E3 face stark test over snapback mechanism

September 13, 2020 - 23:5

TEHRAN - As the 30-day U.S. process of restoring the UN sanctions on Iran is nearing its end, the European signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal ratchet up efforts to find a way forward while preventing a total collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal.

However, an expert on international relations tells the Tehran Times that Europe has a little leeway to stand up against the U.S. efforts to restore UN sanctions on Iran, given Europe’s close economic relations with the U.S.

“The Europeans are not independent of the U.S. influence. Europe is unable to stand up against the U.S.,” Ali Bigdeli, a retired university professor specialized in international relations told the Tehran Times, adding that Europe is heavily under the U.S. economic influence.

According to the professor, the U.S. and the EU have deep relations, although they have differences over some issues.

European signatories to the nuclear deal – France, Germany, and the UK (E3) – step up efforts to find a common ground on the nuclear deal as the U.S. prepares to announce the return of all UN sanctions on Iran.  

E3 foreign ministers held a meeting at Chevening House in Sevenoaks, Kent on September 10 to discuss the situation around the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

During the Kent meeting, the foreign ministers reached a consensus on the U.S. bid to trigger the snapback process, according to a report published by the Guardian.

The snapback process is a mechanism built into the JCPOA to allow parties to the deal to restore the UN sanctions on Iran in case it didn’t comply with its commitments under the nuclear deal.

On August 20, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to New York to notify the UN Security Council of Iran’s “significant non-performance” of the nuclear deal as defined in UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

All JCPOA participants, along with 13 members of the 15-member UN Security Council, rejected the U.S. notification. They said that the U.S. had no legal authority to initiate the snapback process because it lost the right to do so by withdrawing from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018.

However, the U.S. keeps insisting that the 30-day process of snapback was triggered after it submitted the notification on August 20 and that the process will end on 20 September.

While the U.S. looks forward to restoring the international sanctions on Iran by September 20, European signatories to the nuclear deal still reject the U.S. efforts to reimpose the sanctions. The Europeans, especially the UK government, are facing “intensified pressure” from the U.S. to fall in line, according to the Guardian.

In a tweet after the Chevening meeting the German foreign office said, “The E3 agree: reject the U.S. snapback attempt and remain committed to preserving the nuclear agreement, but Iran urgently needs to return to full compliance.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stroke a different note after the Kent meeting. He tweeted, “Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon. It must comply with its nuclear commitments & preserve the JCPOA – that was the conclusion of the E3 when I met with Heiko Mass and Jean-Yves Le Drian. We are committed to holding Iran to account.”
Raab’s tweet on Iran raised questions about the UK stance on the JCPOA. The tweet could be an attempt by the UK to strike a balance between the U.S. and the EU.

Bigdeli believes that the UK is caught in the middle between the U.S. and the EU over the Iran nuclear deal. According to the professor, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to strengthen trade ties with the U.S. after the Brexit while preserving UK economic interests with the EU.

“Britain sought to boost its trade ties with the U.S. after the White House withdrew from the JCPOA. However, it failed to secure what it wanted. And now it is caught in the middle. The UK is afraid of losing both the EU and the U.S. after it leaves the EU,” Bigdeli remarked.

The Guardian said the Europeans understand the UK need to balance its relations with the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The newspaper wrote, “Germany and France, co-operating with the UK over Iran despite the Brexit backdrop, acknowledge there are special UK sensitivities about defying its closest partner the U.S. on such a critical security issue. The European diplomats recognize that the UK wants a free trade deal with the U.S., and defying the U.S. on snapback may infuriate Donald Trump.”

The Europeans are expected to have another round of talks with Iran when Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pays a visit to Europe this week. The chief Iranian diplomat is planning to visit seven European countries including Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, according to NHK WORLD-JAPAN, the international service of Japan's public media organization NHK.

NHK said Zarif’s trip “is likely aimed at dissuading key European powers from agreeing with the United States' efforts to restore UN sanctions on Tehran” and boosting “ties with European countries, with a goal of blocking the U.S. initiative.”

The Foreign Ministry of Iran has confirmed that Zarif will be traveling to many counties but it didn’t give further details.

“Zarif seeks to dissuade the Europeans from supporting the triggering of the snapback process by the Trump administration. His trip to Europe is indicative of some concerns in Iran. But Zarif could fail to dispel these concerns during his Europe trip,” pointed out Bigdeli, adding that the trip wasn’t necessary. 

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