EU powers urge Trump to back Iran nuclear deal

Britain, France and Germany made a joint plea to Donald Trump on Thursday to endorse a key nuclear deal with Iran as the US president mulls reimposing sanctions on Tehran.

“The deal is working, it is delivering on its main goal, which means keeping the Iranian nuclearprogramme in check,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, stressing the importance of preserving an agreement that is “making the world safer and… preventing a potential nuclear arms race in the region”.

Mogherini’s comments followed a meeting between her British, French and German counterparts with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Brussels Thursday.

In sharp contrast to Trump’s view that the 2015 pact was “the worst deal ever negotiated”, the foreign ministers of the three countries and the EU’s top diplomat said there was no alternative to the accord and that sanctions should remain lifted.

Trump is expected to decide on Friday whether or not to reimpose sanctions against Tehran that were suspended under the deal. In October, Trump refused to certify Iran was complying with the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there was “no indication” Tehran was not keeping its side of the bargain.

“It is important now that all parties respect this joint commitment and that our American allies respect it as well,” said Le Drian.

Reporting from Brussels, our reporter Meabh McMahon noted that Mogherini was doing “everything she can to try to preserve the deal” and the display of European unity was critical. “This is one of the main diplomatic success stories of the European Union in the last couple of years. It’s a chance for the EU to show how it can solve problems globally by using its soft power,” McMahon added.

In a Twitter post, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said the meeting had shown a “strong consensus” that Iran was complying with the pact.

“E3 (Germany, France and Britain) and EU fully aware that Iran’s continued compliance [is] conditioned on full compliance by the US,” Zarif added.

While the joint European position was welcomed by the Iranian government, Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst at the University of Tehran, noted that if the EU did not transform rhetoric into action, the 2015 deal was in peril.

“The only thing now is for the European countries to show they have a backbone to stand up and show that they can protect their citizens and their businesses,” said Marandi in an interview with our reporters from Tehran. “If Iran sees that implementation in action, then there is hope for the deal. If not, if it’s just empty rhetoric and the Europeans are not willing to stand up to Trump, then the Iranians will withdraw from the deal.”

Under the accord, Iran slowed its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international economic sanctions.

Officials from major world powers and Iran meet roughly every three to four months to assess implementation of the deal, which is monitored by the world’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

US officials and others familiar with the administration’s deliberations have indicated that Trump is likely to back the accord for now but that he may pair his decision with new, targeted sanctions on Iranian businesses and people.

Regional conflicts

One of the criticisms levelled at the nuclear deal is that it does nothing to address Iran’s continuing ballistic missile programme and meddling in Middle East conflicts such as Yemen and Syria.

The Europeans say these issues should be kept separate from discussion of the nuclear deal, but in a nod to US concerns, Mogherini stressed they were raised with Zarif at Thursday’s talks.

She said they had also brought up “internal recent events” in a reference to anti-government protests in Iran that left more than 20 people dead.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson added that it was important for building global support for the nuclear deal that “Iran should be able to show that it is a good neighbour in the region” and show what it can do to help solve the Yemen crisis.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel even indicated that Iran had agreed to open talks about regional issues, starting with Yemen.

US Congress is working on a way to punish Iran for the ballistic missile programme and its interference in Middle East conflicts such as Yemen and Syria.

The 28-member EU has condemned the “unacceptable loss of human lives” in the protests and stressed that peaceful protest and freedom of expression are “fundamental rights”.

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