EU cautions U.S. against leaving Iran nuclear deal

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European ambassadors to the U.S. mounted a united defense of the Iran nuclear deal as Washington signals it may walk away from the pact.

Iran and the P5+1 countries—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany—reached a deal on July 14, 2015, that sought to ensure that the Islamic Republic will have a peaceful nuclear program.

Envoys from the European Union, Germany, France and Britain laid out their arguments, returning frequently to their central point that the deal is working and Iran is complying with the agreement that was implemented in January 2016.

The diplomats said the deal is in the national security interests of their countries, the Middle East and the world. They said a decision to walk away would undermine Western credibility, particularly with North Korea. And while they’re happy to discuss Iran’s behavior outside of the nuclear deal, they said the pact itself is not open for renegotiation.

“We don’t think it will be possible to renegotiate” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, said German Ambassador Peter Wittig, who added that his country saw no practical way to do so.

Other parties to the deal are adamant that it won’t happen, French Ambassador Gerard Araud told the audience at the Atlantic Council event where the envoys spoke. At the UN General Assembly, during a meeting last week of all parties to JCPOA, he said, “there was a very clear message” from Iran, China and Russia “saying no way, there won’t be any re-opening of the agreement, the agreement is working as it is,” Araud said.

A signature achievement of the Obama administration, the international accord has been in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs since he was on the campaign trail. His administration has been conducting a review of Iran policy and he has hinted that he will take some sort of action in mid-October.

Under U.S. law, the President has to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the deal. Trump has repeatedly hinted that he wants to ditch the agreement, most recently in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week.

“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump told the Assembly.

He went on to declare that the “Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States.”

Responding to his speech, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said there was “no need to reopen the agreement because it’s fully delivering.” And she expressed the near-disbelief among European officials that Mr. Trump might walk away from the Iran accord while trying to resolve an escalating crisis involving North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“We already have one potential nuclear crisis,” she said. “We definitely do not need to go into a second one.”

Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons could be impossible should Mr. Trump decide to abandon the landmark deal struck by President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and Iran. And Europe is far closer to Iran and at much greater risk than the United States should it develop nuclear weapons.

The President and administration officials say the deal doesn’t address Iran’s missile development or its activities in the region, including support for Houthi rebels in Yemen and for the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. And they object in particular to parts of the deal governing uranium enrichment that eventually expire under a “sunset clause.”

That was deliberate, said Araud said on Monday. The deal was so “technical, so complicated … we didn’t want to be dragged down into a quid pro quo on other issues,” Araud said. “Nothing in the agreement is preventing us from facing the challenges raised by Iran on other issues.”

EU ambassador David O’Sullivan said that none of the issues the Trump administration is concerned about would be easier to deal with if the U.S. abandons the nuclear pact. “I can think of no regional issue that would not be even more difficult to handle if Iran possessed nuclear weapons,” O’Sullivan said. “This is one of the most comprehensive non-proliferation agreements every negotiated.”

Stuart Eizenstat, chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Advisory Board for the Future of Iran Initiative, captured some of the unspoken feeling on the panel when he said at the opening of the event that “it now appears that Washington, rather than Iran, may be a bigger threat to the JCPOA.”

Wittig said that engaging with Iran after the lifting of sanctions is “a legitimate and desirable goal” of the agreement because trade and regular contact “potentially binds us closer together” and could eventually change Iranian behavior. With “80 million people, you can’t just wish it away,” he said. “We want this Iran to gradually move to our world view.”

He urged the Trump administration to consider the broader context of their actions. “What kind of signal would it send to North Korea,” he asked. “It would send a signal that diplomacy is not reliable … that would affect our credibility in the West when we’re not honoring an agreement that Iran has not violated.”

British Ambassador Kim Darroch said that UK Prime Minister Theresa May spent 50 minutes meeting with Trump during the UN gathering, talking about ways to address Iran’s non-nuclear behavior that so concerns the President.

Like the other ambassadors, Darroch said his country shares concerns about Iran’s missile development and its backing for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Darroch said May told Trump that the UK supports the deal because “it’s about our national security, we think we are more secure because of the deal,” and he said she presented to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “ways we could push back against Iranian activities in the region.”

The UK envoy added that they also discussed “starting, at some point, within the context of this agreement, talks with the Iranians on the sunset clause and what comes next.”

Darroch said he thought the administration is making headway in raising its concerns about Tehran. It has “changed the climate already on Iran,” Darroch said, “so it’s succeeding, we would say let’s carry on with that, let’s intensify those discussions, but let’s keep the JCPOA.”

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has certified multiple times since then that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement.

Counter measures

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has obliged the country’s Foreign Ministry to implement a law recently approved by the Parliament aimed at counteracting the US aggressions and regional adventures.

In a letter to the Foreign Ministry, Rouhani urged the foreign ministry to implement the new law approved by the Iranian lawmakers.

The law entitled “Counteracting the US human rights violations and adventurous and terrorist moves in the region” was approved following Washington’s provocative regional acts.

The general outlines of the motion were passed with 240 votes in favour and one abstention in early August.

The 27-article draft was endorsed after it was brought forward in Parliament by the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in July.

The move came after the U.S. House of Representatives and then the Senate passed a sweeping package of bills on sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea.

The U.S. legislation would impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them.

North-Korean alliance?

There is growing speculation that Iran could be providing funds to North Korea and enabling the nation to continue nuclear and missile development, despite a slew of heavy international economic sanctions.

Iran and North Korea have not announced any cooperation in nuclear and missile development, but U.S. and European intelligence agencies see it as an “unquestionable fact,” Western diplomatic sources said.

“The second stage of North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile is similar to the upper stages designed for the Iranian space launch vehicles,” Jeffrey Lewis, director at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote in an article published July. The American nuclear nonproliferation expert came to the conclusion after watching images of the missile launch released by the North Korean news media.

Growing suspicion

Iran and North Korea had cooperated in the development of missiles and other military technologies over a long period starting in the 1980s. Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile was developed based on North Korea’s Nodong, it has been said.

Experts have pointed out that the missile, which Iran claimed it successfully tested Saturday, shares many resemblances with North Korea’s Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile.

There is a high possibility that Iran and North Korea are still working together because they can get huge mutual benefits by cooperating, Yuri Fedorov, an expert on the Russian military, said.

Iran’s 2015 agreement with the U.S., the European Union and others has restricted its ability to develop nuclear technologies. However, Tehran would be able to continue and even accelerate its nuclear development by conducting studies in North Korea, Fedorov noted.

North Korea would also benefit from cooperating with Iran. The Middle Eastern country has boosted natural resources exports following the 2015 agreement. Pyongyang, struggling under the heavyweight of economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. and the U.S., could obtain much-needed funds for nuclear and missile development from Iran. Furthermore, North Korea could gain access to Iran’s uranium enrichment technology, as well as technical information at U.S. and European research institutes via Iranian researchers.

Russian angle

There is speculation that Russia has given a tacit nod to cooperation between Iran and North Korea, seeing stronger relations between the two countries as helping to counter the U.S.

According to Western diplomatic sources in Moscow, Kim Yong Nam, chairman of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea, took flights via Russia when he visited Iran in August with many military experts in tow.

The U.S. has not attacked North Korea because Washington knows Pyongyang has nuclear weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted in a television interview aired Sunday. He also repeated comments that could be interpreted as defending North Korea’s nuclear development efforts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to use the North Korean conflict as a leverage to chip away at the unipolar world controlled by the U.S., Fyodor Lukyanov, a well-known Russian commentator on diplomatic issues, said.