Europe Challenges Iran on Nuclear Breaches

On January 14, Britain, France and Germany urged Iran to reverse its breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. They triggered the agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism. It was the strongest action yet taken by European powers to enforce the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  If Iran does not return to compliance, the process could result in the reimposition of U.N. sanctions and ensure that an arms embargo does not expire in October 2020. The parties will have some 60 days to negotiate. 

The countries’ foreign ministers expressed their frustration with Tehran’s breaches of the accord. “Iran’s actions are inconsistent with the provisions of the nuclear agreement and have increasingly severe and non-reversible proliferation implications,” they said in a joint statement. Iran “has no legal grounds to cease implementing the provisions of the agreement.”

The Europeans emphasized that their final goal was to “resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue, while preserving the agreement and remaining within its framework.” They also clarified that they were not joining the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. The United States withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and has since called on European powers to do the same so that a tougher and more comprehensive agreement could be negotiated. 

On the same day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that the JCPOA could be replaced. “Let's replace it with the Trump deal. That's what we need to see. President Trump is a great dealmaker by his own account, and by many others,” he told the BBC. President Trump tweeted his approval.

Iranian leaders criticized the European move and Johnson’s remarks. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran was not interested in renegotiating an agreement already enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution.

 

“If you take the wrong step, it will be to your detriment. Pick the right path. The right path is to return to the nuclear deal,” said President Hassan Rouhani in a televised speech. He also made a veiled threat. “Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger,” he said without elaborating. Statements from the European powers and the European Union are below, followed by Iranian reaction. 

 

Joint statement by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom 

We, the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, share fundamental common security interests, along with our European partners. One of them is upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) plays a key role in this respect, as our Leaders have just unambiguously reaffirmed. The JCPoA is a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy and the global non-proliferation architecture. We negotiated the JCPoA with the conviction that it would decisively contribute to building confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as to international peace and security.

Together, we have stated unequivocally our regret and concern at the decision by the United States to withdraw from the JCPoA and to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Since May 2018, we have worked together to preserve the agreement. The E3 have fully upheld our JCPoA commitments, including sanctions-lifting as foreseen under the terms of the agreement. In addition to the lifting of all sanctions, required by our commitments under the agreement, we have worked tirelessly to support legitimate trade with Iran, including through the INSTEX special purpose vehicle.

Following Iran’s announcement in May 2019 that it would cease meeting some of its commitments under the JCPoA, we have sought to persuade Iran to change course. The E3 have worked hard to address Iran’s concerns and bring it back into compliance with its commitments under the nuclear agreement. We have also undertaken and supported diplomatic efforts, such as France’s initiative, to deescalate tensions and to bring Iran and the US to the negotiating table for a comprehensive negotiated solution. The E3 remain fully committed to this diplomatic effort and intend to resume it as soon as conditions allow.

However, in the meantime Iran has continued to break key restrictions set out in the JCPoA. Iran’s actions are inconsistent with the provisions of the nuclear agreement and have increasingly severe and non-reversible proliferation implications.

We do not accept the argument that Iran is entitled to reduce compliance with the JCPoA. Contrary to its statements, Iran has never triggered the JCPoA Dispute Resolution Mechanism and has no legal grounds to cease implementing the provisions of the agreement.

We publicly stated our concerns, along with the High Representative of the European Union, on 11 November. At the Joint Commission on 6 December, we made clear to Iran that unless it reversed course, we would have no choice but to take action within the framework of the JCPoA, including through the Dispute Resolution Mechanism.
Instead of reversing course, Iran has chosen to further reduce compliance with the JCPoA and announced on 5 January that “the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the fifth step in reducing its commitments, discards the last key component of its limitations in the JCPOA, which is the ‘limit on the number of centrifuges’”, and that “the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions”, including on enrichment and enrichment-related matters.

We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments under the JCPoA and to refer this matter to the Joint Commission under the Dispute Resolution Mechanism, as set out in paragraph 36 of the JCPoA.

We do this in good faith with the overarching objective of preserving the JCPoA and in the sincere hope of finding a way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue, while preserving the agreement and remaining within its framework. In doing so, our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran. Our hope is to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments under the JCPoA.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom once again express our commitment to the JCPoA and our determination to work with all participants to preserve it. We remain convinced that this landmark multilateral international agreement and its non-proliferation benefits enhance our shared security interests and strengthen the rules-based international order.

We are grateful to the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China, with whom we remain in close consultation, for joining us in our common endeavor to preserve the JCPoA. We also thank the High Representative of the European Union for his ongoing good offices in this regard. Given recent events, it is all the more important that we do not add a nuclear proliferation crisis to the current escalation threatening the whole region.

 

Statement by E.U. High Representative Josep Borrell as Coordinator of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Dispute Resolution Mechanism

I have received today a letter by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom referring a matter concerning the implementation of Iran's commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to the Joint Commission for resolution through the Dispute Resolution Mechanism, as set out in paragraph 36 of the agreement.

As Coordinator of the Joint Commission, I will oversee the Dispute Resolution Mechanism process. The aim of the Mechanism is to resolve issues relating to the implementation of the agreement within the framework of the Joint Commission. In this respect I note the Foreign Ministers’ intention “to preserve the JCPOA in the sincere hope of finding a way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue”.

