Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday of a “serious and strong response” after Britain, France and Germany triggered the 2015 nuclear deal’s dispute mechanism due to Tehran’s ongoing transgressions of its terms.
The European countries ratcheted up pressure on the Islamic Republic to cease its violations of the landmark deal, stressing in a letter to the European Union’s foreign policy chief that they want to resolve differences through talks while starting the clock on a process that could result in a so-called snapback of United Nations sanctions.
However, while Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi vowed tough retaliation could follow, he added that Tehran was “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the nuclear deal.
He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
The United States said it supported the three EU countries.
“We fully support the decision by the E3 to initiate the dispute resolution mechanism,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted by nations.”
The three European countries, which signed the international agreement along with the United States, Russia and China, said they rejected Tehran’s argument that Iran was justified in violating the deal because the United States broke the agreement by pulling out unilaterally in 2018.
“We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments,” the countries said in a joint statement.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the agreement on behalf of the world powers, said the pressure on Iran from Europe does not mean international sanctions will automatically be slapped on the Islamic Republic.
The aim of the move by France, Germany and Britain is “to find solutions and return [Iran] to full compliance within the framework of this agreement,” he said.
The Europeans stressed that they want to “resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue” and made no threat of sanctions in their statement.
They also specifically distanced themselves from sanctions imposed by the US, which Washington has said is part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
“Our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran,” they said. “Our hope is to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments.”
The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, seeks to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon — something Iran insists it does not want to do — by putting curbs on its atomic program in exchange for economic incentives.
Under its dispute resolution mechanism, countries have 30 days to resolve their problem, though that can be extended. If it cannot be solved, the matter could be brought before the UN Security Council and could then result in the snapback of sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.
US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out in May 2018, saying the pact was insufficient and should be re-negotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts. Since then he has reinstated American sanctions, which have been having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy.
In response, Iran has rolled back its commitments in stages to try and pressure the other countries involved to provide economic incentives to offset the American sanctions, but efforts from them so far have been insufficient.
After its top general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone attack earlier this month, Iran announced what it said was its fifth and final step in violating the deal, saying it no longer will abide by any limitation to its enrichment activities. At the same time it again said all of its violations were reversible if it gets the economic relief it wants.
With the growing skepticism that the deal will be able to saved, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday suggesting that maybe the agreement could be somehow re-worked to address some of the concerns raised by Trump when he pulled the US out.
“Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA with the Trump deal,” he told the BBC.
Borrell refused to comment on the suggestion, but again emphasized that the remaining signatories to the deal, which took years to negotiate, feel it is the best solution to limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“We have to preserve the nuclear deal and work to go back to full and effective implementation,” Borrell told reporters in Strasbourg, France. He described the pact as a “significant achievement” and underlined that “there is no alternative to this agreement.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Parliament that “the government in Iran has a choice.”
“The regime can take the steps to de-escalate tensions and adhere to the basic rules of international law. Or sink deeper and deeper into political and economic isolation,” he said. “We urge Iran to work with us to save the deal.”