The extent of US isolation at the UN has been driven home by formal letters from 13 of the 15 security council members opposing Trump administration attempts to extend the economic embargo on Iran.
The letters by the council members were all issued in the 24 hours since the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, came to the UN’s New York headquarters to declare Iran in non-compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.
Under that deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), comprehensive UN sanctions on Iran would be restored 30 days after the declaration. But almost every other council member has issued letters saying that the US has no standing to trigger this sanctions “snapback” because it left the JCPOA in May 2018.
The US has said it is still technically a participant because it is named as one in a 2015 security council resolution endorsing the JCPOA. The argument was rejected by France, the UK and Germany even before Pompeo made his declaration.
Since then, Reuters reported that it had seen letters from Russia, China, Germany, Belgium, Vietnam, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Indonesia, Estonia and Tunisia, all rejecting the US position.
Only the Dominican Republic has yet to issue a formal letter on the subject. Last week the Caribbean state was the only security council member to back the US when it tried to extend an arms embargo on Iran. Pompeo visited the country two days after that vote.
Council members who normally consider themselves US allies on most issues said they would have supported Washington if a compromise had been found, in which the arms embargo could have been extended for a limited time period. The defeat of the US resolution on the embargo led directly to Pompeo’s legal gambit to try to snap back UN sanctions.
Diplomats at the UN said the depth of US isolation was in part a reflection of the abrasive style used by Pompeo, who accused Europeans of choosing to “side with the ayatollahs”, and the US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, a political appointee.
“The Americans were actually being over the top in their ridiculousness,” one diplomat said.
“The underlying point here is that most countries on the security council basically agree with the US that Iran is not a nice country and it having nuclear weapons and more arms is not a good thing,” the diplomat said. “But the Americans misplayed their hand so often, so aggressively, that they isolated themselves from people not on policy, but on just being unpleasant.”
• This article was amended on 24 August 2020 because the Dominican Republic is not an island as an earlier version incorrectly described it.