U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus response briefing as National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Attorney General William Barr stand by at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

The United States formally notified the UN of its demand to re-impose a punishing global sanctions regime on Iran, a move that kicks off a messy diplomatic struggle and pits Washington against allies and foes alike.

The push was immediately rejected by Britain, France and Germany – the three US allies who are party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – signaling the uphill battle for the Trump administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the notification to the UN Security Council. In the letter, he alleged that Iran is in non-compliance with its obligations under the multinational nuclear accord.

However, US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the deal, reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and has been slapping tough sanctions on Iran ever since.

Washington’s three European allies cited the unilateral exit in their decision not to back Pompeo’s demand, and said they remained committed to support the 2015 agreement, known as the JCPOA. Russia and China have already made clear they will not get behind the US.

“The US ceased to be a participant to the JCPoA… We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPoA,” the European trio said in a statement.

China said the US demand “has no legal ground and common sense,” and since the US left the deal the “snapback mechanism has not been invoked.”

The agreement, reached in Vienna after years of on-again, off-again talks, was intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and prior to the US withdrawal, there was no sign of a major violation by Tehran.

However, after the US began imposing its own bruising sanctions on Iran, seeking to choke off the country’s finances, Iran did enrich nuclear fuel beyond the limits set out in the 2015 agreement.

The US argues it can demand the snapback of sanctions, despite no longer being part of the agreement, as it is still named in a UN resolution backing the nuclear accord. So far, few nations support the US position, though Israel did come out to praise Washington.

Nevertheless, Pompeo said in New York that he was “confident” the snapback would happen.
The snapback push effectively means Trump is seeking a global sanctions regime to again come into force, on a range of Iranian transactions. In addition, the US wants an extension of an arms embargo on the Islamic republic, which is due to expire in October.

Given the dominant US role in the global financial system, Washington does have means to try to enforce its will, as it has been doing with its own sanctions which make it difficult for European nations to do many types of business with Iran.

Tehran has slammed the US move. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a phone call with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Washington was risking the future of international cooperation and the reputation of the global body.

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