Showdown at the Security Council?

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo under pressure over threats to Yovanovitch Regardless of how the Iraqis feel, the US should leave Democrats clash at debate over keeping US troops in Mideast MORE this week replaced Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyJudd Apatow urges Georgia voters to get rid of Doug Collins after 'terrorists' comment Nikki Haley: Democratic leadership, 2020 Dems are the only people mourning Soleimani death Trump Jr., Ivanka garner support in hypothetical 2024 poll MORE in the United States seat as the United Nations Security Council discussed the secretary general report on the implementation of resolution 2231 endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Pompeo provided a strong verbal assault on Iran for multiple acts of aggression, destabilizing activities in the Middle East, and violations of international law such as missile tests banned by the United Nations. He condemned the Security Council for its failure to restrain these Iranian missile tests and asserted, “The United States is going to continue to be relentless in building a coalition of responsible nations who are serious in confronting the Iran regime’s reckless ballistic missile activity.”


In both style and substance, save presenting computer generated images of illicit weapons and material, his remarks were an eerie replica of that of Secretary of State Colin Powell before the Security Council in February 2003. Six weeks later, the United States invaded Iraq without Security Council approval. In reflecting on his statement, Powell said in 2016, "Of course I regret that a lot of it turned out to be wrong.”

Regrettable in this statement by Pompeo is any serious consideration of the secretary general report that might provide a foundation, through American diplomatic engagement and leadership, for resolving some of the most serious concerns the United States has regarding Iran. This report does not shy away from discussing the recent missile tests by Iran and notes that some of them may be in violation of resolution 2231.

But the report also notes that most of these missiles tested are of not capable of delivering nuclear weapons, which is the major point of contention to be resolved with regard to violations. Rather than engaging how and why to assess this within the workings of the Security Council, Pompeo pursued an oversimplified course of condemnation of the inadequacy of the Iran deal for not accomplishing what it had never set out to do, that is, to restrain all ballistic missile development in Iran.

In dismissing all other issues as less important than missile restraint success, Pompeo does not address that all other signers to the Iran deal continue to live within the confines established by the Iran deal and resolution 2231. The secretary general goes to great pains to state that Iran appears to be in full compliance with all the nuclear nonproliferation concerns that were articulated in the Iran deal and resolution 2231. The report also criticizes failure of the United States to live up to the mutual assurance that with such compliance all signatories would lift sanctions, thus “delivering tangible economic benefits to the Iranian people.”

Pompeo appears to reject the examination of Iranian military and missile equipment, as well as dual use goods transfers, without any significant detail or evidence. The report underscores the success in working with various governments to ensure that these prohibited materials do not enter Iran or be transferred to other countries. Similarly, various cargo inspections of suspicious goods, ranging from military drones to conventional arms to missile guidance components, reveal that most of these have been considered as permissible under the agreement.

Most problematic and clear in contrasting the secretary general report and the statement by Pompeo on Wednesday is the harsh reality of how desperately the United States has boxed itself into an isolated global corner in its withdrawal from the Iran deal and our violation of pledges we made in resolution 2231. While the United States was condemning and threatening at the Security Council, the eight European members of the Security Council, including those also concerned about Iranian missile tests, issued a strong statement of support for resolution 2231 and its solid mechanisms for preserving peace and stability across the world.

Through rejection of the multiple mechanisms built into resolution 2231 for addressing issues of United States and regional security, we miss opportunities to join the multilateral actions that are effective and building new ones that might be. We forgo the desire of our historic allies that we use the Security Council as a launching pad for hard nosed, sustained, and direct diplomatic engagement with Iran. As in February 2003, we willfully and wrongly believe our security will be won only from maximum sanctions that fail and the seemingly inevitable use of military force.

George A. Lopez is the Hesburgh Professor Emeritus at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He served on the United Nations Security Council panel of experts for North Korea sanctions and was vice president at the United States Institute of Peace.