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EU powers trigger Iran nuclear deal dispute mechanism: what happens next?

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An Iranian security guard on duty at the Bushehr nuclear power plant on the Gulf coast

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Behrouz Mehri /AFP via Getty Images

New threat to future of 2015 agreement amid US-Iran diplomatic crisis

In Depth The Week Staff
Tuesday, January 14, 2020 - 3:18pm

Britain, France and Germany have formally triggered the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

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According to The Guardian, the triggering of the mechanism has “kickstarted a process that could see United Nations sanctions being reimposed on Iran”.

The past few years have seen Iran gradually lifting the limits on its production of enriched uranium, which the BBC notes “can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons”.

The Gulf nation claims that it has the right to do so after the US imposed sanctions following President Trump’s decision to abandon the deal in 2018.

What is the ‘dispute mechanism’?

The Financial Times reports that triggering the dispute mechanism means the nuclear accord’s signatories – which also include China and Russia – will now meet within 15 days to discuss their concerns. 

Britain, France and Germany, known as the E3, said in a joint statement that they had been “left with no choice” but to trigger the dispute mechanism “given Iran’s actions”.

“We do this in good faith with the overarching objective of preserving the JCPOA [nuclear accord] and in the sincere hope of finding a way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue,” the country’s foreign ministers said. “In doing so, our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran.”

According to the BBC, a seven-member Joint Commission – comprising the E3, the European Union, Russia, China and Iran – will first have 15 days to resolve the issue. If any member wants a review by foreign ministers, that would also have 15 days to consider the matter. 

The Guardian adds: “If it cannot be solved, the matter could be brought before the UN security council and could then result in the snapback of sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.”

Why is Iran in breach of the agreement?

Iran has said that since the imposition of sanctions by the US, following President Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal in 2018, the accord has not been binding. Tehran also insists that while the country is producing enriched uranium, it is purely for peaceful purposes and not in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The Guardian reports that the country has taken “five successive steps away from the deal”, claiming that the US has not fulfilled its obligation to enhance trade. The US’s sanctions also make it near impossible for EU countries to trade with Iran, meaning not a single transaction has been completed between European firms and Iran, the paper says. 

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What has the reaction been?

According to the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus: “In invoking the dispute mechanism, the Europeans are taking the first formal step towards writing [the deal’s] obituary.

“They insist that they will stand by it for as long as it exists and that they want a better deal – one that the US can support. But it is very hard to see Iran accepting a more restrictive agreement that will include constraints on its missile programmes and maybe also its regional behaviour.”

Marcus’s assessment chimes with Boris Johnson’s calls this morning for a “Trump deal” to replace the existing nuclear accord, agreed during the adminstration of former president Barack Obama. 

Speaking to the BBC, Johnson said: “If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal… President Trump is a great dealmaker, by his own account. Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.”

Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said that Europe “could no longer leave the growing Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement unanswered”. However, Maas struck a more conciliatory tone, adding: “Our goal is clear: we want to preserve the accord and come to a diplomatic solution within the agreement.”

Tehran is yet to make any public comment on the triggering of the mechanism. According to a government statement, cited by Reuters, shortly after the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, Tehran announced that “Iran will continue its nuclear enrichment with no restrictions… and based on its technical needs”.

Middle East
Iran Iran Nuclear Deal Germany France Britain Boris Johnson

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