At its meeting on Monday, the Foreign Affairs Council urged Iran to reverse its enrichment activities taken recently in violation of the nuclear deal. For the time being the steps will not trigger any EU reaction.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the meeting as “a good discussion” on how to continue EU´s work to preserve in full the nuclear deal with Iran.
“We have had unanimity among member states on the need both to make faster and more operational the (paying) instrument – INSTEX – which we have put in place to preserve legitimate trade with Iran, but also to continue working for Iran’s return to full compliance with the nuclear deal,” she said at the press briefing after the Council meeting (15 July).
She admitted that the implementation of INSTEX had been delayed since it was first announced last year and would hardly meet Iran’s expectations.
Asked under what circumstances EU would activate the so-called conflict resolution mechanism in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) and refer Iran’s resumption of enrichment to the Joint Commission foreseen in the nuclear deal, she replied that it is not considered as “significant non-compliance”.
The Joint Commission was established to carry out a number of review functions and is comprised of representatives of Iran and the other signatories to the deal (E3/EU+3), with Mogherini as the coordinator. It meets on a quarterly basis and at any time upon request of any JCPoA participant.
If Iran or any other signatories believed that the other side was not meeting its commitments, it could refer the issue to the Joint Commission for resolution. The JCPoA does not distinguish between significant and non-significant issues.
Mogherini stressed that Iran had been complying for 14 months with the nuclear deal despite the unilateral decision by the US decision to withdraw from the JCPoA and re-impose sanctions on Iran. The current steps by Iran are seen as reversible and triggering the conflict resolution mechanism could be counter effective and result in an escalation.
Andrea Dessi, a senior fellow at the Italian think-tank Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), told The Brussels Times that the latest EU statements can be seen as an indication that it is serious about seeking to preserve the agreement and believes that any further escalation will harm regional security and EU interests.
“Any triggering of the dispute-resolution mechanism would spell the end of the JCPoA, seriously complicating diplomatic efforts in the region and effectively giving the US what they have been seeking for some time, an excuse to put full blame on Iran and further isolate the country,” he explains.
Effectively, the EU is buying time, while seeking to activate and expand INSTEX, to provide Iran with some economic relief. However, further steps by Iran, particularly the possibility of Iran returning to enrich uranium at 20%, would be a considerable escalation, Dessi warns, and would likely force EU parties and the IAEA to react, possibly setting in motion the dispute-resolution mechanism.
This means that the window of opportunity is quickly closing. Mogherini declined to respond to a question from The Brussels Times how EU will solve the dilemma, preserving the JCPoA if Iran continues to breach it.