Josep Borrell holds a news conference after an EU foreign ministers emergency meeting to discuss ways to try to save the Iran nuclear deal, in Brussels, Belgium, January 10 2020. Picture: REUTERS/FFRANÇOIS LENOIR
Josep Borrell holds a news conference after an EU foreign ministers emergency meeting to discuss ways to try to save the Iran nuclear deal, in Brussels, Belgium, January 10 2020. Picture: REUTERS/FFRANÇOIS LENOIR

Vienna — The EU has initiated formal proceedings to resolve its nuclear dispute with Iran, setting up a potential showdown between Washington and Tehran at the UN Security Council.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK informed EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell of their decision on Tuesday. In the 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed with the US, Russia, China and the three European countries to include a dispute resolution mechanism. That could be used to send Iran back to the UN to face a re-imposition of UN sanctions, including on arms imports.

With the US having withdrawn from the accord, finding a reason to trigger the referral to the Security Council would fall to Europe: now that referral mechanism has been triggered. The step became more likely after Tehran’s government violated key provisions of the deal in response to US sanctions.

UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons on Tuesday that breaches by Iran include exceeding levels of enriched uranium and announcing it will no longer adhere to limits on the number of centrifuges.

‘Acute concerns’

“Since last May, Iran has, step by step, reduced its compliance with critical elements of the JCPOA leaving it a shell of an agreement,” Raab said. “Each of these actions were individually serious; together they now raise acute concerns around Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Meanwhile, the unity among the Europeans over Iran is being severely tested. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC that the US sees “many, many faults” in the deal and that “if we are going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal”.

But Raab said the UK and its European partners are triggering the dispute resolution mechanism to uphold the existing agreement. “We do so with a view to bringing Iran back into full compliance,” Raab said. “We are triggering the dispute resolution mechanism to re-enforce the diplomatic track, not to abandon it.”

‘Rapprochement’

Still, Raab said the UK is also open to a “broader rapprochement” with Iran, citing what he said was French President Emmanuel Macron’s call last year for an agreement that goes beyond the nuclear pact and tackles Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region.

“We should be ambitious for a broader deal that deals not just with the nuclear issue ... but all of those other wider concerns people have, and the region has, that the Europeans and the Americans have, about Iran’s conduct in the region,” Raab said.

As co-ordinator of the JCPOA, the EU will now try to resolve Iran’s nuclear violations within 15 days. Should they fail to find consensus, foreign ministers of signatory nations, including China and Russia, would convene to debate the matter. They would have the option of sending Iran back to the UN’s decision-making body to face even stiffer international sanctions.

Bloomberg