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European countries have no intention of recognizing a sanctions ‘snapback’ on Iran

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America’s European partners in the Iran nuclear deal made clear Friday they have no intention of recognizing or enforcing wide-ranging “snapback” sanctions the Trump administration says the world must impose on Tehran.

In the wake of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s dramatic announcement declaring the United States has the legal right to activate the measures, European officials who categorically reject the U.S. legal interpretation described what one called “a serious transatlantic rift” that shows no sign of healing.

“That may not be an issue for this administration, but it is a reality,” the official said. “This will have consequences” for the future ability of the United Nations Security Council to adopt and uphold measures designed to keep world peace.”

This week’s divide between the Trump administration and Britain, Germany and France — traditionally the closest U.S. partners — is only the latest but perhaps the deepest of the past 3 1/2 years of conflict.

The administration’s position on the matter, the official said, has “no existence in the real world . . . other than the parallel legal universe the U.S. has created.”

The United States is one of six countries, including the three European nations, Russia and China, that signed the 2015 deal under which Iran agreed to sharply curtain its nuclear activities and open them to international monitoring, in exchange for the immediate lifting of some sanctions and future “sunset” provisions on others. That included a ban on Iranian purchase or sale of conventional weapons due to expire on Oct. 18.

Under a 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the agreement, participants could “snap back” the sanctions if the deal was violated.

President Trump, a longtime critic of the deal he charged was too soft on Iran, withdrew the United States from it more than two years ago. According to all the other signatories, that means it also relinquished the right to trigger the reimposition of international sanctions.

But on Thursday, Pompeo delivered a letter to the Council president saying the administration was doing just that. The immediate U.S. concern and the snapback justification, Pompeo and other administration officials have said, is the expiration of the conventional arms ban.

Brian Hook, the administration’s special envoy for Iran, told reporters Friday that the Council was guilty of an “abdication of duty” in rejecting a proposed U.S. resolution last week to indefinitely extend the weapons embargo. None of the other signatories, he said, offered a proposal to address the issue.

“We made it clear that we can do it the easy way or the hard way. Other nations decided to do it the hard way,” Hook said. All of the signatory countries, except Iran, are members of the Council. Of its 15 members, only the Dominican Republic voted with the United States.

The European officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive matter, said they are equally interested in not allowing Iran to buy and sell sophisticated conventional weapons. They said they repeatedly offered compromises that would have at least temporarily extended the ban with a Council resolution, which they maintained was the only way to avoid a Russian or Chinese veto.

But, they said, the United States refused over the past year and a half to accept anything but its own maximalist position. They said they believe the U.S. goal all along was to open the door to a full reimposition of the much broader sanctions.

In addition to the arms embargo, Hook said, snapback restrictions will prohibit Iranian uranium enrichment and missile testing, and impose travel bans on those who work on Iran’s nuclear and missile program. He said the United States also expects other countries to stop ships carrying Iranian weapons.

While Iran has violated some of the terms of the deal since the U.S. withdrawal, the European goal is to ensure Tehran doesn’t leave it altogether.

In communications with the Iranians over the next two months, the countries plan to “make sure they understand there is no snap back [in place] and therefore they should not take any rash decisions,” the European official said.