimpose all U.N. Iran sanctions.

The U.N. missile and drone restrictions will expire on Oct. 18, a date known as Transition Day in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which is also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsed and codified the accord a week after its finalization, and it specifies the coming end to the missile and drone provisions. The expiration of the U.N. embargoes will make it easier for Iran to obtain foreign missile and drone equipment. Tehran already procures such equipment but will face fewer restrictions and enforcement actions to stop it from flowing from supplier and transit countries.

Tehran will also increase its use of front companies and other concealment efforts to make illicit procurements for missile and drone activities more difficult to detect — and therefore harder for the U.S. and Europe to sanction. This trend, coupled with a serious (but failing) “de-escalation” effort by America and Europe with the Islamic Republic regime, is a sign to private businesses and foreign governments that the West will not levy sanctions in response to cooperation with Iran.

For those countries that are proactive in ensuring that Iran is not using their jurisdictions for proliferation activities, the expiration of U.N. sanctions will reduce the legal authorities available to countries to address these activities. Some countries, such as Canada, link the enforcement of U.N. resolutions to national sanctions regulations. The expiration of U.N. drone and missile embargoes against Iran could thus throw procurement regulations and sanctions enforcement efforts into disarray.

Iran will use this new permissive procurement and sales environment to augment weapons provisions both to Palestinian terrorist groups that attack Israelis and to Russia to undermine Western support for Ukraine.For more than a year, Tehran has been arming Russia with drones to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. It has thus far refrained from sharing missiles, likely in anticipation of the Oct. 18 missile sunset. But missile transfers to Moscow will be green-lit after the U.N. embargo expires, resulting in an increase in Ukrainian casualties.

If the U.S. and its European partners rely solely on national authorities to retain the missile and drone sanctions, Iran will see it as a sign of Western weakness and intensify its malign activities, including its nuclear program.When the West does not respond to Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region and beyond, Iran typically takes full advantage. Allowing the embargoes to lapse would be a further signal that the U.S. and Europe will stand down on Tehran’s drone, missile, and nuclear proliferation.

This reality highlights the need to reimpose all other U.N. sanctions on Iran as well. As the remaining parties to the JCPOA, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom must trigger the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution 2231’s mechanism to reimpose U.N. sanctions, colloquially known as the“snapback.” Within 30 days, this would bring back into force prior U.N. resolutions against Iran passed between 2006 and 2010. The snapback would have the added benefit of restoring the U.N. conventional arms embargo against Iran, which expired in 2020, preventing nuclear-related restrictions from sunsetting, and restoring the international demand that Tehran halt uranium enrichment.

However, the snapback mechanism expires in 2025, and Russia and China’s hostility to the West and their coziness with Iran all but ensure the UNSC would not be able to pass any new Iran-related sanctions resolutions. The West, therefore, has just two years to reimpose all U.N. sanctions against Tehran and preserve these embargoes before the multilateral prohibitions on Iran’s nuclear, missile, and military programs are gone forever.

The U.S. and Europe have time to act and reverse their acquiescence to Tehran’s growing destabilization of international security. There isn’t a moment to lose — the people of Israel and Ukraine depend on it.

Anthony Ruggiero (@NatSecAnthony), the former National Security Council senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense in the Trump administration, is a senior fellow and senior director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Andrea Stricker (@StrickerNonpro) is a research fellow and deputy director of the program.


International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Nuclear Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Nonproliferation