Europe Frets as Iran Nuclear Deal Appears Near Collapse

By James Carstensen | January 6, 2020 | 6:32pm EST
Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and Russian, British and E.U. counterparts in Vienna on July 14, 2015, the day the JCPOA was finalized. (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)
Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and Russian, British and E.U. counterparts in Vienna on July 14, 2015, the day the JCPOA was finalized. (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)

Berlin ( – The fate of the Iran nuclear deal appears to hang in the balance following an announcement by the regime that it will no longer comply with the curbs on its nuclear program, imposed by the 2015 agreement.

The announcement came just days after Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in neighboring Iraq, dramatically adding to an already tense situation in the region.

“We are deeply concerned by Iran’s announcement that it will not respect the limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) any longer,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement on Monday.

“From a European viewpoint, it is important for Iran to return to the nuclear deal. We have to convince Iran that it’s also in its own interest,” said von der Leyen, a former German defense minister before recently taking up the top E.U. post.

Concluded in 2015 following marathon negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – the JCPOA lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

After President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018, the regime in phases began moving away from its commitments and resuming uranium enrichment, despite the E.U.’s efforts to keep the deal alive.

In Sunday’s announcement, the regime said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran, in the fifth step in reducing its commitments, discards the last key component of its operational limitations in the JCPOA, which is the limit on the number of centrifuges” permitted to operate.

"As such, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development,” it said.

(The regime previously took four other steps away from its JCPOA commitments, in May, July, September and November last year.)

E.U. foreign ministers plan an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the fate of the deal.

Germany’s foreign ministry said Monday it had taken note of Tehran’s announcement, but reaffirmed that Berlin’s goal remains saving the agreement.

In a separate interview the same day. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gave a more restrained response.

“What was announced is not in line with the nuclear agreement. And when these talks [on Friday] are done, we will have to make a decision,” Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio. “It could also be the first step towards the end of this agreement, which would be a great loss … But we won’t be able to accept what Iran has just announced with a shrug.”

A collapse of the deal would further stoke fears of escalation in the region following Soleimani’s death, which followed months of rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Leaders of the three European parties to the JCPOA, Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a joint statement called for de-escalation and urged Iran to return to the deal.

While not endorsing the U.S. killing of Soleimani, the statement was critical of his activities.

“We are deeply concerned about the negative role that Iran has played in the region, in particular with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the al-Qods unit under command of General Soleimani,” it said.

The German government earlier also stopped short of endorsing the airstrike while criticizing Iran’s involvement in the region.

“The American action was a reaction to a series of military provocations for which Iran is responsible,” government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer told reporters on Friday.

In reaction, Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi reacted angrily to what the regime saw as de facto support for the U.S. strike on Soleimani.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran regards the German government’s stances in support of brutal and unilateral U.S. actions which are against international law, as complicity in these actions,” Mousavi said.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an German-Iranian political scientist based in Doha and Berlin and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the latest developments leave Germany in a bind.

“The recent escalation is a tremendous worry for the E.U., including Germany, who on one hand still struggle to not let their landmark deal, the JCPOA, completely collapse – however, with dim prospects – and, on the other to avoid a military escalation between the U.S. and Iran,” he said.

A military escalation between the U.S. and Iran would jeopardize vital energy security for Europe and create a new refugee crisis, Fathollah-Nejad warned.


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