PARIS/TEHRAN – France, Germany and the United Kingdom triggered on Tuesday the dispute mechanism in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, bringing it one step closer to potential collapse.
The three European signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action said the decision responded to Iran’s gradual scaling back of its commitments to the deal since the United States withdrew from the pact in 2018.
Iranian authorities announced a further step back from the JCPOA this month and said there were no longer any operational restrictions in its nuclear program, which the deal had curbed in exchange for the partial lifting of international sanctions.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers from the European signatories, known as the E3, said they did not believe the US’ actions gave Iran the right to start dismantling its own commitments to the deal.
“We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments under the JCPOA and to refer this matter to the Joint Commission under the Dispute Resolution Mechanism.
“We do this in good faith with the overarching objective of preserving the JCPOA and in the sincere hope of finding a way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue.”
European authorities would remain in “close consultation” with the nuclear deals other two parties: Russia and China.
The powers now have 35 days to resolve the dispute, although that limit can be extended if necessary.
Should discussions fail, then the issue could be brought to the United Nations Security Council, which would open to the door to the reimplementation of European sanctions on Iran.
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom once again express our commitment to the JCPOA and our determination to work with all participants to preserve it,” the statement said.
A statement from Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran could respond appropriately and decisively, going on to describe the European powers as “passive and weak.”
The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif late Monday tweeted a message directed at Europe.
“For 20 months, the E3 – following UK appeasement policy – has bowed to US diktat. That hasn’t gotten anywhere – and it never will.
“E3 can save JCPOA but not only by appeasing the bully and pressuring the complying party. Rather it should muster the courage to fulfill its own obligations.”
Iran stopped complying with certain elements of the deal, such as limitations on uranium enrichment, a key process in the manufacturing of nuclear arms, after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal and re-implemented sanctions on Tehran in 2018.
Those sanctions, which targeted the banking and oil sectors, strangled the Iranian economy.
Tehran has since pressured the European signatories into creating a special mechanism to bypass US sanctions. Trump, all the while, has lobbied for the deal to be scrapped altogether.
The United Kingdom’s prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday suggested the nuclear deal be replaced with a “Trump deal” during an interview with the BBC.
Tensions between Washington and Iran reached fever pitch when the US assassinated top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike outside Baghdad’s international airport on 3 January.
It prompted a retaliatory barrage of missiles from Iran against Iraqi military facilities with US presence.
While Iran was on high alert, its military accidentally brought down a Ukrainian International Airlines flight that had just taken off from Tehran. All 176 on board were killed.