A statement from the ‘E3’ Tuesday noted Iran’s nuclear program as more advanced than ever and expressed commitment to continued diplomacy.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the E3) were addressing this week’s quarterly board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna, where the three European states plan along with the United States to introduce a resolution critical of Iran focused on its alleged lack of cooperation with the agency.
Their statement said Iran’s nuclear progress “is threatening international security and risks undermining the global nonproliferation regime,” highlighting Tehran’s accumulation of highly-enriched enriched uranium “fueling distrust as to Iran’s intentions.”
IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi told the board Monday he was unable to certify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program given what he regards as unsatisfactory answers to agency questions over uranium traces found at three sites linked to work carried out before 2003.
The agency has also this week reported continuing advances in Iran’s atomic program, particularly in stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium that are near the volume needed for a crude weapon.
The E3 expressed a priority of restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), which the United States left in 2018, so prompting Iran to begin by 2019 to exceed the limits imposed by the JCPOA on its nuclear program.
The E3 statement put responsibility for failure of year-long Vienna talks to restore the JCPOA solely at Iran’s door, saying that a deal to revive the 2015 agreement was “on the table” when “we left Vienna three months ago.”
But Iran has argued that all sanctions introduced by President Donald Trump under ‘maximum pressure’ – including the 2019 executive order listing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ – should be removed as incompatible with the JCPOA.
While the E3 was critical of Trump’s unilateral decision in 2018 to leave the JCPOA, and established an ineffective special mechanism to continue trade with Iran, its position has edged closer to the Biden administration as it has maintained Trump’s sanction.
But this in turn has undermined the multilateral basis of the JCPOA, which was endorsed in 2015 by all powers at the United Nations Security Council, including the US. Russia and China both held the US responsible for abrogating the JCPOA, and now say that raising a resolution against Iran at the IAEA board over its pre-2003 nuclear work could undermine efforts to restore the 2015 agreement.
‘Get out of nuclear jail free card’
Iran insists it has answered IAEA questions over its past nuclear work. The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Wednesday Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, that Tehran had no hidden nuclear activities and that events at the IAEA, referring to the resolution, were part of ‘maximum pressure.’
Eslami suggested that Iran’s differences were not so much with the US but with Israel, which recently carried out military exercises simulating an attack on Iran and which is widely believed to have killed Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotaged Iran’s nuclear sites.
Like the E3, the Biden administration stresses its commitment to restoring JCPOA. Ned Price, the US State Department Spokesman, said Monday the JCPOA had put the Iranian nuclear program in a “confined box.”
Price said Trump had given Tehran “a get out of nuclear jail free card” that had led to development in Iran’s atomic program that “would have been prohibited under the JCPOA.. [with its] stringent verification and monitoring regime.” Challenged by a reporter if Iran had paid no price, the spokesman backtracked calling his comment “ maybe a bit too flip.”