Europeans: No More Flexibility on Iran Deal

On September 10, Britain, France and Germany warned that the intense international diplomacy—between the world’s six major powers and Iran—to revive the 2015 nuclear deal was in grave jeopardy because Tehran had abruptly backtracked from compromises in the final draft. A month earlier, the European coordinator had offered proposals “that took us to the limit of our flexibility” with Iran, the statement said. “Unfortunately, Iran has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity,” which raised “serious doubts” about its “intentions and commitments to a successful outcome.”

The Islamic Republic instead tried to tack on provisions that would end a separate investigation by the U.N. nuclear watchdog into traces of uranium found at undeclared sites, which what would be a violation of its binding obligations as a signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty since 1970. Iran has also continued “to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification,” the three European powers said. Iran has enriched uranium up to 60 percent—way beyond the 3.67 percent allowed under the deal and now just a technical step away from the 90 percent purity needed for a nuclear bomb. The State Department also said that Iran’s response was “not constructive.” On September 12, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Iran “seems either unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to reach an agreement.” (None of the drafts or official responses have been published.)

Since April 2021, the six major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—have sought to get both Washington and Tehran to return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was brokered by the Obama administration in 2015 after two years of arduous diplomacy. President Trump abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed more than 1,500 new sanctions on Tehran. In 2019, Iran gradually began breaching its commitments under the deal, even as it remained a signatory to it. The escalation led to the new diplomacy, which played out sporadic talks in Vienna and Doha. In August 2022, Josep Borrell, the E.U. foreign policy chief who brokered the indirect talks, presented a final draft.

The American and European responses exposed the first sign of a crack among the major powers, which had been unusually united on Iran’s controversial nuclear program even as they split over other issues, including the war in Ukraine. Russia’s representative to the nuclear talks, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, sided publicly with Iran. “There are no issues in the Iranian response that could be a serious obstacle on the way towards the agreement,” he tweeted on September 12.

The European statement was “very untimely,” Ulyanov said, since it was released just two days before the International Atomic Energy Agency convened a meeting of its Board of Governors. In June 2022, the board had passed a resolution that formally censured Iran for failing to explain traces of uranium at three undeclared sites dating date back to its covert program before 2003. Iran has yet to cooperate with the IAEA investigation.

On September 10, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that the European statement was “unconstructive” and “ill-considered.” He called on the three countries to suggest solutions for bridging the gaps. The following is the full text of the British, French and German statement.


Joint statement by Britain, France and Germany on Sept. 10, 2022:

We the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have negotiated with Iran, in good faith, since April 2021 to restore and fully implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), along with other participants to the deal and the United States. In early August, after a year and a half of negotiations, the JCPoA Coordinator submitted a final set of texts which would allow for an Iranian return to compliance with its JCPoA commitments and a US return to the deal.

In this final package, the Coordinator made additional changes that took us to the limit of our flexibility. Unfortunately, Iran has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity. Instead, Iran continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification.

While we were edging closer to an agreement, Iran reopened separate issues that relate to its legally binding international obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its NPT safeguards agreement concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This latest demand raises serious doubts as to Iran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome on the JCPoA. Iran’s position contradicts its legally binding obligations and jeopardizes prospects of restoring the JCPoA.

In June, the IAEA Board of Governors’ adopted, by an overwhelming majority, a resolution calling on Iran to take urgent action to answer the Agency’s outstanding questions. Three months later Iran has taken no steps at all as confirmed by the IAEA Director General’s latest report.

Our position remains clear and steadfast. Iran must fully and, without delay, cooperate in good faith with the IAEA. It is up to Iran to provide technically credible answers to the IAEA’s questions on the whereabouts of all nuclear material on its territory. The JCPoA can in no way be used to release Iran from legally binding obligations that are essential to the global non-proliferation Regime.

Given Iran’s failure to conclude the deal on the table we will consult, alongside international partners, on how best to address Iran’s continued nuclear escalation and lack of cooperation with the IAEA regarding its NPT safeguards Agreement.