EU labors to keep nuclear deal alive after new Iran moves
President Hassan Rouhani said Monday Iran intends to stay in the 2015 nuclear deal despite US violations, arguing that the accord will be put to good use next year when a long-running arms embargo against Tehran comes to an end.
Rouhani said Iran could respond to America's exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in different ways including leaving the deal altogether or keeping it at any price, but it has decided to take the middle ground.
"By continuing the JCPOA, we will fulfill a major objective in terms of politics, security and defense," he told a large crowd of people during a visit to the eastern province of Kerman.
Noting that for years Iran has been banned by the United Nations from buying and selling any kinds of weapons, Rouhani said the arms embargo will end next year according to the deal and the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses it.
"This is one of the important effects of this deal. Otherwise, we could leave the deal today but the kind of benefit we stand to reap next year, will no longer exist," he said.
"We can leave now, but then the UNSC resolutions [that were revoked under the deal] will return," said the president, adding, "We need to think where the country's interests lie."
Iran, he said, did not want to remain fully committed to the deal while the others "sit on their hands" and do nothing.
"Therefore we took the middle ground to keep the JCPOA and preserve it while cutting back on what we had agreed to do under the agreement step by step," he said.
Since May, Iran has been scaling back its nuclear commitments in retaliation for Washington's May 2018 pullout from the deal and the failure of three European signatories – the UK, France and Germany – to protect bilateral trade against American sanctions.
In the first three stages of its measured response, Iran enriched uranium beyond the 300kg limit set by the deal and ramped up enrichment to levels upon the pre-defined 3.67-percent cap. It also expanded nuclear research to areas banned in the agreement.
The fourth step, initiated last week, involved the injection of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas into centrifuges at the Fordo underground enrichment facility.
Tehran says its reciprocal measures do not violate the JCPOA and are based on Articles 26 and 36 of the agreement itself, which detail mechanisms to deal with non-compliance.
Iranian authorities have suggested that the measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the Iranian economy from the sanctions.
Rouhani noted Monday Iran's nuclear capability is "better than ever," saying that Iranian nuclear experts have never stopped research and development work since the JCPOA was first signed in 2015.
"We will stand up to our enemies with full power. We haven't done anything illegal and we are not willing to bow to your orders," he said.
Touching on disparaging statements by Western countries, Rouhani said, "Are you mad that we restarted Fordo? Are you mad with the resumption of nuclear enrichment? Are you mad at us for speeding up the Arak heavy water [facility]? Then you should fulfill your commitments as well."
EU backs JCPOA
European Union foreign ministers on Monday debated ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal intact after the Islamic Republic began enrichment work at the Fordo site.
“We want to preserve the (deal), but Iran must finally return to its commitments and comply with them, otherwise we will reserve the right to use all mechanisms that are set out in the agreement,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
The EU sees the nuclear pact as a key component of regional and global security and has struggled to stop the nuclear deal from unraveling since President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of it over a year ago, triggering debilitating economic sanctions against Iran.
“It’s a great agreement and we need to keep it alive,” Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajcak, told reporters. But it remains unclear what more the EU can do as Iran’s economy bears the brunt of sanctions, apart from renewing its appeals for restraint and dialogue.
The Europeans have poured a lot of cash and credibility into ensuring the Iran nuclear deal stays afloat. A safeguard was built to keep money flowing to Tehran, but it has not been effective. A system is in place to protect European companies doing business in Iran from US sanctions, even though many remain reluctant because they fear being shut out of the more lucrative American market if they do.
One option could be to trigger the dispute mechanism in the agreement, which would open a window of up to 30 days to resolve the problem. Some are even calling on the Europeans to impose their own sanctions on Iran.
“Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions. We’re not going to solve the problem like that,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Press TV and AP contributed to this report.