EghtesadOnline: The new government led by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed continued support for the Iran nuclear deal at an emergency meeting of international powers trying to save the 2015 accord.
The signal of support from the more populist Johnson government takes place as the deal has come under mounting strain after US President Donald Trump withdrew from it last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.
After waiting out the European signatories for over a year to fulfill their JCPOA obligations of ensuring economic benefits, Iran recently said it would take steps to reduce its compliance every two months until they did so.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the formal name of the 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with six world powers, including the US, according to Financial Tribune.
“Glad to attend important meeting to press on the need for full implementation of the JCPOA,” Caroline Hurndall, the head of the British Foreign Office's department for Iran and Iraq, wrote Sunday on Twitter.
“The UK remains committed to the deal,” she was quoted as saying by Al-Monitor.
Political directors of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal attended an extraordinary meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, which oversees the deal’s implementation, on Sunday in Vienna, Austria.
The meeting—only the commission’s second since the Trump administration in May revoked waivers that previously allowed eight nations to continue importing reduced amounts of Iranian oil—was co-chaired by Helga Schmid, the European Union's deputy foreign policy chief. The meeting also included deputy foreign ministers and senior diplomats from France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called the meeting “constructive”, but said Iran must be able to sell some oil in return for the nuclear curbs it has observed under the deal.
“The atmosphere was constructive. Discussions were good,” Araqchi told reporters in Vienna after the meeting. “I cannot say that we resolved everything, [but] I can say there are lots of commitments.”
“Since Iran is entitled to export its oil according to JCPOA, any impediment in the way of Iran’s oil export is actually against JCPOA.”
It all boils down to oil, a western official who attended the Vienna meeting, told Al-Monitor on Monday on condition of anonymity, adding that he interpreted the Iranian position as being that Iran’s return to full compliance with the accord depends on its ability to sell its oil.
After notifying the other JCPOA parties in May of its intentions, Iran surpassed a 300-kilogram cap on its stockpile of low enriched uranium early July and slightly exceeded the 3.67% purity level of its uranium enrichment.
Iran is determined to take other steps in 60 days to further reduce its compliance, if the other parties to the accord do not step up efforts to provide economic relief. The next Iranian deadline is early September.
“As we have said, we will continue to reduce our commitments to the deal until Europeans secure Iran's interests under the deal," Araqchi vowed on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Iran has underscored the fact that the steps taken so far do not pose a near-term proliferation risk and are reversible. So while the remaining parties to the accord have expressed deep regret at Iran’s actions and called for it to return to full compliance, they have not assessed that Iran is in “significant violation” of the pact or triggered the Joint Commission’s dispute-resolution mechanism.
A next obstacle to the accord could come, once again, from Washington, which is supposed to announce by August 1 if it is going to renew or revoke waivers for work agreed to under JCPOA to convert and modernize Iran’s Fordow and Arak facilities.
Diplomats from the E3—the three European countries still in the deal, the UK, France and Germany—recently met with the US National Security Council and the state department on the issue, Al-Monitor has learned.
European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested they received conflicting signals from the Trump administration about what to expect, as NSC is generally expected to oppose the renewal of waivers and the US State Department had suggested allies hoping for the waivers’ renewal might be “pleasantly surprised”.
For now, the Johnson government, which took office last week, has signaled the continuity of the stance adopted by its predecessor in mostly aligning itself with its E3 allies on Iran and supporting JCPOA, even as the UK makes its exit from the EU its chief priority.
“There is very little reason to think Boris Johnson will move toward Trump on Iran, climate change, immigration and other thorny issues,” Thomas Wright, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for the US and Europe, told Al-Monitor by email.
“He's always been very centrist on those issues. He could change to appease Trump, but that would help [UK Labour Party leader Jeremy] Corbyn in the election. So I think he'll hope that his personality will be enough to bring Trump on board, but he won't give him anything substantive. [It is] also worth noting that he was a strong supporter of the JCPOA while foreign secretary.”