Doubts about future of Iran nuclear deal intensify

EU countries renew calls on US to stick with deal as tensions rise between Iran and Israel

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during a White House  briefing on Tuesday. She  added to concerns that the US  is poised to withdraw from the nuclear deal with  Iran. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during a White House briefing on Tuesday. She added to concerns that the US is poised to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

Doubts about the future of the Iran nuclear deal intensified on Tuesday as EU countries renewed calls on the US to stick with the agreement. They argued that Israel’s warnings about Iran’s nuclear activity justified the continuation of the deal.

As tensions between Iran and Israel increased, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was among those who urged the US to remain within the agreement, arguing that Monday’s presentation by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “shows why we need the Iran nuclear deal”.

In a televised presentation the Israeli leader outlined the content of Iranian documents which he said showed Iran was developing nuclear arms before the 2015 agreement was signed.

However, the information did not appear to show that Iran was in violation of the agreement, negotiated in 2015 by the United States, Iran and five other powers. Under the deal Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for relief from US and other economic sanctions.

Echoing the rhetoric coming from European capitals, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Mr Netanyahu had “not put into question” Iran’s compliance with the deal.

Instead, she noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency had published 10 reports which certified that Iran had fully complied with its commitments under the programme.

However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders added to concerns that the United States was poised to withdraw from the nuclear deal, telling reporters that Iran’s nuclear programme was much further along than it admitted when it signed the nuclear deal in 2015. She also said that Iran had entered the agreement “under false pretences”.

Advance notice

The White House also confirmed that Mr Trump was given advance notice of Mr Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday.

In an interview with CNN aired on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said “nobody” wanted a war with Iran, though he accused Iran of “changing the rules” in the region.  Iran in turn accused Mr Netanyahu of being a “liar”.

The tensions between the two sides developed against the background of Sunday night’s air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, which many believe were carried out by Israel.

Adding to European fears that Mr Trump will abandon the deal, Israeli’s minister for regional development, Tzachi Hanegbi, said in a separate interview that the United States would likely pull out of the agreement.

Mr Trump must decide by May 12th whether to effectively pull out of the Iran agreement when he is due to decide whether to sign a waiver lifting sanctions on Iran. He suggested on Monday that he could be open to a new deal, though he described the current accord as a “horrible” agreement for the United States.

While concerns in Europe mounted about the future of the Iran deal, there was some reprieve for Europe in relation to continuing trade tensions with the United States. Just hours before a midnight deadline on May 1st, the White House announced that it would grant the EU, Canada and Mexico a “final” 30 days of exemptions from previously-announced tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.             

The Trump administration imposed a 25 per cent tariff on US imports of steel and 10 per cent on aluminium earlier this year, but granted an exemption to US allies until May 1st.

Reprieve

The granting of an additional 30-day reprieve came after intense lobbying by both French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel during meetings with Mr Trump in Washington last week.

However, the EU warned that it would “not negotiate under threat” as the United States seeks to secure better terms.

“The EU should be fully and permanently exempted from these measures as they cannot be justified on the grounds of national security,” the European Commission said in a statement. “As a long-standing partner and friend of the US, we will not negotiate under threat.”

Speaking on CNBC on Tuesday, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said there had been “some potentially fruitful discussions about an overall reduction in trade tensions” with the EU, but he  warned that the exemptions would not last forever.

“I don’t think we have any intention to grant protracted extensions. That defeats the whole purpose,” he said.