Iran called for global solidarity against the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, saying that U.S. sanctions are “inhumane” and causing “unnecessary suffering and pain”. U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran have not only made Iran suffer economically, but they have also restricted access to vital medicine for Iranians. According to a 2019 report released by Human Rights Watch, this is because the country is struggling to pay for humanitarian imports. Iranian officials continue to have a hard time obtaining financial and medical resources to account for the rapidly expanding coronavirus outbreak. There have been around 127,000 confirmed cases and over 7,000 COVID-19 related deaths so far in Iran. Right now, Iran is struggling with a shortage of supplies, including masks, because of an embargo on paper materials. This comes after the U.S. publicly threatened to trigger a return of all United Nations sanctions on Iran last week if the UN Security Council does not extend an arms embargo on Tehran (the capital city of Iran). The arms embargo, part of the Iran nuclear deal, is set to expire in October and is slowly reducing Iran’s military capabilities.
Iran agreed to a long-term deal with the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany in 2015. This restricted its nuclear program after years of tension over Iran’s alleged efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. The deal was called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but more commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. Iran insisted the nuclear program was peaceful, but agreed to limiting nuclear activities. It also agreed to international inspection in return for the lifting of extensively crippling economic sanctions. The deal allowed for the return of sanctions if Iran violated their conditions. These sanctions were previously imposed by the UN, U.S., and EU in an attempt to keep Iran from uranium enrichment and cost them more than $160 billion in oil revenue from 2012 to 2016 alone.
In 2018, U.S. President Donal Trump left the Iran nuclear deal and reinstated U.S. sanctions on Iran. He also began targeting states that sought to trade with them. This was an economic disaster for Iran, and led to the value of Iranian currency falling to record lows. As a result, the annual inflation rate quadrupled, scaring away foreign investors and triggering protests. Consequentially, Iran said they would no longer comply with their commitments under the agreement and started resuming production of highly enriched uranium.
The United States government has reportedly already drafted a resolution to urge the UN Security Council to extend the arms embargo. The resolution would need nine “yes” votes and no vetoes from Russia, China, France, or Britain to be adopted by the Security Council. However, Russia has made it clear that it does not support an extension of the arms embargo. It is not likely China will agree with the U.S. proposal either. Brian Hook, U.S. Special envoy for Iran, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “one way or another” Washington would make sure the arms embargo remains. He also wrote, “If American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means.”
A party to the Iran nuclear deal does have the ability to trigger a snapback of all UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, if Iran violates the deal. Iran has, in fact, violated several limits of the deal other than their production of enriched uranium. Despite the fact that Trump quit the agreement in 2018, the administration argues it can still trigger the slapback of UN sanctions. This is because a 2015 Security Council resolution that enshrines the deal names the U.S. as a participant.
The U.S. will likely face a tough battle if they do try to trigger a slapback of UN sanctions on Iran. However, diplomats told Reuters they are not totally clear on how or even if a Security Council member could stop them. The UN Security Council is meant to be the most powerful UN body.