Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said some countries will only wake up to the Iranian threat when nuclear missiles fall on European soil, after the European Union on Monday declared that recent Iranian violations of a nuclear deal are not significant enough to necessitate reimposing sanctions.
Netanyahu urged the EU to act immediately against Iran, and in a video posted on his social media invoked the memory of Britain’s failed attempt to appease Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II.
“The response by the European Union to the Iranian violations [of the nuclear deal] reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s,” Netanyahu said in the Hebrew-language clip. “Also then, there was someone who buried his head in the sand and didn’t see the approaching danger.”
“It seems that there are those in Europe who won’t wake up until Iranian nuclear missiles fall on European soil, and then, of course, it will be too late. In any case, we will continue to do everything necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” added to the prime minister.
כנראה שיש כאלה באירופה שלא יתעוררו עד שיפלו על אדמת אירופה טילים גרעיניים איראניים. אז זה כבר יהיה מאוחר מדיי. אנחנו בכל מקרה נעשה הכל כדי למנוע מאיראן נשק גרעיני. pic.twitter.com/HDEfE88PS1
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 15, 2019
European diplomats met in Brussels to discuss the 2015 nuclear deal on Monday and balked at the prospect of renewed sanctions against the Islamic Republic, even though Tehran has openly broken the uranium enrichment cap set by the accord.
Earlier this month, Iran announced that it had exceeded a 300 kilogram stockpile limit for 3.67% enriched uranium and had started enriching to 4.5% fissile purity.
Nuclear experts are concerned that Iran’s enrichment moves could shorten the year-long period it would need to produce the 90% enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s non-compliance is not “considered to be significant non-compliance,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said at a press conference, as the European foreign ministers held crisis talks on saving the beleaguered nuclear deal.
“For the time being, none of the parties to the agreement has signaled their intention to invoke this article,” Mogherini said, referring to the process by which global and United Nations sanctions could be restored on Iran.
Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz, the leader of the opposition, also urged the EU to recognize and act against the global threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“This evening it is important to remind our European friends that Iran is a global problem that threatens world peace,” Gantz tweeted. “On this issue, there is no [dividing] politics. Israel cannot allow Iran nuclear capabilities — and neither can you.”
The European Union is desperately trying to prevent the deal unraveling completely, seeing it as the best way to stop Tehran acquiring atomic weapons, and the issue was top of the agenda as ministers from the bloc met in Brussels.
The 28 EU foreign ministers insisted that recent Iranian actions surpassing uranium enrichment thresholds set by the 2015 deal did not necessarily condemn the whole agreement.
“We note that technically all the steps that have been taken — and that we regret have been taken — are reversible. So we hope and we invite Iran to reverse the steps,” Mogherini said.
“The deviations are not significant enough to think that Iran has definitively broken the agreement,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who is in line to succeed Mogherini this fall.
But Iran piled fresh pressure on Europe on Monday, demanding concrete measures to give it relief from US sanctions, and threatening to return its nuclear program to where it was before the curbs imposed by the 2015 deal.
“If the Europeans and the Americans don’t want to carry out their duties… we will decrease our commitments and… reverse the conditions to four years ago,” said Iran’s atomic energy agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, quoted by IRNA state news agency.
The EU currently has few direct measures for offsetting US economic sanctions against Tehran that have crippled the country’s economy, and the bloc faces US threats to target any EU companies that attempt to trade with Iran.
Noting that Iran was “still a good year away” from potentially developing a nuclear bomb, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there was still a “small window to keep the deal alive.”
Even if Britain, France, Germany, and the rest of the EU held out a helping hand to Iran, the diplomatic puzzle was made more difficult Monday, when France’s foreign ministry said a researcher with dual French-Iranian nationality had been arrested in Iran.
It said the French government was seeking information about Fariba Adelkhah and consular access to her “without delay,” but added there has been “no satisfactory response to its demands as of today.”
Iranian opposition websites based abroad have said Abdelkhah disappeared in June.
And while the EU nations were looking to deescalate tensions in the Persian Gulf region, they also put the blame on the Trump administration for quitting the nuclear deal last year, imposing sanctions and trying to keep European nations from trading with Iran.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Iran’s recent moves to surpass mutually agreed limits from the deal were only “a bad reaction following a bad decision — which was the US decision to withdraw from the accord and put sanctions into place.”
China, another signatory to the global agreement, said that US pressure was the root cause of recent developments and called on the Trump administration to step in and fix the diplomatic quagmire.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was “better for the one who made the trouble to fix it.”
Facing economic hardship, Iran had called on the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the EU — to come up with enough economic incentives to effectively offset the US sanctions.
While the Europeans were still hoping to find an amicable solution, the United States instead called on them to turn their backs on Iran.
Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, told the BBC that “our European friends should join the US in unequivocally condemning Iran’s actions with respect to their malign activities, not just in the Strait of Hormuz, but throughout the world.”
But EU foreign ministers first and foremost want to get Iran to respect the terms of the deal again. At their regular monthly meeting, the EU foreign ministers sought to drum up further support for the bloc’s proposed barter-type system to trade with Tehran and get around possible US sanctions. Ten nations are already on board with the idea, and Borrell said Spain was among them.
Tehran said Sunday it was ready to negotiate with the United States if Washington lifts the economic sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani’s official website quoted him as saying, “The moment you stop sanctions and bullying, we are ready to negotiate.”