Iran Wants UN Security Council to Ban Future U.S. Sanctions

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says he’s counting on the United Nations Security Council to prevent U.S. lawmakers from overturning any deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

An agreement reached by the U.S. and five other global powers with Iran would be approved in a UN Security Council resolution, making it “an international agreement and binding for all states,” Zarif said in an interview in the Iranian weekly magazine Seda. “The current and future governments of Iran and the U.S. will be bound by its provisions.”

Zarif’s assertion has added fresh fuel to the dispute between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers over his authority to commit to a deal with Iran, while contributing to confusion over what role the UN might play.

Since the beginning of talks with Iran, negotiators have anticipated a Security Council resolution lifting some of the UN’s own sanctions against Iran and authorizing the Islamic Republic to enrich some uranium, French Ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud said in a posting on his Twitter account on Thursday. Three UN Security Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol, confirmed that.

To make good on his vow that UN action would make an accord binding, Zarif would need to outsmart the U.S. and the five powers he’s negotiating with and secure a broad and binding UN resolution or one worded ambiguously enough for Iran to argue that any U.S. backtracking on a deal violates international law.

Republican Letter

Zarif invoked the UN’s authority in response to the open letter this week from 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders warning that Congress may use its constitutional authority to torpedo any Iran agreement the Obama administration reaches without congressional approval or that Obama’s successor could overturn it.

At least a few of the Republican senators who signed the letter are now saying they regret addressing it to the Iranian leaders after Obama said that the lawmakers seemed to be “wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who didn’t sign the letter, warned the administration on Thursday against falling into what he considers an Iranian trap at the UN.

“Enabling the United Nations to consider an agreement or portions of it, while simultaneously threatening to veto legislation that would enable Congress to do the same, is a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role,” Corker wrote in a letter to Obama. The White House has said Obama would veto legislation such as a measure by Corker to require congressional review of any agreement.

Seeking ’Endorsement’

Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters in Washington on Friday that if there’s an agreement with Iran, the Security Council would initially vote an “endorsement” of the deal, with action later on phasing out the UN’s sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program. Those moves would have no effect on the U.S.’s own sanctions against Iran, she said.

“Our view and our objective here is that the Security Council would not impose new binding obligations on the United States that would limit our flexibility in any way to respond to future Iranian non-compliance,” she said.

Zarif’s statements suggesting that a final deal would include a role for the UN Security Council “has made Republicans in the U.S. nervous that somehow the Obama administration might do an end run around Congress to go to the UN to impose binding obligations on the U.S. to lift U.S. sanctions,”said John Bellinger, who was the State Department legal adviser from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush. “It’s impossible that would happen.”

Not ’Legally Binding’

Secretary of State John Kerry maintains that the U.S. has been clear from the beginning that it’s “not negotiating a, quote, legally binding plan.”

“We’re negotiating a plan that will have in it a capacity for enforcement,” Kerry said Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The senators’ letter erroneously asserts that this is a legally binding plan. It’s not.”

There may be a middle ground, though, said Bellinger, a partner in the Washington-based law firm Arnold & Porter LLP.

Chapter 7

An agreement might say that the five permanent Security Council members -- China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- would support dropping the UN’s own sanctions on Iran, said Bellinger. “But the entire agreement is not going to be somehow endorsed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.”

Actions taken under Chapter 7 are enforceable, including in some cases through the use of force.

“The only thing that the Obama administration might do, and this may well be consistent with what Zarif is saying, is to agree with the other P5 members to take the limited step of reversing existing UN sanctions, and that would be the only Chapter 7 piece,” Bellinger said.

Starting in 2006, the Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and arms exports, as well as travel bans and asset freezes. The world body has had no role in the most punishing sanctions, those imposed by the European Union and the U.S. affecting Iran’s oil exports and finances.

‘Ambiguous Gibberish’

Ryan Goodman, a professor of international law at New York University’s School of Law, said Kerry “has left himself wiggle room for what might come later at the Security Council.”

There are an “infinite number of configurations” of diplomatic language in a possible UN resolution, and the most likely scenario is for Iran and the six powers to “agree to ambiguous gibberish that provides a basis for each side to claim victory,” said Michael Glennon, professor of international law at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts.

“Zarif’s got a domestic constituency to play to,” Glennon said. “And so does the Obama administration. At this stage, all of this is public political maneuvering.”

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