European Union

US says Iran nuclear deal may continue after new EU sanctions are proposed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 5:13am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 9:10am

Rays of hope for the beleaguered Iran nuclear pact emerged on Friday, as Britain, France and Germany stepped forward with fresh sanctions to keep US President Donald Trump from withdrawing. 

On an even more positive note, Trump’s lead diplomat on the Iran nuclear deal said on Friday that the US can stay in the accord and still alter the Persian Gulf nation’s destabilising activities.

“We believe we can work within the nuclear deal,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, said. 

Hook, Trump’s lead diplomat on the Iran nuclear agreement, spoke after the quarterly meeting of the joint commission overseeing the 2015 agreement between six world powers and Iran.

Diplomats convened in Vienna Friday to review the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which restricts the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

It’s the last scheduled meeting of the group before a May 12 deadline for Trump to decide whether the US sticks to the accord.

“We’re having very good discussions,” Hook said, referring to negotiations with France, Germany and the UK on how to moderate Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support for Hezbollah and its role in regional conflicts.

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“We are focused on the entire picture when it comes to Iran.”

His remarks come after the three countries sent a joint paper to European Union capitals on Friday to sound out support for Iran sanctions, as they would need the support of all 28 EU member governments.

The proposal is an attempt to - in the words of Donald Trump - “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran deal” and therefore stop the US leaving; something that Iran has said would end the agreement. 

It is strident in its criticism of Iran’s ballistic weapons, which Tehran says are for defensive purposes, saying there was “transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology” to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah.

“We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles,” the document said, referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s role backing Syria’s government in the seven-year-old civil war.

The European document referred to sanctions that would “target militias and commanders”. It proposes building on the EU’s existing sanctions list related to Syria, which includes travel bans and asset freezes on individuals, and a ban on doing business or financing public and private companies.

The steps would go beyond what a US State Department cable outlined as a path to satisfy Trump: simply committing to improving the nuclear deal.

It also reflects a growing frustration with Tehran. “We’re getting irritated. We’ve been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues,” a diplomat said.

European Union foreign ministers will discuss the proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday in Brussels, diplomats said.

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The document said Britain, France and Germany were engaged in “intensive talks with the Trump administration to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of US support for the [nuclear] agreement beyond May 12“.

“Such a proliferation of Iranian missile capabilities throughout the region is an additional and serious source of concern,” the document said.

Still, the issue is highly sensitive because the 2015 pact between Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – lifted international sanctions that crippled Iran’s oil-based economy.

The Islamic Republic has dismissed Western assertions that its activities in the Middle East are destabilising and also rejected Trump’s demands to renegotiate the nuclear accord.

In the joint document, Britain, France and Germany set out questions and answers that seek to show that legally, the European powers would not be breaking the terms of the nuclear deal.

It said that they are “entitled to adopt additional sanctions against Iran” as long as they are not nuclear-related or were previously lifted under the nuclear agreement.

The European powers said new sanctions are justified because Iran “did not commit further to stop undertaking ballistic missile destabilising activities” under the nuclear agreement.

However, some are cynical about the deal’s chances after Trump replaced deal-friendly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with hawkish CIA director Mike Pompeo.

“The deal now hangs by a thread,” said Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s director of Iran policy. “The Trump administration’s move to the right with Tillerson’s departure and Pompeo’s arrival signals further hardening of Washington’s stance.”