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Pompeo at the UN. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

President Trump confirmed on Wednesday that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to notify the UN Security Council that the U.S. intends to initiate "snapback" sanctions on Iran. The formal request is expected on Thursday, Israeli officials told Axios.

The backdrop: This move could create a diplomatic and legal crisis unlike any seen before at the Security Council. It comes days after the U.S. failed to mobilize support at the council to extend an international arms embargo on Iran.

The big picture: Despite having withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. is invoking its terms in an attempt to force sanctions lifted under the pact to snap back into place.

  • The deal says any of the signatories — the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany and the U.K. — can demand sanctions be reimposed automatically if they believe Iran has committed substantial violations. No country can veto such a move.
  • Russia and China contend that the U.S. gave up its right to reimpose the sanctions when it withdrew from the deal. That view is shared by others on the council, and even by John Bolton, the hawkish former national security adviser.
  • The U.S., on the other hand, claims it has the right to initiate the snapback mechanism because it is a party to the Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal and included the snapback mechanism.
  • The European signatories, who have tried desperately to save the nuclear deal, also oppose the U.S. move.

How it works: Pompeo is expected to arrive in New York on Thursday and present formal letters to the UN secretary-general and the UN ambassador from Indonesia, who holds the Security Council's rotating presidency.

  • The letter will then be circulated to other members, beginning a 30-day consultation period.

What to watch: Israeli officials and Western diplomats both say they expect a major diplomatic crisis over those 30 days.

  • If any member of the Security Council submits a resolution to stop the snapback move, the U.S. will be able to veto it.
  • U.S. officials believe that the renewal of international sanctions will lead Iran to withdraw from the nuclear deal — and likely make it impossible for Democratic nominee Joe Biden to put the deal back together if he wins in November.
  • Israeli officials were notified on Monday that the Trump administration intended to submit the official complaint on Thursday.

The latest: “When the United States entered into the Iran deal, it was clear that the United States would always have the right to restore the UN sanctions that would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," Trump claimed in a press conference on Wednesday.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 23, 2020 - World

Saudi Arabia denies Netanyahu met secretly with crown prince

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif at a press conference on Nov. 18. Photo: Menahem Kahana/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled in secret Sunday to the city of Neom on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli sources told me.

The latest: Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan on Monday denied the meeting took place — a signal that the Saudis may be unhappy with the leak or are at least trying to publicly distance themselves from the meeting. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has not denied the story.

57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan group of senators seeks coronavirus stimulus deal

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At least eight Republican and Democratic senators have formed an informal working group aimed at securing new coronavirus spending during the lame-duck session, a move favored by President-elect Biden, two sources familiar with the group tell Axios.

Why it matters: It may be the most significant bipartisan step toward COVID relief in months.

FCC chairman to depart in January

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ajit Pai will leave his post as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 20, the agency said today.

Why it matters: Pai's Inauguration Day departure is in keeping with agency tradition, and could set up the Biden administration with a 2-1 Democratic majority at the FCC if the Senate fails to confirm another Trump nominee during the lame-duck period.