Europeans cast doubt on Israel's claims about Iran nuclear breaches

EU governments stand by 2015 deal with Tehran after presentation by Netanyahu

European leaders have pushed back against Israel’s claims that it has new evidence showing that Iran is breaching the nuclear deal with the west which was signed in 2015.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, hailed the Israeli claims as significant, as the 12 May deadline approached for the US president, Donald Trump, to decide whether to pull out of the deal. But Pompeo declined to say whether they represented proof that Iran was violating the deal.

The overall initial view in European capitals was that the documents did reveal new material about the scale of Iran’s programme prior to 2015 but that there was nothing showing a subsequent breach of the deal.

The French foreign ministry said that the details needed to be “studied and evaluated” but that the Israeli claims reinforced the need for continuation of the deal – which entails Iran accepting nuclear inspections in return for a loosening of economic sanctions.

“The pertinence of the deal is reinforced by the details presented by Israel,” a statement said. “All activity linked to the development of a nuclear weapon is permanently forbidden by the deal.”

The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, also said the presentation of the claims, by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, showed the importance of keeping the deal. “The Iran nuclear deal is not based on trust about Iran’s intentions, rather it is based on tough verification,” he said.

The presentation may not have been designed to change thinking in Europe but instead bolster Trump’s resolve to stick to his campaign pledge and quit the deal, which is known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA).

Netanyahu appeared on Tuesday on Fox & Friends, a favourite TV show of the US president, to accuse Iran of “trying to bamboozle the entire world” and expressed hope Trump would pull out of the deal.

In a bid to push back against Israel, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, said Netanyahu’s allegations had “not put into question” Tehran’s compliance with the deal and that the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) had produced 10 reports saying Iran had met its commitments.

“The International Atomic Energy Authority is the only impartial international organisation in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear commitments,” Mogherini said. “If any country has information of non compliance of any kind it should address this information to the proper legitimate and recognised mechanism.”

The IAEA said a report by its director in 2015 “stated that the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009”, and that the IAEA’s board of governors “declared that its consideration of this issue was closed”.

A German government spokesman said it would analyse the Israeli documents, but added that the JCPOA had unprecedentedly strong monitoring mechanisms. The spokesman said: “It is clear that the international community had doubts that Iran was pursuing an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme. That is why the nuclear agreement was reached in 2015.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, the UK’s minister for the Middle East, at the Foreign Office, Alistair Burt, insisted the JCPOA “contributed to peace in the region”. He added: “Iran has reduced its uranium stockpile by 95%, its centrifuges by two-thirds and as recently as February has been judged by the International Atomic Energy Authority to be in compliance with the JCPOA.”

Burt, who returned from a visit to Tehran at the weekend, reiterated the European view that Trump’s other concerns about Iran, including its nuclear programme after the deal expires in 2025, its interventions elsewhere in the Middle East, and development of a ballistic missile programme, could be addressed in a new supplementary deal.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke by phone with Netanyahu and reiterated his plan for an additional broader deal with Iran that would address Israel’s security concerns. Macron at times has also suggested the 2015 deal could be folded intact into a broader deal, meeting Trump’s wider concerns about Iran.

The British prime minister, Theresa May, Macron, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, discussed the fate of the deal by phone on Sunday, with the focus shifting increasingly to whether it would be possible for the EU and Tehran to continue the deal if the US pulled out.

Merkel and Macron met Trump in Washington last week, and Macron came away saying he did not think he had persuaded Trump to stay in the deal.

The EU is concerned that a renewal of US sanctions against Iran will kill the hopes of expanding EU business ties with Tehran, the chief attraction of the deal for Iran.

Under US law, Trump must wait at least 180 days before enacting the most serious consequence of reimposing sanctions, targeting the banks of nations that fail to cut their purchases of Iranian oil significantly.

In Tehran, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned Netanyahu’s presentation as a “propaganda show” that offered nothing but “a pack of lies”.

Ghasemi said the claims were worn out, useless and shameful, according to the foreign ministry. Netanyahu’s remarks were those of a “broke and infamous liar who has had nothing to offer except lies and deceits”, a statement said.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, said, referring to the 12 May deadline: “Netanyahu’s childish and ridiculous presentation was planned in the run-up to Trump’s announcement about the nuclear deal.”

Araqchi said the allegations had been previously proven wrong by the IAEA: “Netanyahu is trying to affect Trump’s upcoming decision about the Iranian 2015 international nuclear deal, or JCPOA, but Tehran is prepared for any scenario by Trump.”


Patrick Wintour and Saeed Kamali Dehghan

The GuardianTramp

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