US tries to rally support from Europe as Iran nuclear deadline looms
Tehran was accused of undermining the 2015 agreement to limit its nuclear strength
The Trump administration is increasing diplomatic efforts with Europe before the nuclear deal deadline on Sunday, with Iran saying it has already exceeded its limit on enriched uranium reserves.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on Tuesday that Iran had exceeded the 300-kilogram cap on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
US President Donald Trump called France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Monday to discuss “the Iranian regime’s decision to increase uranium enrichment levels beyond what was negotiated in the failed" deal, the White House said.
Privately, US officials have been trying to urge Britain, France and Germany, signatories to the deal, to pressure Iran on breaches and guarantee maritime security in the Arabian Gulf.
On Tuesday, the three countries said they would not trigger the nuclear deal’s dispute mechanism for now, Reuters reported.
But they and the EU called on Iran to reverse its decision to withdraw from the deal, warning they were urgently considering their next steps.
“We have been consistent and clear that our commitment to the nuclear deal depends on full compliance by Iran," a statement from the four foreign ministers said.
"We regret this decision by Iran, which calls into question an essential instrument of nuclear non-proliferation.
“We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal."
This Sunday's deadline for the US and Europe could prompt Iran to further increase enrichment if it does not receive some form of sanctions relief.
The US is watching closely, and if Tehran stays true to its threats it will look at penalty options such as seeking action at the UN Security Council, with the EU, and tightening sanctions.
A US official told The National on Tuesday that the Trump administration was still working towards sanctioning Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.
That measure was expected last week, but Washington is now in talks with Europe on how far they can go without endangering diplomatic options, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Last month, Mr Trump imposed hard-hitting new sanctions on Iran, including on the office of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and in April it designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation.
The US administration has shown a degree of leniency in granting waivers to Iraq and Europe for limited trade with Iran through a “special purpose vehicle”.
The US would allow Iraq to pay for imported Iranian energy in Iraqi dinars, which Iran could use exclusively to buy humanitarian goods through the vehicle, AFP reported.
This would allow Baghdad to keep its electricity flowing and avoid more protests over shortages without triggering US sanctions.
Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy programme at the Brookings Institution, said it was “hugely reassuring” that the Trump administration continued to provide waivers for Iraq to import Iranian gas and electricity, especially during summer.
“No one benefits from the sort of protests and violence that have recently erupted in southern Iraq as a result of power cuts," Ms Maloney said.
"And it would be particularly deplorable for the Iraqi people to become collateral victims of Washington's latest misguided policies in the region."
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is planning a visit to the White House this summer.
The trip was initially scheduled for after Ramadan but has been postponed because of security challenges and US-Iranian tension inside Iraq.
Mr Trump made a surprise visit to Iraq last December.
Another challenge for his administration has been international fleets defying sanctions on Iran.
Some shipping fleets have defied the restrictions by secretly picking up cargo in Iranian ports, The New York Times reported.
Updated: July 3, 2019 03:37 PM