Iran Threatens “Crushing Response” If Arms Embargo Extended

On May 6, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised a “crushing response” and “serious consequences” if the United States extends the arms embargo on Iranian trade of conventional arms. The statement comes after the United States drafted a United Nations resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo, which was set to be lifted in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The United States left the JCPOA (also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal) in 2018 and has called for an extension to the embargo through the United Nations. According to Radio Farda, the United States has been concerned with Iran’s military actions, particularly given its connections to terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and HAMAS in Palestine. Radio Farda continues that lifting the embargo could also allow Iran to develop ballistic missiles, which could create a major security concern in the Middle East and around the world.

President Rouhani and other government officials were quick to voice their displeasure with the United States’ actions. In a speech, Rouhani called the United States’ exit from the JCPOA a “stupid mistake;” For the United States, there is no return to the JCPOA. It is finished for them…unless they come forward, ask for coming back and all the parties involved accept their request and America lifts all the sanctions on Iran under special conditions.” He added, “If America wants to return to the deal, it should lift all the sanctions on Tehran and compensate for the re-imposition of sanctions…Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.” Rouhani emphasized, however, that Iran could still participate in the JCPOA: “Iran’s nuclear steps are reversible if other parties to the deal fulfil their obligations and preserve Tehran’s interests under the pact.” Spokesman Ali Rabiei placed further blame on the United States: “[The United States] [has] been playing with the world. One day they say they withdraw from the JCPOA and another day they want to exert their influence as initial participants in the nuclear agreement … Not only Iran, but no other JCPOA member state will accept this. We believe the call for extending the arms embargo against Iran is yet another sign of the United States’ arrogance and bullying as Washington is taking unilateral advantage of international treaties.”

According to a Reuters article dated May 6, Iran wants to keep the JCPOA intact to protect its economy from numerous sanctions that have been imposed on the country. However, Iran has had a commitment problem since the United States left the agreement, especially since the other members of the JCPOA have not protected Iran from American sanctions. According to Radio Farda, Iran has stated that it wanted to work closely in compliance with the JCPOA and United Nations to ease sanctions and reduce its nuclear program, and the United States’ recent actions have left Iran with no choice but to respond harshly. In addition, an Associated Press article dated April 28 notes that Russia would likely oppose an extension of the arms embargo, as it has made it clear that it would like to resume arms trade with Iran. The same article notes, however, that the United States believes it has a case that the embargo should not be lifted, especially given that Iran has not been fully complying with the nuclear deal (according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)). As mentioned above, Radio Farda notes that lifting the arms embargo could cause a security concern in the Middle East and around the world since Iran is known to have close ties with terrorist organizations. 

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an arms embargo was first placed on Iran in December 2006 through United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1737, which banned the export of technology related to the transportation of nuclear weapons to Iran. The embargo was made stricter in 2007 and 2010 by further UNSC resolutions. According to the same article, the initial resolution was passed as the IAEA could not confirm that Iran had no undeclared nuclear weapons or programs. Thus, the goal of the embargo was to prevent Iran from further nuclear proliferation. According to the Arms Control Association, the JCPOA was signed in 2015 as a joint program between Iran, the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom to further work towards Iranian denuclearization in return for easing sanctions (which had crippled the Iranian economy according to the Associated Press) and reducing the arms embargo. However, the United States backed out of the JCPOA in 2018, putting Iran’s complete denuclearization into question. 

As explained by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, it is the United Nations’ final goal to achieve worldwide denuclearization. Nuclear weapons have had devastating impacts in the two instances they were used during war (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and it should be every nation’s goal to avoid nuclear war. From this perspective, it may be argued that the United States should have remained in the JCPOA to ensure Iranian denuclearization. But, with the United States having withdrawn and tensions rising, Iranian denuclearization may not come as fast as the United Nations may have hoped.