Is the E3 changing its position over Iran?

Emine Gözde Toprak Assistant, Foreign Policy

The message the E3 gave over the Nuclear Deal seemed to shift to the detriment of Iran.

Although the E3 (Britain, Germany, France) showed substantial diplomatic efforts to uphold the Nuclear Deal alive, history is repeating itself, and Iran’s nuclear crisis is again on the range. An unprecedented diplomatic success achieved between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Nuclear Deal is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is still in jeopardy. Obstacle for saving the deal from falling apart was that neither side intended to take the first step. It has been over a month since Biden took the White House, yet the administration took their time to return to the JCPOA and lift for crippling economic sanctions against Iran. Although high hopes for the future of the Nuclear Deal arise after the election of Biden, his promise to return to the deal has not been yet realized. In other words, Biden showed already that he is unlikely to abandon the course of Trump’s path at the moment and is likely considering the economic sanctions as leverage in the face of aspired follow-up negotiations with Iran. The Biden’s move was not still an unexpected move from Biden since he was setting preconditions for returning the deal during his campaign, which was Iran’s full compliance with its commitments under the deal.

Iran, on the other hand, has been breaching its commitments since May 2019 as a countermeasure against the United States’ withdrawal from the deal; but it started to speed its nuclear program since 2021, wielding its developed nuclear program as leverage against the United States. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced in January that the country succeeded in enriching uranium to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment. Considering that enriching uranium up to 5 percent is basically half of the work that it will take to go 90 percent for a nuclear bomb, enriching uranium up to 20 percent means alarm bells for both the E3 and the United States. Moreover, Iran has stopped the voluntary implementation of Additional Protocol to NPT on February 23, which will thwart IAEA’s access to Iran’s nuclear sites to a critical degree. Accordingly, IAEA cannot carry out snap inspections at facilities in Iran and cannot access to cameras on nuclear subjects in the sites despite recording resumes. However, this footage will also be deleted after three months if the United States does not lift its sanctions. These two violations sound the death knell for the Nuclear Deal and, as officially announced, triggered the E3 to take an assertive posture against Iran at the ordinary meeting of the Board of Governors of IAEA that took place last week.

Europe’s stance for the last years

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the deal, Iran has been delivering ultimatums to Europe by breaching the deal step by step in order to slam its inaction over the Nuclear Deal crisis. Europe went more or less unanswered to Iran’s violations of the JCPOA and did not resort to brinkmanship for the last two years, except one move until last week. Previously, the United Kingdom, France and Germany triggered the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism in early January 2020, which could kick-start the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions. Still, European diplomats underlined Europe was not meant to reimpose UNSC sanctions. Their genuineness was proven when they rejected Trump’s plan to extend arms embargo on Iran and to trigger a snapback mechanism in mid-August of 2020. The EU denounced Trump’s plan on the basis that the United States could not be considered as a JCPOA participant since the withdrawal. It seems the EU had the genuine willingness to salvage the deal with its significant diplomatic efforts and coolheaded attitude in the face of Iran’s ultimatums and Trump’s pressure. Along with the diplomatic work behind the scenes, the E3 frequently and publicly pressed the Trump administration on the return to the Nuclear Deal. It can be said it lacks the capacity to do so if the United States is driving on the other side of the road undeterred. For this reason, Europe has only ensured to postpone irrevocable crisis but to-be-reached-soon point between the United States and Iran, if the United States resumes holding onto the idea that Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional policies can be negotiated.

E3’s Anti-Iran Resolution Move at the Board of Governors

As is seen, the E3 adopted a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the disputes and stands by Iran since Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018. Still, it is fair to say that Trump’s vociferous breach of peace and international law provided the Europeans with this clear path. In other words, it was the Trump administration’s unlawful maximum pressure policy that lent the Europeans a sympathetic ear to Iran.

However, it seemed that the E3’s stance is beginning to change, seeing that while Washington shows goodwill gestures, Tehran resumes violating the Nuclear Deal to a critically serious extent. For example, the E3 welcomes Washington’s intentions and ignores the preconditions it set. On the other hand, they changed their public discourse over Tehran’s breach of the deal and did not pay attention to Zarif’s proposal to the EU. They instead heightened their pressure publicly on Iran. Public statements from both the United States and the E3 showed they started to reunite and revive the transatlantic relations. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated on 5 February after their first official meeting with the E3 that they had a very productive discussion on Iran and, they praised the importance of the transatlantic relationship. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has also praised the concerted effort of the US and the E3 to deal with the nuclear challenge posed by Iran. The E3 continues to express their serious concern over Iran’s ongoing violations, they seemed to forget the US withdrawal from the deal.

The last move from the E3 was even more concrete forceful steps towards Iran. Last week, Britain, France and Germany pressured IAEA to adopt a censure resolution at the ordinary meeting of the Board of Governors meeting. They said “the nuclear tension” lead them to do so. Although they dropped this plan before long, Iran has severely reacted to their move. Tehran’s acute response is because a censure resolution can escalate the issue to the UN Security Council for action, which will completely derail diplomacy.

All in all, the withdrawal of the US from the deal in 2018 had previously stirred up transatlantic tension. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was even calling this withdrawal “a mistake”. However, lately, the message the E3 give over the Nuclear Deal seemed to shift to the detriment of Iran. Europe should remind that the United States is still not a signatory of the deal and should pressure all parties over their violations. In the interest of the E3, they should find a common ground in which both the US and Iran can make concessions in a synchronized manner.

Iran, E3, JCPOA, United States

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