By Diane Cooke
EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said last week that the Iran nuclear deal can survive without the US.
But with countries dealing with Iran threatened with US sanctions, how long can the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remain viable without European countries invested in Iran suffering as a result?
Speaking at a State of the Union conference, Mogherini said she has received assurances from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the country would stand by the agreement, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions on Iran last week.
“We are determined to keep this deal in place,” she said, adding that only Iran has the power to unilaterally wreck the deal.
The Italian diplomat will meet with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the UK — the three European powers that brokered the nuclear deal along with the EU, U.S., China and Russia — in Brussels Tuesday to discuss the future of the agreement. The European diplomats will also meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The Guardian's Simon Tisdall said Trump's reasons for withdrawing from the deal were "highly specious", on "misleading grounds" and an "act of wanton diplomatic vandalism fraught with dangers". He suggests that Britain should cancel the president’s visit and join with allies to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on the US.
In pulling out of the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Trump said the U.S. would reinstate sanctions it had waived as part of the deal, adding that “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”
The move puts the U.S. in direct violation of the agreement, and raises the question of what, if anything, Europe can do to salvage it.
France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia are also signatories of the deal, which means that even if the U.S. withdraws, the agreement doesn’t necessarily go away entirely — it depends on how the Iranians respond. The Europeans could attempt to salvage the deal by continuing to do business with Iran; in exchange, Iran could continue to observe the limits set by the nuclear deal. Both sides, however, could then be at risk of being targeted by U.S. sanctions.
Meanwhile, Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has vowed the UK will not walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, saying it was Donald Trump’s responsibility to come up with detailed proposals for a better way to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme.
Johnson had travelled to Washington to urge the Trump administration to stick with the landmark 2015 deal, but failed in his mission.
Speaking on Wednesday, Johnson said the UK would do its utmost to protect British companies from any extra territorial sanctions imposed by the US. He said he would come up with specific proposals in due course after consultations with his European partners, but insisted the dispute with the US would not affect wider Anglo-American relations.
The US has promised “wind-down” periods of 90 to 180 days to let firms extricate themselves from agreements with Iran before sanctions start to bite. But that will do little to assuage European firms, such as Total, Airbus, Royal Dutch Shell, which have rushed to sign contracts in Iran since the deal was signed in 2015.
The only hope for European business leaders is that EU diplomats will be able to involve the US in granting case-by-case waivers as part of the process, perhaps in addition to a possible waiver for US aerospace giant Boeing which was originally granted a waiver for a deal to sell 110 planes to Iran, in a deal worth around $20bn.
Without waivers, banks will be prohibited from doing any deals in Iranian rials and manufacturers will be blocked from selling Iranian aluminium steel, coal and even carpets.
The scale of US sanctions means that even firms not operating in the US could be impacted due to a “with-us-or-against-us sanction” in which Washington could tell a company that if it wants to keep trading with Iran it can’t trade with America.