Europe rejects Iran 'ultimatum' but stands by nuke deal - Kogonuso

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May 10, 2019

Europe rejects Iran 'ultimatum' but stands by nuke deal

European powers Thursday denounced Tehran's threat to resume nuclear work, drawing a sharp response from the Iranian foreign minister who accused them of caving in to US bullying.

The three European signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal urged the Islamic republic to stick to its commitments after it said it would stop respecting some limits imposed by the agreement.

And they rejected an ultimatum from President Hassan Rouhani, who threatened to go further if they fail to deliver sanctions relief to counterbalance US President Donald Trump's renewed assault on the Iranian economy within 60 days.

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and France, Germany and Britain -- the three European signatories to the deal -- voiced "great concern" at President Hassan 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," they said in a joint statement, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the deal is known.

"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."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hit back on Twitter, scornfully dismissing the European communique.

"EU statement today is why JCPOA is where it is: the US has bullied Europe -- and rest of world -- for a year and EU can only express 'regret'," Zarif tweeted.

"Instead of demanding that Iran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord, EU should uphold obligations," he said, calling for the "normalization of economic ties."

Tehran says its announcement on Wednesday was a response to unilateral US sanctions -- imposed since Trump ripped up what he called a "horrible" deal -- which have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy.

Europe has stressed the importance of the deal -- in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief -- for its own security, and EU leaders discussed the crisis at their summit in the Romanian town of Sibiu.

Russia, another signatory to the deal along with China, on Thursday denounced new US sanctions on Iran's mining industry and called for talks to preserve the deal.

Moscow said it understood why Iran had decided to suspend some of its commitments under the deal in the face of US sanctions but urged Tehran not to go further.

French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for calm, saying Europe must work to convince Iran to stick with the deal.

"We must not get jumpy or fall into escalation," Macron said, warning 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," Macron said as he arrived for an EU summit in Romania.

The EU statement stressed the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) role in monitoring Iran's compliance with the deal -- suggesting no concrete action is likely until the inspectors' next report at the end of May.

Mogherini said she had "a lot of concern" about this week's developments but stressed that Iran was so far still "fully compliant" with the deal.

But there are tensions within the EU, with some countries under domestic pressure to take a tougher line on Tehran, particularly after Iranian intelligence was accused of mounting assassination plots in France, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Europe and Washington have been at loggerheads over how to deal with the Islamic republic since Trump took office. In recent days, the US deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf -- raising military tensions alongside the diplomatic discord.

- EU scrabbling -

Trump hit back at Tehran's threats by slapping sanctions on the Iranian mining industry to add to swingeing measures on oil exports -- the country's main money-maker.

"Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct," Trump said in a statement.

Since the US pullout, Europe has sought to keep Iran in the deal by trying to maintain trade via a special mechanism called INSTEX to clear payments without falling foul of American sanctions.

The European statement reiterated its commitment to helping the Iranian people enjoy the benefit of sanctions relief, condemning the US reimposition.

Europe is "determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran" including through INSTEX.

But their efforts have borne little fruit so far, with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissing them as a "bitter joke".

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