Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks at the UN Security Council on the Iran Arms Embargo

Because of the flawed nuclear deal negotiated by the prior administration, the arms embargo on the world’s most heinous terrorist regime is scheduled to expire on October 18th, a mere four months from now.

This Chamber has a choice: Stand for international peace and security, as the U.N.’s founders intended, or let the arms embargo on the Islamic Republic of Iran expire, betraying the U.N.’s mission and its finest ideals – which we’ve all pledged to uphold. 

If you fail to act: Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000 kilometer radius – putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in its crosshairs. Iran will be free to upgrade and expand its fleet of submarines to further threaten international shipping and freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea. Iran will be free to purchase new and advanced technologies for its proxies and partners throughout the Middle East, including Hamas, Hizballah, and the Houthis. Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices. Iran will be free to become a rogue weapons dealer, supplying arms to fuel conflicts from Venezuela, to Syria, to the far reaches of Afghanistan. 

In November of last year, President Rouhani himself said, “When the embargo . . . is lifted next year, we can easily buy and sell weapons.” We should take him at his word. Iran is not a responsible democracy like Australia or India. We already know what Tehran will do if given the ability to buy more weaponry.  Just consider the Secretary General’s UNSCR 2231 report we are discussing today:

The report confirmed that weapons used to attack Saudi Arabia in September 2019 were of Iranian origin. The report also confirmed that weapons interdicted off the coast of Yemen in November of 2019 and February 2020 were of Iranian origin. Iran is already violating the arms embargo before its expiration date! Imagine Iranian activity if restrictions are lifted. And we don’t need the Secretary-General’s report to see what else the regime is doing. In January, Iran launched an attack on Coalition forces in Iraq using its own advanced missiles. Iran supplies Shia militia groups like Kata’ib Hizballah – groups which have launched dozens of rocket attacks since the fall of last year against U.S. and Coalition forces fighting ISIS. Iran unleashes ship-mining attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman, as it did in May and June last year. Nearly all countries have arms. Mature nations use them for defensive purposes and to promote stability. Not the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

And don’t just take it from the United States, listen to countries in the region. From Israel to the Gulf, countries in the Middle East – who are most exposed to Iran’s predations – are speaking with one voice: Extend the arms embargo. The United States’ overwhelming preference is to work with this Council to extend the embargo to protect human life, and to protect our national security, and yours. We have imposed arms restrictions on Tehran in various forms for 13 years, with good reason.  

When we unanimously adopted UNSCR 1747 in 2007 – which, among other actions, prohibited arms transfers from Iran – the United Kingdom’s Representative to the Council said, “The path of proliferation by Iran is not one that the international community can accept.”  I welcome the statement from the U.K., France, and Germany recently recognizing that lifting the embargo would have major implications for regional security and stability. I also welcome the support of almost 400 members of the U.S. Congress, who support my diplomacy to extend the arms embargo. Our concern is a matter of national security, not partisan politics. We saw from Iran’s actions while implementing the JCPOA that the regime doesn’t moderate when we lift sanctions or weaken accountability. While still claiming to remain in the deal, Iran, by its own admission, and as confirmed by the IAEA, is showing no signs of slowing its destabilizing nuclear escalation. Tehran is also accumulating dangerous knowledge. For example, late last year Iran announced that its scientists were working on a new centrifuge – the IR-9 – that would allow Tehran to enrich uranium up to 50 times faster than the IR-1 centrifuges allowed under the JCPOA. Even as Iran pursues research that could shorten its breakout time to a nuclear weapon, it’s also denied IAEA inspections access to locations in Iran it is obligated to provide.

The Council cannot simply hope Iran acts in good faith, given this indisputable fact pattern. The Council must hold Iran accountable. I’ll close with an appeal to our greater purpose. Article I of the UN Charter says a purpose of the UN is to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.” Consider the overwhelming evidence I’ve detailed today. If Iran isn’t a threat to peace that demands a collective measure, I don’t know what is. The Council must reject extortion diplomacy. President Rouhani recently declared, “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.” Given the Iranian regime’s history of resorting to terrorism and violence, perhaps we should take this threat seriously. Iran’s foreign minister will speak today. I hope he will tell us whom he intends to crush, and how he will crush them.

Renewing the embargo will exert more pressure on Tehran to start to behave like a normal nation. The world needs this to happen. The long-suffering Iranian people need it to happen. 75 years ago the founders of the UN came together after the devastation of World War II to ensure the world would never again have to face such horrors. Let’s not shrink from the challenge before us simply because the path ahead seems hard.  Let’s uphold the mission of this body to address threats to international peace and security. Let’s take real action in the name of this Council’s noble, founding mission. 

– Michael R Pompeo, Secretary of State