Several major European powers have reportedly initiated discussions with Iran to address fears of its growing regional aggression, while working directly with the US in a bid to keep the landmark 2015 nuclear deal alive by imposing several additional limitations of the Islamic Republic.
Representatives from Britain, France and Germany have been meeting with US officials to draw up a strategy to improve the deal in return for US President Donald Trump renewing sanctions relief on May 12 and preventing the agreement from lapsing, the Reuters news agency reported Thursday.
At the same time, those countries, joined by Italy and the European Union, have initiated discussions with Iran to address regional issues amid Western, Gulf Arab and Israeli concerns over its destabilizing role across the Middle East, the report said.
In recent years, Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is trying to entrench itself militarily in Syria and provide Hezbollah with increasingly accurate missiles, with which the Lebanese terrorist group can threaten the Jewish state.
In January, Trump signed a waiver to keep the deal alive, but vowed it would be the last time he did so, unless the US and Europe worked to strengthen it.
“Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said in a statement. “This is a last chance.”
His administration has expressed concern that parts of the deal begin expiring in 2026 and that it fails to address Iran’s missile program, its regional activities or its human rights abuses.
At the time, Trump laid out four conditions that must be met for him to not abrogate the deal, including increased inspections, ensuring that “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon” and that there is no expiration date to the deal.
Trump must sign the next waiver by May 12.
European officials met with Iranian government representatives on the sidelines of last month’s Munich Security Conference to discuss Tehran’s activities in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, the report said. The US has claimed that it has evidence of Iran’s illicit transfer of prohibited missiles to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“In Munich we laid out what was expected from them in Yemen. They obviously said it wasn’t them, but we drew some conclusions to move forward together,” an unnamed senior European diplomat told Reuters. “The Iranians are pretty co-operative, but having a positive meeting doesn’t mean we’ll see any sort of impact in the real world.”
The European powers are also said to have threatened Iran with punitive measures if it does not agree to limit its activities in several Middle East hotspots.
The efforts appear to be the fruits of an audacious strategy led by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to encourage European countries to punish Iran for violating Security Council resolutions on ballistic missiles in an attempt to persuade Trump to remain in the nuclear deal.
In December, Haley suggested that a concerted global effort to hold Iran to account could convince Trump it was worthwhile not to kill the nuclear deal. She noted that France, a key member of the group that negotiated the 2015 pact, had recently “started hitting” Iran rhetorically for violating ballistic missile resolutions.
“It’s working,” Haley said after a field trip in Washington with fellow Security Council ambassadors and a meeting with Trump. “They’re starting to realize, ‘If we don’t start talking about the violations, if we don’t call them out, then the US is going to say this whole thing is a sham.'”
Talking to Reuters this week, a French official appeared to confirm Haley’s strategy was having an effect.
“We want to keep the nuclear deal, but we’re telling the Iranians that we have other problems with them. We need to see progress on these issues. Otherwise, because of Trump it will lead to the collapse of the accord,” a senior French diplomat said.
Iranian officials also sounded positive about the behind-the-scenes moves.
“Most of the gaps can be narrowed with the West … but it needs goodwill and loads of work,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.“The West should gain our trust again … the nuclear deal was not fully implemented, how can we trust them on other issues?”