U.S. Threatens Sanctions for Arms Sales to Iran
By Michael R. Gordon
The Trump administration threatened Wednesday to impose an array
of fresh sanctions to deter China and Russia from selling weapons
to Iran after an arms embargo on Washington's Middle East foe
expires next month.
Elliott Abrams, the administration's new special envoy for Iran
and Venezuela, told reporters that the sanctions "will have a very
significant impact" on arms manufacturers and traders that seek to
do business with Tehran. Details of the sanctions will be made
public Monday, he said.
The administration's stance has been viewed skeptically by some
former government sanctions officials who say that China and Russia
are likely to refrain from shipping arms to Iran as they wait to
see whether Mr. Trump is re-elected, and that some of the new U.S.
sanctions may be duplicative.
The administration's plan for new sanctions is the latest twist
in its Iran policy, which has left the U.S. isolated on that issue
in the United Nations Security Council and at odds with some of its
closest European allies.
At first, U.S. officials sought to persuade the U.N. Security
Council to extend an international arms embargo on Iran, which is
due to expire on Oct. 18 and which was part of the 2015 nuclear
deal between Iran and six world powers.
After that bid was rejected last month by the Security Council,
U.S. officials sought to invoke a legal process that would reimpose
all of the sanctions that were in place before the Iran deal was
That maneuver, known as a "snapback" of sanctions, was rebuffed
by European nations, Russia and China, who are still parties to the
Iran accord and assert that the U.S. forfeited its legal right to
seek the reimposition of sanctions by withdrawing from the Iran
accord two years ago.
The Trump administration still insists its legal analysis is
correct and says international sanctions are to be formally
reimposed on Saturday night.
Having failed at persuasion, however, the U.S. is turning to
pressure: The threat of sanctions against Chinese and Russian
companies that sell, finance or ship arms to Iran and, potentially,
any foreign companies that do business with them.
Some sanctions experts question whether the new U.S. measures
will have any effect in the next several months.
"I don't think it will change the price of tea," said Richard
Nephew, who served as the lead sanctions expert on the U.S. team
that negotiated the Iran deal during the Obama administration.
He said that China and Russia would be unlikely to undertake any
major weapons shipments to Iran while they assess how the November
presidential election might alter U.S. policy toward Tehran. He
also said that the Russian defense sector is already subject to
But Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for
Defense of Democracies, which has supported the Trump
administration's tough line on Iran, argued that the new sanctions
could be effective and build on existing measures.
"If a Russian or Chinese defense firm tries to sell weapons to
Iran, that firm and all the supporting institutions involved in a
transaction would face secondary U.S. sanctions," Mr. Goldberg
said. "It all depends on how and if sanctions are enforced."
European diplomats have said that they favor some sort of
compromise arrangement to preclude the sale of new weapons to Iran
and the provision of arms by Tehran to its regional proxies.
European nations abstained on the U.S. motion in the Security
Council to extend the arms embargo because they concluded it would
have no chance of passing in the face of Russian and Chinese vetoes
and feared the Trump administration's ultimate goal is to dismantle
the 2015 Iran accord, which they want to preserve.
The European Union has its own embargo on arms sales to Iran,
which continues through 2023.
Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, favors
returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord on the condition that
Tehran begins to abide by the limits established by the agreement.
Mr. Biden has also said that he would try to negotiate a tougher,
follow-on accord, though he hasn't said what its provisions might
--Laurence Norman in Brussels contributed to this article.
Write to Michael R. Gordon at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 16, 2020 19:13 ET (23:13 GMT)
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