Latest on Iran nuclear deal, turmoil in Belarus, nuclear testing and O’Toole plans to gut gun control


Since its signing on 14 July 2015, we have featured many blogs on the importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the manifold efforts of then National Security Advisor John Bolton and the Trump administration to kill this landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

The administration’s goal is clear: kill the deal or make it that much harder for a successor administration to rejoin it.

In their 19 August report, the International Crisis Group examines in detail the latest American move to kill the deal through an attempt to restore pre-2015 UN arms export sanctions, a right reserved for signatories to the nuclear deal it abandoned. The report concludes:

It is surprising, perhaps, that the JCPOA has held on until now, absorbing one blow after another. If the deal’s remaining participants act wisely, it could still live to fight another day.

New US action follows ignominious defeat in Security Council

This new American effort in the UN Security Council follows what has been variously characterised as a “humiliating”, “embarrassing”  or “ignominious” defeat, when just one nation, the Dominican Republic, supported a US resolution to extend an existing arms embargo on Iran. Russia and China voted against while all the rest of the members (including Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the UK) abstained. UK Guardian reporter Julian Borger writes:

the scale of the defeat on Friday underlined US isolation on the world stage ahead of a major diplomatic confrontation that threatens to consume the security council and further sap its authority.

The “major diplomatic confrontation” to which Borger refers is, of course, the subject of the Crisis Group Report, whereby the USA will “invoke” a mechanism under the JCPOA that allows any of the parties to the agreement to “snap back” UN sanctions on Iran. Despite having unequivocally departed the agreement, the US argues that it is still technically a party with the power, therefore, to trigger the “snapback” of sanctions against Iran.

This mechanism does not involve a UN Security Council vote, meaning that it will be a matter of interpretation and, more importantly, of conduct that will determine the status of these new American sanctions. Crisis Group writes:

There is no … clear-cut way for them [the other Security Council members] to dispatch the likely U.S. snapback manoeuvre. But there is an effective way nonetheless: to greet the Trump administration’s claim that sanctions have been reimposed with a collective shrug, making plain that they dispute the move’s legitimacy and that they will neither recognise new sanctions nor give them any effect.

In summation, the report urges other UN Security Council members to “disregard this latest American gambit” and Iran, not to overreact.

Opposition to latest US effort holding firm

And so far, it seems they are heeding this advice, with France, Germany and the UK, along with Russia and China writing letters to the UN secretariat saying the US does not have the right to “snap back” sanctions on Iran, because it left the Iran deal in 2018.

For its part, Iran has reached an important agreement to give International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to two suspected former nuclear sites, dating back before 2003. While not directly related to the issues in play, the “good faith” agreement removes an irritant that would have made it more difficult for the nuclear deal’s European signatories to continue to back it.

Israel joins in American pressure on UK to abandon Iran nuclear deal

No doubt emboldened by the recent normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took the occasion of a visit by UK Foreign Secretary Dominique Raab to urge Britain and other EU states to end what he described as their “outrageous and absurd” support for the Iran nuclear deal. Raab also met the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in Jerusalem on the same visit and the British were again harangued over their support for the Iran deal.

But so far at least the UK remains steadfast in a view shared by France and Germany — that avoiding a new nuclear crisis is the priority.

For both an Executive Summary and the full report, see: Iran: The U.S. Brings Maximum Pressure to the UN (Report 218,, 19 August 2020).

For a legal opinion on the American “snapback” maneuverings, see: Pompeo’s Attempt to Snapback UN Security Council Sanctions on Iran – “Cut That Out!” (Prof. Larry Johnson,, 21 August 2020).

It concludes thusly:

From the legal point of view, I believe the US attempt to invoke the snapback is untenable and inadvisable….‘ya can’t have your cake and eat it too’.

