EU regrets Iran nuclear moves but hopes to keep deal alive

EU regrets Iran nuclear moves but hopes to keep deal alive
In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. The head of Iran's nuclear agency says his country has begun new operations at the heavy water nuclear reactor. The move intensifies pressure on Europe to find an effective way around U.S. sanctions, which block Tehran's oil sales abroad. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union expressed regret on Monday over Iran’s announcement that it will no longer be bound by all its nuclear obligations, but remains determined to keep alive an international deal preventing the Islamic Republic from developing atomic weapons.

The 2015 nuclear agreement has been on life support since President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned it last year, triggering sanctions that have hurt Iran’s moribund economy. Since then, Tehran has gradually rolled back its commitment to the deal.

After its top general was assassinated in a U.S. drone attack, Iran announced over the weekend that it would no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the move was a “remedial step” taken within the framework of the nuclear deal and he said it could be reversed.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed “deep regret” at the news. He tweeted that full implementation of the nuclear deal by all parties “is now more important than ever, for regional stability and global security.”

The EU supervises the deal under which Tehran limits its nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic incentives, but it relies on the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog to monitor whether Iran is complying, as it has continued to do so far despite its belligerent rhetoric.

“We have to rely on, and see, what the International Atomic Energy Agency says about the deeds on the ground,” Borrell’s spokesman, Peter Stano, told reporters.

Iran’s announcement and the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last week has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity in Europe. Borrell has invited Zarif to Brussels, and Germany — a signatory of the deal — is calling for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers this week to address the issue. It remained unclear Monday whether Zarif would take up the offer.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the Europeans will talk to Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog and take a coordinated decision.

“This could be the first step toward the end of this agreement, which would be a great loss — and so we will weigh things up very, very responsibly,” Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio.

He noted that the agreement contains procedures to respond to such situations. They include the triggering of a “dispute mechanism” that could buy more time to help keep Iran on board.

The EU finds itself in an increasingly awkward position and has been reduced to calling for calm as it seeks to keep Iran inside the agreement and maintain good ties with Washington despite deep concern over the drone killing.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already expressed frustration at the muted European reaction to events in the region.

“Frankly, the Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well,” Pompeo said.


Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.