Mike Pompeo arrived in the British capital on Tuesday wearing what is quickly becoming his hallmark stars and stripes Covid-19 mask to discuss the US and Britain’s security concerns.
At a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Mr Pompeo said he had discussed the importance of extending the arms embargo, which is due to expire in October.
“We welcome the recent statement from the United Kingdom, France and Germany recognising that allowing the arms embargo to expire would have major implications for regional insecurity and stability,” Mr Pompeo said.
Behind the scenes diplomatic momentum has also been building before a critical UN Security Council decision over whether to extend the 13-year-long weapons embargo on Iran.
The US, with Mr Pompeo leading the charge, has pursued a policy of maximum pressure on Iran, withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran and reimposing economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
While Britain and the other signatories to the 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have clung to the deal, the US now has in its sights an extension to the UN’s 2003 weapons embargo.
The extension of the ban could deliver a mortal blow to the 2015 deal, which Britain and its European allies have sought to maintain.
“There’s a lot of back-channel momentum between all parties,” Sanam Vakil, the deputy director of Chatham House’s Middle East North Africa Programme told The National. “It’s a big priority for the UK,” she added.
Both the US and the UK will look to turn the build-up to the October deadline on the Iran weapons embargo to their advantage, Dr Vakil explained.
While Britain could look to burnish its post-Brexit credentials as mediator between continental Europe and the US, at the same time America could see the UK as a potential ally for the extension at the UN Security Council.
“I think that the Americans see the relationship with the UK right now as being one where there can be a bit of give and take on a variety of issues,” Dr Vakil said.
In a statement in June, Britain, France and Germany admonished Iran for breaching its commitments under the JCPOA and expressed reservations over the lifting of the arms embargo.
However the three European nations also hit out at the US for withdrawing from the deal in 2018 and they would look to work with Russia and China, all other rotating Security Council members as well as other major stakeholders to resolve the looming impasse.
Ellie Geranmayeh, the deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa programme, said Britain’s track record on Iran in the past year meant it was unlikely to join the US in its policy of maximum pressure.
Following the seizing of the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz last year, Britain did not seek to escalate with Iran. Neither did it do so after a British military medic was killed at Taji military camp, north of Baghdad, in March.
“At that time, there was a push for the UK to come on board … and actually the UK had a much more measured approach,” she explained.
In the face of opposition to the arms embargo extension from Russia, China, Germany and France on the UN Security Council, it is possible that the US will acquiesce and allow the embargo to be lifted with restrictive measures, such as a code of conduct, imposed on Iran over arms sales.
“I do think that there is a way to moderate the response from Iran by having this code of conduct, which means that they are not locked into a UN Security Council arrangement,” Ms Geranmayeh said.
Updated: July 21, 2020 07:23 PM
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