EU leaders have pledged to protect the Iran nuclear deal after US president Donald Trump put its future in doubt.
“We encourage the US administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPoA,” France, Germany, and the UK said jointly on Friday (13 October), referring to the Iran pact, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
They said the EU was ready to join the US in taking “further appropriate measures” against Iran’s missile programme and its activities in Lebanon and Syria.
But they said they “stand committed to the JCPoA” because it was “in our shared national security interest”.
France’s Emmanuel Macron, German leader Angela Merkel, and the UK’s Theresa May spoke after Trump, earlier on Friday, triggered a Congress vote, due in 60 days, on whether to cancel the deal and snap back sanctions.
“The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement,” he said on TV.
He also threatened to “terminate” the JCPoA by his own order if Congress did not introduce tougher terms, such as extending the deal’s 2025 expiry date and adding curbs on Iran’s ballistic missile production.
Trump’s speech set the scene for intense trans-Atlantic diplomacy.
The EU leaders said: “We have asked our foreign ministers to consider with the US how to take these issues forward”.
Macron also phoned Iranian president Hasan Rouhani to reassure him of “France’s commitment” to the pact.
The EU’s foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, questioned the legality of Trump’s threat.
“It [the JCPoA] is not a bilateral agreement, it does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it,” she said.
“The President of the United States has many powers, not this one,” she insisted.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN body in Vienna that monitors the pact’s implementation, also questioned Trump’s claim that Iran was guilty of “multiple violations”.
“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPoA are being implemented,” the IAEA head, Yukiya Amano, said.
The Republican Party’s anti-Iran hawks would need more than 60 votes in Congress to snap back sanctions or to introduce new terms.
That would require an anti-Iran vote by nearly every Republican and by some Democratic Party senators.
But two prominent Democrats, senator Ben Cardin, and former secretary of state John Kerry reiterated the EU powers’ concerns in strident words.
Cardin told the Reuters news agency he would only support new legislation if it had the backing of EU allies. Kerry said: “Our allies and our Congress must now act as the only adults left in the room with the power to protect our national interests”.
Kerry added that Trump’s decision, which immediately sent ripples through the Middle East, was “dangerous”.
Israel and Saudi Arabia, two US allies and Iran adversaries, welcomed the news from Washington, with Israel saying it would “roll back Iran’s aggression and … confront its criminal support of terrorism”.
But Iran reacted by mocking Trump and Saudi Arabia.
“He [Trump] has not studied international law … Apparently, he doesn’t know that this agreement is not a bilateral agreement solely between Iran and the United States,” Rouhani said.
He called Saudi Arabia a “tribal” country that had “never seen an election”.
Trump followed his TV address with a tweet that said: “Many people talking, with much agreement, on my Iran speech today. Participants in the deal are making lots of money on trade with Iran!”.
The JCPoA aside, he also imposed US financial sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), a branch of the Iranian military, and on three IGRC-linked companies.
The US treasury said this was due to the IGRC’s support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the civil war in Syria and for Hezbollah, a militia in Lebanon dubbed a terrorist entity by the US.
Trump stopped short of designating the IGRC itself as a terrorist entity, but treasury chief Steven T. Mnuchin accused it of aiding “al-Assad’s relentless campaign of brutal violence against his own people”.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said it would have been technically difficult to designate an arm of the Iranian state as a terrorist entity.
“I fully expect that our allies and friends in Europe and in the region are going to be very supportive in efforts undertaken to deal with Iran’s threats,” he said.