Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

New UN report boosts case for extending Iran arms embargo, former US security official says

Coming report directly links Tehran to Saudi Aramco attacks and arming Yemen rebels, says former Trump adviser

A UN report will highlight Iran's continuing military breaches in the Gulf and bolster Washington’s case to renew an international arms embargo on Tehran, a former White House security official said.

Kirsten Fontenrose, who served on the Trump administration’s National Security Council, said a “peek” preview of the document indicated it would show that Iran armed Yemen’s Houthi rebels and attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities, among other actions.

This would strengthen Washington’s case to renew an arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October under a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, Ms Fontenrose told an online meeting on Iran on Wednesday.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said to the report was expected to be released next week.

Ms Fontenrose said she was “pre-briefed” on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s latest six-monthly report on a resolution linked to the deal between Iran, the US, China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the EU.

The document will attribute the September 2019 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil plants to Iran “far more directly than the last report did”, said Ms Fontenrose, now a scholar at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

The report is also expected to say that arms flows to Houthi rebels in Yemen are “definitively Iranian”, whereas previous reports have been less direct, she said.

The document will say that Qassem Suleimani, the former commander of Iran's Quds Force, who was killed in a US air strike in Iraq in January, was “in violation of the arms embargo” before his assassination, Ms Fontenrose said.

She said it would strengthen Washington’s claim that world powers must clamp down on Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the Middle East.

A spokesman for the US mission to the UN told The National: "We will wait for the release of the report to comment."

US President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to extend and strengthen the embargo on Tehran, warning that lifting it would let Iran acquire weapons that could fuel conflicts across the turbulent Middle East.

Russia and China, UN Security Council members who hold the power to veto, have already indicated they are against re-imposing an arms embargo on Iran.

European nations have worked hard to keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive despite Mr Trump’s unilateral decision to exit the accord in 2018.

Ms Fontenrose said a UN report that comes down harder on Iranian aggression may push council members Britain, France and Germany towards Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

“The US is hoping that this means it will be hard for Europe and others to brush off the embargo as having run its course and served its purpose and that once that report is issued there may be more backing for limitations,” Ms Fontenrose said.

If the UN Security Council does not extend the embargo before its expiry in October, Washington says it will trigger a "snapback" of all UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, using a process outlined in the nuclear deal.

This strategy has proven divisive. The US says it can still spark snapback sanctions because it remains named in a 2015 UN resolution linked to the nuclear deal.

Russia says the US has already left the process.

What is already a messy legal row is expected to be affected by the US presidential election in November, with Mr Trump trailing in the polls behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used a televised speech to urge Russia, China and European Security Council members to resist the push by Washington to extend the embargo.

“We want four permanent members of the council to stand up to America,” Mr Rouhani said. “We expect Russia and China to resist this US plot.

"America will not succeed and we will increase our defence capabilities, as we have been doing so even under sanctions.”

Updated: June 12, 2020 02:02 AM

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