Most prominently at issue is the several Iranian ballistic missile launches that have been carried out since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations between Iran and a body consisting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. These alleged violations of UNSC resolution 2231 now include an actual ballistic missile attack on Syria, carried out less than two weeks earlier and described by one Revolutionary Guard general as a message intended for the US and Saudi Arabia.
President Donald Trump has sought to expand relations with other traditional adversaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with Saudi Arabia being chief among them. In May, he visited Riyadh to attend an Arab-US summit that specifically addressed Iran’s destabilizing role in the region. The visit also yielded a 110 billion dollar arms sale agreement between the US and the Saudis. In the midst of those efforts, Haley has been among the White House officials striving to expand international consensus on Iran so as to include world powers that are not strictly adversarial toward the Islamic Republic in general.
In a previous address to the Security Council in April, Haley insisted that the body should make Iran’s regional role more of a central priority in its joint policies toward the Middle East. Thursday’s address can easily be viewed as a follow up to this and other earlier efforts, criticizing Britain and France, along with Iran allies Russia and China, for refusing to head earlier warnings from the White House.
In previous months, it has been suggested that divergent Russian and Iranian interests in Syria, along with Trump’s own pursuit of dialogue with the Russians could help to encourage Moscow to rein in Tehran. However, this has not come to pass and the reporting on Haley’s appeals to the UN tend to emphasize that both Russia and China remain firm obstacles to coordinated efforts against the Islamic Republic, given that permanent members of the Security Council each enjoy veto power.
In keeping with this trend, Reuters reports that Russian officials disputed some aspects of the latest biannual report by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Haley said of that same report that it “makes clear that Iran is in violation of the Security Council resolution 2231 and so the question becomes ‘what is the Security Council going to do about it?’”
France and Britain, meanwhile, appeared to stand at a midway point between the US’s harsh criticisms and Russia’s disregard of any Iranian wrongdoing. Although both nations generally stand behind the continued implementation of the JCPOA, the Associated Press noted that Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Patrick Wilson, acknowledged some “less positive issues” that would need to be addressed.
These issues, relating to resolution 2231 and more pointedly highlighted by Haley, involve not only ballistic missile launches but also the procurement of new missile technologies and proven instances of Iran smuggling arms to other entities, including terrorist groups in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. The AP indicated that the entire collection of speeches at the briefing demonstrated deep divisions among Security Council members regarding the Islamic Republic. And these divisions no doubt become deeper when one takes into account more general issues that were also highlighted by Haley, namely Tehran’s overall destabilizing role and its repression of its own people.
This latter issue was described by the US ambassador as “speaking volumes” about the “true nature” of the Iranian regime. Under the presidency of Barack Obama, the US had pursued a much more conciliatory set of policies on Iran, partly on the basis of expectations that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would push the country in the direction of moderation following his election in 2013. Similar predictions have been much more muted in the wake of Rouhani’s reelection to a second term in May, and various critics of the regime have gone to great lengths to call attention to his failure to follow through on any progressive-sounding campaign promises other than the conclusion of a nuclear deal.
Groups like the Center for Human Rights in Iran continue to trace human rights abuses by the Iranian regime and they indicate that domestic conditions have not improved under Rouhani but have in some cases gotten worse. One recent CHRI article pointed to the threats that have been issued to women regarding their obligatory Islamic dress code, especially at a time when summer temperatures are rising. On Friday, it was reported that one town in Iran had reached 129 degrees, a national record and one of the hottest temperatures on Earth. But just days earlier, a prosecutor in Mazandaran province warned that women with inadequate head coverings would face two months in prison and up to 74 lashes.
Another CHRI article noted that politically, religiously, and ethnically motivated arrests were continuing at a brisk pace well over a month after the presidential elections, which had given rise to numerous arrests of political activists, social media, users, and others. The article specifically highlighted 13 arrests of Iranian Arabs, including several minority rights activists, at a cultural gathering. This goes to show that peaceful gatherings continue to be criminalized even under the supposedly moderate administration of President Rouhani, who insisted that a stronger mandate for his second term would yield the release of political prisoners.
Under these circumstances, open expressions of Iranian popular sentiment take place primarily outside of the country. On Saturday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran will be holding its annual international gathering to urge regime change and to encourage assertive international policies like those being advanced by the Trump administration.
However, even in absence of international consensus, the full extent of those policies remains uncertain. Although President Trump quickly raised the possibility of designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, his administration has allegedly stood in the way of the passage of a sanctions bill that would extend all terror-related sanctions to the IRGC. The Senate claimed that procedural problems with that bill had been fixed on Friday, but it remains to be seen whether the broadly popular bill will now make it past the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives, and how quickly it will reach the president’s desk.