We Need to Invoke the UN Snapback on Iran—Before It's Too Late | Opinion

Of the many dangerous myths used to sell the catastrophic 2015 Obama-Biden Iran nuclear deal to the American people, the most pernicious was the idea that the deal was "just" about nuclear weapons. The deal was, in fact, far more significant in scope. Because of a ticking provision in the deal, Iran will soon be empowered to purchase billions of dollars of conventional weapons from countries like China and Russia. In fact, those arms sales are already in motion.

No American administration should ever have contemplated, let alone agreed, to a scenario in which our most powerful rivals are able to sell billions of weapons to one of our most dangerous enemies. The Iranian regime is brutal, oppressive and tyrannical. It finances and exports terror, and openly threatens all-out war while seeking weapons that could incinerate American cities with a single flash of light. When the ayatollah says "death to America" and "death to Israel," he means it.

Yet according to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, the resolution that endorsed the Iran deal, a decade-old UN arms embargo against Iran is set to be lifted in October. Thankfully, the Trump administration is moving to prevent that expiration.

Under the deal, the ayatollah accepted limited and temporary restrictions on Iran's nuclear weapons program. However, in return, UNSCR 2231 forever abolished all six previous UN Security Council resolutions against Iran that had been passed in response to the full range of Iran's malign activities, including terrorism, ballistic missile development and its nuclear weapons program. Those concessions included the arms embargo, which was put on a five-year expiration clock.

Usually, the only way to reverse one UN Security Council resolution is by passing another one through normal procedures, which require that no permanent member—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia or China—veto the resolution. On Friday, the Trump administration tried exactly that, and presented a new resolution to extend the old arms embargo. China and Russia opposed. Our European allies refused to take sides.

Under USCR 2231, however, there is another way to reverse course on a deal that will soon deliver dangerous weapons into the hands of the ayatollah. When the Iran nuclear deal was being negotiated, Congress demanded that as a final failsafe, the Obama administration had to ensure the United States could, at any time, unilaterally determine that Iran had violated the deal and force a restoration of the six previous resolutions and their sanctions, including the arms embargo. And indeed, this so-called "snapback mechanism" was incorporated into UNSCR 2231.

UN Security Council meeting in February
UN Security Council meeting in February JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

I have long called for invoking the snapback mechanism due to the threat posed by Iran. The necessity has never been more pressing. Without action, UNSCR 2231 will soon bulldoze what few speed bumps remain at the international level to slow down Iran's aggression and eventually, as other sanctions expire, the full development and deployment of Iran's nuclear program.

President Trump and his administration did everything they could to avoid a showdown over the arms embargo, including mobilizing a coalition to advocate for last week's resolution. The administration is now rightly moving to invoke the snapback mechanism.

However, predictably, political opponents of the president, including the Iran echo chamber from the Obama years, are suddenly saying the U.S. has no right to use the very failsafe that the Obama administration included as part of the deal they cut.

Some say that Iran is not significantly violating the nuclear deal, or that it's not their fault because the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran. But Iran has admitted to violating the deal, those violations have been confirmed by the UN's nuclear watchdog and regardless—as then-Secretary of State Kerry confirmed in writing to the Senate in 2015—the U.S. has "full discretion to determine what is and is not" a violation that triggers the snapback.

Others argue that UNSCR 2231 says only current participants in the Iran deal can invoke the snapback mechanism, and the United States is no longer part of the Iran deal—thanks to President Trump, who courageously and wisely withdrew from it. But those critics are wrong. UNSCR 2231 reserves the right of any original participants of the Iran deal to invoke the snapback mechanism, which it explicitly defines as including the United States. How could it not? The entire point of the snapback was to protect the U.S. if Iran exploited the deal to endanger Americans.

Having exhausted every other measure to stop Iran from receiving billions of dollars of weapons starting in October, the Trump administration is going back to the UN to put an end to the benefits Iran is receiving from the Iran deal. We can go there tomorrow to begin the process, we should do so and, very soon, we will do so.

Ted Cruz is a U.S. senator for Texas and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.