EU ministers reiterate backing for Iran nuclear deal

Foreign ministers pledge to lobby US Congress over Trump move to repudiate deal

EU foreign ministers have strongly defended the Iran nuclear deal as key to preventing the global spread of nuclear weapons.

Following US president Donald Trump’s decertification of the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the ministers meeting in Luxembourg pledged to lobby the US Congress not to repudiate the deal – it has 60 days to decide whether to do so – and pledged the union to the “continued full and effective implementation of all parts of the JCPOA”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Mr Trump has promised to consult allies on the agreement and to take account of their strategic interests. She was sure Congress would do so, and said she would travel to Washington early next month to try to muster support for the continuation of the accord.

“At a time of acute nuclear threat, the EU is determined to preserve the JCPOA as a key pillar of the international non-proliferation architecture,” the ministers said. “Its successful implementation continues to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful.”

Regional tensions

The ministers refused to link the issue, as Mr Trump did, with other concerns over ballistic missiles and regional tensions, which they also discussed, insisting these should be addressed in relevant and separate forums. “The EU stands ready to actively promote and support initiatives to ensure a more stable, peaceful and secure regional environment,” the ministers’ statement said.

"As Europeans together, we are very worried that the decision of the US president could lead us back into military confrontation with Iran," German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters.

Most UN and western sanctions were lifted more than 18 months ago when the JCPOA was agreed – in exchange Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear programmes to civil use and submit to regular inspections. Eight inspections to date by the International Atomic Energy Agency have found no violations of the agreement. Tehran is still subject to a UN arms embargo, which is not part of the deal.

North Korea

Among ministers’ concerns on Monday were fears that the potential unravelling of the hard-won agreement with Iran would send a signal to North Korea that such agreements were far from permanent. That would make any possibility of doing a similar deal with the rogue nuclear state far more difficult.

In the wake of the latest North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile tests, in violation of international law, ministers backed a new raft of EU sanctions, including: a total ban on EU investment in North Korea, in all sectors; a total ban on the sale of refined petroleum products and crude; and the lowering of the amount of personal remittances that may be transferred to North Korea from €15,000 to €5,000. Member states also agreed not to renew work authorisations for North Korean non-refugee nationals present on their territory.

The union will launch a diplomatic demarche with some two dozen states in Africa and Asia who are believed to be trading illegally with North Korea.

The Foreign Affairs Council also launched a new 35-strong civilian policing mission in Iraq. It will focus on assisting the Iraqi authorities in the implementation of the civilian aspects of the Iraqi national security strategy.