Berlin, Paris and London have agreed to extend indefinitely the time limit to resolve disputes with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said on February 4 during a visit to Tehran.
The standpoint means that the three accord signatories can, at least for a protracted period, avoid having to refer the matter to the UN Security Council or triggering new sanctions against Iran. It will almost certainly not go down well with the Trump administration—in mid-January, German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer acknowledged that US President Donald Trump had threatened to impose a 25% tariff on cars to push France, Germany and the UK to formally initiate proceedings against Iran for violating the nuclear deal. “This expression or threat, as you will, does exist,” she said. The scenario prompted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to remark: “Appeasement confirmed. E3 sold out remnants of #JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the nuclear deal] to avoid new Trump tariffs. It won’t work my friends. You only whet his appetite. Remember your high school bully?”
Explaining the latest position, Borrell told reporters in Tehran: “We are in agreement not to go directly to a strict time limit which would oblige [us] to go to the Security Council.”
He added: “The willingness is not to start a process that goes to the end of JCPOA, but to keep it alive.”
Borrell, meanwhile, also on February 4 issued a statement rejecting parts of Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East, prompting an angry response from Israel which strongly backs the US proposal. Steps by Israel to annex Palestinian territory, “if implemented, could not pass unchallenged,” Borrell said.
“The fact that the High Rep of the EU, Josep Borrell, chose to use threatening language towards Israel, so shortly after he assumed office & only hours after his meetings in Iran, is regrettable &, to say the least, odd,” tweeted Israeli Foreign ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat in response.
Uranium limits scrapped
After months of gradual steps to reduce compliance with the nuclear deal, Iran said on January 6—days after the US drone assassination of second most powerful Iranian official Major General Qasem Soleimani and with Iranian officials also angry that Europe had still done nothing of consequence to protect Iran’s economy from the sanctions-led “economic war” unleashed against the Islamic Republic by Trump after he unilaterally abandoned the JCPOA in May 2018—that it would scrap the limits on enriching uranium agreed in the accord.
Violations of the JCPOA can lead to the reimposing of UN sanctions lifted under the 2015 deal.
Borrell was notified in January by Paris, London and Berlin that they had triggered the JCPOA dispute mechanism. That, in theory, started a 15-day process to resolve issues with Iran. However, there were questions over when the 15-day period should start given that Iran has not formally recognised the consultation process, officials have briefed media.
China and Russia are also signatories to the deal signed in Vienna in 2015 and have expressed misgivings about the Europeans’ decision to activate the dispute mechanism.
Borrell said he had agreed with the German, French and British governments to “continuously postpone” the 15-day limit. But he also pointed out that progress depended on maintaining the presence of the UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Iran to monitor its nuclear activities. Iran is still providing IAEA inspectors with access to its nuclear development programme.
After meeting Borrell, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was cited as saying by local press that Iran was ready to cooperate with the EU on issues related to the nuclear deal.
Trump, backed by allies including Saudi Arabia and Israel, wants the JCPOA scrapped and replaced by a new agreement under which Iran would further curb its nuclear programme, agree to limits on its ballistic missile development programme and refrain from arming allied militias in conflict zones across the Middle East.
Iran insists it has never had any ambition to build a nuclear weapon. French officials have lately told media behind the scenes that they fear Iran could be as little as a year away from developing the ability to construct a nuclear bomb.
Iran offers continued downed plane cooperation
Separately on February 4, Iran’s civil aviation authority said it would keep working with other countries investigating the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane just outside Tehran early last month by an Iranian missile battery. It called on all parties to avoid politicising the issue.
Iran, after three days of denials, eventually admitted its armed forces fired missiles at the plane by mistake while on high alert hours after they had fired at US targets in Iraq in retaliation for a the US strike that killed Soleimani.
On February 3, Tehran accused Ukrainian authorities of making a “strange move” in leaking confidential evidence about the incident and said it would no longer share material with Ukraine from the investigation.