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US House majority urges Pompeo to extend UN arms embargo on Iran

Expiration of embargo would have 'disastrous consequences', say 387 House members in letter to US Secretary of State
The entrance of the US House of Representatives at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on 23 April (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

A group of nearly 400 members of the US House of Representatives has called on the Trump administration to use diplomatic channels to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran.

More than three-quarters of the House signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling on the administration to renew the embargo which expires in October.

"We are concerned that the ban's expiration will lead to more states buying and selling weapons to and from Iran," the 387 lawmakers said in the letter.

'Nearly every member of the US House of Representatives is in agreement: Iran must not be allowed to buy or sell weapons'

- Republican Congressman Michael McCaul

"This could have disastrous consequences for US national security and our regional allies. We urge you to work with allies and like-minded partners, including through the United Nations Security Council, to extend these provisions," the lawmakers continued.

The embargo, set to expire in October, is part of a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that was passed alongside the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear deal known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

While the US withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the Trump administration is planning to legally claim to be a "participant state" in the agreement, but only for the purpose of invoking its rights to "snapback" sanctions under the UNSC resolution. 

While the legal framework on the US's argument is unclear, the decision to accept or deny the US's position will ultimately be up to UNSC members to decide.

'Solve this crisis'

In a statement separate from the joint letter, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, a Democrat, urged the Trump administration to implement a "realistic and practical strategy" on the issue, suggesting he disapproved of the plan to invoke past JCPOA membership as a means to renew the embargo.

Engel said the administration needs to reach out to allies to stop the UN embargo from expiring "not through snapback or going it alone, but through a careful diplomatic campaign". 

"The Trump administration has promised a better deal and it falls to the administration to solve this crisis, not make it worse," the chairman said. 

Iran slams US efforts to extend arms embargo as 'illegitimate'
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Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, a ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the US needs to reinforce the UN arms embargo "for the sake of international peace and security".

"Nearly every member of the US House of Representatives is in agreement: Iran must not be allowed to buy or sell weapons. This isn't a Republican or Democrat issue, or even just an American issue," McCaul said. 

Iran has strongly criticised the Trump administration's efforts to use its past membership in the JCPOA as a tool to influence the UNSC's decision on the arms embargo. 

"The United States is not a member of the nuclear deal anymore," Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, told reporters on Monday. "America's move is illegitimate and our reaction will be proportionate."

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "hopeful" the UN Security Council would extend the arms embargo before it expires in October.

"We are prepared to exercise all of our diplomatic options to ensure the arms embargo stays in place at the UN Security Council," he said.