EU: Iran Deal Must be Saved to Avoid Regional Nuclear Arms Race

By James Carstensen | July 17, 2019 | 7:11pm EDT
E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is necessary to prevent a nuclear arms race in the troubled region, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherin said Wednesday, as the E.U. continues to seek ways save the troubled agreement.

“No one says he wants a war, no one declares that a war is the intention, in the region and beyond, nobody says so,” she said. “But the problem that, in particular in a region like that, miscalculations can happen and can lead to extremely dangerous spirals of confrontations.”

The E.U. has been trying to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement last year, and reimposed sanctions on the regime.

Mogherini’s references to a regional arms race point to concerns that Arab states in the region would respond to an Iranian nuclear threats by pursuing their own programs, with worrying implications for global nonproliferation efforts.

She reiterated the E.U.’s determination to salvage the JCPOA, despite recent steps by the regime to exceed the deal’s limits on uranium enrichment.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5 percent purity, above the 3.67 percent limit set by the deal. (This is still well below the 20 percent levels Iran had reached prior to the deal. Reactor-grade uranium is 3.5 percent while weapons-grade is 90+ percent.)

Despite the apparent Iranian violation – Tehran denies its actions constitute a breach – the E.U. on Monday decided against triggering the deal’s dispute mechanism, in favour of maintaining talks. Mogherini downplayed the breach, saying it was “not significant and can be reversed.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to talk separately next week with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trump, in a bid to save the deal.

The gulf between the U.S. and Iran remains wide, however. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said this week his country was open to talks only if the U.S. removes all sanctions against Iran.

Macron’s diplomatic ambitions may also be complicated by an emerging spat between his country and Iran over the arrest of a French-Iranian anthropologist, Fariba Adelkhah.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman on Tuesday rejected Macron’s demand for an explanation of her arrest, saying that “due to the nature of the case, this is not the proper time to give any information about it.”

Joshua Stowell, editor of Global Security Review, said that while the E.U. is trying to mediate between the U.S. and Iran, sanctions remain a key problem.

“The Trump administration has raised the possibility of sanctioning European companies doing business in Iran, and major European firms have thus far been reluctant to engage in commercial activities in Iran,” he said.

“European states and the E.U. can’t force private companies to do business in Iran, so there’s not much they can do here,” he added.

Stowell argued that INSTEX – an E.U. mechanism that aims to enable trade between Iranian and foreign companies while avoiding the U.S. banking system, and therefore U.S. sanctions – was unlikely to change much.

“The fact that the U.S. is around 25 percent of the global economy essentially means that INSTEX or any ‘special purpose vehicle’ is merely lip service.”

Lawrence Brennan, adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law, also suggested INSTEX may not work in easing tensions.

“Iran stated that the European nations must do more to guarantee trade and investment dividends it was due to receive in return for U.N.-monitored limits to its nuclear capacity under the deal,” he said.

“Iran contents that its oil sales must be included or the Europeans must provide substantial credit facilities,” Brennan added. However, he added, the E.U. has yet to agree on those elements being included in the INSTEX mechanism.

Gulf tensions

Meanwhile tensions continue to simmer in the Persian Gulf, where questions surround a tanker identified in reports as the MT Riah, which disappeared from ship tracking maps after it stopped transmitting its location while in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday.

Iran claimed it towed the ship into its waters in response to a distress signal, but uncertainty remains over whether Iran rescued or seized it.

Britain’s Royal Navy last week foiled an apparent attempt by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to stop (IRGC) to stop a British oil tanker in the Gulf. The regime denied that happened, but it continues to threaten to retaliate unless Britain releases an Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of transporting oil to Syria in breach of European sanctions.

The London Times reported Wednesday that Britain is sending another warship to the region – although the defense ministry said the move was pre-planned and not a response to recent Iranian theats and actions.

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