Lifting the arms embargo on Iran between the international desire and the American opposition

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Author:M. Hamad Jassim Muhammad Al-Khazraji

Researcher in the Crisis Management Department

Center for Strategic Studies – University of Karbala

September 2020

Translation: M. Muayyad Jabbar Hassan

Investigated by Dr. Tawfeeq Majeed Ahmed


After the nuclear agreement between Iran and the 5 + 1 group (the United States, Russia , China, France, Britain and Germany) under the supervision of the United Nations in 2015, and the issuance of Security Council Resolution No. 2213, according to mutual commitments between the two parties called the Joint Action Plan that included many items, the most important of which is to reduce the rate of enrichment Uranium in Iran from 20% to 3.6%, to keep an amount of enriched uranium estimated at 300 kg. and to allow IAEA employees to enter the Iranian nuclear facilities. In return, all international sanctions on Iran have been lifted, countries and companies can deal with Iran in the field of Energy, whether by investing or purchasing oil and gas, and international banks are allowed to deal with Iran in the field of financial transfers. Most countries in the world have welcomed this agreement as a peaceful way to resolve the Iranian nuclear program crisis, which could establish an international course of action in the future away from tension and threat.

In addition to that, the obligations imposed on Iran were set with specific time limits, as the agreement stipulated that the conventional arms embargo on Iran will continue for ten years ending in October 2020, and the restriction of uranium enrichment at low rates, will expires after 15 years, i.e. in 2025. Thus, these periods were sufficient from the international point of view to verify Iran’s commitment to this agreement and not to violate its clauses, in addition, Iran itself does not suffer from a traditional armament problem neither it needs to enrich uranium at higher rates during this period as much as it needs to improve its economy. Lifting the sanctions that have had an impact on the Iranian economy, since Iran is one of the rich countries in energy (oil and gas), which requires large investments by international companies to increase production and export.

Despite the contrast of the nuclear agreement by an international resolution from the UN Security Council no. 2213, the divergence of views between the US and the international position, at a time when different countries of the world have expressed their desire to deal with Iran and arrival of a large number of different companies to Iran, especially the main European Korean, Japanese and Indian energy companies, and the mutual visits of officials between all parties, the United States continued to impose some economic sanctions on Iran in addition to the US Congress’s refusal to lift the sanctions as stipulated in the nuclear agreement, then the most advanced US step in the field of sanctions came. It is the withdrawal of the US administration headed by the President (Donald Trump) from the nuclear agreement on 5/8/2018, and re-imposing and tightening all economic sanctions, so that it included even countries, companies and individuals that deal with Iran. The purpose of that, according to the US President’s statement, is to reach the export of Iranian oil to zero. All that is to force Iran to return Negotiate again. Despite the rejection of most of the countries in the world, especially the countries of the nuclear agreement, the United States ’withdrawal from the agreement and the imposition of sanctions, but the latter continued to tighten Sanctions and threats against Iran. The last of these procedures is when the United States submitted a request to the Security Council in mid-August 2020 to extend the arms embargo on Iran, which ends in November 2020, claiming that Iran threatens international peace and security, and lifting the arms embargo will make Iran stronger by possessing advanced military technology. It may outperform most of the countries in the region, especially Israel, but the American project did not receive the required support when 11 countries abstained from voting , with an objection from Russia and China, while only one country supported the American request, which is the Dominicans. After that the United States threatened to use the method of (re-trigger), which is a text within the agreement In the year 2015, according to which any country can request the re-imposition of all sanctions on Iran in case that Iran does not adhere to the nuclear agreement, which is what the United States seeks to impose on members of the Security Council.

This contradiction in attitudes toward Iran in general and its nuclear program and the 2015 agreement in particular made it difficult for the United States to impose a certain position on the rest of the world countries. There is an international desire to lift the arms embargo on Iran due to several reasons, including:

Most European countries, including allies of the United States of America, have become dissatisfied with the actions and decisions of the current US administration, particularly those related to the trade side, after the US administration imposing many trade restrictions on the countries of the European Union states and Canada, which was considered a contrast to the laws of the World Trade Organization and against trade freedom, which prompted these countries to put pressure on the US administration , to stay away from it, and not to reconcile with it in imposing sanctions on Iran.

Security Council Resolution 2213 in 2015 was an international resolution with the approval of Security Council members in addition to Germany and under the supervision of the United Nations.  It is a binding resolution for everyone. There is no concrete evidence in the Trump administration against Iran that it violated this resolution or that it supports terrorism in the region. What The US Secretary of State proposed as the accusations against Iran, in the view of other Security Council countries, are allegations without a real evidence, which is considered a political accusation to Iran. Thus, America cannot use the trigger mechanism, that is, the automatic return of international sanctions.

According to the viewpoint of most countries in the world, the 2015 nuclear agreement was the peaceful and correct way to solve the international issues through international negotiations  and agreements. It is also the desire of European countries and their companies to invest in Iran, which is rich in natural resources that needs development. This agreement pushed them to move towards stabilizing the nuclear agreement and helping Iran in reducing the US sanctions . Any cancellation or retreating from the agreement may lead to chaos in the region that will cause devastating consequences, especially that the world is currently suffering from economic crises due to the Corona pandemic.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Rafael Grossi) confirmed during his visit to Iran on August 26, 2020, that the latter allowed agency inspectors to enter two new sites, which is an important development indicating the existence of cooperation between the two sides, especially that the Iranian President (Hassan Rouhani) told the head of the agency that Iran will continue to cooperate with them in all fields In return, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency stressed during the visit that the agency does not have new questions or requests in the future other than those announced.  On this base, the way has been cut off any Israeli or American claims about Iran’s nuclear file. This shows the extent of cooperation Between Iran and the IAEA, where there is no justification for returning or extending any sanctions against Iran.

Most of the conventional weapons covered by the embargo are within Iran’s reach through importing  from friendly countries such as Russia and China, or through local manufacturing that has reached very advanced stages. Thus, continuity of imposing of the arms embargo is useless.

According to most of the UN Security Council countries, The United States does not have the right to ask the Security Council to extend the arms embargo or to activate the trigger mechanism because it became outside the nuclear agreement after withdrawing from it in 2018. This made the United States in a position with which it cannot freely urge The Security Council to extends the sanctions against Iran, as before. In addition, the US administration’s effort to extend the arms embargo on Iran was aimed at supporting President Trump in the upcoming elections, especially by the Jewish in the United States of America.

What has been achieved within the 2015 nuclear agreement cannot be easily reversed by other signatory countries. They know well that the goal of the United States is its own interests and not as it claims world security, in addition to the need for industrial countries for investments, especially in the field of energy with the spread of the Corona pandemic, the stagnation of the markets, and that Iran could be a huge market for international companies, particularly in the field of armaments, after America had reserved arms markets for the Arab Gulf states to buy its weapons. This in addition to the presence of tensions between China and America in the South China Sea, the matter that prompted Beijing to rely on Iran more for its need to oil resources first and to  gain a foothold in the region second, besides Russia is also seeking to establish its presence in the region from the Gulf to Syria through direct Iranian support.

Therefore, the international stand will have the final word in any decision that the United States of America may take or seek against Iran in the future.