The E3 – France, Germany and the UK – has welcomed the prospect of a US and Iranian return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). The E3 foreign ministers and the US secretary of state held a virtual meeting yesterday to discuss Iran and other pressing issues. It was the second time in this format since Secretary Antony Blinken took office.
Iran, earlier this week, had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it will stop implementing ‘voluntary transparency measures’ under the 2015 nuclear deal. Specifically, Tehran says it will halt snap nuclear inspections outside of its declared sites as of 23 February. The transparency measures include the Additional Protocol, which permits IAEA inspectors to visit undeclared sites in Iran at short notice.
In a joint statement yesterday, the E3 and US foreign ministers expressed their “shared fundamental security interest” in upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and ensuring that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. They said the conclusion of the JCPoA was “a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy”. The E3 welcomed the new US administration’s stated intention “to return to diplomacy with Iran”.
Blinken reiterated that, as President Joe Biden has said, if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPoA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end. The E3 and the USA thereby called on Iran not to take any additional steps, in particular with respect to the suspension of the Additional Protocol and to any limitations on IAEA verification activities in Iran.
“The E3 and the United States are united in underlining the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access, and urge Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity,” they said, reiterating their full support for “the professional and impartial role” of the IAEA and its director general, and their efforts to implement the necessary verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPoA.
The E3 and the USA also expressed their shared concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce both uranium enriched up to 20% and uranium metal. “These activities have no credible civil justification. Uranium metal production is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they said.
A senior official at the US State Department said: ” I think it was clear that we’re on the same page in saying that we’re prepared to come back to talks to get back into compliance if Iran will get back into compliance; and also calling collectively on Iran not to take the steps that it is threatening to take on 23 February in terms of no longer implementing the Additional Protocol and reducing or ending some of the JCPoA verification mechanism.”
The official noted that, following the joint statement with the E3, the EU political director had said in a tweet that he would be ready as a convener of the joint commission of the JCPoA to convene an informal meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to talk about the way forward in terms of Iran’s nuclear programme.
“The goal of coming together would be to sit down and to see – start what could be a prolonged path of trying to get back to a situation where both the US and Iran were back into compliance,” the unnamed official said.
A second unnamed official said the acting representative of the USA to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills, had submitted a letter to the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, Barbara Woodward, in her capacity as president of the UN Security Council for the month of February, reversing the previous US administration’s position on the UN Security Council Iran sanctions snapback issue.
“In so doing, the United States is affirming that UN Security Council Resolution 2231 remains in full effect. And that letter was circulated to the full Security Council and has now taken effect,” the second official said.
The JCPoA was signed in July 2015 by Iran and the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA – also referred to as the P5+1 – plus the European Union) and implemented in January 2016. Under its terms, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment activities, eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and limit its stockpile of low-enriched uranium over the subsequent 15 years.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, tweeted today that “there is no 5+1 anymore”, stressing that the USA must lift all sanctions against Iran.
“Reminder: Because of US withdrawal from JCPoA, there is NO P5+1. It is now ONLY Iran and P4+1,” Khatibzadeh wrote on Twitter, according to the Fars News Agency. “Gestures are fine. But to revive P5+1, US must Act: LIFT sanctions. We WILL respond,” he added.
US Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) was amongst critics of Biden’s decision to reopen talks with Iran, saying the new administration needed to use the US sanctions as leverage to get a broader deal that limits Iran’s aggressive actions. According to Fox News, McCaul said: “It is concerning the Biden administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal.” McCaul is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.