The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday urged all parties to the Iran nuclear accord to save it, saying escalating tensions made the deal “more important than ever.”
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs high representative, spoke after Britain, France and Germany formally triggered a dispute mechanism under the accord, after Iran announced its fifth major step back from compliance.
The 2015 deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
Borrell, who will oversee the dispute mechanism which could ultimately lead to reimposition of UN sanctions, said the aim of the process was to save the deal, not sink it.
“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,” he said, using an acronym for the deal’s formal title.
“In light of the ongoing dangerous escalations in the Middle East, the preservation of the JCPOA is now more important than ever,” he said.
The former Spanish foreign minister stressed that there was “no alternative” to the existing accord, which took a decade of hard-fought negotiations to agree.
“The aim of the dispute resolution mechanism is not to reimpose sanctions. The aim of this mechanism is to resolve issues related to the implementation of the agreement,” Borrell told reporters at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“Let me say this clearly: the dispute resolution mechanism that is being triggered now is not about reimposing sanctions.”
In launching the process, Britain, France and Germany accused Tehran of repeated violations of the deal but insisted they remained committed to it.
But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he would be willing to work on a “Trump deal” to replace the existing accord. Borrell refused to comment on the idea when asked.
US President Donald Trump dealt a devastating blow to the Iran deal — struck by his predecessor Barack Obama — by unilaterally withdrawing from it in May 2018 and reimposing swingeing sanctions.
President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday ruled out holding any bilateral talks with the United States and threatened to further cut Iran’s commitments to a nuclear deal within days.
In an address to parliament, Rouhani said any dialogue with the US would have to fall within the framework of the group of major powers that agreed on a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2015.
Rouhani also said Iran was ready to further reduce its commitments to the accord “in the coming days” if current negotiations with European nations yield no results by Thursday.
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal and began reimposing crippling sanctions.
The arch-foes were on the cusp of confrontation in June when Iran downed a US drone and Trump ordered retaliatory strikes before cancelling them at the last minute.
France has been leading efforts to calm the situation, with President Emmanuel Macron expressing hope during G7 talks in late August of organising a meeting between Rouhani and Trump.
“Maybe there has been a misunderstanding. We’ve said it several times and we repeat it — there has been no decision to hold bilateral talks with the US,” said Rouhani.
“In principle, we don’t want bilateral talks with the United States,” he was quoted as saying on the official government website.
“If the United States lifts all sanctions, it would be possible to talk (to them) during 5+1 meetings as in the past,” he said, referring to the powers involved in negotiating the 2015 deal.
“We have received several proposals (to have talks with the United States) and our answer has always been negative.”
Iran has hit back with countermeasures in response to the US withdrawal from the deal, which gave it the promise of relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
It has already increased its uranium enrichment and stockpiles, and Rouhani said Tuesday a “third step will be enacted in the coming days” unless the remaining parties to the deal honour their own commitments.
“If by Thursday these negotiations yield no results, we will announce the third step of the reduction of our commitments,” he said.
But the president stressed the Iranian countermeasures were reversible.
“Our steps have been taken in such a way that it doesn’t take much time to get back to the starting point,” he said.
Rouhani voiced regret over the failure of European nations to fulfil pledges they made during negotiations.
“Unfortunately after the US betrayal… the Europeans haven’t acted on their commitments or couldn’t… in some cases, they could have acted but did not,” he said.
“What we are asking of the other countries is that they continue to buy our oil.
“We can continue negotiations even after the third step,” he added.
Rouhani has had a series of phone calls with Macron in recent weeks aimed at salvaging the nuclear deal.
The French president has been trying to convince the United States to offer Iran some sort of relief from sanctions it has imposed on the Islamic republic since pulling out of the deal.
A conservative Iranian lawmaker said Macron had proposed offering Iran a $15-billion credit line on condition it returns to the fold.
“Macron has proposed Iran stop its third step for now in exchange for this sum, and maybe retreat from its first and second steps to the initial situation,” said Ali Motahari, quoted late Sunday by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The 2015 deal was agreed between Iran and the so-called 5+1 — UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off airstrikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 per cent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from travelling outside a 40-kilometre (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.
Germany and Britain on Monday warned Tehran not to breach uranium stockpile limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal, as the EU’s diplomatic chief dismissed Iranian threats as “political dialectics”.
Iran set a 10-day countdown on Monday to exceed the 300-kilogram limit set on its enriched uranium stocks, dealing another blow to the crumbling nuclear accord signed by Tehran and six international powers.