The Dispute Resolution Mechanism requires intensive efforts in good faith by all. As the Coordinator, I expect all JCPOA participants to approach this process in that spirit.
The JCPOA is a significant achievement of sustained multilateral diplomacy following years of negotiations. In light of the ongoing dangerous escalations in the Middle East, the preservation of the JCPOA is now more important than ever.

 

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab in a Statement in the House of Commons

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPoA].

Mr Speaker, I addressed the House yesterday on the wider concerns in relation to Iran’s conduct in the region.

The strategic aim for the UK, and our international partners, remains as it has always been: to de-escalate tensions, to hold Iran to account for its nefarious activities, and to keep the diplomatic door open for the regime to negotiate a peaceful way forwards.

Iran’s destabilising activity should serve as a reminder to us all of the danger to the region, and to the world, if Iran were ever to acquire a nuclear weapon. We cannot let that happen.

With that in mind, today, the E3, consisting of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, have jointly taken action to hold Iran to account for its systematic non-compliance with the JCPoA.

As the European parties to the deal, we have written to the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, in his capacity as Coordinator of the JCPoA. We have formally triggered the Dispute Resolution Mechanism, thereby referring Iran to the Joint Commission.

Mr Speaker, let me set out the pattern of non-compliance by the regime that left us with no credible alternative. Since last May, Iran has step-by-step reduced its compliance with critical elements of the JCPoA, leaving it a shell of an agreement.
•    on 1 July 2019, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded key limits on low enriched uranium stockpile limits
•    on 8 July IAEA reported Iran had exceeded its 3.67% enriched uranium production limit
•    on 5 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had crossed its advanced centrifuge research and development limits
•    and then on 7 November 2019, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had also restarted enrichment activities at the Fordow facility, a clear violation of JCPoA restrictions
•    on 18 November, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its heavy water limits
•    and on 5 January of this year, Iran announced that it would no longer adhere to JCPoA limits on centrifuge numbers

Each if these actions were individually serious. Together, they now raise acute concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran’s breakout time, the time it would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, is now falling, a matter of international cause of concern.

Time and time again, we have expressed our serious concerns to Iran, and urged it to come back into compliance. Time and time again, in its statements and, more importantly, through its actions, it has refused, undermining the very integrity of the deal and flouting its international commitments.

Iran’s announcement on 5 January made clear that it was now effectively refusing to comply with any of the outstanding substantive restrictions the JCPoA had placed on its nuclear program.

Just to be clear, on that date, the Iranian government stated, I quote, that its “nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development.”

So, with regret, the E3 was left with no choice, but to refer Iran to the JCPoA’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism. The DRM is the procedure set out in the deal to resolve disputes between the parties to the agreement.

Alongside our partners, we will use this to press Iran to come back into full compliance with its commitments, and honour an agreement that is in all our interests.

The European External Action Service will now coordinate and convene the DRM process. As a first step, it will call a meeting of the Joint Commission, bringing together all parties to the JCPoA within 15 days. This process has been explicitly designed to allow participants flexibility and full control at each and every stage.

So let me be clear to the House.

We are triggering the DRM, because Iran has undermined the objective and purpose of the JCPoA, but we do so with a view to bringing Iran back into full compliance. We are triggering the DRM to reinforce the diplomatic track, not to abandon it.

For our part, as the United Kingdom, we were disappointed that the US withdrew from the JCPoA in May 2018.

And we have worked tirelessly with our international partners to preserve the agreement. We have upheld our commitments, lifting economic and financial sanctions on sectors such as banking, oil, shipping and metals. We lifted an asset freeze and travel bans on listed entities and individuals. We have sought to support a legitimate trade relationship with Iran.

The UK, France and Germany will remain committed to the deal and we will approach the DRM in good faith, striving to resolve the dispute and bring Iran back into full compliance with its JCPoA obligations.

And as I made clear to the House yesterday, the government in Iran has a choice. The regime can take the steps to de-escalate tensions and adhere to the basic rules of international law. Or sink deeper and deeper into political and economic isolation.

So too, Iran’s response to the DRM will be a crucial test of its intentions and goodwill.

We urge Iran to work with us to save the deal. We urge Iran to see this as an opportunity to reassure the world that its nuclear intentions are exclusively peaceful. We urge the Iranian government to choose an alternative path, and engage in diplomacy and negotiation to resolve the full range of its activities that flout international law and de-stabilise the region.

And I commend this statement to the House.

 

Iranian Reactions 

 

President Hassan Rouhani 

“This Mr. Prime Minister in London, I don’t know how he thinks. He says let’s put aside the nuclear deal and put the Trump plan in action.”

"In recent days I... made it clear to two European leaders that what we have done is reversible for one, and that everything we do regarding the nuclear issue is under the supervision of the IAEA.”

“If you take the wrong step, it will be to your detriment. Pick the right path. The right path is to return to the nuclear deal.”

“Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger.”

”We want you to leave this region but not with war. We want you to go wisely. It is to your own benefit.”

—Jan. 15, 2020, in a televised speech, according to BBC and the Associated Press

 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

“No, it’s not dead. It (2015 nuclear deal) is not dead. I had a U.S. deal and the U.S. broke it. If I have a Trump deal, how long will it last?”

—Jan. 14, 2020, on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi

 

 

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi

“The three European countries’ action is a completely passive move taken from a position of weakness.” 

“They should prepare themselves for potential consequences, of which they have been notified.”

—Jan. 14, 2020, in a statement, according to Press TV

 

Updated