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October 19, 2020

UN arms embargo on Iran expires despite US objections

Top Story

October 19, 2020

TEHRAN: A decade-long UN arms embargo on Iran that barred it from purchasing foreign weapons like tanks and fighter jets expired Sunday as planned under its nuclear deal with world powers, despite objections from the United States, which insists the ban remains in place.

While Iran says it plans no “buying spree,” it can now in theory purchase weapons to upgrade military armaments dating back to before its 1979 Islamic Revolution and sell its own locally produced gear abroad, international media reported.

In practice, however, Iran’s economy remains crippled by broad-reaching US sanctions, and other nations may avoid arms deals with Tehran for fear of American financial retaliation. The Trump administration has warned that any sales of weapons to Iran or exports from Iran will be penalised.

The Islamic Republic heralded the end of the arms embargo as “a momentous day for the international community ... in defiance of the US regime’s effort.” The Trump administration, meanwhile, says the expiration is moot since it re-imposed all UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, via a clause in the nuclear deal Trump withdrew from in 2018, a claim ignored by the rest of the world.

“Today’s normalisation of Iran’s defence cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flatly rejected the expiration. “The United States is prepared to use its domestic authorities to sanction any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those who provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms,” he said in a statement.

“For the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures,” Pompeo said. “Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security.”

Sunday’s expiration of the arms embargo was, in fact, the proximate cause for the US decision last month to move forward with the so-called “snapback” of international sanctions in Iran. The Americans tried unsuccessfully to get the UN Security Council to extend the embargo but suffered a humiliating defeat when only one country on the 15-member panel supported it.

In response, the administration announced that it had invoked “snapback” — a mechanism provided for in the Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal that allows any participant in the accord to restore UN sanctions if they determine Iran is not complying with its terms. The rest of the council, however, rejected US standing to trigger snapback, saying it had lost its right to do so when Trump pulled our of the deal.

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. The US Defence 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 defence missile system, the DIA said. China also could sell Iran arms.

Iran long has been outmatched by US-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. Iran has blasted Gulf Arab purchases of US-made defence equipment as “regrettably lucrative weapon deals” with some of those arms used in the ongoing war in Yemen.