The EU has battled to save the agreement since US President Donald Trump withdrew and reimposed sanctions, but Iran said it would step back from exceeding the 300-kg limit on June 27 only if “other parties live up to their commitments”.
The move comes as Iran tries to step up pressure on the deal’s other signatories — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — to help it sidestep US sanctions and in particular enable it to sell oil.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas rejected the Iranian ultimatum and insisted Tehran must stick to its commitments under the deal.
“We have already said in the past that we will not accept less for less. It is up to Iran to stick to its obligations,” Maas said after talks with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
“We will certainly not accept a unilateral reduction of obligations.”
A spokesman for the British government echoed the call, saying the E3 — the European signatories to the deal — has “consistently made clear that there can be no reduction in compliance”.
“For now Iran remains within its nuclear commitments. We are coordinating with E3 partners on next steps,” the spokesman added.
The European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc would not act on the basis of Iranian rhetoric but wait for reports by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Our assessment on the implementation of the nuclear deal has never been, is not and will never be based on statements, but on the evaluation that the IAEA makes, the reports that the IAEA produces and that can be done at any time,” Mogherini said after the talks.
“Announcements are relevant elements of political dialectics but our assessment on the implementation of the agreement is based on the factual, technically sound assessment and evaluation that the IAEA makes in its reports.”
On May 8, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would stop observing restrictions on its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water agreed under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Rouhani said the move was in retaliation for the unilateral US withdrawal from the accord a year earlier, which saw Washington impose tough economic sanctions on Tehran.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated ever since, with the United States bolstering its military presence in the region and blacklisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation.
Iran said Wednesday it had stopped respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a 2015 deal with major powers until they find a way to bypass renewed US sanctions.
The well-trailed announcement came as Washington stepped up its rhetoric against Tehran, accusing it of planning “imminent” attacks and deploying an aircraft carrier strike group with several nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the region.
Iran said it was responding to the sweeping unilateral sanctions that Washington has reimposed since it quit the agreement one year ago, which have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy.
It said it would stop implementing some of the restrictions it had agreed with immediate effect.
Tehran said it would abandon more if the remaining parties to the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — failed to start delivering on their commitments to sanctions relief within 60 days.
President Hassan Rouhani underlined that the ultimatum was intended to rescue the nuclear deal from his US counterpart Donald Trump who has repeatedly called for it to be scrapped since he pulled out on May 8, 2018.
“We felt the (deal) needed surgery and that the year-long sedatives have not delivered any result. This surgery is meant to save the (deal) not destroy it,” Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting broadcast live on state television.
Robert Kelley, a former UN nuclear inspector now with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the commitments Iran was dropping had no bearing on its ability to develop an atomic bomb.
He said Iran was simply seeking to “save face” after “striking a deal which was not respected by the other side.”
US not world ‘sheriff’
Under the landmark deal agreed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the parties to the agreement were supposed to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in return for it reining in its activities to ease fears it was seeking the capability to produce an atomic bomb.
But the promised sanctions relief has failed to materialise as European and Asian banks and oil companies have moved swiftly to abide by the renewed US sanctions for fear of financial or commercial repercussions.
Rouhani slammed European countries for seeing the US as the world’s “sheriff” and said this keeps them from making “firm decisions for their own national interests.”
“You have responsibilities, too … for keeping your youth away from drugs, the flood of immigrants and other cooperation Iran has had with you so far. If this trend continues, the cooperation will cease.”
The three European parties to the deal — Britain, France, and Germany — tried to save the accord with a trade mechanism meant to bypass reimposed US sanctions, but their attempt was dismissed by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “bitter joke”.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in Moscow on an official visit, accused European governments of not fulfilling their obligations under the nuclear deal.
“Our friends in Russia and China maintained very good relations with us in this year but the rest of the… participants did not meet any of their obligations,” Zarif said.
Germany urged Iran to uphold the nuclear deal. “We as Europeans, as Germans, will play our part and we expect full implementation from Iran as well,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
Britain called Iran’s decision an “unwelcome step” and urged it to avoid “further escalatory steps”.
China underlined that it “resolutely opposes” the unilateral US sanctions on Iran but called on all parties to uphold the nuclear deal.
Russia said it remained committed to the nuclear deal and denounced what it called “unreasonable pressure” on Iran.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said it no longer considered itself bound by the agreed restrictions on stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water.
It said after 60 days, it would also stop abiding by restrictions on the level to which Iran can enrich uranium and modifications to its Arak heavy water reactor that were designed to prevent the production of plutonium.
