UN Arms Embargoes on Iran Expire, US Upholds Snapback of Prior UN Sanctions

October 18, 2020 Updated: October 18, 2020

A decade-long U.N. arms embargo on Iran that barred it from purchasing foreign weapons such as tanks and fighter jets expired Sunday as planned under its nuclear deal with world powers, despite objections from the United States.

In August, the United States formally demanded the snapback of all UN sanctions on Iran that were in effect before the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that was signed in 2015.

The restoration of all sanctions including re-imposition of the UN arms embargo took effect on Sept.19, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a statement. As a result, the export of certain conventional arms to Iran, as well as the procurement of any arms or related materiel from Iran will violate UN Security Council resolutions, Pompeo added.

Any individual or entity that engages in trading conventional arms with Iran, as well as provides training or financial support related to these arms, can be sanctioned by the United States, Pompeo said.

“Every nation that seeks peace and stability in the Middle East and supports the fight against terrorism should refrain from any arms transactions with Iran. Providing arms to Iran will only aggravate tensions in the region, put more dangerous weapons into the hands of terrorist groups and proxies, and risk increasing threats to the security of Israel and other peaceful nations,” Pompeo said in the statement.

Epoch Times Photo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference in Washington, on Sept. 21, 2020. (Patrick Semansk/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Pompeo said that Iran’s Islamic regime diverts funds from the Iranian people toward fulfilling its military ambitions thus impoverishing Iranians. “Today, Iranians are suffering because the regime continues to withhold nearly $1 billion from the Iranian Health Ministry for its COVID-19 response, despite calls from Iranian health officials to provide needed funding,” Pompeo said.

“The regime has a choice,” Pompeo said, if Iranian leaders “abandon their dreams of exporting revolution, they will find a welcoming and generous partner in Washington.”

While insisting it planned no “buying spree,” Iran in theory can purchase weapons to upgrade military armament dating back to before its 1979 Islamic Revolution and sell its own locally produced military gear abroad. In practice, however, Iran’s economy remains crippled by broad-reaching U.S. sanctions, and other nations may avoid arms deals with Tehran for fear of American financial retaliation.

The Islamic Republic heralded the end of the arms embargo as “a momentous day for the international community… in defiance of the U.S. regime’s effort.”

Efforts to Prevent Arms Embargo from Expiring

The Trump administration has insisted it has re-invoked all U.N. sanctions on Iran via a clause in the JCPOA it withdrew from in 2018.

After the United States initiated the snapback, the three European signatories of the Iran nuclear deal—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the E3)—said they could not support the U.S. action because the United States withdrew from Iran nuclear deal. However, they said they were also very concerned by Iran’s continued violation of its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA.

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew the United States unilaterally from the Iran nuclear deal saying that the deal had failed to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons and allowed the Islamic regime to support terrorist activities internationally.

The United States “has made every diplomatic effort” for almost two years to try to renew the arms embargo, Pompeo told the press in August.

Before requesting the sanction snapback, the United States initiated a resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran indefinitely. The U.N. Security Council failed to pass it as China and Russia voted against it while 11 of 15 members of the Security Council abstained, including France, Germany, and Britain.

The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear program. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.

An Iranian cruise missile
An Iranian locally made cruise missile is fired during war games in the northern Indian Ocean and near the entrance to the Gulf, Iran, on June 17, 2020. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency predicted in 2019 that if the embargo ended, Iran likely would try to purchase Russian Su-30 fighter jets, Yak-130 trainer aircraft, and T-90 tanks. Tehran also may try to buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and its Bastian coastal defense missile system, the Defense Intelligence Agency said. China also could sell Iran arms.

Iran long has been outmatched by U.S.-backed Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have purchased billions of dollars of advanced American weaponry. In response, Tehran turned toward developing locally made ballistic missiles.

The U.N. arms embargoes, however, did not stop Iran from sending weapons ranging from assault rifles to ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. While Tehran denies arming the Houthis, Western governments and weapons experts repeatedly have linked Iranian arms to the rebels.

Six Gulf Arab nations that backed the extension of the arms embargoes noted arms shipments to Yemen in their objection to the resumption of any weapon sales to Iran. They also mentioned in a letter to the U.N. Security Council that Iran mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane in January and its navy accidentally killed 19 sailors in a missile strike during an exercise. The U.N. also linked Iran to a 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s main crude oil refinery, though Tehran denies any links and Yemen’s rebel Houthis claimed responsibility.

Iran also provides financial aid and supplies advanced weapons to Hezbollah–a Lebanese Shia terrorist group –which has significantly contributed to Lebanon’s economic crisis and poses threats to Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, according to a U.S. State Department report. (pdf)

Sunday also marked the end of U.N. travel bans on a number of Iranian military and paramilitary Revolutionary Guard members.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.