EU says Iran has triggered nuclear deal dispute mechanism

Move could pave way for deal’s final collapse; Brussels’ top diplomat calls for ‘intensive efforts’ to solve disagreements ‘in good faith by all’

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during talks in Moscow, Russia, June 16, 2020. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during talks in Moscow, Russia, June 16, 2020. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

The European Union’s top diplomat said Friday that he has received a letter from Iran that triggers a dispute mechanism in the international agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, citing concerns that Britain, France and Germany are not living up to their side of the deal.

The accord, which Iran signed with the US, Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in 2015, has been unraveling since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018, unleashing sanctions designed to cripple the Islamic Republic’s economy.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is coordinator of the pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, said that in the letter Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seeks redress under “the dispute resolution mechanism, as set out in paragraph 36 of the agreement.”

No details about the nature of Iran’s “implementation issues” with Britain, France and Germany were provided. The dispute mechanism provides for a period of about one month, which can be prolonged if all parties agree, to resolve any disagreement.

If the sides are unable to solve their dispute, parties can move to consider the agreement nullified, and the UN Security Council may debate renewing sanctions against Tehran.

In a tweet on June 19, Zarif said the three European countries “must stop public face-saving and muster the courage to state publicly what they admit privately: their failure to fulfill even (their) own JCPOA duties due to total impotence in resisting US bullying.”

Zarif’s letter to Borrell was sent a day after a mysterious fire broke out at the Natanz underground facility where Iran enriches uranium.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference in Brussels, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)

Britain, France and Germany consider the nuclear deal to be a cornerstone of regional and global security and have struggled to keep it alive since the US pulled out, setting up a parallel system to try to keep funds flowing into Iran as its economy flagged.

On January 15, they reluctantly triggered the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism themselves to force Iran into discussions on possible violations of the deal, as Tehran appeared to backslide and refused to be bound by its uranium enrichment limits. They later suspended the action.

Borrell said the dispute process “requires intensive efforts in good faith by all.”

He underlined his support for the agreement, saying that it “is an historic achievement for global nuclear non-proliferation contributing to regional and global security” and that he remains determined to preserve it.

Late last month, Iran’s president warned the UN nuclear watchdog to expect a “stern response” regarding its demands for Iran to provide access to sites thought to have stored or used undeclared nuclear material.

Tehran was irritated by a resolution adopted by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency demanding access to the sites. The resolution was proposed by Britain, France and Germany. Russia and China voted against it. Iran has dismissed allegations of nuclear activities at the sites in question.

Meanwhile an Israeli TV report Friday night said the Jewish state is bracing for possible Iranian retaliation after officials in Tehran suggested on Friday that a mystery fire and explosion at a top-secret nuclear complex could have been caused by an Israeli cyberattack.

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Three Iranian officials told the Reuters news agency they believed the incident at the Natanz enrichment facility early Thursday was the result of a cyberattack, and two of them said Israel could have been behind it, but offered no evidence.

Channel 13 news’s military analyst Alon Ben-David said the attack hit “the facility where Iran develops more advanced centrifuges — what are meant to be the next stage of the nuclear program, to produce enriched uranium at a far faster rate. That facility yesterday took a substantial hit; the explosion destroyed this lab.

“Those were centrifuges that were supposed to be installed underground at the Natanz facility; they were intended to replace the old centrifuges and produce a lot more enriched uranium, a lot more quickly,” he added.

He said Israel was “bracing” for an Iranian response, likely via a cyberattack. In an April cyberattack attributed by western intelligence officials to Iran, an attempt was made to increase chlorine levels in water flowing to residential Israeli areas.

Hours after the Natanz fire and reported explosion on Thursday, Iran’s state news agency IRNA published an editorial warning that “if there are signs of hostile countries crossing Iran’s red lines in any way, especially the Zionist regime (Israel) and the United States, Iran’s strategy to confront the new situation must be fundamentally reconsidered.”

IRNA also reported that unnamed Israeli social media accounts had claimed the Jewish state was responsible for the “sabotage attempts.”

This Friday, July 3, 2020 satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

The BBC’s Persian service said it received an email from a group identifying itself as the “Cheetahs of the Homeland” claiming responsibility for the attack. The email was received prior to the announcement of the Natanz fire.

The group, which claimed to be dissident members of Iran’s security forces, had never been heard of before by Iran experts and the claim could not be immediately authenticated by The Associated Press.

On Friday, a Kuwaiti newspaper claimed Israel was responsible for two recent blasts at Iranian facilities — the one at Natanz, and another at a missile production site days earlier.

Last Friday, a large blast was felt in Tehran, apparently caused by an explosion at the Parchin military complex, which defense analysts believe holds an underground tunnel system and missile production facilities.

According to the al-Jareeda report on Friday, that explosion was caused by missiles dropped by a number of Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets. The newspaper reported that the aircraft took off from southern Israel and carried out the bombing run without the need to refuel.

The claims did not have any outside confirmation.

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