Uranium enriched to much higher levels than Iran’s current stocks can be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, while heavy water is a source of plutonium which can be used as an alternative way to produce a warhead.
Small ‘window for diplomacy’
The council called for swift action by the remaining parties to the deal, warning time was running out.
“The window which is now open for diplomacy will not remain so for long, and the responsibility of the (deal) failing and any possible consequences are completely on the US and the remaining parties,” it said.
On the eve of the Iranian announcement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, an ally of both Washington and Tehran.
Pompeo said he made the trip because Iranian forces are “escalating their activity” and said the threat of attacks was “very specific”, without giving further detail.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce opponent of the nuclear deal, seized on the Iranian announcement as evidence that it was pressing ahead with its nuclear programme.
“We shall not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Iran has been abiding by the terms of its nuclear deal with global powers, the latest report from the UN atomic watchdog indicated Monday, days after fresh US sanctions hit the country.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report showed that as of early November, Iran had been complying with the restrictions to its nuclear programme laid down in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Sweeping new American sanctions against Iran, which came into effect on 5 November, have raised fears about whether the deal can survive.
Some parts of the fieldwork in the report took place before the sanctions came into effect, but a senior diplomat with knowledge of the situation said there was “nothing that indicates that… cooperation from Iran or its attitude has changed since 5 November”.
The report said that as of November 4, Iran’s stockpiles of low-enriched uranium stood at 149.4kg, 10kg up from the time of its last report in August.
However, this is still well within the limits set by the JCPOA.
The agency repeated language which has appeared in two previous reports emphasising the importance of “timely and proactive cooperation in providing such access” on Iran’s part.
However, the senior diplomat suggested that this was meant less as an admonition to Iran than as an encouragement to maintain the current level of cooperation.
The report makes no mention of recent claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran was harbouring a secret atomic warehouse.
The latest American sanctions aim to cut off Iran’s banks from international finance and significantly cut its oil exports.
Those have already fallen by up to one million barrels a day since May, when US President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, branding it a “disaster”.
Iran’s economy was already reeling from the effect of US sanctions imposed earlier in the year. On Friday US National Security Advisor John Bolton warned that more sanctions were possible.
Iran has said the future of the JCPOA would be called into question if it no longer received the economic benefits of the deal.
The deal envisaged sanctions on Iran being lifted in return for it accepting IAEA inspections and limits on its nuclear activities.
The remaining five signatories to the JCPOA — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have backed an EU effort to set up a special payment system in an attempt to continue trade and business ties with Iran.
However, some European companies have already pulled out of Iran. Earlier this month senior EU officials admitted that the mechanism was proving difficult to set up.
President Donald Trump confirmed Saturday that the United States plans to leave a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with Russia over claims Moscow has violated the deal.
The three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF, was signed in 1987 by president Ronald Reagan.
“We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honoured the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honoured the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters in Elko, Nevada.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years. I don’t know why president (Barack) Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to.”
Trump spoke as his National Security Advisor John Bolton was in Moscow to meet with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin this year.
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election, as well as tension over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
However, Washington is looking for support from Moscow in finding resolutions to the Syria war and putting pressure on both Iran and North Korea.
No new summit between Trump and Putin has been announced, but one is expected in the near future.
The two leaders will be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking the end of World War I.
A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said another potential date would be when the presidents both attend the Group of 20 meeting on November 30 to December 1.
South Korea said Monday that sanctions against North Korea could be eased once it takes “substantive steps towards denuclearisation”, seemingly setting the bar lower than Washington for such a move.
Last week’s Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un produced only a vague statement in which Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
Amid fears the summit would weaken the international coalition against the North’s nuclear programme, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed after the meeting that sanctions would remain in place until North Korea’s complete denuclearisation.
But his South Korean counterpart suggested Monday they could be eased sooner.
“Our stance is that the sanctions must remain in place until North Korea takes meaningful, substantive steps towards denuclearisation,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters.
Seoul and Washington shared the same “big picture” view and would continue close consultations, she added.
The comments come just days after China’s foreign ministry suggested that the UN Security Council could consider easing the economic punishment of its Cold War-era ally.
Any reduction in tensions on its doorstep is welcome for China, North Korea’s closest ally, which accounts for around 90 percent of Pyongyang’s trade.
The same goes for the South’s dovish President Moon Jae-in, who supports engagement with North Korea and held his own summit with Kim in April.
Until recently Trump had pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign — with both China and South Korea on board — of tough rhetoric and tightened sanctions against Pyongyang.
But analysts say the Singapore summit has made it hard for the Trump administration to return to that policy even if its current diplomacy with North Korea proves to be a failure.
