The US may be forced to accept a UN code of conduct restricting conventional arms sales to Iran, since it is struggling to win unanimous support at the UN security council for a formal extension of the existing UN ban, which expires in October.
European nations fear a formal extension of the ban would result in Iran leaving the nuclear deal.
The three European signatories to the nuclear deal – Germany, France and the UK – are caught in a vice in that they do not wish to see the resumption of conventional arms sales to Tehran, but unlike the US, they do want to keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive. The Europeans are especially conscious of the fact that a Democratic win in November’s election would probably lead to the US rejoining the deal, and more positive relations between Tehran and the west.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, was in London on Wednesday to meet Foreign Office officials as part of his attempt to drum up support for the US policy of extending the arms embargo. He said the US would be publishing its draft resolution to put to the UN security council soon.
It is likely that the US resolution to extend the arms embargo will be vetoed by either Russia or China, forcing it to look for a compromise. China in particular is in the midst of negotiating a closer relationship with Iran.
At a briefing on Wednesday, Hook ruled out an EU offer to extend its own arms embargo as sufficient, since the EU embargo would still allow Iran to purchase arms outside the EU and the US. The E3’s arms embargo does not expire until 2023.
“It’s great that Europe has these sanctions in place, but what we need is a global embargo, and if you do not have a global embargo it allows Iran to purchase these weapons,” said Hook, who has led the US campaign to isolate Iran.
“The question in front of the international community is not whether the international arms embargo should be extended, but how and when.”
He declined to rule out a code of conduct mechanism, saying it was for others to make the proposal. The code’s enforceability would be a major sticking point.
Hook said the UN had supported an arms embargo on Iran for 13 years and that no leader had told him that they believed the embargo should be allowed to expire. “Nobody believes that Iran should be able to buy or sell conventional weapons like fighter jets, battle tanks, large calibre artillery systems, warships and various kinds of missiles,” he said.
“Iran would like to see endless war on Saudi Arabia’s southern flank in Yemen”, he claimed, pointing out that the UN’s own panel of experts had found that weapons fired on Saudi oil installations last September were of Iranian origin. “Imagine what the region would look like if the arms embargo expires,” he said.
He claimed US troops would be targeted by Iran and its proxies throughout Bahrain, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, adding: “freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf will be under even great threat”.
“If the embargo is lifted Iran will start to do what it does in secret in broad daylight”, he claimed, adding that “if Israelis and Arabs are speaking on this issue with one voice, maybe the world should listen”.
Hook has travelled across the Middle East and Europe to drum up support at the UN security council.
Hook defended the US policy of collapsing the Iranian oil industry and leaving the nuclear deal, describing the deal as “a temporary and modest non proliferation agreement that has no legal standing at the UN or with the US”.
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor