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U.S. To Demand That The U.N. Reimpose All Sanctions On Iran

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo goes to the United Nations to try to pressure Iran. And he'll be using the Iran nuclear deal to do it, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When the Obama administration negotiated the Iran nuclear deal with other major powers, it included a provision that would allow any of the signatories to call for the re-imposition of U.N. sanctions. Here's how then-Secretary of State John Kerry explained it in 2015.

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JOHN KERRY: If we're not happy, we can go to the security council. And we alone can force a vote on the snapping back of those sanctions.

KELEMEN: Pompeo often criticizes Kerry but resurfaced those comments on Twitter this week. Now President Trump is sending Pompeo to New York.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To notify the U.N. Security Council that the United States intends to restore virtually all of the previously suspended United Nations sanctions.

KELEMEN: But the problem is the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal. And other security council members argue that the U.S. gave up its right to snap back the sanctions. Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group predicts some messy diplomacy ahead.

RICHARD GOWAN: And I'm afraid to say there probably may not be a big bang. A lot of this is going to happen through fairly low-key U.N. diplomatic communications.

KELEMEN: It hasn't been tried before. But the Iran nuclear deal allows participants to notify the security council if Iran is not complying. The council then has 30 days to pass a resolution to continue the sanctions relief in the deal. But the U.S. could veto that resolution. And sanctions would snap back. Gowan says council members could just ignore the U.S., though. And after 30 days, we might be in alternate universes.

GOWAN: There will be a U.S. universe in which sanctions have been fully restored on Iran. And then there will be the universe that most of the council members - and, I think, actually, most members of the U.N. in general - will exist in in which nothing of the sort has happened.

KELEMEN: In a sign of just how isolated the U.S. is at the United Nations on this, only the Dominican Republic supported the Trump administration's bid last week to extend an arms embargo on Iran. The U.K., France and other European allies abstained.

BRIAN HOOK: This was an important test. And the council failed.

KELEMEN: That's how outgoing envoy Brian Hook saw last Friday's vote. Secretary Pompeo sees snapback as the next big test.

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MIKE POMPEO: These will be fully valid, enforceable U.N. Security Council resolution. We have every expectation that they'll be enforced just like every other U.N. Security Council resolution that is in place.

KELEMEN: However, even Iran hawk and former Trump national security adviser John Bolton argues that this process isn't worth it and could undermine America's veto power in the council. The Obama administration's negotiator, Wendy Sherman, says she never expected to agree on anything with Bolton, but on snapback, she does.

WENDY SHERMAN: It will just be mucked around in the procedural, political process of the United Nations and, at the end of the day, will go out with a whimper.

KELEMEN: That is, she says, as long as the Iranians don't overreact to the U.S. move.

SHERMAN: My sense is if everyone but the United States and the Dominican Republic ignore a snapback, they will try to sit tight.

KELEMEN: And wait and see who wins the U.S. presidential elections in November.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.