Pompeo to meet head of UN nuclear watchdog as council votes

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Photo credit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lays down a wreath at the censor memorial for the Austrian victims of the Holocaust in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Pompeo is on a five-day visit to central Europe. (Photo/Ronald Zak)
By The Associated Press

VIENNA (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Austria, where he will see the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog as members of the U.N. Security Council vote on a long-shot American bid to extend an arms embargo on Iran.

The vote in New York will likely set the stage for a showdown between world powers over whether international sanctions eased under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal can or should be reimposed on Washington’s demand. Pompeo’s meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi on Friday in Vienna is expected to be finished well before results from the Security Council vote are known. Whatever the result, the IAEA plays a major role in the future of the nuclear deal that it monitors.

“Iran must provide full, transparent and immediate cooperation with the IAEA,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. "We can’t allow the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons. I mean, that’s just nuts.”

“We’re urging the whole world to join us. This isn’t about the JCPOA," he said, using the acronym for the nuclear deal, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. "This is about whether the world is going to allow Iran to buy and sell weapons systems.”

Before his talks with Grossi, Pompeo met with senior Austrian officials, including Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz, to discuss European energy independence, the security of 5G wireless networks and the threats to both posed by Russia and China. Pompeo is in Austria on the third leg of a four-nation tour of eastern and central Europe that has already taken him to the Czech Republic and Slovenia. He will wrap up the trip in Poland on Saturday.

The U.S. resolution to indefinitely extend the Iran arms embargo, which is due to expire in October under the terms of the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, is widely expected to fail due to European resistance and strong opposition from veto-wielding council members Russia and China.

The council began voting on Thursday evening by email because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and results are expected to be announced Friday evening. It is likely the resolution will not get the minimum nine “yes” votes in the 15-member Security Council for Russia and China to use their vetoes.

American officials, including Pompeo, have said failure to extend the embargo will likely be met by the U.S. invoking the so-called snapback procedure that would reimpose all U.N. sanctions lifted by the nuclear deal. The other participants maintain the U.S. no longer has standing to invoke the snapback since it withdrew from the deal, but Washington argues that it retains that right as an original participant and permanent member of the Security Council, which endorsed the deal.

The U.S. has circulated to council members a six-page memo from U.S. State Department legal advisers outlining why the United States remains part of the Security Council resolution and still has the right to use the snapback provision.

Pompeo would not be drawn on whether the U.S. would immediately try to invoke the snapback if the resolution fails. “We’re going to do everything we can within our diplomatic tool kit” to stop that from happening, he said. "We hope that we’ll be successful. When we see the results we’ll decide what to do.”

The U.S. initially circulated a resolution to the 15-member council to indefinitely extend the arms embargo that was seven pages long and had 35 paragraphs. This week, following discussions with council members who voiced objections to a number of provisions, it circulated a revised draft that stripped the resolution to just four paragraphs calling for an indefinite extension.

The foreign ministers of Russia and China, in separate letters to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council last month, were sharply critical of the U.S. effort to indefinitely extend the arms embargo. They gave every indication they would veto any such resolution if necessary.

Diplomats from several countries that remain committed to the nuclear deal have expressed serious concern that extending the arms embargo would lead to Iran’s exit from the agreement and its hastened pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Trump reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran after he unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear accord between Iran and Western powers in May 2018. Iran later responded by slowly abandoning nearly every aspect of the agreement, although it still allows U.N. inspectors access to its nuclear sites. The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has accused the U.S. of “economic terrorism.”