Question: The United States was the only country in the world to impose extraterritorial sanctions against Nord Stream 2 participants. At the same time US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in the Czech Senate, said that there were opportunities for improving relations between Russia and the United States, and that these opportunities had to be used. We know from official reports that you discussed the possibility of convening a UN Security Council meeting on Iran in a telephone conversation with State Secretary Pompeo on August 16. Is the United States ready to meet Russia halfway at least on this matter and support the initiative put forward by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin?
Sergey Lavrov: You have named a number of the latest steps by the US administration. All these moves reveal its determination not to be bound by any international multilateral obligations. Extraterritorial sanctions are being imposed along these lines. When the United States decides that China is a threat because it sells too much to the US and buys too little, the Americans slap sanctions on imports from China. When the United States decides that Iran, while complying with all its commitments under the JCPOA, does not behave well (even though nobody else shares this view), the US sanctions Iran. When the United States believes that President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro deserves punishment, it imposes sanctions on him. After that the US tells all other countries not to dare trade with these countries because the US wants to isolate them.
Of course, these extraterritorial sanctions cannot fail to affect business. At first, businesses viewed them as minor financial losses. However, when the US went after all actors trading with countries the US views as unwanted regimes, businesses started raising their heads, growling and protesting, including in Europe and Asia. The statement by 24 EU countries is an example of this response. Not all countries had the dignity to join this statement, but most of the EU members spoke out in a clear and blunt manner calling out the United States for these unacceptable actions.
In fact, the Americans do not have any qualms when it comes to pushing their economic interests. Diplomatic subtleties, hints and allusions have long been cast aside. You have mentioned US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I have regular conversations with him, and the latest telephone conversation we had was on August 16. He was on his way back from Europe where, among other things, he led a proactive campaign among European countries, including those that he visited, against expanding trade and economic ties and engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. For example, in the Czech Republic he openly said that the country should align all of its plans to develop nuclear energy with the United States rather than Russia.
This logic is very hard to deal with. We have always proceeded from the premise and still believe that proactive approaches and creative solutions are key to success in any international undertaking, but only if focused on mobilising collective efforts to resolve international issues. In today’s world, almost all challenges are global by definition and transcend borders: terrorism, organised crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal migration, food security and many other issues. There is no way these problems can be resolved by simply having one capital issue orders and demand that everyone follow them. That’s like shooting yourself in the foot, especially when it comes to abusing the status of the dollar in international finances. Almost the entire world is now seriously and thoroughly reconsidering the role of the US dollar, and the uncertainty it creates under the current administration. New settlement systems are being actively developed, offering new opportunities to sidestep the dollar settlements.
In any case, the same problems apply to the conversation on Iran with our US colleagues. The United States decided that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to settle the situation around Iran’s nuclear programme was a “bad deal,” as President Donald Trump called it, and that the Obama administration made a tremendous mistake when it signed this “bad deal.” The US withdrew from the JCPOA a couple of years ago, but at the same time proclaimed that no one would be able to stop the US when it will seek to punish Iran for allegedly violating the agreement, despite the fact that the US withdrew from it.
This may sound like a rather clumsy paradox, but this is how things stand. The US said that it will not honour its commitments consisting of refraining from imposing sanctions against Iran, lifting the existing ones and enabling the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully participate in international trade and economic relations. The US said that it would not do so, and would even prevent others from doing so in their dealings with Iran. Those who trade with Iran will be punished by losing access to the US market, facing sanctions and court proceedings. On the other hand, since the JCPOA is a “bad deal,” the US wants to improve it, including by extending the arms embargo that is set to expire in October 2020. Neither Russia, nor other parties to the JCPOA see any legal, political or even more so moral grounds for abusing UN Security Council resolutions in such a crude fashion, and showing disrespect for the UN Security Council. We honestly explained this to our American partners. Nevertheless, they decided to put forward a resolution to this effect. Only one country apart from the US, the Dominican Republic, supported it. Russia and China voted against, and the other 11 members of the UN Security Council, including all European countries, abstained. This means that there was no need to use veto power, since it would have to be used if the resolution had nine votes in favour, but there were only two votes to support it.
That said, we do not gloat over this outcome, as I told Mike Pompeo during our conversation. We do not derive any satisfaction from the failure experienced by the United States in the UN Security Council. By all accounts, I believe that the US was aware of the outcome but wanted to send a message, as we say today, to show its determination not to stop halfway. It will try to bring forward a new resolution on reviving UN Security Council sanctions, since Iran has been under sanctions imposed by the US, Europe and a number of other countries. But UN Security Council sanctions are collective sanctions that are mandatory for all, including Russia, China and the entire international community. They were cancelled after Iran fulfilled all of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The US will seek to use quasi-legal methods in order to reinstate sanctions that all countries in the world would have to follow. This will not work just because a country that violated the integral and comprehensive package of agreements approved by the Security Council and officially withdrew from this package lacks the legal leverage to carry out an operation of this kind.
I tried to explain this to Mike Pompeo in a frank and friendly manner. We are working with our US partners and other Security Council members in New York and the respective capitals. We believe that most of the countries understand that this attempt is illegitimate and counterproductive. It will come to nothing in any case, while causing a serious scandal and division within the UN Security Council, ultimately undermining its authority. In a nutshell, one of the countries that had initiated a consensus resolution on the Iranian nuclear programme said that it will not honour its obligations, and will demand that others follow its wishes.
We recalled another aspect of this situation, in a broader context. Much has been said on the determination by our Western partners to move away from the term “international law” and replace it with new terminology such as the “rules-based order.” This is a telling example. There is a UN Security Council resolution, an international legal document approving the JCPOA to settle the Iranian nuclear programme in keeping with all the requirements set forth in the UN Charter. All of a sudden, one of the parties decides that it cannot agree with some of the provisions stipulated by international law, and instead of following the international law as set forth in this resolution, this country (in this case the United States) invents new rules by saying that “this is the way I want it to be, and not otherwise.” There are many examples of this kind, and they occur with increased frequency. This is a very dangerous trend.
The United States will never succeed in violating a UN Security Council resolution or flagrantly distorting its meaning as enshrined in international law, but it can damage the UN Security Council. We will do everything we can to prevent our US colleagues from taking ill-advised steps of this kind.