“The symbolism of the meeting ensures that the maximum pressure campaign has peaked,” said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the US Council on Foreign Relations, in a commentary.
“In practice, China and South Korea will push for relaxation of economic pressure on North Korea,” he added.
French President Emmanuel Macron has warned of the risk of an “escalation” in the Iranian nuclear standoff after Tehran announced plans to boost uranium enrichment capacity to pressure Europeans scrambling to save a landmark deal.
At a press conference with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the French leader called on “everyone to stabilise the situation and not give into this escalation which would lead to only one thing: conflict.”
While noting that Iran had stepped up the pressure with its latest announcement, Macron also pointed blame in the direction of US President Donald Trump for unilaterally pulling out of the hard-fought 2015 deal designed to stop Tehran getting a nuclear bomb.
“When you decide to bring an end to a deal on your side, that does not encourage the other party to respect it,” he said, calling this “solid common sense”.
He stressed he had “no indication” that Iran had breached the terms of the deal, which Trump walked away from last month.
And while he agreed with Netanyahu that the deal had flaws, he added: “If you consider it insufficient but that it’s a step forward from what exist before, it’s better to keep it.”
Netanyahu, who has vigorously opposed the Iranian deal, said he had not attempted to convince Macron to abandon it.
Instead he said he believed Europe would give up on its efforts to save it under pressure from the US, which has threatened sanctions against European countries which continue to do business in Iran.
“I did not ask President Macron to leave the deal. I think that economic realities are going to decide this matter, so it’s not what we focused on,” he said after talks between the two leaders.
“What we focused on, and what I focused on, is how to stop Iranian aggression in the region.”
He accused Tehran of using the “cash bonanza” from sanctions relief under the deal “not to develop Iran, not to make it more moderate”, but to build up its forces in war-torn Syria.
“They want to bring in 80,000 Shiite fighters, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan,” he claimed.
“What that will do is spark another religious war, another civil war… and where will the refugees go? They’ll go to one place, to here (France) or to Germany or to Europe,” he said, repeating a similar warning to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday.
Following Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader has laid out his country’s conditions for upholding its side of the landmark accord with world powers.
The following excerpts from an address by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Iranian officials, published on Thursday, outline Iran’s demands of Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany if the deal is to survive:
‘Protest US action’
“The US withdrawal is a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (establishing the nuclear deal). The Europeans need to table a resolution against the US to protest this action.”
‘No objections to missiles’
“The heads of the three European nations must promise not to raise any objections to Iranian missiles or Iran’s presence in the region. Everyone should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will never give up elements of its power, especially concerning questions of defence.”
The US has levied sanctions against Tehran for its ballistic missile programme and labels Iranian regional proxy groups such as Hezbollah as “terrorist” entities.
‘Safeguard oil sales’
“If the US succeeds in disturbing Iranian oil sales, the Europeans must promise to buy whatever quantity we wish to sell.”
US President Donald Trump triggered fears for Iran’s economy earlier this month when he pulled his country from the 2015 deal.
World powers and signatories have since rallied around the accord, which imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of punishing economic sanctions.
The prospect of new American sanctions on Tehran has already caused some European firms to indicate they will pull out of business ventures in Iran.
Khamenei has said Iran could resume its uranium enrichment up to 20 percent should the deal collapse. The accord limits Tehran to enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, well short of weapons-grade strength.
“Iran is not seeking discord with the Europeans but given their past behaviour we cannot trust them,” Khamenei said. “For this reason, the guarantees must be concrete.”
European countries have 60 days to provide “guarantees” to safeguard Iran’s interests after the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, parliament’s website said quoting an Iranian official.
“The Europeans have between 45 and 60 days to give the necessary guarantees to safeguard Iranian interests and compensate the damages caused by the US pullout,” Icana.ir reported.
The website attributed the remarks to Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi as reported by Seyyed Hossein Naghavi, spokesman of parliament’s foreign affairs commission.
According to him, Araghchi told the commission that if Iran does not receive such guarantees European leaders would have to “take the necessary decisions”.
These reported remarks come as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif embarked on a diplomatic tour to try and save the nuclear deal.
Zarif arrived in Beijing on Sunday for the first stop of his tour, ahead of visiting Moscow and Brussels in the coming days.
Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
In Beijing on Sunday Zarif said he was hopeful of forging a “clear future design” for the deal to save it from collapse after US President Donald Trump withdrew from it on Tuesday.
“If the nuclear deal is to continue, the interests of the people of Iran must be assured,” Zarif added.