Senior European diplomats have urged the United States not to kill off the Iran nuclear deal, as President Donald Trump mulls whether to reimpose sanctions on the country ahead of a Friday deadline.
Trump had vowed to rip up the agreement during his election campaign and has repeatedly referred to it as “the worst deal ever,” accusing Iran of violating the “spirit” of the pact. He must sign a series of waivers every few months to maintain the suspension of sanctions on Iran, and to keep the deal fully intact.
After a meeting of European diplomats in Brussels on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made a direct appeal to the US to sign the latest waiver, due Friday. He said France remained dedicated to the agreement.
“All parties should uphold the deal,” he said, speaking through a translator. “It is also necessary that our US allies do the same and should be seen doing the same,” Le Drian said after meeting with his Iranian, British, German and French counterparts.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said there was “strong consensus” on the deal but warned that Iran’s continued compliance depended on that of the United States.
The 2015 agreement was brokered by the Obama administration – along with the UK, Russia, France, Germany and China – obliging Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the suspension of sanctions that had for years crippled its economy.
Thursday’s meeting in Brussels was convened by the European Union chief foreign affairs representative, Federica Mogherini, who said the deal was essential in preventing a nuclear arms race.
“The deal is working, it is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance,” Mogherini said after the meeting. “Iran is fully complying with the commitments made under the agreement.”
Zarif said the Iranian people “have every right” to all the “dividends” resulting from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“Any move that undermines JCPOA is unacceptable,” he said in a post on his official Twitter feed. He added that the European parties are “fully aware that Iran’s continued compliance (is) conditioned on full compliance by the US.”
‘A very dangerous signal’
The deal is one of several foreign policy issues where Europe’s most powerful economies stand in opposition to the Trump administration. European countries are banking on the deal, as many began investing in Iran after the sanctions were lifted.
But the European diplomats appear to have allies in Trump’s own camp. US officials told CNN that the President’s top national security advisers are encouraging him to renew the waivers.
Trump however, is known to often ignore his counsel on foreign policy issues, and it was not clear Thursday whether he had yet made a decision.
It will be politically difficult for him to to walk away from the deal without proving Iran has violated the agreement. His decision is also further complicated by recent mass anti-government protests in Iran, made up mostly of youths complaining of economic hardship. Trump openly supported those protesters on Twitter.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted that Iran had not violated the deal, citing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s assessment. He called the agreement a “considerable diplomatic accomplishment.”
“I want to stress that I don’t think anybody has so far produced a better alternative as a way of preventing the Iranians from going ahead with the acquisition of its nuclear capability,” he said, challenging the deal’s opponents to come up with a better solution.
“It is also clearly important to build worldwide support for this deal, that Iran should be able to show that it is a good neighbor in the region.”
Germany Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the deal showed that diplomatic approaches to preventing the development of nuclear weapons were possible.
“It would send a very dangerous signal to the rest of the world if the only agreement which prevents us from the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be negatively affected,” he said.
Trump will have a series of decisions to make on the deal in the days following the first waiver deadline on Friday.
He is expected to reject at least one, which essentially decertifies Iran’s compliance with the deal, a senior administration official told CNN last week. He took the same action in October in the last round of waivers, passing the decision on whether to impose additional sanctions on Iran to Congress.
CNN’s Sebastian Shukla, Katie Polglase, Nada Bashir and Richard A. Greene contributed to this report.