Permanent Representative of Russia to International Organisations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov’s interview with the newspaper Kommersant, published on April 28, 2020
Question: Is it likely that the US will be able to implement its plan? What are the chances that it will succeed in getting the UN to re-impose its sanctions on Iran?
Mikhail Ulyanov: The Western media have indeed been proactive in discussing this topic during the last few days. The current arrangement for arms supplies to Iran will expire on October 18. It is usually referred to as an “arms embargo,” although it is not actually an embargo in legal terms but rather an enabling supply regime. This means that supplies are possible, if only with the UN Security Council’s authorisation. But in practical terms, this means a total ban, of course, because the US will not allow any arms supplies. The current arrangement will expire in less than six months from now and this makes the Americans terribly nervous.
Question: It is rumoured that they might submit to the UN Security Council a draft resolution extending the current arms supply regime.
Mikhail Ulyanov: Yes, they might. But they are well aware of our negative attitude towards this step and allegedly are working on a fall-back option. Judging by the press leaks, it is about insisting that the US retain its JCPOA status. The Americans need this status so they can try and obtain a re-launch of the UN sanctions against Iran, as, in certain situations, this is allowed under UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Question: Can they really aspire to a JCPOA status, if they withdrew from the deal back in 2018?
Mikhail Ulyanov: In fact, it is not easy, to say the least, to justify this about-face. The Americans hope to find a catch in Item 10 of the said resolution, which lists all parties to the JCPOA talks, including the United States and refers to all of them as the JCPOA participants. In all evidence, they will attempt to use this as a formal pretext for insisting that they still have their JCPOA participant status.
Their reasoning is ludicrous, of course. It is common knowledge that Washington officially announced its withdrawal from the nuclear deal on May 8, 2018. Moreover, the US went out of its way, during the last two years, to derail the deal.
The attempt to invoke Resolution 2231 looks cynical because it is this resolution that the US has been undermining. It is also absolutely unconvincing from the legal, political and moral points of view.
By the way, the absurdity of this stance is clear to many people in the United States itself. Even some administration members seem to be aware of the awkwardness of this approach and are putting out feelers in the public space.
It appears the US is out to regain its JCPOA participant status only to definitively dismantle the nuclear deal. I don’t think they will get away with this. But the attempt to implement this plan will cause a lot of harm and lead to stormy debates in the UN Security Council.
Question: If I understand you correctly, the US slammed the door on the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and is now trying to sneak back to blow up the entire house?
Mikhail Ulyanov: In fact, yes.
Question: And Russia, in effect, has no means to oppose this, has it? After all, the dispute settlement mechanism, if I am not mistaken, does allow a move of this kind. The Americans will say: “We have withdrawn from the JCPOA, but this was a political project, while the resolution remains what it is; we have never pulled out of the resolution and have the right to insist on employing this mechanism.”
Mikhail Ulyanov: An old joke says, “He is sure to gobble it down, but no one will let him do it.”
Theoretically, an attempt of this sort is possible, but it will make the US appear in an extremely unattractive light. Everyone sees the absurdity of this formula. I don’t think that the UN Security Council members would be ready to support the US bid to remain a JCPOA participant. It is clear to everybody that this is preposterous. But it is certain that these attempts can create a lot of problems.
Question: But what if some remaining JCPOA participants play up to the US and use this mechanism? The UK, for example? If the procedure is launched, its specifics, if I understand things correctly, are such that it will be rather easy for the opponents of the JCPOA’s continued operation to obtain a replay of the international sanctions. And Russia will be unable to stop it.
Mikhail Ulyanov: I wouldn’t like to discuss the worst-case scenarios right now. I don’t see any reasons why the British would pull the chestnuts out of fire for the Americans and assume the responsibility for the demise of JCPOA.
The current JCPOA participants have never commented on this topic officially, but, judging by the available leaks, they are highly skeptical of these US overtures, since they realise that this is an attempt to finish off JCPOA.
The remaining participants are of the opinion that the deal is a masterpiece of diplomacy and a crucial contribution to the strengthening of global nuclear non-proliferation. Therefore, I am not enthusiastic towards the US plan on the part of the other JCPOA participants. In fact, there is none.
Question: Are you saying that Russia hopes for their reasonableness?
Mikhail Ulyanov: We will wait and see. But basically everyone knows that cynicism must have its limit. The Americans have not just pulled out of the deal; that would be half the trouble. They have been trying to torpedo the deal for two years now contrary to the interests of international security, those of the US allies in the Middle East, and the interests of the United States itself. This approach is totally irrational. Logically, it is not being supported by anyone. When the IAEA Board of Governors discusses this subject, the Americans are actually in total isolation.
Question: But why did Russia agree to include this dispute settlement mechanism into the deal, if it actually allows it to be made null and void?
Mikhail Ulyanov: The entire nuclear deal is a very fragile compromise, a hard-won balance of interests. The Iranians themselves, not only Russia, have accepted it. Each country had to compromise and make concessions during the talks to arrive at an outcome that suits everyone.
Moreover, no one at that time could suspect that the US would withdraw from the deal. This just couldn’t pop into anyone’s head, because the Obama administration had played a very important role in making this agreement. It was a diplomatic triumph for all the participants at the talks, including the United States.
Question: To sum up: Is Russia hoping that the US will be unable to torpedo the deal on its own and that the rest of the participants will not waver?
Mikhail Ulyanov: As far as JCPOA is concerned, we can use Mark Twain’s famous witticism: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
The deal’s demise was predicted two years ago, when the US made its walkout. Later, there were numerous speculations on this score, but the deal stands.
It has proved highly tenacious of life, although it is in a very poor condition now. For its part, Russia is doing and will continue doing its best to preserve the deal. There is an absolute consensus among the remaining participants that the deal must survive. We may diverge on certain specific issues, but all of us recognise the preciousness and exceptional importance of JCPOA and confirm that we are ready to work for its preservation.