Europeans push for new deal while U.S. remains silent

The West’s true colors

December 7, 2020 - 23:5

TEHRAN – European countries signatory to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have expressed concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program, but a former Iranian diplomat tells the Tehran Times that the these countries are not genuinely worried about Iran's nuclear activities. Instead, he said, they are worried about the Islamic Republic getting stronger over time.

While Iran continues to coordinate all its nuclear activities with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), European parties to the Iran nuclear deal – France, Germany and the UK (E3) – have once again voiced concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities at a time when their compliance with the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is in doubt, at least from Iran’s point of view.

In a statement on Monday, the E3 said, “Iran’s recent announcement to the IAEA that it intends to install an additional three cascades of advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz is contrary to the JCPOA and deeply worrying.”

The statement came after Reuters, in a move that irked Iran, published details of a confidential IAEA report, which said Iran plans to install three more cascades, or clusters, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in the underground plant at Natanz.

“In a letter dated 2 December 2020, Iran informed the Agency that the operator of the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz ‘intends to start installation of three cascades of IR-2m centrifuge machines’ at FEP,” the IAEA report to its member states said.

The leakage of the report, for which the E3 is to blame, has drawn strong criticism from Iran. Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador and permanent representative to the Vienna-based international organizations, has said Tehran will soon legally pursue the leakage of the report by the IAEA.

“Iran’s objections and legal proceedings against the Agency in the field of protecting confidential information have a history of more than two decades,” Kazem Gharibabadi said in an interview with IRINN on Saturday. He further explained that for a long time “the Agency’s safeguard reports, which were also very detailed, were prepared and distributed among the members, and in the last five years, the reports on Barjam (nuclear deal) have been replaced.”

He added that there are two problems along the way, namely the extent of details of safeguards activities that should be reflected in these reports, and the flawed mechanism for informing the members of the Agency. “These reports are leaked to the media before they are declassified,” Gharibabadi lamented.

The leakage of the IAEA report has raised suspicions that the E3 might have sought to exert pressure on Iran by helping leak the report to the press. The Monday statement by E3 further fueled these suspicions.

The statement also expressed concern over the recent nuclear law passed by Iran’s Parliament.

“Furthermore, we have taken note, with great concern, of the recent law passed by the Iranian Parliament, which - if implemented - would substantially expand Iran’s nuclear program and limit IAEA monitoring access. The measures would be incompatible with the JCPOA and Iran’s wider nuclear commitments,” the statement said.

The Iranian Parliament has recently passed a law that compels the government of Hassan Rouhani to substantially step up the country’s nuclear activities such as installing new, advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges and increasing uranium enrichment level to 20% if the other parties to the JCPOA failed to honor their commitments under the nuclear deal.

The law in question also requires the government to suspend the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) two months after the ratification of it if the parties to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers failed to uphold their obligations under the JCPOA.

The law, officially called “Strategic Action to Lift Sanctions and Protect Nation’s Rights,” is part of a broader strategy that aims to lift the United States sanctions on Iran and was put forward by the lawmakers in early November. It aims to force the United States into lifting sanctions on Iran by doubling down on nuclear activities.

Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said last week that this law will revive the country’s nuclear industry and create deterrence against enemies.

“This plan will strengthen the industry and the practical achievements of nuclear scientists and pave the way for Iran to overcome sanctions. This law, along with the reactions of other relevant agencies, in addition to reviving Iran's nuclear industry, creates deterrence against the enemy and security for the people,” the speaker asserted.

The European concerns over the law came at a time when Iran said the law is part of a broader strategy that aims to counter the United States sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, and reimposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran within the so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. Over the past few years, Iran has mainly remained committed to the nuclear deal despite the U.S. constantly slapping sanctions on Iran. Meanwhile, the E3 have failed to honor their commitments under the deal.

But now that they feel there would be a more cooperative administration in the U.S., the E3 have taken steps to turn up the heat on Iran by calling for replacing the JCPOA with a broader deal that includes Iran’s missile program and its regional activities. They even seem to be conditioning Joe Biden’s possible return to the JCPOA on Iran refraining from implementing the nuclear law.

“If Iran is serious about preserving a space for diplomacy, it must not implement these steps. Such a move would jeopardize our shared efforts to preserve the JCPOA and risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US Administration. A return to the JCPOA would also be beneficial for Iran,” the E3 statement said.

The Europeans also said that they would welcome a diplomatic path to address other concerns with Iran, an apparent reference to thorny issues such as Iran’s defensive missile program and regional influence.

The Europeans noted, “We will address Iran’s non-compliance within the framework of the JCPOA. We welcome the statements by President-elect Biden on the JCPOA and a diplomatic path to address wider concerns with Iran. This is in all our interests.”

Over the past weeks, particularly after Biden won the presidential election in November, the EU have expressed concerns over Iran’s defensive missiles and called for a broader deal with Iran.

But some observers believe that these concerns are not genuine and represent other concerns that the E3 rarely express: an apprehension about Iran’s scientific progress, according to Alireza Sheikh Attar, Iran’s former ambassador to Germany.

“The Europeans are neither worried about the JCPOA nor Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, they are worried about the Islamic Republic getting stronger. They are concerned about increasing Iran's scientific progress because they know that Iran has made progress over the past 40 years despite pressures,” the former diplomat told the Tehran Times.

The Europeans have recently said that the missile and regional issues should also be included in any new deal with Iran. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has explicitly pushed for such a deal in his recent interview with Der Spiegel.

“A return to the previous agreement will not suffice anyway. There will have to be a kind of ‘nuclear agreement plus,’ which is also in our interest. We have clear expectations of Iran: no nuclear weapons, but also no ballistic missile program that threatens the entire region. Iran also needs to play a different role in the region,” Maas told the German magazine, adding, “We need this agreement precisely because we distrust Iran. I have already coordinated with my French and British counterparts on this.”

But Maas didn’t say why Iran should agree to a new deal with the West while the existing one has not been implemented by the very same parties that are now calling for expanding it. Iran has long called on Europe and the U.S. to stop violating the deal and international law.

However, the Europeans continued to ignore Iran’s calls, instead of honoring their commitments. And this seems to have enraged Iran’s top diplomat, who has recently told the West to “shut up” if it is unable to “put up”.

Addressing the 6th edition of the Rome Mediterranean Dialogues 2020, Zarif said, “When they are ready to deal with their own problems of their own malign behavior in the region, their malign support for a terrorist regime, then they can start talking about other things.”

However, “as long as they’re not able to put up, they have to shut up,” he concluded.

On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, also responded to the German foreign minister’s remarks, saying Iran will not renegotiate the JCPOA.

Speaking at a regular press conference on Monday, the spokesman said, “Iran's position on the JCPOA is firm and unchanged. JCPOA was negotiated once; this agreement was the result of Iran's resistance, it was signed and it is included in Resolution 2231. Iran will not renegotiate what was once negotiated, nor will the binding nature of Resolution 2231 be diminished.”

“One of the parties that did not fulfill its obligations was the European parties. The European Union foreign policy chief is responsible for implementing the JCPOA, and countries like Germany have not even been able to meet their commitments,” Khatibzadeh pointed out.

Iran has repeatedly rejected U.S. calls to expand the JCPOA during the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the Europeans called on Iran to preserve the deal. This European policy seems to have changed. Therefore, the Biden win seems to have exposed Europe’s true colors.