EU, Tehran set to cross swords

VIENNA: European powers will demand Iran stop violating their nuclear deal or potentially face renewed U.N. sanctions, but with Tehran locked in conflict over U.S. sanctions, there appears to be little scope for compromise when they meet on Friday.

The meeting comes amid heightened friction between Iran and the West. Tehran has rolled back its commitments under the 2015 deal in response to Washington’s pullout from it last year and reimposition of sanctions that have crippled its economy.

The Europeans and Tehran on Thursday clashed over Iran’s ballistic missile program before senior diplomats from the remaining parties to the deal, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, meet with Iranian officials in Vienna on Friday.

As the accord has slowly eroded, the Europeans have been torn between trying to save it and responding to Iran’s breaches, which have increasingly tested their patience.

Iran’s violations have included exceeding the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed under the deal and resuming enrichment at Fordow, a site buried inside a mountain that Iran hid from U.N. nuclear inspectors.

“I think the window for a negotiation and to save the deal is barely open,” said a European diplomat.

The Europeans are considering triggering a mechanism in the deal that could lead to the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.

Three diplomats said the political decision was unlikely to be made until January, when Iran is expected to reduce further its commitments to the pact, under which it curtailed its nuclear activities in return for relief from sanctions.

“The European parties to the deal should know that the clock is ticking for them. They try to keep Iran in the deal but then take no action against America’s bullying and pressure,” said a senior Iranian official.

Tehran has repeatedly criticized the three European powers for failing to shield Iran’s economy from the far-reaching U.S. sanctions, which have driven away foreign companies interested in doing business there.

Highlighting the widening gap between the two sides, Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday said the three had shown their “miserable incompetence” in fulfilling their commitments.

He was responding after they sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council accusing Tehran of having nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

“I don’t think the Europeans have reached their red line yet, but the repeated violations and the fact we’re now entering proliferation territory means their credibility is on the line,” said a Western diplomat.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized Britain, France and Germany for their recent allegations about Iran’s developing ballistic missile program.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday, the three EU countries stated that Iran is developing “nuclear-capable ballistic missiles” which runs against a UN Security Council resolution preventing Iran from the activities related to such missiles.

“Latest E3 letter to UN on missiles is a desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own JCPOA obligations,” Zarif tweeted.

The remarks by Zarif referred to the European’s “sluggishness” in protecting Iran’s rights under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“If E3 want a modicum of global credibility, they can begin by exerting sovereignty rather than bowing to U.S. bullying,” Zarif said. Iran has denied that it is working to obtain nuclear-capable missiles.–Agencies



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