Borrell buys time for dispute mechanism talks on Iran

The EU has unveiled a support package worth €15.6 billion for African and other partner countries hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but conceded that it includes no new money. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal will meet next month to debate the way forward with the accord, EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell announced on Friday (24 January), after Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute process against Tehran.

“There is agreement that more time is needed due to the complexity of the issues involved. The timeline is therefore extended,” Borrell said in a statement.

On 14 January, the so-called E3 powers – Britain, France and Germany – notified Borrell they intend to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the biggest step the Europeans have taken in response as Tehran has backed off nuclear commitments.

EU powers to trigger Iran nuclear deal dispute mechanism

Britain, France and Germany will trigger the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, two European diplomats said on Tuesday (14 January), the biggest step the Europeans have taken in response as Tehran has backed off nuclear commitments.

The decision in theory was meant to start a 15-day process to resolve the issues with Tehran. However, in practice it is not clear when the 15-day period should start because Iran has not formally recognised the consultation process, officials have said.

The process could ultimately lead to a “snapback” – the reimposition of sanctions in place under previous UN resolutions.

Washington’s European allies have tried to keep the nuclear agreement from collapsing since the Trump administration walked away from the deal in 2018.

The announced extension is meant to give the European members more time to try to find a way to persuade Iran to come back into compliance with the deal after Tehran made a series of steps away in protest to US backlash.

The situation escalated since 3 January, when the United States killed the most powerful Iranian military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike and the the accord’s status – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been placed under severe strain.

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The fifth and final step back from the accord’s obligations came when Tehran announced on 4 January it would scrap limits on enriching uranium, though it said it would continue to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Agency (IAEA).

However, Iran had also continuously stressed that these steps would be reversed as soon as Europe implemented practical ways to shield mutual trade from the US sanctions.

Borrell, tasked with convening meetings under the dispute mechanism triggered last week, said he had consulted the other countries, such as China and Russia, still remaining inside the accord framework.

According to the EU’s chief diplomat, all are determined to save the accord, though it has been crumbling since the 2018 US withdrawal.

“Notwithstanding differences on modalities, there is agreement that more time is needed due to the complexity of the issues involved. The timeline is therefore extended,” Borrell said in Friday’s statement.

“All agreed to pursue expert-level discussions addressing the concerns regarding nuclear implementation, as well as the wider impacts of the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of sanctions,” it added.

Borrell said the so-called joint commission that oversees the deal and comprises representatives of all the countries involved will meet in February, though he did not give a precise date.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev]

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