US-Iran tensions over nuclear pact cause alarm in Europe

Iranian president warned this week that Tehran could walk out of deal and resume nuclear programme at short notice

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a session of parliament to debate his proposed cabinet, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. Iran's president issued a direct threat to the West on Tuesday, claiming his country is capable of restarting its nuclear program within hours — and quickly bringing it to even more advanced levels than in 2015, when Iran signed the nuclear deal with world powers. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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With the war of words between Iran and the United States taking on an increasingly bellicose tone, there is increasing concern across Europe that the nuclear deal overseen by the Obama administration in 2015 is unravelling.

On Tuesday, the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, told his parliament that Donald Trump was “not a good partner” and warned that his country could walk out of the deal — which saw sanctions lifted against the Tehran regime — in a “short time”.

“Those who try to return to the language of threats and sanctions are prisoners of their past delusions,” he said in a televised address. “If they want to go back to that experience, definitely in a short time — not weeks or months, but in the scale of hours and days — we will return to our previous situation very much stronger.

“In recent months, the world has witnessed that the US, in addition to its constant and repetitive breaking of its promises in the JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the nuclear deal], has ignored several other global agreements and shown its allies that the US is neither a good partner nor a reliable negotiating party,” Mr Rouhani said.


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In response, Washington’s United Nations envoy Nikki Haley said: “Iran cannot be allowed to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage. Iran, under no circumstances, can ever be allowed to have nuclear weapons … The nuclear deal must not become 'too big to fail'.”

European countries were key signatories to the agreement, with the UK, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, putting their names to it.

France’s minister for Europe and foreign affairs, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, said on Saturday during a visit to Tehran that his country would pull out all the stops to ensure the deal would continue.

“France and Iran have been strengthening their relations since the nuclear deal was brokered on July 14, 2015,” Mr Lemoyne said. “Our political dialogue should make it possible to work toward resolving the crises in the Middle East.

“Promotion of co-operation with Tehran is among Paris’s priorities,” he said after his meeting with Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Russian government has given its continued backing to the deal and criticised new sanctions recently imposed by Washington over Iran's missile development.

“The missile programme budget is basically Iran’s business. It is not prohibited from having this programme,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said. “There are no legal bans in UN Security Council resolutions on this issue.”

“I think unilateral sanctions … are irresponsible actions that can hurt and undermine the balance achieved.”

In July, on the second anniversary of the deal, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: “The Iran nuclear deal has helped to make the world a safer place by imposing strict limits on Iran’s nuclear programme, in return for the lifting of sanctions. It’s an example of what can be achieved when the international community works together.

“Britain will continue to join with the rest of the international community to ensure the implementation of the agreement is a success, and delivers real gains for global security and nuclear non-proliferation, along with tangible benefits for the Iranian people.”

The British foreign office confirmed to The National on Thursday that "the UK remains fully committed to the nuclear deal and will work closely with the international community to ensure that the deal is a success."

The European Union has also committed to supporting the deal, even in the face of US antagonism towards Iran. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in June that the EU will guarantee that the agreement “continues to be in place and our policy of engagement with Iran will continue”.

The Iranians are keen on the EU acting as a key promoter of the deal. Earlier this month, President Rouhani told the Austrian ambassador to Tehran that “the full implementation of the nuclear deal benefits the EU and the region; therefore, it is necessary that the EU increases its efforts and role in this regard”.