European Ministers Scramble to Salvage Iran Nuclear Deal

By Patrick Goodenough | May 15, 2018 | 4:18am EDT
Then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz pose with their Iranian and P5+1 negotiating counterparts in Vienna on July 14, 2015, the day the JCPOA was finalized. (Photo: State Department, File)

( – Iran’s foreign minister will meet with his British, French and German counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday as the governments scramble to salvage the nuclear deal in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal.

The reimposition of U.S. sanctions against the regime in Tehran is causing anxiety in European capitals, since European companies face the risk of secondary U.S. sanctions if they continue to do business with Iran. Grace periods of 90 or 180 days for companies to pull out from Iran began on the day Trump announced the withdrawal.

At the same time, Iran is threatening to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if it does not secure all the benefits it feels it’s entitled to from the remaining partners.

Before leaving on a trip that took him first to China and Russia, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned that Iran was preparing to resume “industrial-scale” uranium enrichment, “without any restrictions,” unless Europe guarantees Iran’s benefits under the JCPOA.

He also hit back against U.S. accusations of Iran’s “malign” activities in the region, including support for terrorism and a ballistic missile program.

Given U.S. policies in the region, he said, it was “in no position to issue any diktat about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s lawful presence within its own region nor its effective support for the peoples of Syria and Iraq in their endeavor to fight extremists.”

He described Iran’s missiles as purely defensive, in line with Iran’s “legitimate right to self-defense” under the U.N. Charter.

The Trump administration says it wants to build a broad coalition to tackle those Iranian activities, which were intentionally left unaddressed in the negotiations that produced the JCPOA in 2015.

On Tuesday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will host two meetings, one with the three E.U. ministers, and then a second including Zarif.

Mogherini chairs a so-called “joint commission” that is meant to oversee implementation of the JCPOA. Its membership, now reduced by one, comprises Iran and the five remaining negotiating partners – Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.

A day after the Brussels meetings, European Union leaders are due to discuss the Iran situation at a dinner in Bulgaria.

The E.U. has already declared that it remains “committed to the continued full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal” as long as Iran meets its commitments, and said that means continuing to pursue trade and economic relations with Iran.

National Security Advisor John Bolton said Sunday it was “possible” that the U.S. would sanction European companies that continue doing business with Iran.

But he also said he thought the Europeans would realize that it is not in their interests to stay in the JCPOA – “and we’ll see what happens then.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also in televised remarks on Sunday, focused on attempts to get European support for an arrangement that confronts Iran’s “bad behavior” in the region.

“I am hopeful in the days and weeks ahead that we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behavior,” he said. “I'll be working closely with the Europeans to try and achieve that.”

Trump’s major concerns with the JCPOA were the “sunset” clauses, under which key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire after 10-15 years; what he viewed as inadequate inspection and verification measures; and the fact Iran’s ballistic missile programs and other troubling behavior were not tackled.

Before he withdrew from the JCPOA, U.S. and European diplomats worked to “fix” the deal by resolving those concerns, but were unable to reach agreement.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Tuesday’s meetings in Brussels would discuss ways to give European firms “some confidence that they can still do business” in Iran.

The German and French governments have voiced similar hopes, and a determination not to give way to the U.S. on the issue.

“We are prepared to talk, negotiate and also fight for our interests where necessary,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Spiegel magazine.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was more outspoken.

“Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?” the Associated Press quoted him as telling Europe-1 radio.

“Or do we want to say we have our economic interests, [and that] we consider we will continue to do trade with Iran?”

Among other deals at stake, the French oil and gas giant Total SA has been set to invest billions of dollars in a project to develop a section of Iran’s South Pars gas field, the world’s biggest, in partnership with China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation and a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company.

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