Western European diplomats are working on how to save the Iran nuclear accord in a day of important developments on the issue which saw Tehran censured by the UN nuclear watchdog, and the US reiterate its demand that a key part of the deal is scrapped.
Foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany – three signatory states to the agreement – met in Berlin to formulate a strategy for the next crucial months with Iran and its nuclear programme under focus.
At a meeting in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) called on Iran to stop blocking its inspectors from two sites and the Trump administration announced that it has drafted an extension to an arms embargo on Iran which is due to be lifted in a few months time.
The IAEA motion was proposed by France, Germany and Britain after sustained US pressure. And although it was passed by the 35 nation board of governors, Russian and China, two fellow signatories to the nuclear agreement, opposed it and eight other countries abstained.
The lifting of the UN arms embargo on Iran is due to happen in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Trump administration, which pulled out of the agreement two years ago, wants it to continue. Washington has threatened that a rejection of an extension by the UN Security Council will lead to it activating a clause to re-impose all UN sanctions on Iran.
Such a move would, almost certainly, kill off the JCPOA which was signed after years of painstaking negotiations in 2015. Brian Hook, the US’s special envoy on Iran, confirmed “we have drafted a resolution on extending the embargo. The last thing the Middle East needs now is more weapons enabling Iran to attack other countries, as it has attacked Saudi Arabia.”
Before the Berlin meeting got under way, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yven Le Drian, stressed that his country, the UK and Germany – the E3 – were doing their utmost to keep the nuclear deal alive. But a senior diplomat from a West European country said: “It is getting very difficult. We need Iran to let the IAEA into these sites and then we have the issue of the embargo in the Autumn. Things may change, of course, if there is a new occupant in the White House after November.”
Following the Berlin meeting the E3 foreign ministers issued a statement condemning Tehran’s alleged breaches, but also warning that the US re-imposing UN sanctions on Iran will have severe “adverse consequences.”
The foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany said in statement after the meeting: “We 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.
“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 tirelessly to preserve the agreement.
“Since 2019, Iran has taken nuclear measures contrary to its commitments under the JCPoA. We are deeply concerned by those actions, which seriously undermine the non-proliferation benefits of the agreement. … We also note with grave concern that … Iran has denied the access requested by the Agency for many months.
“We firmly believe that any unilateral attempt to trigger UN sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences in the UNSC. We would not support such a decision which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA.”
Iran had allowed the inspections to continue apart from at the two sites in question. Tehran says that IAEA asking for access to the sites is in breach of its own statutes, and the demands to do so were based on fake information coming from Israel.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said before the vote that that his country had “nothing to hide” and the IAEA resolution would “ruin” attempts to reach agreement on visits to the facilities.
China stated that it “deeply” regretted the result and warned of potentially “huge implications” for the future of the nuclear agreement. Mikhail Ulyanov, Moscow’s ambassador to the IAEA, said the vote could prove “counterproductive”, adding that Tehran and the UN agency should settle the site access question “without delay”.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the IAEA, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, said: “For more than four months, Iran has continued to provide irrational justifications in its refusal for the IAEA’s request to allow two inspectors to verify any undeclared nuclear material and activities at the sites under its safeguards agreement and additional protocol with the IAEA.This reinforces doubts about Iran’s nuclear programme intentions and what it is seeking to reach..”