Breakthroughs as British PM Calls for New Iran Deal; Europeans Blame Iran for Saudi Attack

By Patrick Goodenough | September 23, 2019 | 10:30pm EDT
President Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in France last month. (Photo by Erin Schaff/AFP/Getty Images)

( – The three European parties to the Iran nuclear deal said Monday that they believe the Iranian regime was responsible for last week’s attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, lining up with the position put forward earlier by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

“It is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack. There is no other plausible explanation,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement. “We support ongoing investigations to establish further details.”

“The U.S. thanks our close friends, U.K., France, and Germany, for their clear articulation of Iran’s sole responsibility for the act of war against Saudi Arabia and its impact on the region and the world,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Monday night.

“This will strengthen diplomacy and the cause of peace,” he added. “We urge every nation to join in this condemnation of Iran’s actions.”

In another significant and related development, Johnson stated that the nuclear accord struck with Tehran in 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a “bad deal” and should make way for a “successor” agreement.

And President Trump, Johnson told NBC News, was the “one guy who can do a better deal.”

“The reality is, as President Trump said, it was a bad deal. It wasn’t a great deal. It would have expired anyway,” he added, alluding to “sunset clauses” which allowed various restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment program to fall away after eight, 10 and 15 years. (The first expiry is now just four years and three months away.)

Johnson said he thought there was “a logic” in having some kind of deal with the Iranians to stop them from developing nuclear weapons, but that the JCPOA “had many defects and it was allowing – Iran was, and is, behaving disruptively in the region.”

“But I think there is an opportunity now, if everybody can deescalate, for us all – that’s to say, the Europeans, the U.K., plus the United States, and others – to look at a successor to that deal,” he said.

“Because if it was a bad deal – and I’m willing to accept it had many, many defects – then let’s do a better deal,” Johnson continued. “And I think there’s one guy who can do a better deal, and one guy who understands how to get a difficult partner like Iran over the line, and that is the president of the United States.”

‘Increase the risk of a major conflict’

Johnson was speaking in New York City, where heads of state and government from across the globe have gathered for high-level meetings at the United Nations.

Trump is also in town, and during a bilateral meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at a New York hotel he was asked about Johnson’s comments.

“I think that’s why he’s a winner,” Trump said, calling the British prime minister a friend, and describing him as “very smart and very tough.”

Trump repeated his own views on major flaws in the JCPOA, including sunset clauses, restrictions on verification inspections of suspect Iranian military sites, and the fact the deal did not require Iran to curtail its ballistic missile program.

“So, I respect Boris a lot,” Trump concluded. “And I am not at all surprised that he was the first one to come out and say that.”

The parties to the JCPOA with Iran were the so-called P5+1 group, comprising the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Trump withdrew last year, since when the three E.U. partners have been working to keep the deal alive in the face of restored U.S. sanctions – with little evident progress.

Because of the differences between the E.U. trio and the Trump administration over the nuclear deal, the Europeans have displayed reluctance to back the U.S. publicly as tensions with Iran escalated over the summer.

Monday’s joint statement by Johnson, Macron, and Merkel about the attack on the Saudi oil processing plant and oilfields marked a noteworthy change.

“These attacks may have been against Saudi Arabia but they concern all countries and increase the risk of a major conflict,” they said.

The statement reiterated the commitment of the three countries to the JCPOA – but also stated that “the time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear program as well as on issues related to regional security, including its missiles program and other means of delivery.”

Johnson, Macron and Merkel urged the Iranian regime to engage in dialogue “and refrain from further provocation and escalation.”

Iran continues to deny responsibility for the September 14 drone and cruise missile attack.

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