UK envoy to Israel warns Iran has ‘last opportunity’ to comply with nuclear deal
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UK envoy to Israel warns Iran has ‘last opportunity’ to comply with nuclear deal

Neil Wigan says Tehran ‘has a key decision to make about what path it wants to go down’ after European states dispute its violations of accord

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The British ambassador to Israel on Wednesday warned Iran has a “last opportunity” to return to full compliance with the international deal limiting its nuclear program before it faces renewed sanctions

“Iran has a key decision to make about what path it wants to go down,” Ambassador Neil Wigan told the Ynet news site.

Britain, France and Germany, the three European Union signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal, on Tuesday triggered the accord’s dispute mechanism to stop Iran violating the pact.

The launching of the dispute mechanism marked a last-ditch effort between the European states and Iran to resolve their differences through talks, while also starting a process that could bring back punishing United Nations sanctions on Tehran.

Incoming UK Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan. (courtesy UK Embassy, Tel Aviv)

“There will now be a process to give Iran an opportunity to come back into compliance and if not then Iran faces the end of the nuclear deal and the return of sanctions,” Wigan said in the interview.

He said Iran now has a “last opportunity” to comply with the deal.

“We’re very clear that Iran needs to make that decision now, particularly against the backdrop of regional tensions after Qassem Soleimani’s death and after the downing of the [Ukrainian] airliner,” he said.

Wigan was also asked if the UK needed to push back harder against Iran in the Middle East.

“We’ve always agreed that Iran’s negative activities in the region directed against Israel but also directed against other states in the region and other Muslims should stop and we work closely with Israel and other partners, including the US, to try to stop and roll back those activities across the region,” he said.

Following the triggering of the dispute mechanism, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Wednesday that European soldiers in the region “could be in danger.”

Rouhani’s remarks represented the first direct threat he’s made to Europe as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington over US President Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the deal in May 2018.

The current tensions between Iran and the US reached fever pitch two weeks ago with the American drone strike in Baghdad that killed the powerful Revolutionary Guard general Soleimani. The general had led Iranian proxy forces abroad, including those blamed for deadly roadside bomb attacks on US troops in Iraq.

Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike targeting Iraqi military bases housing US forces early last Wednesday, just before an anti-aircraft battery shot down the Ukrainian airliner taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, killing all 176 people on board.

Rouhani separately criticized Europe’s “baseless” words regarding the nuclear deal. Iran had been holding out for Europe to offer a means by which Tehran could sell its oil abroad despite US sanctions. However, a hoped-for trading mechanism for other goods hasn’t taken hold and a French-pitched line of credit also hasn’t materialized.

In this photo released by official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, greets then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 10, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

After Soleimani’s killing, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any of the nuclear deal’s limits, which had been designed to keep Tehran from having enough material to be able to build an atomic bomb if it chose. However, Iran has said it will continue to allow the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog access to its nuclear sites. Rouhani on Wednesday also reiterated a longtime Iranian pledge that Tehran doesn’t seek the bomb.

The Europeans felt compelled to act, despite objections from Russia and China, because every violation of the deal reduces the so-called “breakout time” Iran needs to produce a nuclear bomb, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told parliament. Under the deal’s limits, experts believed Iran needed a year to be able to have enough material for a weapon.

Also Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would favor replacing the current nuclear deal with a “Trump deal” negotiated by the US.

“I think that would be a great way forward,” he told the BBC, without giving further details on this would entail.

Raab later denied Johnson’s remarks represented a policy shift, noting that Britain, the US and European powers had discussed at the G7 summit in Biarritz last year the possibility of a “broader deal” that had Washington’s support.

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