Europeans take first step to punish Iran over nuclear pact breaches

People walk in front of a mural of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran, Iran July 7, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 09 July 2019
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Europeans take first step to punish Iran over nuclear pact breaches

  • European powers urged Iran to reverse its move to increase uranium enrichment
  • The European parties to the deal along with the EU's diplomatic chief called on Tehran to reverse breaches of the agreement

BERLIN: European powers took their first step on Tuesday toward punishing Iran for breaking its nuclear agreement, triggering the deal’s mechanism to resolve breaches.
The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, plus the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, said in a statement that Iran was “pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments” under the deal, known as the JCPoA.
“These compliance issues must be addressed within the framework of the JCPoA, and a Joint Commission should be convened urgently,” they said.
The three European powers are the remaining Western signatories to Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement, which was abandoned by the United States last year.
Convening a joint commission of signatories — the Europeans plus Russia and China — is the first step in a process foreseen in the agreement that could eventually lead to a “snapback,” bringing back the international sanctions lifted by the deal.
“Iran has stated that it wants to remain within the JCPoA. It must act accordingly by reversing these activities and returning to full JCPoA compliance without delay,” the European countries said.
The 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers offered Iran access to world trade in return for agreeing to curbs on its nuclear program.
The future of the pact has been in doubt since last year when the United States pulled out of it and reimposed unilateral sanctions. Iran has said it wants to continue to abide by the agreement but cannot do so indefinitely if US sanctions prevent it from receiving any of the promised economic benefits.
The deal’s fate has come to a head in the past 10 days, after Iran announced steps that were in violation of its central commitments — it announced that it had amassed more enriched uranium than allowed under the agreement and said it had refined uranium to a higher purity.
Tehran argues that its steps are permitted under the deal as a response to US non-compliance. It has said it could take new steps in 60 days, including restarting dismantled centrifuges and purfiying uranium to a sharply higher threshold.
CONFRONTATION
The nuclear diplomacy is a central issue in a wider confrontation between the United States and Iran, which has escalated since the start of May when Washington tightened sanctions with the aim of halting all Iranian oil exports.
The dispute took on a military dimension, with Washington accusing Tehran of attacks on ships in the Gulf. Last month Iran shot down a US drone, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off minutes before impact.
The European powers strongly disagreed with the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal, and have since found themselves caught in the middle, trying to persuade Iran to stick to it without receiving the promised benefits.
The Trump administration argues that the deal agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because some of its terms were not permanent and it omitted non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional policies.
Trump’s hard-line policy is backed by oil-exporting Arab states in the Gulf, which consider Iran a foe and stand to gain from US sanctions that have removed Iranian crude from the market, and by Israel, which has repeatedly called on the European countries to reimpose sanctions.


Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

  • Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal
  • The US quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.