Tehran, Iran – Despite opposition from the United States, a long-standing conventional arms embargo imposed on Iran has expired in line with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.
The 13-year ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) came to an end on Sunday as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
In a statement carried by state media, the Iranian foreign ministry said “as of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran … are all automatically terminated.”
The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks, and the Iranian foreign ministry said the country can now “procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs”.
However, Iran was self-reliant in its defense, the statement said, adding that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defense doctrine.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, imposing waves of harsh economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump’s administration has also employed every means in its power to unravel the nuclear deal and stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran.
The latest came in early October when 18 Iranian banks were blacklisted, including those that process humanitarian trade transactions – effectively severing Iran’s financial sector from the global economy.
The US administration has been fervently supported in its efforts by Israel and a number of Arab countries that oppose Iran’s expanding regional influence.
In August, the US tabled a UNSC resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, but it was rejected.
From the 14 UNSC member states, the so-called E3 of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and eight others abstained while Russia and China opposed the extension. Only the Dominican Republic supported the resolution.
After announcing the triggering of a process to “snap back” sanctions on Iran and waiting for a month, the US in September announced it has unilaterally reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of Resolution 2231.
If implemented, the move would automatically extend the arms embargo as well.
But an overwhelming majority of UNSC member states once more rejected the bid, saying no process to reinstate sanctions was started because the move had no legal basis.
The US threatened “consequences” for countries that do not adhere to its assertion but has yet to take action.
In trying to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, the US claims the lifting of the embargo will open a floodgate of arms deals that would quickly serve to further destabilise the region.
EU embargoes on conventional arms exports and missile technology are still in place and will remain in force until 2023. The foreign ministers of the E3 in July issued a joint statement that said while the three countries remain committed to fully implementing Resolution 2231, they believe the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability”.
In practice, it might take some time for Iran to be able to utilise the freedom from the embargo.
For one, relentless US sanctions have significantly restricted Iran’s ability to buy advanced systems, whose purchase and maintenance could cost billions of dollars. Furthermore, China and Russia, or any other country pondering arms sales to Iran, would act based on their foreign policy interests, which would have to consider the balance of power and future economic interests in the Gulf and the wider region.
Iran and China have been considering a major 25-year strategic partnership deal, the details of which have yet to be published.