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Illustration by Security Management

Snapback Sanctions Heighten Tensions Over Iran

The Trump Administration in the United States formally demanded the United Nations (UN) punish Iran with sanctions, including an arms embargo, for violating the 2015 nuclear accord. The move last week sets up a confrontation at the Security Council as allies and diplomats in Europe, China, and Russia questioned whether the demand is legal, given that the United States withdrew from the agreement two years ago, The New York Times reported.

Despite widespread UN opposition to restoring sanctions, the United States declared a 30-day countdown is on for a snapback of penalties. Five countries—Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany—are now in dispute with the United States over the move, supporting the retention of the nuclear deal, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia and China with U.S. action if they refuse to reimpose the UN measures on Iran, Reuters noted.

On Sunday, Iran said that an upcoming visit by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the UN’s atomic watchdog—has nothing to do with the snapback sanctions, but that IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is visiting at Iran’s invitation to restore Iranian trust in the agency’s impartiality, independence, and professionalism. The IAEA said over the weekend that Grossi will be pressing Iranian authorities for access to sites where the country may be storing or using undeclared nuclear material, AP reported.

The Iranian stockpile of low-enriched uranium continues to grow, shortening the “breakout time”—the time that Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon. Limiting those stockpiles was a key aspect of the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran insists its atomic program is meant for peaceful purposes, according to the AP, but in the face of renewed sanctions or an arms embargo extension, officials have renewed threats to withdraw from a major nonproliferation treaty.

In addition, an explosion and fire last month at Iran’s main nuclear facility raised the possibility of sabotage. According to Iran’s Fars news agency, an Iranian atomic agency spokesperson said that “security investigations confirm sabotage,” but didn’t release any additional information. “All this raises the risk of further confrontation in the months ahead,” the AP reported.