Six European countries join Iran sanctions-busting mechanism

Belgium, Netherlands and others join INSTEX, which enables Iran to continue selling oil despite US restrictions; Israel says countries ‘could not have picked worse timing’

Iranians walk past a bank in the capital Tehran on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranians walk past a bank in the capital Tehran on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

PARIS, France — Paris, London and Berlin on Saturday welcomed six new European countries to the INSTEX barter mechanism, which is designed to circumvent US sanctions against trade with Iran by avoiding use of the dollar.

“As founding shareholders of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), France, Germany and the United Kingdom warmly welcome the decision taken by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, to join INSTEX as shareholders,” the three said in a joint statement.

The Paris-based INSTEX functions as a clearing house allowing Iran to continue to sell oil and import other products or services in exchange.

The system has not yet enabled any transactions.

Israel responded to the move, saying the six European countries “could not have picked worse timing.”

“The hundreds of innocent Iranians murdered during the latest round of protests are rolling in their graves,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We ask these European countries – what message are you sending to the Iranian people? Would it not be more effective and ethical to designate the regime officials responsible for the murder of innocent civilians? How is the Iranian regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to understand this gesture?”

Washington in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the international agreement governing Iran’s nuclear program and reinstated heavy sanctions against Tehran.

Iran has gradually increased enrichment and the stockpiling of nuclear material in contravention of the agreement, as a means of pressuring Europe to bolster the INSTEX system. European countries have expressed alarm at Iran’s moves, but say they remain committed to the nuclear accord.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on November 6, 2019, a forklift carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The accession of the six new members “further strengthens INSTEX and demonstrates European efforts to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” France, Germany and Britain said.

It represents “a clear expression of our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” — the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal — the trio added.

They insisted Iran must return to full compliance with its commitments under the deal “without delay.”

“We remain fully committed to pursuing our efforts towards a diplomatic resolution within the framework of the JCPoA.”

The 2015 deal set out the terms under which Iran would restrict its nuclear program to civilian use in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions.

Since the US pullout, Iran has taken four steps back from the accord.

The latest was on November 4 when its engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant south of Tehran.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian raised the possibility of triggering a mechanism in the Iran nuclear deal that could lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions.

“Every two months there is another notch (from Iran) to the extent that we are wondering today, and I say very clearly, about the implementation of the dispute resolution mechanism in the treaty,” he told the the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee.

“Given the succession of actions taken by the Iranian authorities, who are progressively at odds with the the contents of the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), the question comes up,” he added.

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