European states trigger dispute mechanism in Iran nuclear deal

Britain, France and Germany have triggered the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a step that over months could result in the collapse of the agreement entirely and the return of European sanctions on Tehran.

Officials described the move as one taken more in sorrow than anger and said it was in part prompted by fears Iran might now be less than a year away from possessing the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb.

Concern was most acute that Iran will be learning about centrifuge enrichment in an irreversible way. “The concern is they are going to learn something that it is not possible for them to unlearn,” one senior official said.

The leaders of the three nations said in a statement that they’ve been “left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments”. They added the move did not mean the EU was joining the US campaign of maximum economic pressure on Iran.

The decision was taken in principle before Christmas by the three European powers, and not prompted by the recent Iranian attack on US bases in Iraq, or the Iranians’ accidental downing of the Ukrainian airliner.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said the three European countries “could no longer leave the growing Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement unanswered”.

“Our goal is clear: we want to preserve the accord and come to a diplomatic solution within the agreement,” he said. “We call on Iran to participate constructively in the negotiation process that is now beginning.”

Iran’s foreign ministry warned of a “serious and strong response”. Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi added, however, that Iran was “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the deal.

The six signatories to the deal, Iran, Russia, China and the EU states – France, Germany and the UK – will now meet within 15 days at political director level in Vienna to hear formally that Iran’s steps away from the deal have required the EU to trigger the deal’s elaborate dispute resolution mechanism.

The issue can then be passed to ministerial level within a further 15 days or left indefinitely at this level. If the issue is passed up to ministers they can also examine the issue indefinitely or pass to a three-strong appeal body within 15 days.

Very soon after that process, the EU states could inform the UN that Iran is in breach of the agreement, leading to a reimposition of European sanctions. Officials said the practical impact of reimposed EU sanctions would be low due to the swingeing nature of existing US sanctions. It would, however, represent a severe blow to the cause of multilateral nuclear non-proliferation.

A western diplomat said: “This allows us to buy time whilemaking clear to Iran that they cannot continue on this path of non-compliance with no consequences.”

Donald Trump has been pressing Europe to leave the nuclear deal ever since he unilaterally took the US out of deal in May 2018, and the White House will be delighted that its sustained pressure has paid off. There is little expectation that Iran will respond to the EU’s move by reversing the steps it has already taken especially on nuclear research and development.

In his strongest call yet from Europe for a new agreement to replace the 2015 deal, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the way forward was to agree what he called a “Trump deal”.

“If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal … President Trump is a great dealmaker, by his own account,” he said.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, tried to finesse Johnson’s call by saying the existing deal was the best way to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but this did not preclude a search for a wider more ambitious deal covering Iran’s ballistic missiles and its regional behaviour. UK officials argue any such deal would require the US to suspend sanctions for negotiations to start, something Trump rejects.

Iran has taken its five successive steps away from the deal because it says the EU has not fulfilled its commitment to boost trade. The US has imposed extra-territorial sanctions making it nearly impossible for European firms to trade with Iran and not risk swingeing US fines. A mechanism designed to circumvent the sanctions set up by the EU has so far failed to facilitate a single transaction between European firms and Iran.

European diplomats stressed the move was not being taken to reimpose sanctions, but to try to find some way to press Iran to come back into compliance with the deal. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs high representative, even went so far as to say that preserving the nuclear deal “is more important than ever”.

Iran says it no longer feels bound to comply with aspects of the deal except allowing UN inspectors into its sites.

The EU, following long talks with Russia and China about its plan, said it was hopeful that Tehran would not react by banning the UN inspectors.

European diplomats remain sceptical that Trump’s policy of maximum economic pressure will persuade Iran to renegotiate the deal, and fear it will instead strengthen the position of hardliners in Tehran. The street protests in Tehran have not changed that EU judgment.

Автор: Patrick Wintour Diplomatic Editor
Дата: 2020-01-14 18:21

Источник: European states trigger dispute mechanism in Iran nuclear deal