Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 April 2020

Europe pushes for diplomatic solution to Iran tensions

The EU’s representative for foreign affairs has said the bloc regrets Iran’s decision to renege on terms of its 2015 nuclear deal

An European Union flag flies in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on December 3, 2019. / AFP / Aris Oikonomou
An European Union flag flies in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on December 3, 2019. / AFP / Aris Oikonomou

European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Friday as they look to make a last gasp effort to save the nuclear deal with Iran.

European nations have been left scrambling to coordinate their response to escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, with officials urging both sides to negotiate.

The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borell said he deeply regretted Iran’s announcement that it would renege on the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Mr Borrell added that full implementation of the landmark nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for sanctions relief in 2015, was “more important than ever for regional stability and global security”.

Iran said on Sunday that it would no longer comply with the limits on uranium enrichment set out in the JCPOA, which Iran agreed with the China, Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain and the European Union.

The United States, which also agreed to the 2015 deal, withdrew in May 2018 saying Iran had failed to live up to its end of the bargain.

In response to Iranian announcement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said cooperation between Tehran and the UN’s nuclear watchdog will continue.

“Cooperation with the IAEA will continue as before despite [Iran’s] reduction of commitments under the JCPOA. Our inspectors continue to verify and monitor activities in the country,” the statement said.

Following the strike on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad last week, the JCPOA, to which Europe in particular has pinned its hopes to as a means to deescalate tensions between the Washington and Tehran, hangs by a thread.

“The JCPOA is in a very fragile state but it's still alive. I think that's important,” the deputy head of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, Sanam Vakil, told The National.

She said observers had been expecting a more aggressive response from Iran on Sunday but Tehran's more ambiguous position meant the framework of the nuclear agreement could still be beneficial to both Iran and Europe. “I think that Iran's response suggests that they would like to keep the framework of the JCPOA alive because it is useful for them,” she explained.

Dr Vakil added Europe still had a role to play as an important intermediary between the Washington and Tehran. “Europe is a useful conduit both for Tehran and Washington right now - perhaps for messages and perhaps to moderate the rhetorical escalation” she said.

In a joint statement on Monday the French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris called for urgent deescalation.

“We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further action or proliferation and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA,” the statement said.

European officials will shuttle back and forth between the continent’s capitals in the coming days in a flurry of diplomatic activity to address the Iran crisis.

EU and Nato ambassadors gathered for meetings in Brussels on Monday to address the escalating tensions.

A previously planned summit for Nato defence chiefs next week will be overshadowed by the standoff between the Washington and Tehran. At the same time a visit on Wednesday by the EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen to London to discuss Brexit with Mr Johnson will likely touch on the crisis and the UK’s future defence relationship with the EU.

Europe’s leaders were blindsided by the Washington’s fatal drone strike against Suleimani, despite the clear implications for the US allies.

Speaking to The Times newspaper, a senior commander in the Quds force, the international arm of the IRGC, has said troops belonging to nations allied with the US stationed in the Middle East could become “collateral damage”.

The Iranian ambassador to the UK took to Twitter to reject the suggestion that plans were in place, calling the news that Iran was willing to harm British troops a “vicious lie”.

Updated: January 6, 2020 09:51 PM

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