Six European countries have joined INSTEX, the bartering system created to enable Iran to side-step US sanctions, but they urged Tehran to stop violating the landmark 2015 deal enacted to limit its nuclear prowess.
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden will join France, Germany and the UK as shareholders in INSTEX. No transaction has been conducted under the mechanism so far.
US President Donald Trump renewed sanctions on Iran last year as he pulled the US out of the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), and described it as too weak.
As a result, Iran has begun violating the terms of the treaty and says it will continue to do so unless it receives greater help in propping up its flagging economy.
The six countries described the JCPoA as “a key instrument for the global non-proliferation regime and a major contribution to stability in the region”. INSTEX would allow legitimate trade between Iran and Europe, circumventing the dollar sanctions, they added.
“In this context, it is crucial for the Islamic Republic of Iran to return without delay to full compliance with the terms and provisions of the nuclear agreement,” they said.
The move was welcomed by France, Germany and the UK, who said they remained committed to the JCPoA but backed calls urging Iran to abide by it.
“We remain fully committed to pursuing our efforts towards a diplomatic resolution within the framework of the JCPoA,” they said.
Israel, Iran’s arch enemy, criticised the move by the six European states and said it encouraged Tehran's ongoing repression of protests that has seen well over 150 people killed.
"While the Iranian regime is killing its own people, European countries rush to support that very murderous regime," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"These European countries should be ashamed of themselves,” he added.
A foreign ministry statement said the timing could not have been any “worse” and that the “innocent Iranians murdered during the latest round of protests are rolling in their graves”.
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif urged EU countries to consider a minimal human duty towards Iranian citizens. He also appeared to single out Sweden in particular in a tweet, which recently detained an Iranian man on suspicion of murdering political prisoners in 1988 in Iran.
Tehran wants INSTEX to include its crucial oil trade. Since the US pullout, Tehran 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.
Mr Trump has described the JCPoA as a “disaster” and the “worst deal ever”.