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EghtresadOnline: European powers will not move to reimpose international sanctions on Iran, which will in effect kill the 2015 nuclear deal, as long as Tehran restrains expansion of its nuclear work, European diplomats said.

In a statement on Friday, EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, confirmed that the parties to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have extended the process to provide more time to find a diplomatic solution, according to Financial Tribune.

“I have … undertaken extensive bilateral and collective consultations. All JCPOA participants reconfirmed their determination to preserve the agreement which is in the interest of all,” the top EU diplomat said, EEAS reported.

“Notwithstanding differences on modalities, there is agreement that more time is needed due to the complexity of the issues involved. The timeline is therefore extended.” 

France, Britain and Germany last week triggered a dispute-settlement mechanism in the nuclear accord that could lead the European Union and the United Nations to reimpose sanctions on Iran within 60 days. The 2015 deal, which sought to constrain Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for sanctions relief, had suspended such sanctions.

European leaders have officially called for Iran to reverse the cuts in its commitment to the nuclear deal it has made in recent months. 

But European diplomats do not expect Iran to reverse course and privately say they are prepared to tolerate those steps and keep discussions going with Iran for the foreseeable future. They are preparing to extend discussions well beyond the 60-day period, the Wall Street Journal reported.

European officials say they hope to slow Iran’s progress toward amassing enough nuclear fuel for one weapon (an objective that Tehran says will never pursue), which could buy time to start direct talks between the US and Iran. 

Some of them see a new opportunity for direct talks after US-Iranian tensions nearly spilled into open conflict this month. In early January, US President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of a top Iranian general, Major General Qasem Soleimani, prompting Iran to fire missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops.

Europe is trying to salvage the nuclear deal despite pressure from Trump, who urged the Europeans, Russia and China to “break away from the remnants of the [accord]” in the aftermath of the attacks. 

The US exited the Iran deal in May 2018, claiming that it gave Tehran an eventual pathway to a nuclear weapon. It wants Europe to join its maximum-pressure economic campaign to force Tehran to negotiate a new agreement with Washington.

Iran says its nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes.

Last week, the Europeans said their triggering of the dispute mechanism was intended to save the deal by pressing Iran to reverse steps it had taken to scale down its compliance. 



Signaling Patience 


The Europeans said they hoped not to reimpose sanctions and signaled patience about triggering the next step in the process, although sending the issue to the UN Security Council could lead to the reimposition of sanctions.

The European action came after Tehran said this month it would no longer be bound by any restraints in the accord on its production or stockpiling of enriched uranium.

Iran has gradually expanded steps to reduce commitment to the deal since last summer, in response to US sanctions and Europe’s failure to compensate for them. 

It exceeded a limit on its permissible stockpile of enriched uranium. It is conducting nuclear research work outside the scope of the deal and is producing enriched uranium at an underground facility, Fordow, where enrichment activities were banned under the deal.

European diplomats privately acknowledge that Iran almost certainly will not reverse all its steps, as the EU has demanded, though they say they hope Tehran may reverse one or two of them, such as exceeding a limit on its stockpile of heavy water. 

The diplomats say their real aim is to persuade Iran not to take major new nuclear steps they have not yet taken and to remain many months away from the so-called breakout point, the time needed to amass enough nuclear fuel for an atomic bomb. 

From the viewpoint of western states, the 2015 deal was designed to ensure Iran was at least 12 months away from that breakout point.

Under the accord, senior officials are supposed to have 15 days for discussions to resolve a dispute before deciding whether to kick it up to foreign ministers, though that period can be extended. 



Meeting of Officials 


European diplomats say a meeting of officials—as opposed to ministers—from Europe, Iran, Russia and China is likely in mid-to-late February, weeks beyond the 15-day mark.

Borrell also said that the next JCPOA meeting will take place in February. 

Differences remain among European officials on what a restrained approach from Iran would be. 

Some believe a modest continued expansion in Iran’s still very small rate of production of enriched uranium is acceptable, even if Tehran reinstalls some additional centrifuges for enriching uranium, as threatened. 

Tehran has roughly quadrupled the amount of enriched uranium it produces monthly since July, experts say, from a very low base.

Others say European tolerance is more limited and detail certain Iranian moves that could trigger a more forceful reaction. One would be a major expansion of enriched uranium at Fordow. Another would be a serious escalation in Tehran’s research work or reducing the access of international inspectors.

Iran reacted strongly when Germany, France and the UK triggered the dispute mechanism. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif lambasted the Europeans for breaking their promises to help safeguard Iran’s economy from the impact of renewed US sanctions and bowing “to US diktat”.

European officials say they are hopeful that Iran could pursue a restrained approach. They say Iran has taken no steps in recent weeks to accelerate its nuclear work.

Robert Einhorn, a former senior US State Department official who was involved in Iran negotiations during the Obama administration, said Tehran clearly valued the international support it has received for abiding by the accord for over a year after the Trump administration withdrew.

“But Iran’s leaders must recognize that this could change … if aggressive efforts to build up nuclear capacity reignited international alarm about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb,” he wrote in a paper last week for the Brookings Institution.


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