Europe to step up diplomatic efforts on Iran crisis: Germany

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speak to journalists as he arrives for the Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Helsinki, Finland on August 29, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 31 August 2019
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Europe to step up diplomatic efforts on Iran crisis: Germany

  • Germany’s Heiko Maas said the trio wanted to build on momentum from last weekend’s G7 summit, where Trump indicated willingness to talk to Iran

HELSINKI: European countries will step up diplomatic efforts to save the beleaguered Iran nuclear deal, Germany’s foreign minister said on Friday after talks with Britain and France.

Tensions have spiked recently in the Gulf, where Iran has seized Western tankers as Tehran and Washington have locked horns over the 2015 deal.

US President Donald Trump last year unilaterally pulled out of the accord that handed Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its atomic program.

The move alarmed European powers, which see the deal as the best way to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and infuriated the Islamic republic.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany — the three European parties to the deal — were joined by EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini for talks on the sidelines of an EU meeting in Helsinki.

Germany’s Heiko Maas said the trio wanted to build on momentum from last weekend’s G7 summit, where Trump indicated willingness to talk to Iran.

“Our priority is to open the dialogue window between the US and Iran,” Maas told reporters.

“Especially after the G7 summit in Biarritz we are all of the opinion that the momentum that perhaps exists, the readiness for dialogue on both sides... must now be used.”

Mogherini said Thursday the EU would support such a move — provided the current deal was preserved. The Europeans have repeatedly said they are committed to saving the deal, but efforts to shield Iran’s economy from the reimposition of US sanctions have so far borne little fruit.

“We will be discussing further diplomatic efforts together with the French and the British — including in the region with all the countries bordering the Gulf,” Maas said.

Ahead of the meeting, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab also said he wanted to “build on the momentum of the positive G7 talks on Iran.”

As well as mooting the summit with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, Trump also appeared open to a French suggestion that Iran be given a line of credit to help stabilize its economy.

“The nuclear deal is the only deal on the table that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and we will continue working together to encourage Iran to uphold the agreement in full,” Raab said.

“We also need the broadest international support possible to tackle the threats to international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.”

Britain, along with Australia and Bahrain, has joined Washington’s Operation Sentinel mission to protect commercial shipping on the crucial oil trade routes through the Gulf, in particular the Strait of Hormuz.

Other European countries have been cool on the idea, fearing greater naval presence in the region could risk escalating an already febrile situation.

The idea has been floated of a European observation mission in the Strait, a strategic choke point at the mouth of the Gulf, but a number of EU countries have voiced reservations.

Maas said there were sill “different views” and stressed nothing should be done that might imperil diplomatic efforts.

Mogherini on Thursday gave a cautious welcome to the idea of US-Iran talks but stressed “first and foremost what is existing needs to be preserved” — including the 2015 deal.

In response to the US pulling out of the deal and reimposing sanctions, Tehran has breached certain limits on its nuclear production imposed by the accord, but the EU insists it has so far not taken any irreversible steps.


UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

Updated 3 min 31 sec ago

UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

  • Government says a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law
  • Opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament

LONDON: The British government was back at the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament just weeks before the country is set to leave the European Union was neither improper nor illegal.
It’s the second day of a historic three-day hearing that pits the powers of Britain’s legislature against those of its executive as the country’s scheduled Brexit date of Oct. 31 looms over its political landscape and its economy.
Government lawyer James Eadie argued that a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law. Eadie called the decision to shut down Parliament “inherently and fundamentally political in nature.”
He said if the court intervened it would violate the “fundamental constitutional principle” of the separation of powers between courts and the government.
“This is, we submit, the territory of political judgment, not legal standards,” Eadie said.
The government’s opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accuse Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before Britain’s Oct. 31 departure from the EU. He claims the shutdown was a routine measure to enable his Conservative government to launch a fresh legislative agenda and was not related to Brexit.
Eadie rejected claims that the prime minister was trying to prevent lawmakers from blocking his Brexit plans.
He said “Parliament has had, and has taken, the opportunity to legislate” against the government, and would have more time between Oct. 14 and Brexit day. He said even if Parliament didn’t come back until Oct. 31, “there is time” for it to act on Brexit.
The prime minister says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal. But many economists and UK lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing. Members of Parliament have put obstacles in Johnson’s way, including a law compelling the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can’t get a divorce deal with the EU.
Parliament’s suspension spared Johnson further meddling by the House of Commons but sparked legal challenges, to which lower courts gave contradictory rulings. England’s High Court said the move was a political rather than legal matter but Scottish court judges ruled Johnson acted illegally “to avoid democratic scrutiny.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right. The justices will give their judgment sometime after the hearing ends on Thursday.
A ruling against the government by the 11 Supreme Court judges could force Johnson to recall Parliament.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal remained “very real” because Britain had not produced workable alternatives to the deal agreed upon with the EU by ex-British Prime Minister Theresa May. That deal was repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign and bringing Johnson to power in July.
“I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you — while looking you straight in the eye — that progress is being made.”
Juncker, who met with Johnson on Monday, told members of the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, that a no-deal Brexit “might be the choice of the UK, but it will never be ours.”
The EU parliament on Wednesday adopted a non-binding resolution supporting another extension to the Brexit deadline if Britain requests it.
Any further delay to Britain’s exit — which has already been postponed twice — needs the approval of the 27 other EU nations.
Johnson has said he won’t delay Brexit under any circumstances — but also says he will respect the law, which orders the government to seek an extension if there is no deal by Oct. 19. He has not explained how that would be done.