As the end of the arms embargo, imposed on Iran under Resolution 2231 in October, draws near, tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen again.
Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the United Nations, announced on June 5, 2020, that the draft resolution on Iran's arms embargo would be handed to Russia. According to the US ambassador to the United Nations, the resolution will extend Iran's arms embargo indefinitely. The United States tries hard to compel Germany, France, and Britain, three European countries that played a key role in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, to prevent the sanctions from being lifted in the fifth year of the JCPOA. The United States also appears to be seeking negotiations with China and Russia to encourage them to continue imposing arms embargoes on Iran. On April 29, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that Washington was considering all options to continue Tehran's arms embargo.
The US Secretary of State's remarks and the presentation of a draft resolution on Iran's arms embargo indicate that the United States remains dedicated to the nuclear deal because of its commitment to the former international resolutions. Thus, Washington is trying to prevent either the lifting of the arms embargo or military deals with Iran in the future.
According to the United States, the lifting of arms embargoes will harm the current US approach to increasing pressure to change Iran's policies or behavior and will prevent a comprehensive agreement with Iran that covers all areas of conflict with the United States. In other words, the United States believes that lifting Iran's arms embargo could have the following consequences:
Escalation of Tensions: Washington believes the lifting of the arms embargo will have Iran falsely believe that it can challenge the will of the United States and circumvent sanctions and reduce pressure. The consequences of this message will be intensifying Iran's recent actions, including reducing its nuclear commitments, sending military satellites into space, approaching US ships in open waters, and further increasing loyal militias in the region, especially in Iraq, to target US interests.
Strengthening the role of US rivals: lifting the sanctions will expand bilateral ties, especially Iran's military ties with China and Russia. Tehran is reportedly seeking advanced arms deals with China and Russia to acquire advanced military equipment. The possibility of such deals has raised concerns in the United States about its influence in the region.
Support for regional loyal groups: Some circles in Washington have expressed grave concern that the lifting of arms embargo could facilitate Iran's role in supporting militant groups in the region to the detriment of the US and its regional allies and further conflict will ensue, especially in Syria between Iran and its loyal militias on one side and Israel on the other.
In the current situation, Iran is also significantly interested in lifting arms embargoes. Despite the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the imposition of unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran, and to reduce the growing pressure of the fundamentalists on the government and reduce the social and political implications of sanctions inside Iran, Hassan Rouhani's government has been working for more than a year to exaggerate the achievement of the nuclear deal. Therefore, Tehran immediately warned about the consequences of any possible extension of the arms embargo. Iran's response means that despite Russia's opposition to the extension of these sanctions, the US international efforts may prove to be successful. For this reason, President Hassan Rouhani sent warning messages about the possibility of extending the arms embargo to other parties of the nuclear deal. But Iran's warnings and threats were made clearer by Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Supreme Security Council. He tweeted on May 3: “JCPOA's lifeless body will die by circumventing Resolution 2231 and continuing the illegal arms embargo on Iran.”
The reasons for Iran's insistence on lifting arms embargoes and warnings about the extension of these sanctions can be categorized as follows:
1. Last Resort: Although Tehran had repeatedly and implicitly indicated its withdrawal from the nuclear deal in response to the US withdrawal, due to unpredictable consequences inconsistent with its regional interests, especially the possibility of confrontation with The United States or Israel, decided not to act upon its decisions. Therefore, senior Iranian officials believe that Washington's success in extending arms embargoes will virtually thwart Iran's possible gains from the JCPOA, and leaves no particular reason for Iran to adhere to the nuclear deal.
2. Development and modernization of some important military units: The military doctrine of the Islamic Republic is based on the development of two divisions of naval and missile forces, which means that Iran has significant shortcomings in other military sectors, especially Ground forces. From this perspective, the lifting of arms embargoes could be a good response to military action and development in these areas.
3. Intensification of sanctions: Any possible US success in gaining the support of the world powers in the nuclear deal to extend Iran's arms embargo, while indicating the failure of the Islamic Republic's efforts to curb and circumvent US long-standing sanctions, will increase the economic and political impact of the sanctions. The sanctions will also prompt the United States to pursue its policy of "maximum pressure campaign" against Iran with greater determination to change Tehran's behavior. As a result, the international atmosphere over the extension of Iran's arms embargo or the continuation of sanctions is likely to see a new diplomatic confrontation between Tehran and Washington that could lead to direct or indirect tensions between the two sides and destabilize the region even more.