Fri, 13 Dec 2019

The European signatories to a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have warned that the landmark pact could fall apart, as they called for the resumption of dialogue amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.

France, Britain and Germany warned in a joint statement on Sunday that the deal signed on that day four years ago could collapse following renewed sanctions by the United States which unilaterally withdrew from the deal last year - on Iran, and the latter's decision to no longer respect some of its obligations.

"The risks are such that it is necessary for all stakeholders to pause, and consider the possible consequences of their actions," the joint statement released by the French president's office said.

"We believe that the time has come to act responsibly and to look for ways to stop the escalation of tension and resume dialogue."

The accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed in Vienna by Iran, the US, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia.

Tensions escalated between Washington and Tehran when US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran - including on its key banking and oil sectors - that had been lifted under the pact.

In response, Tehran announced in May it would scale back its commitments to the deal despite calls by the European parties to the pact to continue its full compliance. Since then, Tehran has increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the agreed limit and has began to enrich uranium above the 3.67% permitted under the agreement.

At a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, the European countries are expected to seek to defuse the tensions, which culminated in a plan for US air raids on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute.

"The deal is on the brink. The message on Monday will be to show EU unity, but make it clear to Iran that it needs to come back into line," a European diplomat was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "For now nothing is reversible so we have more room for diplomacy."

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday pointed the finger at the Europeans, as Tehran continues to demand that they help it bypass US sanctions.

"There is a serious difference between doing something and announcing your willingness," Iranian state TV quoted him as saying.

INSTEX trade

In recent weeks, the three European parties to the deal confirmed that a new financial mechanism designed to enable European and Iranian companies to trade without any direct financial flows - thus bypassing the US financial system - was operational.

However, the scope of the workaround vehicle called INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) is initially confined to humanitarian products such as medicine, medical devices and food, which are not directly targeted by US sanctions anyway.

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Diplomats have said that in any case they fear US blowback, while Iranian officials have repeatedly said INSTEX must include oil sales or provide substantial credit facilities for it to be beneficial.

French President Emmanuel Macron dispatched a top aide to Tehran last week to offer suggestions on how to freeze the current status quo to gain some time and had said he wanted to review the diplomatic progress by July 15.

"We told President [Hassan] Rouhani what the parameters of a pause could be and we're waiting for a response from the Iranians, but their point of departure is relatively far because they are demanding the immediate lifting of sanctions," said a French presidential official.

Meanwhile, Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday that Tehran was ready to hold talks with Washington if the US lifted the sanctions and returned to the nuclear deal.

But Trump has shown no sign of backing down and said last week he would push on with more sanctions.

Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the US's withdrawal.

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