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Source: The Guardian

Sep 14, 2023

UK, France and Germany refuse to lift sanctions on Iran under nuclear deal

Tehran in ‘too serious a breach’ of 2015 deal to lift sanctions under clause that would allow ballistic missile trade

The UK, France and Germany will not lift sanctions on Iran in line with the timetable set out in the 2015 nuclear deal, the governments have announced in a move that will infuriate Tehran and put the continued viability of the deal at even greater risk.

Under the terms of the original deal, some UN sanctions were due to be lifted on 18 October 2023 as part of a sunset clause that would allow Iran to import and export ballistic missiles, including missiles and drones with a range of 300km (186 miles) or more.

In a letter to the EU external affairs chief, Josep Borrell, the three European signatories to the deal, known as E3, said on Thursday that Iran was in such a serious breach of the deal, in terms of levels of stored enriched uranium and allowing UN inspectors access to its nuclear programme, that sanctions relating to its ballistic missile programme had to remain in force.

The E3 said their refusal to lift the sanctions in line with the original sunset clause did not violate the deal because the agreement contained mechanisms in case of any dispute about whether one side was in breach of the agreement.

The EU said it had registered a dispute about Iranian non-compliance in 2020, but Iran had not responded at all, let alone within the agreed deadline of 30 days.

Borrell said he had received the letter, and added: “The foreign ministers state that Iran is in non-compliance since 2019 and consider that this has not been resolved through the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] dispute resolution mechanism. They express their intention not to take the steps regarding the lifting of further sanctions on JCPOA transition day on 18 October 2023.”

The UK said it and its partners remained committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium was at a level “beyond all credible civilian justification”.

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

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Iran continues to breach its commitments under the JCPOA and advance its nuclear programme beyond all credible civilian justification.

“Alongside our French and German partners, we have taken a legitimate and proportionate step in response to Iran’s actions.

“The UK and our partners remain committed to a diplomatic solution but Iran must now take clear steps towards de-escalation. We are committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

The UK said Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was 18 times the limits set out in the JCPOA, and hundreds of advanced centrifuges had been built and deployed. Iran has justified its action as a legitimate response after Donald Trump removed the US from the deal.

At a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier on Thursday, 63 countries signed a statement saying Iran was in breach of its undertaking to explain the discovery of uranium particles at undisclosed sites to UN nuclear inspectors.

Iran recently diluted a small part of its stockpile of 60%-enriched uranium.

According to Israel, Iran has enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear bomb to be constructed within a week, but it does not have the capability to fire such a weapon.

In an informal agreement with the US, separate to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran said it would not take its enriched uranium above 60% and would release five US citizens held in Iran. It is expected that, in return, the US would release via Qatar $6bn of 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 in accommodation elsewhere in the capital. One of the five is Morad Tahbaz, a British-American environmentalist who was arrested in 2018 and was left behind by the then British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, when she negotiated the release of two British Iranians, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

On Thursday, Iran’s permanent mission to the UN in New York said: “Under a prisoner-swap deal between the two countries, the five Iranian nationals who were held illegally for circumventing Washington’s anti-Iran sanctions will be released.”

It added that some of them would return to Iran, while others would remain in the US.

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