- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2019

The European Union called on Iran to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal Monday, scrambling to salvage the accord 13 months after President Trump withdrew and leveled new U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

At a gathering in Brussels, top European diplomats downplayed Iran’s recent announcement that it had begun breaching uranium enrichment limits set by the deal. They also vowed to push ahead with a program to help Iran bypass American sanctions on condition it ends such breaches.

It remains to be seen whether the program known as “Instex” — designed to provide sanctions protection to companies doing business in Iran — will satisfy Iranians seeking foreign investments and trade promised under the 2015 deal. Tehran has said it wants the removal of new U.S. sanctions, not an EU-led workaround that European companies have so far shown little interest in embracing.

But EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday’s talks marked a way to salvage the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. EU foreign ministers have agreed to make Instex “faster and more operational,” she told reporters in Brussels, adding that officials were working to get Iran to “return to full compliance” with the deal.

While the Trump administration seeks an entirely new deal with Iran — to address not only Tehran’s nuclear activities, but its ballistic missile and aggressive moves across the Middle East — others agreed Monday a collapse of JCPOA could be disastrous.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested there will be nothing stopping Iran from engaging in full-bore uranium enrichment if the deal isn’t salvaged, although he said Tehran is still “a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb.” Mr. Hunt told reporters in Brussels there remains a “small window to keep the deal alive.”

Analysts say the European goal is to tamp down the prospect of a U.S.-Iran war.

“The Europeans are caught in the middle and are trying mollify Iran,” said Robert Malley, who served on the Obama administration’s national security council and is now president of the International Crisis Group.

“They’re caught between two parties, the U.S. and Iran, who are in a brinkmanship dynamic,” Mr. Malley said in an interview Monday. “If the Europeans could get the Iranians to come back into compliance with the JCPOA and then get the U.S. to diminish some of the maximum sanctions pressure, maybe we could find an off ramp that avoids a potential military confrontation and paves the way to new negotiations.”

Monday’s developments came weeks Tehran’s suspected sabotage of commercial oil tankers near the Persian Gulf’s strategic Strait of Hormuz and its downing of an American drone there — moves that followed the Trump administration expanded push to impose a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.

Iran’s state media suggested Monday that tensions could rise again, asserting that Tehran plans “to go back to the conditions preceding” the 2015 nuclear deal — a period in which its uranium enrichment had raised worldwide fears a nuclear standoff — unless Europe can convince the U.S. to withdraw its new sanctions.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that Iran’s recent moves to surpass mutually agreed limits from the deal were only “a bad reaction following a bad decision — which was the U.S. decision to withdraw from the accord and put sanctions into place.”

France, Britain, Germany and Russia were all signatories to the Obama-era nuclear accord. So was China, which on Monday again blamed the Trump administration for initiating the current crisis by pulling out of the 2015 deal.

Mr. Malley said the Trump administration is “putting pressure on Iran and basically daring it to take steps that would then lead the Europeans to join the U.S. in its campaign against Iran and perhaps lead Iran to do things that would isolate it from the rest of the international community.”

Washington shows little signs of seeking a compromise, with Mr. Trump and his aides insisting the U.S. sanctions are causing Iran genuine economic pain.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, told the BBC that “our European friends should join the U.S. in unequivocally condemning Iran’s actions with respect to their malign activities, not just in the Strait of Hormuz but throughout the world.”

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