US actions further damage the UN Security Council

The extreme positions being taken by the USA on a range of issues, not least a resolution addressing the pandemic, has rendered the UN Security Council silent on key global issues. In the view of the Crisis Group:

Such a crisis [over the snapback provision] will intensify existing tensions among permanent members and undercut the Council’s already severely diminished value as a venue for decision-making by major powers.


After two weeks of unprecedented street rallies in the capital, Minsk, and in smaller towns and cities, President Lukashenko, in office for 26 years, shows no signs of backing down. The protests follow his “victory” in Belarus’s presidential election on 9 August, which the opposition and EU say was rigged. Russia has a close political and security relationship with Belarus, and President Putin has warned he would send military or law enforcement assistance to Lukashenko if the situation “escalated”.

In another important contribution from the International Crisis Group, this time in the form of an 18 August statement entitled How to Help Belarus, concrete steps are outlined to help address the legitimate wishes of ordinary citizens without “transforming the Belarus crisis into a European one”. Emphasising that this struggle has not been about East–West competition, the statement warns:

Either direct Russian military intervention or heavy-handed Western efforts to foster a transition would risk transforming this crisis into the NATO-Russia standoff it is not and turn the people of Belarus into pawns.

Crisis Group goes on to say:

Instead of competing, Russia and other European states would be better advised to work together to help Belarusians chart their own path forward.

The full statement and its recommendations, including mediation and other assistance by neighbouring states, can be found here: How to Help Belarus (Statement,, 18 August 2020).

For those wishing in-depth analysis and policy recommendations, see the policy brief from European Leadership Network Policy Fellow Ben Challis entitled: Belarus beyond 2020: Implications for Russia and the West (3 August 2020).

Like the Crisis Group Statement, Challis calls on Russia and the West to avoid a damaging competition for influence in Belarus, focusing instead on developing a much more nuanced understanding of Belarus interests and regional dynamics.

And for an entirely different perspective on the Belarus unrest — one not being presented in the mainstream media — see: What Belarus Stands to Lose (, 20 August 2020). Author Vadim Nikitin writes:

Fixing the country’s broken democratic process can’t come at the cost of the inequality and corruption other former Soviet republics are now facing.


The International Day Against Nuclear Tests was established by the United Nations in 2009 to highlight the destructive impact of nuclear testing on human health and the environment, and to support a complete ban on nuclear testing through the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres:

The nuclear menace is once again on the rise. A complete ban on nuclear testing is an essential step in preventing the qualitative and quantitative improvement of nuclear weapons and in achieving nuclear disarmament.

For more information on scheduled events, see the official UN website here and the Secretary-General’s call for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty here.


Proposals put forward by new Conservative leader Erin O’Toole in a bid to curry favour with the gun lobby would significantly widen the availability of semi-automatic assault-style rifles in Canada.

In the words of Professor Blake Brown in a recent Toronto Star commentary:

O’Toole’s promise to enact a simplified classification system is a repudiation not only of the gun control policy of the Liberal Party. Instituting such a classification system would also weaken the gun control steps taken by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Loosening, not tightening, gun controls also flies in the face of Canadian public opinion as our previous blogs on this issue have repeatedly highlighted.

For the full article, see: O’Toole’s regressive plan to appease gun lobby by weakening restrictions on assault-style rifles (Blake Brown, contributor,, 26 August 2020).

For more information on how you can get involved in supporting tougher gun controls and in ensuring the Liberals do not backslide, see:

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to take all necessary steps to ensure the full implementation of the ban on all military-style assault weapons, the buy-back scheme and other measures to reduce their availability to the maximum extent possible.

Photo credit: wikimedia (Belarus Presidential Palace)


The only means we have right now to fight coronavirus is our own behaviour.

Tags: "snapback" provision, Belarus, Coalition for Gun Control, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Erin O'Toole, European Leadership Network (ELN), International Crisis Group (ICG), International Day Against Nuclear Tests, Iran nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), miltary-style assault rifles, Montreal Massacre, President Lukashenko, simplified classification system, U.N. Security Council