EU’s top diplomat in Iran to discuss fragile nuclear deal

The EU’s foreign policy chief was in Tehran to salvage the crumbling nuclear deal at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West.

al-monitor Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 3, 2020.  Photo by Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS.

Feb 4, 2020

In his first visit to Tehran as the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell met with top Iranian officials to discuss the trajectory of the tenuous Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani assured the top EU diplomat of Tehran’s willingness to maintain cooperation with the 27-nation bloc. “Once the other parties fully honor their obligations, Iran will resume its compliance [with the nuclear deal],” Rouhani said of the JCPOA and a phased reduction of commitments Tehran started last May.

The cuts have technically taken Iran back to its pre-deal uranium enrichment status and have come as a response to the European signatories’ failure to actively fulfill the economic pledges they offered the Islamic Republic under the accord. Those breaches, Rouhani told the 72-year-old Spanish diplomat, were carried out under the JCPOA’s framework. He also noted that Iran will continue to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit its nuclear sites, unless “we face a new set of circumstances.”

Borrell also sat down with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani Feb. 3 to exchange views on the deal as well as the regional security situation. According to Iranian media reports, Borrell expressed “regret” over Europe’s handling of its side of the agreement. “Borrell brought along [nothing but] his regret,” read the front page of ultraconservative daily Javan, which has been a staunch critic of what it views as the Rouhani government’s trust in the European sides.

Even Reformists, who have applauded the JCPOA, appeared to be equally pessimistic. “If the Europeans had any willingness to protect the deal, they could have done so one and a half years ago, before regional tensions flared up to the current level and US-Iran escalation became irreversible,” wrote Reformist paper Ebtekar, describing the visit as “Europe’s eulogy” for the nuclear deal.

“Basically, European officials do not travel to Tehran for useful and concrete measures,” said hard-line cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, who chairs the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. “All they do is bargaining and pressuring Iran, and Borrell’s trip is no exception.” Zolnour warned that Iran would “definitely” embark on a fresh phase of nuclear deal breaches if Europe maintains the status quo.

Those European signatories — France, Germany and the UK — announced Jan. 14 a controversial plan to trigger the “dispute mechanism,” which they said was meant to bring Iran back into compliance. Failure to resolve the disputes could potentially reimpose all UN sanctions on Tehran and effectively kill the accord. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, however, told reporters Feb. 3 that the three states have abandoned the push after Iran’s Zarif submitted to them a 14-page document that presents Iran’s “reasoning” against the case.

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