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Tehran risks ‘snapback’

Russia urges commitment from all N-deal signatories

BERLIN, July 9, (Agencies): European powers took their first step on Tuesday towards punishing Iran for breaking its nuclear agreement, triggering the deal’s mechanism to resolve breaches.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, plus the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, said in a statement that Iran was “pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments” under the deal, known as the JCPoA.

“These compliance issues must be addressed within the framework of the JCPoA, and a Joint Commission should be convened urgently,” they said. The three European powers are the remaining Western signatories to Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement, which was abandoned by the United States last year. Convening a joint commission of signatories — the Europeans plus Russia and China — is the first step in a process foreseen in the agreement that could eventually lead to a “snapback”, bringing back the international sanctions lifted by the deal. “Iran has stated that it wants to remain within the JCPoA. It must act accordingly by reversing these activities and returning to full JCPoA compliance without delay,” the European countries said.

The 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers offered Iran access to world trade in return for agreeing to curbs on its nuclear programme. The future of the pact has been in doubt since last year when the United States pulled out of it and reimposed unilateral sanctions.

Iran has said it wants to continue to abide by the agreement but cannot do so indefinitely if US sanctions prevent it from receiving any of the promised economic benefits. The deal’s fate has come to a head in the past 10 days, after Iran announced steps that were in violation of its central commitments — it announced that it had amassed more enriched uranium than allowed under the agreement and said it had refined uranium to a higher purity.

Tehran argues that its steps are permitted under the deal as a response to US non-compliance. It has said it could take new steps in 60 days, including restarting dismantled centrifuges and purfiying uranium to a sharply higher threshold.

The nuclear diplomacy is a central issue in a wider confrontation between the United States and Iran, which has escalated since the start of May when Washington tightened sanctions with the aim of halting all Iranian oil exports. The dispute took on a military dimension, with Washington accusing Tehran of attacks on ships in the Gulf. Last month Iran shot down a US drone, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off minutes before impact.

The European powers strongly disagreed with the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal, and have since found themselves caught in the middle, trying to persuade Iran to stick to it without receiving the promised benefits.

The Trump administration argues that the deal agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because some of its terms were not permanent and it omitted non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional policies. Trump’s hardline policy is backed by oil-exporting Arab states in the Gulf, which consider Iran a foe and stand to gain from US sanctions that have removed Iranian crude from the market, and by Israel, which has repeatedly called on the European countries to reimpose sanctions. Russia has stated that the onus of preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), or Iran’s nuclear deal, is on all signatories not only Iran. “We are confident that the long-term sustainable implementation of the JCPoA can be ensured only on the basis of full commitment of all the parties concerned to their liabilities, with the balance of interests and reliance on the principle of reciprocity that is the core of the nuclear deal,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday. It underlined that defusing the current tension around the JCPoA requires concentrated and consolidated efforts to maintain the deal, which is of a paramount importance for both international peace and security as well as the integrity of the global nuclear non-proliferation system.

The ministry said that Iran’s gradual scaling down of its commitments under the nuclear deal should not cause such a stir. “It is solely about Iran’s voluntary liabilities undertaken in the spirit of compromise and for the sake of signing the JCPoA.” “In the meantime, the terms of the deal were flagrantly violated long ago. And, as we all know, it was not done by Iran,” it noted. It pointed out that Iran’s move would be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on July 10. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Iran on Tuesday that it is within range of Israeli air strikes, citing what he described as Iranian threats to destroy Israel. “Iran recently has been threatening Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said at an Israeli air force base, where he viewed a squadron of advanced US-built F-35 warplanes.

“It should remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran, and certainly Syria,” he said in a YouTube video clip filmed at the base, with an F-35 in the background. Last week, a senior Iranian parliamentarian was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying that if the United States attacked Iran, Israel would be destroyed in half an hour. Israel has long said that every option is on the table in ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, and has backed pledges to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria by carrying out air strikes there.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday Donald Trump’s allies had tricked the US president into killing off a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers. Zarif said on Twitter that Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Israeli Netanyahu had killed an earlier agreement in 2005 by insisting that Iran stop all uranium enrichment.

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