13 Nov 2019
Europe’s threat to trigger a mechanism that could reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran marks a significant breakdown in diplomacy to try to save the 2015 nuclear deal and could presage its death knell, diplomats say.
Britain, France and Germany have sought to salvage the pact, under which Iran undertook to curtail its uranium enrichment program in return for relief from sanctions crippling its economy, since the United States withdrew last year.
But the three European powers have failed to make good on the trade and investment dividends promised to Iran under the deal as they have been unable to shield Tehran from renewed U.S. sanctions that have strangled its vital oil trade.
That has prompted Iran to renege step by step from its non-proliferation commitments under the deal.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog (IAEA) confirmed on Monday that Iran had resumed enriching uranium in its underground Fordow plant and was rapidly accelerating enrichment with a variety of advanced centrifuge machines also banned by the deal.
The move has alarmed European powers that had previously dismissed Tehran’s breaches, such as exceeding the cap on stockpiles of enriched uranium and on the fissile purity of enrichment, as insignificant and reversible.
Britain, France, and Germany raised the prospect of a restoration of international sanctions for the first time late on Monday after a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, saying they were ready “to consider all mechanisms … including the dispute resolution mechanism”.
Under the terms of the 2015 deal, if any party believes another is not upholding their commitments they can refer the issue to a Joint Commission comprising Iran, Russia, China, the three European powers, and the European Union.
If the complaining party cannot resolve the matter at the Commission level, it could then notify the U.N. Security Council, which must vote within 30 days on a resolution on continuing Iran’s sanctions relief.
If this is not adopted within that time span, sanctions that were in place under previous U.N. resolutions would be reimposed – known as a “snapback” – unless the Council decided otherwise.
“We don’t want to pull out of the (deal) too soon, but equally we cannot sit back. The Russians and the Chinese are not going to trigger this, but us, as Europeans, will have to take a stance at some point,” said a European diplomat.
“It is not if but when, unless Iran pulls back, but even then, they are gaining (nuclear) knowledge by spinning these centrifuges, so we have to react.”
By John Irish and Robin Emmott, Reuters, 12 November 2019
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