Euro­pean states trig­ger dis­pute mech­a­nism in Iran nu­clear deal

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Pa­trick Win­tour Diplo­matic Ed­i­tor

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 that Iran may now be less than a year away from pos­sess­ing the ca­pac­ity to de­velop a nu­clear bomb.

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”.

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 Ira­nian’s 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 will tackle this to­gether with all part­ners in the agree­ment. We call on Iran to par­tic­i­pate con­struc­tively in the ne­go­ti­a­tion process that is now be­gin­ning.”

The six sig­na­to­ries to the deal, Iran, Rus­sia, China and the EU states – France, Ger­many and the UK – will now meet 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 15 days or left in­def­i­nitely at this level. If the is­sue 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.

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 the Ira­ni­ans will re­spond to the EU’s move by re­vers­ing the steps it has al­ready taken es­pe­cially on nu­clear re­search and de­vel­op­ment, but Europe felt it had no choice but to re­spond.

In one of the strong­est calls 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”.

He said: “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. Let’s work to­gether to re­place the JCPOA [Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion] and get the Trump deal in­stead.”

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 near 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. The EU nu­clear ex­perts said Iran’s first two steps away from the deal cen­ter­ing on ura­nium en­rich­ment stock­pile were tol­er­a­ble, but its later steps meant Iran’s path to nu­clear break-out was com­ing too short.

Iran says it does not feel bound to com­ply with as­pects of the deal ex­cept al­low­ing UN in­spec­tors into its sites. It is pos­si­ble Tehran could re­spond to the EU’s move by ban­ning the in­spec­tors,

but diplo­mats be­lieve the clear sig­nalling to Iran, and rep­re­sen­ta­tions from China and Rus­sia, will de­ter it from tak­ing the move.

Euro­pean diplo­mats re­main scep­ti­cal that Trump’s pol­icy of max­i­mum eco­nomic pres­sure will per­suade Iran to rene­go­ti­ate the deal, but in­stead strengthen the po­si­tion of hard­lin­ers in Tehran.

The cur­rent street protests in Tehran have not changed that EU judg­ment.

Iran’s Bushehr nu­clear power plant. Tehran could be less than a year away from pos­sess­ing the ca­pac­ity to de­velop a nu­clear weapon. Pho­to­graph: Abedin Taherkenar­eh/EPA

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