EU rejects Iran’s two-month ultimatum on nuclear deal

The European Union and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain said on Thursday that they would not accept Iranian ultimatums over the nuclear deal signed in 2015, but admitted to sharp differences with the US over how to change Tehran’s behaviour.

The European leaders, increasingly hampered by US determination to weaken Iran, also said they were still committed to the deal and did not at this stage see new threats from Tehran to loosen its obligations as being in breach of the deal.

On Wednesday the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani reduced Iran’s obligations under the deal and said his country would take further steps in 60 days on uranium enrichment if the EU did not do more to help the Iranian oil and banking sector. In its initial step, Tehran said it would no longer limit its stocks of heavy water or low-enriched uranium.

The EU said in response: “We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the joint comprehensive plan of action and the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

The JCPOA is the technical term for the deal signed in 2015 by Iran, Russia, China, the US and three EU states, France, Britain and Germany.

The EU also said it regretted the reimposition of sanctions by the US after it withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and added that the EU remained committed to preserving and fully implementing the deal, including helping the Iranian people enjoy the benefits of sanctions relief.

The US slammed on further sanctions on Wednesday, chiefly focused on the Iranian mining industry and apparently designed to push Iranian manufacturing deeper into recession, potentially provoking a rift between blue-collar workers and the government.

“Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct,” US president Donald Trump said in a statement.

Iran insisted it wanted to bring its nuclear deal with world powers “back on track” after the US’s unilateral withdrawal, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on Thursday.

Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal a year ago, and ever since has been using American economic firepower to try isolate Iran economically, and force Europe to back away from any trading contact with Tehran, save some humanitarian supplies.

The US “maximum pressure campaign” is formally designed to press Iran to renegotiate perceived weaknesses in the deal, but Washington’s critics claim the true aim is to bring the Iranian economy to its knees and provoke a revolution.

Tehran is frustrated that Europe says it opposes US actions, but seems at best slow in devising a financial mechanism or legal entities that would protect those European firms that wish to trade with Iran, but not be crippled by US sanctions.

Tehran at a minimum wants some signs of greater European urgency on this front or else it will, within two months, resume greater enrichment of uranium, a step that might well be seen as a breach of the JCPOA and the start of the unraveling of the most significant disarmament treaty of the past decade.

With EU leaders gathering for an informal summit in the Romanian town of Sibiu, the French president Emmanuel Macron appealed for calm on all sides, saying Europe must work to convince Iran to stick with the deal.

“We must not get jumpy or fall into escalation,” Macron said.

As he arrived for the summit, Macron warned that leaving the deal would “unstitch what we have achieved. That’s why France is staying in, and will stay in and I profoundly hope Iran will stay in. It is a good deal and good base. It needs to be completed.”

The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, along with France, Germany and Britain, voiced “great concern” at Rouhani’s dramatic intervention.

“We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps,” she said.

“We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

Arriving at the Sibiu summit, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters: “To be honest, we have a different approach than the US has.

“We still think that the deal with the Iranians was a chance to bring Iran out of isolation. But of course we realise and we see that the US has a totally different approach and that is why it will stay a difficult issue.”