Iran nuclear deal parties eye US return to accord

A billboard with the pictures of dead Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani is seen at Palestine street, in eastern Baghdad, Iraq, 21 December 2020. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei anounced that Iran will retaliate against the killers of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated by a US drone strike in Iraq in January 2020. [Ahmed Jalil/EPA/EFE]

The remaining parties to the ailing 2015 Iran nuclear deal said on Monday (21 December) they were preparing for the possible return of the US to the pact as President-elect Joe Biden readies to take office next month.

Biden, who takes office on 20 January, has signalled Washington would rejoin the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear programme.

The deal has been unravelling ever since President Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from it in May 2018 and imposed crippling economic sanctions on Tehran.

“Ministers acknowledged the prospect of a return of the US to the JCPOA and underlined their readiness to positively address this in a joint effort,” a statement on behalf of Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK said after Monday morning’s online meeting.

Tehran has retaliated to US sanctions by progressively abandoning limits on its nuclear activity laid down in the deal.

Most recently Iran announced it was planning to install advanced centrifuges at Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plant in Natanz, a plan condemned by France, Germany and Britain — collectively known as the “E3” — as “deeply worrying”.

Iran watchdog passes law on hardening nuclear stance, halting UN inspections

Iran’s Guardian Council watchdog body approved a law that obliges the government to halt UN inspections of its nuclear sites and step up uranium enrichment beyond the limit set under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal if sanctions are not eased.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the change of administration in the US meant that there was “a last window” for progress that “shouldn’t be wasted”.

“There can be no more tactical manoeuvres of the kind we have seen all too often recently,” Maas warned at a press conference, adding that such actions “would only further undermine the agreement”.

His British counterpart Dominic Raab said that at the meeting he had “made it absolutely clear Iran must not implement the recently announced expansions to its nuclear programme”.

“To do so would undermine the opportunities for progress we hope to see in 2021,” Raab added in a tweet.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter late Monday, promising that “Iran will rapidly reverse remedial measures in response to US unlawful withdrawal — and blatant E3 breaches — when US/E3 perform their duties”.

France, the UK and Germany “share the blame with the US for irreparable harm to Iranians”, he said.

Fatal blow

The assassination last month of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has heightened tensions in the region, with Iran blaming the killing on Israel.

EU urges restraint after killing of Iranian nuclear scientist

The spokesperson of EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell urged all sides on Saturday (28 November) to show restraint after the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist and avoid escalating tensions that could derail any talks on Iran’s nuclear programme.

In the wake of Fakhrizadeh’s death, Iranian MPs passed a bill calling for further expansion to Iran’s nuclear programme and an end to inspections of nuclear facilities by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Iranian foreign ministry said it did not agree with the bill and President Hassan Rouhani has suggested he will not sign it into law.

The end of IAEA inspections in Iran would probably mark a fatal blow to the accord’s chances of survival.

The statement issued after Monday’s meeting “stressed the importance of continued good faith cooperation with the IAEA”.

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