Iran’s rulers characterized what happened at the U.N. Security Council last week as a “heavy defeat for Washington,” and I can’t say they’re wrong. Most distressing: It was not America’s enemies who were responsible. It was some of America’s closest friends.
At issue was a simple question: Should it be legal and easy for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell fighter jets, attack helicopters, battle tanks, naval platforms — all and any conventional weapons?
The United States said no.
Russia and China, permanent Security Council members, said, in effect: “Yes, absolutely! Such weapons, which we’ll happily sell to Iran’s rulers, will only kill people we don’t care about, for example, in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.”
The leaders of Britain and France, also permanent members of the Security Council, along with Germany, Belgium and Estonia, temporary members, abstained.
Because they found the question a head-scratcher? Or, as I fear, because they have adopted a policy of accommodation and appeasement vis-a-vis threatening regimes? Keep in mind that Iran’s rulers and their de facto foreign legion, Hezbollah, have been responsible for multiple acts of terrorism on European soil.
A little background: The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Iran’s rulers 13 years ago. That ban is due to expire on Oct. 18. The United States therefore proposed a resolution to extend it “until the Security Council decides otherwise.” Nine votes were needed for it to pass. Russia and/or China would then have cast vetoes. But by making them do that, our European allies would have demonstrated solidarity and backbone.
Last week’s defeat might yet turn out to have been merely a setback. I’ll explain why as succinctly as I can.
President Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was fatally flawed, at best marginally slowing but certainly not preventing Iran’s revolutionary rulers from acquiring nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them to targets anywhere on Earth. Worse, his negotiators put together U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which created the crisis at hand: a series of expiration dates for all restrictions on Iran, including the embargo on conventional arms.
Team Obama did do one thing right, however: They made sure UNSCR 2231 gave the United States the prerogative to unilaterally extend the expiring arms embargo, and “snapback” all other international sanctions.
Five years ago this month, in a major address touting his Iran deal and the mechanism by which the United States could reimpose sanctions on Tehran, Mr. Obama emphasized the point: “We won’t need the support of other members of the U.N. Security Council; America can trigger snap back on our own.”
Russia and China are now arguing that Washington gave up that option when it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018. But a stipulation to that effect is nowhere to be found in UNSCR 2231. Whether all or any negotiators understood that at the time it passed is irrelevant. A Security Council resolution is a contract. And a contract is a contract.
There’s also this solid legal basis for the snapback: multiple Iranian violations of the JCPOA. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s own nuclear watchdog, Iran’s rulers have nearly tripled their stockpile of enriched uranium since November. Other transgressions include exceeding enrichment limits, testing advanced centrifuges, and restarting enrichment at Fordow.
Russia and China have minimized or ignored such conduct. That Britain, France and Germany have followed their lead is, bluntly, shameful.
The reluctance of European nations to restrict Tehran’s military power puts them at odds not only with the U.S. but also with Arab countries. Not without reason do the Saudis, Bahrainis and Emiratis regard Tehran as an existential threat.
As a result, all have quietly developed closer relations with Israel, their only neighbor strong enough to frustrate the Islamic Republic’s imperialist ambitions.
Last week, just prior to the defeat in New York, President Trump scored a significant victory in the Middle East, announcing that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to “full normalization of relations.”
In exchange, and to the relief of the Arab states, Israel will refrain from extending sovereignty — “annexing” is the more common, if less precise term — to parts of the West Bank that were taken from Jordan in a defensive war but could become part of a future Palestinian state.
Until now, only two of the 21 member-states in the Arab League have exchanged ambassadors with the lone Jewish state, and those instances of peace-making came about a generation ago, following failed attempts by Arab armies to wipe Israel off the map.
The agreement between the UAE and Israel — named the Abraham Accord for the father of the Judaism, Christianity and Islam — includes extensive trade, and cooperation in such realms as health care and science. Other Arab nations whose leaders appear to have concluded that tolerance is not anti-Islamic — Bahrain, Morocco and Oman come to mind — could soon follow suit.
The leaders of Germany, France and Britain now have an opportunity to advance a serious peace process. All that would require is for them to tell Palestinian leaders to stop dreaming about destroying Israel, and resume — after a hiatus of over a decade — serious negotiations aimed at a two-state solution.
Palestinians would have to agree to peacefully coexist alongside an ancient people exercising its right to self-determination in part of its historic homeland. Is that really too high a price to expect Palestinians to pay?
Our European friends should be equal to this task. Unless, as I fear, their overriding goal is to make themselves inoffensive to those determined to damage and diminish the West.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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