PARIS (Dispatches) -- Three EU countries on Tuesday said they were launching a dispute mechanism against Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal, while insisting they remained committed to the agreement.
The move by Britain, France and Germany comes in the wake of Iran’s power response to the U.S. assassination of the Middle East’s most prominent anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Iran is already aggrieved by the Europeans’ failure to condemn the assassination, with Britain even expressing support for the terrorist move.
Earlier this month as tens of millions rallied across Iran to mourn the charismatic commander, Tehran said it no longer will comply with limits on uranium enrichment under the nuclear pact, in a move which just stopped short of an abrogation of the accord.
Iran responded to the assassination by pounding two U.S. military bases in Iraq with a volley of precision-guided missiles, which rattled many of its adversaries long bent on putting the country in a chokehold.
The Europeans are apparently shaken and their decision on Tuesday to trigger the so-called dispute mechanism is thought to have been prompted by Iran’s decisive response to the American aggression.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the foreign ministers of the three European nations said Iran had been progressively scaling back its commitments under the deal and defying key restrictions on its nuclear program since May last year.
"We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions” to begin the dispute process, their statement said, claiming Tehran was not "meeting its commitments”.
The Europeans’ expectation that Iran fully comply with the nuclear deal stands in contrast to their failure to protect the Islamic Republic from unilateral U.S. sanctions on Tehran after Washington abandoned the accord.
Tehran has particularly been disappointed with the European trio’s failure to protect its business interests under the deal after the United States’ withdrawal.
After patiently watching for more than a year and seeing no clear action from the other signatories of the nuclear deal, Iran invoked Articles 26 and 36 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to let go of some of the limitations put on its nuclear work.
The 2015 nuclear deal -- known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) -- has a provision that allows a party to claim significant non-compliance by another party before a joint commission.
If the issue is not resolved at the joint commission, it then goes to an advisory board and eventually to the UN Security Council which could reimpose sanctions.
So far, Tehran has broken free of some limitations of the accord in five stages, the last of which came on January 5. The country has intensified sensitive activities to enrich uranium in response to the United States pulling out of the deal in 2018 and the Europeans’ failure to fulfill their obligations.
According to AFP, Iran’s latest step in January to forego the limit on the number of centrifuges used in uranium enrichment prompted the Europeans to trigger the mechanism.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned of a "serious and strong response” to the European move. Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran is is "fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the nuclear deal.
His remarks apparently addressed the part of the statement by the three European countries which said they "once again express our commitment” to the deal and expressed "determination to work with all participants to preserve it”.
The three countries said they would not join "a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran” championed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump’s move meant Iran has not benefitted from the sanctions relief it had hoped for.
Yet even as the EU powers made clear their commitment to the deal, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday he would be willing to work on a "Trump deal” to replace the JCPOA.
"If we are going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal,” he said.
"That’s what we need to see. I think that would be a great way forward,” he added, noting that "from the American perspective it’s a flawed agreement.”
But EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said it was "more important than ever” to save the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal "in light of the ongoing dangerous escalations in the Middle East.”
Under the 2015 deal’s dispute mechanism, the EU should now inform the other parties - Russia and China as well as Iran - of the European move. There would then be 15 days to resolve differences, a deadline which can be extended by consensus.
According to Reuters, the process can ultimately lead to a "snapback” - the reimposition of sanctions under previous UN resolutions.
"Our intention is not to restore sanctions, but to resolve our differences through the very mechanism that was created in the deal,” the news agency cited a European diplomat as saying.
AFP said the Europeans still have an opportunity to press for diplomacy.
"I see an opportunity to re-engage at least on the nuclear front,” Alex Vatanka, senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute told AFP.
Mousavi said the EU3’s new decision was a "passive move taken from a position of weakness, adding it "will not lead to any new development in practice”.
He said if the Europeans try to abuse the dispute mechanism, "they should prepare themselves for potential consequences, of which they have been notified”.
Although Iran responds in pure good faith to any well-intentioned action, it would respond "firmly, decisively, and aptly” to any act of non-commitment or malicious or unconstructive measure that could target the deal, he added.