Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

European leaders urge Iran to return to dialogue

France's foreign minister warned that 'accidents' could lead to war

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Iran gained nothing from withdrawing from the nuclear deal.. AFP
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Iran gained nothing from withdrawing from the nuclear deal.. AFP

France, Germany and the UK are “deeply troubled” by recent attacks in the Arabian Gulf, which many have blamed on Iran, and underlined their concern at the deteriorating security of the region.

The three European heavyweights said they “extremely concerned” that Iran has breached the allowed uranium enrichment level under the 2015 nuclear deal, as Tehran again rejected suggestions of direct talks with Washington to renegotiate the agreement.

While the countries reiterated their regret that the United States had withdrawn from the 2015 nuclear deal officially known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, they said they would only continue to support it if Tehran remained fully compliant.

“We strongly urge Iran to reverse its recent decisions in this regard,” a joint statement said.

Iran breached the nuclear accord's limits on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and on the level of enrichment over the past two weeks in response to the failure by European signatories to the deal – France, Britain and Germany – to present a way around the crippling economic sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump's administration after the US withdrew from the deal 14 months ago.

In their statement on Sunday, the three European partners insisted they had done all they could to ensure Iran could continue to benefit from “legitimate economic advantages,” as it urged for a return to dialogue to deescalate tensions

Iran threatened to step up its nuclear activities again in September after a 60-day period to allow the European countries to ease the pressure of the US sanctions, particularly on its oil exports.

European powers do not support Mr Trump's sanctions squeeze on Iran, aimed at forcing Tehran into negotiations on stricter nuclear limits and other security concessions.

“Today, we are concerned by the risk that the JCPoA further unravels under the strain of sanctions imposed by the United States and following Iran’s decision to no longer implement several of the central provisions of the agreement,” the three European countries said.

“We are extremely concerned by Iran’s decision to stockpile and enrich uranium in excess of authorised limits.”

The Iranian foreign ministry rejected reports on Sunday that it was engaged in talks with US officials or that Russia had attempted to mediate.

It also urged the UK to end the “illegal confiscation” of an Iranian tanker of Gibraltar earlier this month that was accused of trying to move oil to Syria, in violation of sanctions on the regime in Damascus.

Following a phone call with his UK counterpart Jeremy Hunt, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said Iran would continue exporting oil whatever the circumstances.

UK foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has said his country would be willing to release the tanker if Iran can guarantee that its cargo would not go to Syria.

Tehran has threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation and last week boats believed to be from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to stop a ship owned by energy giant BP.

It led to the UK bringing forward plans to send a second warship to the Gulf to prevent any further Iranian interference.

On Sunday France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, warned there is a serious risk of "accidents" turning the standoff between the US and Iran into war.

"The fact Iran has decided to pull back from some of its engagements on nuclear proliferation is an additional worry. It is a bad decision, a bad reaction to another bad decision, that of the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal a year ago," he said.

"Iran gains nothing from withdrawing from its engagement [with the nuclear deal]. The US also gains nothing if Iran gets nuclear weapons, so it is important that de-escalation measures are taken to ease the tensions," Mr Le Drian said.

"No one wants a war. I've noticed that everyone is saying they don't want to go to the summit of the escalation. Neither [Iranian] President Rouhani, nor President Trump or other Gulf leaders. But here there are elements of escalation that are worrisome," he added.

Mr Trump has previously said the "flawed" deal did not ensure that Iran would never obtain nuclear weapons and did not address Iran's missile development and "destabilising" activities in the region.

However, leaked UK diplomatic cables published by a British newspaper on Sunday suggested Mr Trump pulled out of the deal to spite his predecessor Barack Obama, who helped negotiate the deal.

The US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the region recently to fight against what it said was a credible threat to the US and its Arab allies from Iran and its proxies.

In Baghdad on Saturday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she supported Iraq’s proposal for a conference between Iran and its regional rivals and US allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Updated: July 14, 2019 09:12 PM

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