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The United Nations needs to get involved in the US-Iran standoff.

It's probably a long shot but the U.N. General Assembly could invoke what's called the "Uniting for peace" resolution to de-escalate tensions.

Analysis | Middle East

The European Union has shown that it is unable to stand up to Donald Trump's bullying and unilateralism regarding the Iran nuclear deal and requires Russian and Chinese participation in implementing the United Nations’ “Uniting for peace” resolution as a backdrop for negotiations between Iran and the U.S.

The assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force by the U.S. took the Middle East to the brink of a new war. Most analysts believe that this recent crisis and the escalation of U.S.-Iran tensions over the past year, leading to increasing insecurity in the Persian Gulf region, is the result of the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The reinstatement of sanctions and the maximum pressure policy exercised by the U.S. after its withdrawal from the deal led Iran to begin a gradual step by step adjustment of its commitments to the JCPOA a year after the U.S. withdrawal, from May 2019.

During a trip by the EU high diplomat, Josep Borrell, to Tehran earlier this month, he said the EU did not currently intend to refer Iran’s nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council for further action. Earlier, Iran had threatened to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if it did so.

Even though the EU, China, and Russia have spent the past 21 months criticizing the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, in practice they have been unable to create the conditions for Iran to reap its economic benefits. Banks and private businesses are unwilling to work with Iran for fear of U.S. secondary sanctions and punitive measures. As such, it seems the EU, China, and Russia should now take a step towards enforcing the U.N. “Uniting for peace” resolution.

The resolution has already been used ten times and resolves that if the Security Council fails to maintain international peace and security when one of its permanent members uses its power of veto in cases of threat against peace, breach of peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly will immediately consider the matter and make recommendations to its members.

Following its unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, which is an international agreement endorsed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, the U.S. is presently forcing other states to abrogate the UNSC resolution while the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly verified and confirmed Iran’s compliance in numerous reports prior to U.S. withdrawal. Other issues further complicate the situation, such as Soleimani’s assassination and the unprecedented economic sanctions against Iran tantamount to an economic war without international legitimacy which has now endangered the lives of many Iranian patients who are unable to access special drugs. All these point to the need to consider the resolution on uniting for peace.

In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif mentioned that talks with the U.S. are possible if this country lifts sanctions on Iran, to which Donald Trump tweeted: “No thanks!” Clearly, any attempts at de-escalation between the two countries at Security Council level are already doomed to failure with a U.S. veto under the circumstances. Despite its legal obligation, the U.S. has even refused to issue a visa for the Iranian foreign minister to attend the U.N. Security Council meeting after Soleimani’s assassination.

Therefore, the EU, China, and Russia should collectively begin the process of enforcing the uniting for peace resolution. The agenda of the resolution could be the lifting or temporary suspension of U.S. sanctions on Iran and the return of Iran to its commitments in the JCPOA as a backdrop for the parties to begin talks. Such a process was set in motion in 2013, when Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the suspension of related sanctions which eventually led to the JCPOA.

Therefore, in the circumstances where Iran and the U.S. have shown no willingness to step back and the individual efforts of countries such as France and Japan or the European Union as a whole have failed, the U.N. General Assembly can put its best foot forward and ask both countries to lay the groundwork for negotiations.

Undoubtedly, the U.S. can also ignore a GA resolution, but the chances for success are good for two reasons. First, Trump will be facing the international community rather than just one country and Iran will return to its commitments in the JCPOA, thus reducing the perception of a retreat by Trump. And second, the probability of talks with Iran can be valuable for him in his re-election campaign.

The EU must not wait for the U.S. presidential election results. Rather, it should step up its historic role in safekeeping a significant international agreement by using the U.N. legal mechanism to set the ball rolling for talks between Iran and the U.S. and give international peace a chance.

Iran Minister for Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif meets with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at United Nations Headquarters. July 2019 (via Shutterstock)
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