Webinar: The Future of the Snapback Mechanism and Its Implications for Washington and Tehran



On September 22, 2020, the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah) hosted a webinar entitled “The Future of the Snapback Mechanism and its Implications for Washington and Tehran.” Academics, researchers, policy makers and those interested in Iranian affairs were invited to participate in the webinar.

The webinar was chaired by Dr. Mohammed Alsulami, Rasanah’s president, and the experts included: Michael Singh, Director and Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Kirsten Fontenrose, Director of the Scowcroft Middle East Initiative at the Atlantic Council; and Kasra J. Aarabi, Analyst and Non Resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute and Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

The first speaker, Singh, explained the snapback mechanism and its link to the expiration of the arms embargo on Iran. In an interesting point, Singh emphasized that the impact of reinstating past UN sanctions on Iran would be minimal compared to Washington’s unilateral sanctions. He stressed the importance of productive diplomacy to limit the flow of arms to Iran when the embargo expires. Finally, he spoke about the fate of the nuclear deal, with the outcome of the US presidential election likely to have a significant impact on its future. Under a Biden presidency, Washington would likely re-enter the nuclear deal, whereas a Trump second term would result in an escalation of pressure on Iran aggravating existing tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The second speaker, Fontenrose, focused on the implications of the expiration of the arms embargo on Iran for the region and for Iran’s military. Fontenrose painted a worrying picture of further bloody conflicts in the region if the arms embargo expires, as Tehran would be able to purchase arms and easily transfer them to its militias in the region. In addition, Iran’s regional arm – the IRGC – would be boosted at the expense of Iran’s army with the inflow of new arms and technology allowing it to strengthen its presence in the region. Post-arms embargo, there is a possibility that Russia and China could play a military role in Iran, but neither are likely to defend Iran if a conflict breaks out with its neighbors or the United States. In response to this scenario, Fontenrose spoke about the GCC and whether it had the leverage to pressure Moscow and Beijing to limit the flow of weapons and technology to Iran and to restrict its behavior.

The final speaker, Aarabi, analyzed the missing piece – the European position on the snapback mechanism. Aarabi argued that the Europeans share the same concern as the United States in relation to the arms embargo expiring on Iran but unlike the latter are committed to safeguarding the nuclear deal. The Europeans believe that Washington should have involved them more before invoking the snapback mechanism. The Europeans believe that they can reach an agreement with the Russians and Chinese to impose restrictions on the export of advanced weapons to Iran. In an important shift, Aarabi spoke of Iran’s internal situation, with the hardliners increasing their control over state institutions and with the IRGC likely to overtake the state in post-Khamenei Iran. This latter scenario would shut the door completely on talks with the West.

The webinar concluded with a lively question and answer session, with the speakers thanking Rasanah for organizing this much needed webinar and stressing the importance of further discussions to enhance dialogue and understanding of different viewpoints.

Editorial Team