EU said weighing new sanctions on Iran in effort to mollify Trump

Document circulated to European capitals suggests action against Tehran over ballistic missiles, Syria role — in order to prevent US from exiting nuclear accord

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, Britain Prime minister Theresa May, center, and French President Emmanuel Macron talk as they arrive in Brussels, on October 19, 2017. (AFP/John Thys)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, Britain Prime minister Theresa May, center, and French President Emmanuel Macron talk as they arrive in Brussels, on October 19, 2017. (AFP/John Thys)

Germany, the UK and France have suggested that the European Union impose new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program as well as its actions in Syria, in an effort to stop the US from exiting the nuclear deal with Tehran, Reuters reported Friday.

US President Donald Trump said in January that the 2015 deal between Iran and major powers must be “fixed” by May 12 or the United States will walk away, likely ending the accord.

Reuters reported that a confidential document obtained by the news agency has been circulated to EU members to check whether they would agree to such actions targeting certain “militias and commanders” in a bid to save the deal from collapse.

“We will…be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles” in the missile program and the Syrian civil war, the document said, according to Reuters.

It spoke of “intensive talks” with Washington to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of US support for the agreement beyond May 12.”

Meanwhile a senior US official said Washington and the EU have had “very good” discussions towards agreeing on a “supplemental” accord beyond the Iran nuclear deal by May 12.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2018. (AFP/Olivier Douliery)

Senior State Department official Brian Hook said on Friday after talks in Berlin and Vienna that Trump wants to reach a “supplemental” deal with the European signatories to the agreement by then.

This would cover Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its regional activities, the expiration of parts of the nuclear deal in the mid-2020s and tighter UN inspections, Hook said.

“We are taking things one week at a time, we are having very good discussions in London, Paris and Berlin,” Hook, recently ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s chief of strategy, told reporters.

The new Secretary of State Michael Pompeo seen testifying on Capital Hill while still CIA Director, Washington, January 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“There is a lot we agree on and where we disagree we are working to bridge our differences,” Hook said.

He declined to indicate what would happen if and when such an agreement is reached, saying: “We are not under instructions from the president to go beyond seeking an agreement with our European allies.”

The 2015 accord between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany curtailed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran, which according to the UN atomic watchdog has been abiding by the deal since it came into force in January 2016, has ruled out any changes to the agreement.

Iranian nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi. (YouTube screen capture/Channel 4 News)

The talks in Vienna on Friday, a regular review of the accord, involved Iran and the six other signatories.

Trump’s decision this week to replace Tillerson with Mike Pompeo as secretary of state has been widely seen as another bad omen for the agreement.

Tillerson and his erstwhile cabinet ally Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had urged Trump to listen to the Europeans to preserve the agreement.

Pompeo, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, is seen as taking a harder line on Iran.

Iran has vowed to oppose any changes to the existing deal.

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