EU ministers raise alarms over scrapping Iran deal
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EU ministers raise alarms over scrapping Iran deal

As Trump contemplates next step, German foreign minister says ending pact would embolden North Korea; EU's Mogherini: 'The deal is working'

Left to right: French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini give a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/JOHN THYS)
Left to right: French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini give a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/JOHN THYS)

European Union ministers presented a united stance Thursday in Brussels in support of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warning that dismantling it could embolden North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

Gabriel met with his French, British and Iranian counterparts as the United States decision loomed on whether to back out of the landmark pact, which placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the relaxing of punishing sanctions.

Asked if there is a threat to the deal due to US President Donald Trump’s opposition, Gabriel replied: “We are convinced that the JCPOA has to be preserved. It is in Europe’s interest. It is in the interest of the international community,” referring to the deal by its technical acronym.

“If the only agreement of this kind is smashed it would send a very dangerous signal to others. We see a dramatic development in North Korea, which is striving for nuclear weapons. This is why we Europeans think it is imperative to preserve the agreement,” Gabriel said, adding that the deal had “fenced in an acute crisis” and was now “a central part of our security” for Europeans.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel takes part in a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/JOHN THYS)

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said after the talks that the deal “is working,” challenging Trump’s contention that it had failed.

“The deal is working. It is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance,” Mogherini said after the talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Senior officials told AFP they “expect” Trump to extend waivers on sanctions against Iran on Friday to keep the US in line with the 2015 deal, which the president has repeatedly lambasted.

The European Union and Britain, Germany and France — which all played a key role in the hard-fought accord — once again closed ranks to back the deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for the relaxing of punishing sanctions.

Mogherini said it was vital to preserve an agreement that is “making the world safer and that is preventing a potential nuclear arms race in the region.”

While hawks in Washington have called for the agreement to be scrapped, British foreign minister Boris Johnson said that so far no one has come up with a better alternative.

“We greatly value the JCPOA, the nuclear deal with Iran, we think it is a considerable diplomatic accomplishment, it’s a way of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Iran is in compliance with this agreement according to the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Johnson said.

Before the deal, Iran was said to be mere months way from having enough material to produce a nuclear weapon. On Wednesday, a top Iranian nuclear official warned the country could ramp up enrichment beyond pre-2015 levels if the deal is scrapped.

Trump openly despises the deal — a central foreign policy achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama — but has so far continued to waive the nuclear-related sanctions at regular intervals as required to stay in compliance.

In October, he refused to certify Iran was complying with the deal but stopped short of withdrawing from it, instead passing the issue of reimposing the sanctions to Congress.

AFP and AP contributed to this report.

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