Tehran has been pushing the European signatories to the accord to protect it from US sanctions [File: Lisi Niesner/Reuters]
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has urged Iran to acknowledge work undertaken by European nations to save the 2015 nuclear deal.
“We invite Iran to reverse its steps and go back to full compliance with the agreement,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
“The reality is that the deal has avoided Iran developing a nuclear weapon, and so it has been effective. I think everyone today recognses there is no alternative to this deal… As an international community at large, it is key to keeping the situation as calm as possible in the region.”
European powers are trying to de-escalate tensions between the United States and Iran, which have built since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark pact last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
Iran has subsequently decided to no longer respect some of its obligations under the deal, enriching uranium to a higher level of purity and building stockpiles of the nuclear fuel. Tehran says it will come back into full compliance if European powers ensure it can sell oil on global markets – a revenue stream blocked by the US sanctions regime.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Europe had to remain united in trying to preserve the deal and convince Tehran to reverse its decision not to comply with parts of the accord.
“The Europeans have to stay united on this issue,” Le Drian told reporters on Monday. He said both Iran and the US “had made bad decisions”.
Iran’s decision to reduce compliance with the deal that the US abandoned last year was “a bad response to a bad decision”, he said.
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Brussels, said: “As it stands, the E3 – that’s France, the UK and Germany – plus the rest of the EU, believe Iran is still within the terms of the deal.
“The ways in which Iran may have violated the deal are still minor enough that they don’t need to invoke those special measures – that’s what they’ve been saying all day, presenting this united front.”
An international row has erupted in recent weeks following the publication of leaked secret diplomatic memos written by the UK ambassador to Washington which called Trump’s administration “inept” and “dysfunctional”. Sir Kim Darroch stepped down from his position last week after Trump tweeted personal insults towards the veteran diplomat.
In the latest twist in the saga, Britain’s right-wing Mail on Sunday newspaper published more details on Sunday, quoting Darroch accusing Trump of abandoning the nuclear deal in an effort to undermine President Barack Obama’s legacy.
“On the substance, the [US] administration is set upon an act of diplomatic vandalism, seemingly for ideological and personality reasons – it was Obama’s deal,” Darroch wrote in a diplomatic cable to the then-foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.
We believe that the time has come to act responsibly and to look for ways to stop the escalation of tension and resume dialogue
‘Deal may collapse’
The countries’ joint statement released on Sunday by the French president’s office called on “all stakeholders to pause, and consider the possible consequences of their actions”.
It added: “We believe that the time has come to act responsibly and to look for ways to stop the escalation of tension and resume dialogue.”
The accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed in Vienna by Iran, the US, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia, and promised sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including on its key banking and oil sectors.
In response, Tehran has increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the agreed limit and has begun to enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent permitted under the agreement.
“We’ve heard from the spokesman of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, who said Iran will go back to its pre-2015 nuclear activities if Europeans don’t show they are truly committed to the deal,” said Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran.
“There is a sense of urgency among Iranian officials – they don’t really believe the Europeans are serious about this deal any more. They are looking for concrete action from the remaining signatories to the deal. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has praised Foreign Minister [Mohammad] Javad Zarif’s team, saying with this one single agreement, the Iranians were able to abolish six UN Security Council resolutions against them – so this is a really serious deal for them.”
In recent weeks, the three European parties to the deal confirmed that a new financial mechanism designed to enable European and Iranian companies to trade without any direct financial flows – thus bypassing the US financial system – was operational.
However, the scope of the workaround vehicle, called INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges), is initially confined to humanitarian products such as medicine, medical devices and food, which are not directly targeted by US sanctions.
Diplomats have said that, in any case, they fear US blowback, while Iranian officials have repeatedly said INSTEX must include oil sales or provide substantial credit facilities for it to be beneficial.
“This announcement is not something the Iranians wanted to hear,” said Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari.
“INSTEX has been talked about for a long time, but unless Tehran can sell its oil on main global markets, then INSTEX isn’t what they’re looking for. The Iranians say this is the main cause of the dispute. If it doesn’t deal with oil sales, it’s pointless for them because it doesn’t solve any of their concerns, and they’re urging the Europeans to pressure the US to end those sanctions.”
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane added: “[Mogherini] was saying ‘give this scheme the time to get up and running and it will help ease the pain’. She was also saying that Iran needs to not commit any more minor infractions of the deal.”
Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday that Tehran was ready to hold talks with Washington if the US lifted the sanctions and returned to the nuclear deal.