US and world powers continue to talk past each other on Iran at UN

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Article Summary
While the remaining parties to the nuclear deal tried to restart diplomacy with Iran, the United States punished one of them for links to Tehran.

NEW YORK — The divide between the United States and the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was once again on stark display at the United Nations this morning, just days after Europe blamed Tehran for recent attacks against Saudi Arabia.

Top diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China issued a joint statement after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. They reaffirmed “the importance of the full and effective implementation of the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA] by all sides” and their determination to continue “all efforts to preserve the agreement, which is in the interest of all.”

A dozen blocks away, at the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a far different message to a far different crowd.

Keynoting the annual conference of the hawkish United Against Nuclear Iran, Pompeo said the United States would “intensify” efforts to “educate countries and companies of the risk of doing business with [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] entities” and “punish” offenders. He also announced new sanctions against Chinese entities for “knowingly transporting oil from Iran, contrary to United States sanctions.”

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“The more Iran lashes out, the greater our pressure will and should be,” Pompeo vowed. “As President [Donald] Trump said yesterday, as long as Iran's menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted — they will be tightened.”

Pompeo insisted that the Trump administration was engaged in “effective multilateralism,” an assertion he acknowledged would cause “talking heads to explode.” He pointed to several recent developments: Britain, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates joining US-led defense of freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz; Argentina designating Hezbollah a terrorist group; France and Germany banning Iran's Mahan Air.

And he applauded Monday's joint statement by France, Britain and Germany declaring that “it is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack.”

“This is the beginning of an awakening to the truth that Iran is the aggressor and not the aggrieved as they claim as they run around New York this week,” Pompeo said.

Unmentioned, however, was the joint statement's support for the “continued commitment” to the nuclear deal. The three European nations reiterated that call this week, even as they endorsed expanding the nuclear deal to also cover other “issues related to regional security, including [Iran's] missiles program and other means of delivery.”

Speaking to reporters after meeting separately with Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, French President Emmanuel Macron insisted Tuesday that “the conditions … for a rapid return to negotiations have been created.” Yet French mediation efforts to secure a meeting between the United States and Iranian leaders appear to have failed for now.

“We all welcome the efforts that have been made to open channels of dialogue,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after this morning's meeting. “And it is extremely clear that anything that is based on the full implementation, the full respect of the JCPOA and that can build on it, is very much welcomed. The meeting today reflected very clearly … the strong commitment from all the participants … that first of all the agreement is still in place, that we will continue to work together with unity of purpose to try and preserve it, without ignoring the challenges.”

But Iran has flat-out refused to return to the negotiating table as long as US sanctions remain in place, in violation of the JCPOA.

“Our response to any negotiation under sanctions is negative,” Rouhani said in his address to the UN General Assembly today. “The government and people of Iran have remained steadfast against the harshest sanctions in the past one and a half years and will never negotiate with an enemy that seeks to make Iran surrender with the weapon of poverty, pressure and sanctions.”

He went on to suggest that Iran's compliance with the deal would continue to erode as long as Iran does not reap its promised benefits.

“In spite of the American withdrawal from the JCPOA, and for one year, Iran remained fully faithful to all its nuclear commitments in accordance with the JCPOA,” Rouhani said. “Out of respect for the Security Council resolution, we provided Europe with the opportunity to fulfill its 11 commitments made to compensate the US withdrawal. However, unfortunately, we only heard beautiful words while witnessing no effective measure. It has now become clear for all that the United States turns back to its commitments and Europe is unable and incapable of fulfilling its commitments.”

One year after announcing the creation of a financial mechanism to save the deal alongside Zarif at last year's General Assembly meeting, Mogherini struck a much more somber tone today.

“I believe — I hope — I'm not sure I believe, but I hope that rationality will prevail and that this meeting will contribute to preserving the agreement,” she said.

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Found in: UNGA 2019

Julian Pecquet is the Washington Editor for Al-Monitor, where he also supervises long-form stories as well as the award-winning Lobbying Tracker. Before that he covered the US Congress for Al-Monitor. Prior to joining Al-Monitor, Pecquet led global affairs coverage for the political newspaper The Hill.

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