The 2015 nuclear agreement has been on life support since President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned it in 2018, triggering sanctions that have hurt Iran’s moribund economy. Since then, Tehran has gradually rolled back its commitment to the deal.
After its top general was assassinated in a U.S. drone attack, Iran announced over the weekend that it would no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the move was a “remedial step” taken within the framework of the nuclear deal and he said it could be reversed.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed “deep regret” at the news. He tweeted that full implementation of the nuclear deal by all parties “is now more important than ever, for regional stability and global security.”
The EU supervises the deal under which Tehran limits its nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic incentives, but it relies on the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog to monitor whether Iran is complying, as it has continued to do so far despite its belligerent rhetoric.
“We have to rely on, and see, what the International Atomic Energy Agency says about the deeds on the ground,” Borrell’s spokesman, Peter Stano, told reporters. The IAEA told The Associated Press that it was aware of Iran's announcement, but noted that Tehran's statement “also said that Iran's cooperation with the Agency will continue as before.”
"IAEA inspectors continue to carry out verification and monitoring activities in the country," the agency said in an e-mailed statement. “The IAEA will keep its member states informed of any developments in this regard in a timely manner as appropriate."
Iran’s announcement and the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last week has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity in Europe. Borrell has invited Zarif to Brussels, and EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to address the issue. It remained unclear Monday whether Zarif would accept the invitation.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the Europeans will talk to Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog and take a coordinated decision. “This could be the first step toward the end of this agreement, which would be a great loss — and so we will weigh things up very, very responsibly,” Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio.
He noted that the agreement contains procedures to respond to such situations. They include the triggering of a “dispute mechanism” that could buy more time to help keep Iran on board. The EU finds itself in an increasingly awkward position and has been reduced to calling for calm as it seeks to keep Iran inside the agreement and maintain good ties with Washington despite deep concern over the drone killing.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already expressed frustration at the muted European reaction to events in the region. “Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well,” Pompeo said.
On a visit to Germany, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said EU commissioners would also discuss developments on Wednesday. “The European Union has in recent years built up very reliable channels of dialogue with almost all actors in the region, which it can and must now use,” she said.
Von der Leyen declined to assess Trump’s style in threatening retaliation via Twitter, saying that “my job isn’t to evaluate – my job is to de-escalate.” She was firm in pinning the blame for the crisis on forces close to Iran.
Geir Moulson and Dave Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.