BRUSSELS – Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday formally accused Iran of breaking the 2015 agreement that limited its nuclear program, taking the first step to reimpose the United Nations sanctions.
European countries began timing what could be about 60 days of negotiations with Iran to fully comply with the nuclear agreement. Under the agreement, if they cannot resolve their dispute, that could revive the United Nations sanctions against Iran that had been suspended under the agreement, including an arms embargo.
The measure, which had been expected for more than a week, was delayed when the United States killed an important Iranian commander, Major General Qassim Suleimani, with repercussions that are still occurring in Iran and throughout the region.
President Trump withdrew in 2018 from the agreement, which was negotiated under President Barack Obama, and has imposed several rounds of US sanctions against Iran. In response, Tehran has repeatedly moved beyond the limits that the agreement had placed on its uranium enrichment, generating fears that it might be close to building an atomic bomb.
Europeans want to save the deal and persuade both Washington and Tehran to start a new set of negotiations on missile development and regional activities in Iran, said a senior European official.
But the three European countries, all signatories of the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, or JCPOA, clearly felt they had to respond to the Iran movement to avoid compliance.
In In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany said they had warned Iran on December 6 that “unless it changes course, we would have no choice but to take action,” but Iran “has chosen further reduce compliance. ” . “
On Tuesday, they launched the dispute resolution process of the nuclear agreement, they said, “in good faith, with the overall goal of preserving the JCPOA and with the sincere hope of finding a way through constructive diplomatic dialogue.”
The three countries reiterated that they were opposed to Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement and that they were not joining his “maximum pressure” campaign to economically cripple Iran. “Our hope is that Iran will be in full compliance again,” they said.
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.
The 2015 agreement restricted the amount of centrifuges that Iran could use to enrich uranium, increasing the percentage of U-235, the rare isotope crucial for use in nuclear fission, how high the metal could enrich and how much uranium it could store.
Earlier this month, in response to the murder of Suleimani, Iran said it would no longer meet any restrictions on its uranium enrichment, but without specifying what it would really do, what was considered by Europeans as a useful ambiguity.
Trump’s harsh sanctions include a ban on banking transactions with Iran, a ban that is very difficult to avoid, given the global reach of US banks.
Europeans have struggled to make a barter system work to circumvent the use of the US dollar and banking systems, which adds to Iranian frustration as US sanctions affect the country.
Europeans, especially Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Great Britain, want to nod to Trump while trying urgently to lead diplomatic efforts to start new talks.
In a BBC interview Tuesday morning, Johnson spoke flatteringly about Trump and said he wanted to avoid further military confrontation between Iran and the United States. “Let’s mark this,” he said.
“President Trump is a great negotiator, on his own,” said Johnson. “Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump agreement in place,” he added, although it was not clear what that agreement would be like.
In a separate statement, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany said: “We can no longer leave the growing Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement unanswered.”
“Our goal is clear: we want to preserve the agreement and reach a diplomatic solution within the agreement,” he said. “We will address this together with all the partners in the agreement. We call on Iran to participate constructively in the negotiation process that is now beginning. “
But there was some skepticism that it was the right time for conversations.
Robert Malley, who heads the International Crisis Group and helped negotiate the nuclear deal, said on Tuesday that Trump and his assistants would now feel that Iran was weakened by sanctions and protests in the streets after the downing of a Ukrainian plane. . Americans are unlikely to want to give Iran concessions to start the talks, he said, much less lifting US sanctions that Iran insists should be a precondition.
At the same time, Malley said, senior Iranian officials would not want to be seen talking to Trump administration officials responsible for the murder of General Suleimani, a very popular figure in Iran who was considered their second most important leader.
“The Europeans are trying not to offend Trump too much, but they are also trying to keep the JCPOA alive,” he said. “But the United States now thinks it is winning,” he said, “so the Europeans are trying to prevent everything from getting out of the way.”
Malley said he did not agree to activate the dispute mechanism now, given the complicated new environment, but said doing so “is not fatal” for the agreement. “The only way to go now is to use time to try to get the United States and Iran to talk,” he added.
Iran was subjected to a series of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, mostly since 2006 and later, after it refused to comply with a Security Council resolution to stop uranium enrichment. Almost all of these sanctions were lifted after the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Even if they were reinstated, something that Europeans do not want to do, they would not make a significant economic difference to Iran, given the power of separate US sanctions reimposed by Trump.
A measure that could be important for Tehran if it is re-imposed would restore an essentially general arms embargo on Iran. Iran in the past has threatened to renounce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if the United Nations sanctions were restored.
Last week, Trump urged European signatories to abandon the nuclear agreement; As late as Sunday, the three European leaders pledged to rescue the agreement and again urged Iran to return to full compliance.
Russia and China, also signatories of the nuclear agreement, have supported efforts to preserve it, including the purchase of some Iranian oil.
In their joint statement, the three European foreign ministers urged all parties to negotiate and said: “Given the recent events, it is even more important that we do not add a nuclear proliferation crisis to the current escalation that threatens the entire region.”
On Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned of a “serious and strong response” to the European decision. At the same time, his spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said Iran was “totally ready to respond to any goodwill and constructive effort” that would preserve the nuclear agreement, according to the official IRNA news agency.