US president Trump announced yesterday that the US will withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose sanctions on Iran for allegedly violating the deal. EU and the three European powers that signed the deal in 2015 declared directly after his unilateral withdrawal that they will continue to support the deal and even try to improve it. In his announcement, Trump ignored his own officials who in hearings in the senate had confirmed that Iran complied with the conditions in the agreement. Instead he referred to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s slideshow last week on Iran’s “nuclear archive”.
“Israel fully supports President Trump’s bold decision today to reject the disastrous nuclear deal with the terrorist regime in Tehran,” Netanyahu said directly after the decision. “Israel has opposed the nuclear deal from the start because we said that rather than blocking Iran’s path to a bomb, the deal actually paved Iran’s path to an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs, and this within a few years’ time.”
But just hours before Trump’s announcement, former Israeli intelligence chief Tamir Pardo said at a conference in Herzliya that Tehran is “fully complying with the nuclear deal.” Pardo who served as the head of the Mossad from 2011 to 2016 said that “There still will be a need for some kind of deal at the end of the day.”
Whether Iran complied or not with the deal did not matter for Trump and Netanyahu. For Trump the decision was mainly about keeping an election promise and undoing his predecessor Obama’s legacy. Netanyahu was always of the opinion that the deal did not sufficiently constrain Iran’s nuclear program and left the door open for a break-out to nuclear weapons in the future.
Trump’s announcement did not come as a surprise but still EU seemed unprepared and will have to try hard to save the deal and persuade Iran to continue to implement it. A low-level meeting between EU/E3 and Iran took place in Brussels yesterday afternoon before Trump’s announcement but nothing concrete emerged from that meeting.
In a joint statement the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom expressed “regret and concern” about Trump’s decision and emphasised their continuing commitment to the deal (JCPoA = Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). “This agreement remains important for our shared security.”
“Iran continues to abide by the restrictions set out by the JCPoA, in line with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The world is a safer place as a result. Therefore we, the E3, will remain parties to the JCPoA,” says the statement.
The three EU powers encourage Iran to show restraint in response to the decision by the US. “Iran must continue to meet its own obligations under the deal… In turn, Iran should continue to receive the sanctions relief it is entitled to whilst it remains in compliance with the terms of the deal.”
The lifting of nuclear related sanctions was an essential part of the agreement, remarked EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after Trump’s decision. “The EU has repeatedly stressed that the lifting of nuclear related sanctions has not only a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran, but also and mainly crucial benefits for the Iranian people.”
The deal was supposed to result in foreign investments in Iran and improve its economy. This has hardly happened yet because of uncertainty about US’s reaction. EU wants to develop its investments in Iran. After the American threat of resumption of sanctions in a few months from now against companies doing business with Iran it will become even more difficult.
But the most difficult thing for EU and Iran to agree on will be to address those issues which were excluded from the original deal and which now were used to justify the US withdrawal from it. Contrary to Mogherini, who never raised them with the Iranians, the E3 powers take them seriously.
“There must be no doubt: Iran’s nuclear program must always remain peaceful and civilian. While taking the JCPoA as a base, we also agree that other major issues of concern need to be addressed. A long-term framework for Iran’s nuclear programme after some of the provisions of the JCPoA expire, after 2025, will have to be defined.”
“Because our commitment to the security of our allies and partners in the region is unwavering, we must also address in a meaningful way shared concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilising regional activities, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel did also regret Trump’s decision. “The absence of an agreement means more instability or war in the Middle East. US international partners must remain engaged and Iran must continue to meet its obligations.”
The Brussels Times