EU foreign ministers to hold emergency Iran talks on Friday

European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell gives a press conference. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

EU foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on the Iran crisis on Friday as tensions rise after US forces killed an Iranian general in a drone strike, diplomats said on Monday (6 January). The announcement came as Europeans, fearing the fallout from the killing of Iran’s General Soleimani, had called for de-escalation.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell voiced regret at Iran announcing another step away from the fragile 2015 nuclear deal, as Tehran seethes over the killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ covert Quds Force.

He tweeted on Monday (6 January) that the accord, which has been teetering on the brink of collapse since US President Donald Trump withdrew support, was “now more important than ever”.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief is set to chair a meeting of foreign ministers at 2pm on Friday, diplomats said, to discuss the fallout from the Soleimani killing and the future of the nuclear deal.

Commenting on the developing situation on Sunday (5 January) evening, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas had called upon Borrell to organise a crisis meeting of his EU counterparts this week.

“Given the threatening escalation of the conflict between the United States and Iran, Europe is now playing an important role we have to take full advantage of this situation, which is why I proposed Josep Borrell to bring the EU foreign ministers’ meeting forward this week so that we could quickly agree on a common course of action,” Maas said in a statement.

“As Europeans, we have tried and tested and resilient channels of communication on all sides, which we must make full use of in this situation,” Maas added.

On Sunday, Iran had further distanced itself from the 2015 nuclear deal, announcing its fifth step back from the accord, saying it would forego the “limit on the number of centrifuges”: a de facto statement that it would respect no limits to its uranium enrichment efforts.

Although this move has cast doubt on an EU push for talks to salvage the deal, experts suggested that although Iran has taken a tougher stance with this latest decision, which may have been influenced by the Soleimani assassination, Tehran did not completely abandon the deal, stating it would continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Borrell spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the weekend and issued a personal invitation to come to Brussels, but so far Iran has not publicly announced a decision whether it will pursue it.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, EU spokesman Peter Stano said there was “a lot of activity going on” from the bloc as it seeks to help defuse tensions that heightened dramatically on Friday when a US drone strike killed Soleimani at Baghdad airport.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to make a statement on the situation later on Monday, while NATO has convened an extraordinary meeting of its ruling North Atlantic Council to discuss the crisis — in particular on the future of its training mission in Iraq.

[Edited by Samuel Stolton]

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