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Iran hits out at 'fearful' US after UN arms embargo expires

Tehran continues its war of words with Washington after Mike Pompeo threatened to sanction those doing arms deals with Iran now that a UN embargo has ended
Iranians visit a weaponry and military equipment exhibition in the capital Tehran in February 2019.
Iranians visit a weaponry and military equipment exhibition in the capital Tehran in February 2019 (AFP/File photo)

Iran hit out at the United States on Monday after it threatened to impose sanctions on anyone looking to make deals with the Islamic Republic now that a UN embargo on its military has ended, saying Washington was in "fear" of Tehran's return to the arms market.

After a 13-year conventional arms embargo on Iran ended on Sunday, despite Washington's fierce opposition and calls to extend it, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of dire consequences for any individuals or entities that engage in arms deals with Tehran.

"No nation that desires a peaceful Middle East should contemplate arms sales with Iran - every weapon the regime buys will be at the disposal of its radical ideology. We are prepared to use domestic authorities to sanction individuals or entities contributing to these arms sales," Pompeo warned.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, told reporters that "Pompeo's remarks show that the US itself cannot believe its failure in imposing sanctions against Iran".

'Unlike the Americans, we wouldn't do just about everything for money'

- Amir Hatami, Iran's defence minister

"What they are afraid of is Iran's return to the vast technology market and the export of arms items," Khatibzadeh said.

"Ninety percent of Iran's defence needs are produced domestically. Iran has more export potential than the purchase market. Iran is not like the United States."

Iran's defence minister, Amir Hatami, also touted the country's domestic weapons productions and said the country will begin exporting arms more than it imports.

In an interview with state television on Sunday night, Hatami said Iran would only sell weapons to countries that it is sure "won't misuse them" and will employ them strictly for defence purposes.

"Unlike the Americans, we wouldn't do just about everything for money," he said, pointing out that the US sells billions of dollars of arms to Arab nations that fuel wars.

Iran's foreign ministry said "unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place" in the country's defence doctrine.

US tries and fails to stop Iran

The United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Iran in 2007, but when world leaders penned the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in 2015, a five-year sunset clause on the embargo was negotiated, setting the October 2020 expiration date. 

The agreement relied upon Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal. If Iran was found to be non-compliant, any signing member of the agreement would be able to request a mediation or a "snapback" of sanctions, including the arms embargo. 

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Under President Donald Trump, the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and has since issued sweeping sanctions against the country, culminating in the blacklisting of Iran's entire financial sector.

Washington has tried twice, and failed twice, in stopping the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran at the UN Security Council.

The expiry of the embargo means Iran will no longer face challenges by the UNSC in trying to buy or sell conventional weapons, including missiles, fighter jets, tanks and other advanced machinery.

Still, a European ban on arms deals with Iran, independent from the UN's ban, will remain in effect until 2023.

Arms embargos are 'a joke'

Pompeo, who had led efforts to block the lifting of the embargo at the UN, said in a statement on Sunday that "for the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures".

"Any nation that sells weapons to Iran is impoverishing the Iranian people by enabling the regime's diversion of funds away from the people and toward the regime's military aims."

'The Iranian Navy has reached a level of capability and self-sufficiency that it does not need to buy weapons and we regard the arms embargos as a joke for the Navy'

- Hossein Khanzadi, rear admiral for Iran's navy

In trying to stop the lifting of the arms embargo, Pompeo had warned that Russia, China and others could rush to sell advanced weapons to Tehran once the ban was lifted.

On Sunday, Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz also vowed to take "whatever measures necessary" to prevent Iran from purchasing weapons.

Still, Hossein Khanzadi, a rear admiral for Iran's navy, slammed the embargo, calling it "a joke".

"The Iranian Navy has reached a level of capability and self-sufficiency that it does not need to buy weapons and we regard the arms embargos as a joke for the Navy," Khanzadi said, ISNA reported on Monday.

"I say confidently that in the navy, the fact that the arms embargo has been lifted is not an important issue," he said.