Britain, France and Germany took a first step toward reimposing international sanctions on Iran, seeking to pressure Tehran into returning to compliance with the 2015 pact that has limited the country’s nuclear activities. The move by the European powers, which say they remain committed to the 2015 nuclear deal and are seeking to save it, is their first significant response to Tehran’s gradual escalation of its nuclear program in recent months. The three European countries, which are parties to the 2015 deal, triggered a dispute-settlement mechanism written into the agreement. That mechanism could result in the United Nations Security Council reimposing international sanctions on Iran’s economy, banks and some top officials within two months.
The move comes amid sharp tensions between Iran and the West following the U.S.’s killing of a top Iranian general and Tehran’s attacks on military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops. President Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, recently urged Britain, France and Germany to also leave the agreement after the attacks. Instead of abandoning the pact, the European powers are using the dispute mechanism, which allows for a period of direct talks to resolve their concerns, to press Iran not to continue violating it.
Iran has been gradually scaling back its compliance with the nuclear deal since May. Iranian officials said their moves were in response to Europe’s failure to protect the country from the impact of the withering sanctions the U.S. imposed after its 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear accord. Those sanctions have sent the Iranian economy into a sharp contraction and prompted European and other global companies to exit Iran.
While Iran’s trade with Europe has plummeted, it was still importing about €365 million ($406 million) worth of goods a month from the EU as of October, and some of that trade could be vulnerable to renewed sanctions. Iran continues to allow monitoring by the U.N.’s nuclear agency and is abiding by some other restrictions in the deal. European diplomats said they hope they can pressure Tehran not to move quickly back to amassing enough nuclear fuel for a weapon, or into entering talks directly with the U.S. Iran has said its nuclear program is for entirely peaceful purposes. Mr. Trump has said he would ensure Tehran doesn’t develop a nuclear weapon under his watch.