Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

EU tells Iran to stay in nuclear deal as Gulf situation escalates

The possible collapse of the 2015 agreement is adding to the risk of regional conflict

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements in Tehran. Iranian Presidency Office. File.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements in Tehran. Iranian Presidency Office. File.

Iran was warned on Wednesday not to breach its nuclear deal with world powers but countries that remain part of it said the US's withdrawal was placing the agreement in jeopardy and adding to the risk of conflict in the Gulf.

A report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented to the Security Council said Tehran was continuing to meet its obligations, but his update was overshadowed by the worsening regional security situation.

Iran said on May 8 it would stop abiding by limits placed on its enrichment of uranium and production of heavy water within 60 days, in response to America's reimposition of economic sanctions. The announcement was made on the one year anniversary of the Trump administration unilaterally leaving the deal.

Tension has since risen with the sabotage of four vessels off the coast of Fujairah last month and mine attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, all blamed by the US on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which in turn shot down an American spy drone last week.

The US announced further sanctions on Iran's leaders on Monday in response.

“Recent events in the Gulf are a reminder that we are at a critical juncture,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, UN under-secretary general, noting that Mr Guterres wanted Iran, the US and all other countries to refrain from any action that could cause miscalculation.

“As stated by the secretary-general in his briefing to the council on June 13, 'if there is one thing the world cannot afford, it is a major confrontation in the Gulf region',” Ms DiCarlo said in New York.

Iran's economy has tumbled into recession in the past year and it has not secured the gains promised under the nuclear deal. A trading mechanism promised as partial compensation for the US exit is not yet operational, adding to the chances of the deal finally falling apart.

But Joao Vale de Almeida, head of the European Union delegation to the UN, said the accord was “the only tool available” to allow the international community to put limits on Iran's nuclear programme.

“That is why we continue to support it and are determined to implement it,” he said. “There is no credible alternative.”

A joint statement by the six European countries on the council said that further to the US's withdrawal it regretted the latest American sanctions and the recent decision not to renew waivers that had allowed some countries to buy oil and other goods from Iran. But the statement also expressed alarm at Iran's regional activities and urged restraint.

Britain, France and Germany's ambassadors all separately said they regretted the US exit from the deal but that they could only keep the agreement alive if Iran continues to abide by it.

“As long as Iran remains in full compliance the UK will do everything it can to support the deal,” said Britain's ambassador Karen Pierce, but adding that she was"almost certain" that the IRGC was behind the recent security incidents in the Gulf.

France's permanent representative to the UN, Francois Delattre, said the situation in the Gulf called for “pragmatism and cool headedness”.

But Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, blamed the current crisis on “double think” coming from Washington. “We hear expressions that this is not about regime change, but then talk of obliteration,” he said of the Trump administration's statements. “An agreement struck in good faith is being held hostage and the US is trying to shift the blame for everything.”

In response to Wednesday's council meeting, Iran's ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, said last month's announcement to limit its compliance with the deal was because of US breaches. With the agreement now in “critical condition” he urged the EU to take “immediate action”.

Updated: June 27, 2019 10:49 AM

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