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Nuclear Deal Standoff: UK, France, and Germany Hold Firm on Iran Sanctions

The UK, France, and Germany have declared that they will not lift sanctions on Iran as originally scheduled under the 2015 nuclear deal, a decision that is likely to anger Tehran and further jeopardize the viability of the agreement.

As per the terms of the original deal, certain UN sanctions were set to be lifted on October 18, 2023, through a sunset clause that would have allowed Iran to engage in the import and export of ballistic missiles, including missiles and drones with a range exceeding 300 kilometers (186 miles).

In a letter addressed to the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, the three European signatories to the deal, collectively known as the E3, explained that Iran’s substantial breaches of the agreement, such as exceeding limits on stored enriched uranium and restricting UN inspectors’ access to its nuclear program, necessitated the continuation of sanctions related to its ballistic missile program.

The E3 asserted that their decision not to lift sanctions in line with the original sunset clause did not violate the agreement, as it contained mechanisms for addressing disputes regarding compliance.

The UK stated that it had raised concerns about Iranian non-compliance in 2020, but Iran had not responded, nor had it done so within the agreed 30-day deadline.

Borrell acknowledged receipt of the letter and quoted the foreign ministers as stating that Iran had been in non-compliance since 2019 and that this had not been resolved through the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) dispute resolution mechanism. Consequently, they expressed their intention not to proceed with lifting further sanctions on the JCPOA transition day, set for October 18, 2023.

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The UK underscored its commitment, along with its partners, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. However, Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium was described as being “beyond all credible civilian justification.”

The UN sanctions that were scheduled to be lifted on October 18 targeted individuals and entities involved in Iran’s missile, nuclear, and other weapons programs, and will now be incorporated into the domestic legislation of the UK, France, and Germany.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign Office stated that they, along with their French and German counterparts, had taken a legitimate and proportionate step in response to Iran’s actions. While they remain committed to a diplomatic solution, Iran is now expected to take clear steps toward de-escalation, and the aim is to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The UK highlighted that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was 18 times beyond the limits established in the JCPOA, and Iran had constructed and deployed hundreds of advanced centrifuges. Iran had justified these actions as a response to the United States’ withdrawal from the deal during Donald Trump’s presidency.

During a recent board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 63 countries signed a statement asserting that Iran had violated its commitment to explain the discovery of uranium particles at undisclosed sites to UN nuclear inspectors.

It was also noted that Iran had diluted a portion of its stockpile of 60%-enriched uranium. Israel has claimed that Iran possesses enough enriched uranium to construct a nuclear bomb within a week, although it lacks the means to deliver such a weapon.

Separate from the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran had reached an informal agreement with the United States, whereby Iran agreed not to increase its enriched uranium beyond 60% and to release five US citizens held in Iran. In return, the US was expected to release $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea, as well as five Iranian prisoners held in the US.

The five US prisoners have already been released from Evin jail in Tehran and are currently residing elsewhere in the capital. One of them is Morad Tahbaz, a British-American environmentalist who was arrested in 2018 and left behind when then-British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss negotiated the release of two British-Iranians, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

Iran’s permanent mission to the UN in New York confirmed that, as part of a prisoner-swap deal, the five Iranian nationals who were held for circumventing US sanctions would be released. Some of them will return to Iran, while others will remain in the US.

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