The three European countries in the Iran nuclear deal — France, Germany and the UK — announced Jan. 14 that they were triggering a dispute mechanism under the accord in response to Iran's failure to "meet its commitments," a move that could potentially push the already fragile deal to the edge of collapse.
In May, Iran kick-started a phased rollback of its commitments in the multilateral deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The plan, Iran said, was an effort to save the deal rather than kill it, and a push for the European signatories to honor their side of the agreement by granting Tehran the economic relief it expected from the JCPOA after US President Donald Trump walked out of it in 2018. In the "fifth and last step" of those breaches, Iran broke entirely free from all the caps on its nuclear program, which had been severely restricted by the pact. Tehran, however, insisted that an almost immediate full compliance was possible any moment tangible measures were adopted by the other parties.
According to the JCPOA, the dispute mechanism requires Iran to resolve the outstanding issues during meetings at a joint commission and if needed at ministerial levels. Failure to come to terms would consequently prompt a "snapback" process. In the JCPOA's terminology, that refers to a reimposition of UN Security Council sanctions that Tehran had managed to get lifted in the marathon talks that culminated in the deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, one of the key architects of the accord, told the Raisina 2020 Summit in New Delhi on Jan. 15 that the fate of the JCPOA "depends on the E3 countries, not Iran." The E3 are France, Germany and the UK.
And at a meeting with a German deputy foreign minister, Niels Annen, Zarif called the European measure a "strategic mistake" and "void of legal basis," after renewing criticism of European powers for "bowing to US diktat." Iran has also vowed a "firm and decisive" response. The country's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi did not elaborate on the nature of such a response but noted it had been communicated to the other sides.
A yet harsher warning was issued by Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a senior Reformist lawmaker and member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. "I advise the European signatories not to push matters to a point where Iran will have to resume work on its Shahab 4 [long-range] missiles," he said. "Simply put, as we lifted all the limits on our nuclear program in the 'fifth step,' we could do the same for our missile projects."
Mahmoud Vaezi, a powerful figure within President Hassan Rouhani's circle and chief of the presidential staff, however, moved to downplay the European decision as a "public relations" gesture rooted in "weakness and passivity" and one that he said will not be implemented.
While initially throwing their full weight behind the JCPOA, Iran's moderate political forces have been increasingly disillusioned by the European side's handling of the accord. Their gradual shift has now brought them closer to where the hard-line opponents of the deal have been standing from the very outset. The European decision on the dispute mechanism has now drawn similar reactions from papers representing the two sides as they lamented an ill-fated deal whose days are numbered.
"Europe's hand on the trigger," read a front-page headline shared by Reformist dailies Iran and Ebtekar. Ultraconservative Vatan Emrouz criticized the Iranian authorities for refusing to heed earlier cries from opponents about the legal loopholes in the dispute mechanism, which the newspaper Javan — linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — said will effectively transfer the nuclear deal to a "European morgue."
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly