Europe Seeks to Avoid Diplomatic Clash With US Over Iran

As the US and other world powers hurtle toward a confrontation over the Iran nuclear accord, European diplomats are trying to forge a compromise to save the deal from collapse by proposing a limited extension of the arms embargo on Tehran.
A five-year ban on conventional-arms trade with Iran was included in the 2015 nuclear deal and is set to expire on October 18.
The US administration, citing Iran’s support for resistance groups in the Middle East, has insisted that the arms embargo be extended, Wall Street Journal reported.
US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran agreement two years ago. But the US has said it would use its position on the United Nations Security Council to force the reimposition of international sanctions if the arms embargo is allowed to lapse.
But Russia and China, who are still party to the Iran deal and are potential arms exporters to Tehran, have rejected the US demand, putting those powers on a collision course with Washington.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the US position “as ridiculous and irresponsible” in a recent letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
European states, which are also party to the nuclear agreement and seek to preserve it, have been caught in the middle.
European diplomats, by and large, have played down the near-term risk of lifting the arms embargo, asserting that economic problems will make it hard for Tehran to go on a weapons-buying spree.
But with Tehran taking steps to reduce its compliance with the nuclear deal in response to sweeping US sanctions, European officials have also been wary of rewarding Iran.
The Europeans are seeking to avert a clash in the UN Security Council that could lead to the demise of the 2015 nuclear deal and turn Iran into a front-burner foreign policy issue in the US presidential contest.



Eying a Compromise 

The compromise pursued by French, German and British diplomats aims to constrain enough of the potential arms trade with Iran to satisfy the Trump administration while limiting the scope or duration of the arms ban to placate Russia and China, at least to the point where they would abstain in a security council vote, according to diplomats familiar with discussions.
Details are still at an early stage of discussion, but the ideas center around a measure that would allow some arms purchases by Iran while keeping key weapons systems out of Tehran’s hands, and an extension on the arms trade restrictions that might initially be limited to 12 months, the diplomats said.
At the same time, the Europeans favor tightening oversight of Iranian weapons exports to Tehran’s Middle East allies, possibly by enforcing inspections or granting the authority to interdict suspected weapon shipments.
The Europeans hope they can craft a plan that can at least avoid a veto by Russia, China and the US, according to diplomats familiar with the discussions.
Iran has called on Europe, Russia and China not to bow to US pressure on the arms embargo, warning that it would respond if the embargo is extended.
Russian diplomats said privately that if Iran were to push its partners to keep the deal alive through the US presidential election, a compromise might be possible.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, has said that if he was elected president he would reenter the 2015 Iran deal if Tehran complies with its obligations but would also work to extend the agreement’s constraints.
The UN arms embargo dates to the 2000s when international restrictions on arms sales to Iran were introduced as a way to pressure Tehran to agree to a deal limiting its nuclear activities.
During the negotiations over the 2015 nuclear deal, the duration of the arms ban was one of the last sticking points.
As spelled out in the agreement, Iran is not allowed to import or sell a range of conventional weapons—including jet fighters, tanks, warships and artillery systems—for five years. 
A separate provision in the agreement prohibited Iran from importing missiles for eight years.
The US has circulated a draft security council resolution that would tighten the arms embargo regime on Iran and extend it indefinitely.
Although the US dropped out of the Iran accord, the Trump administration insists it has the legal right to reimpose sanctions—a process diplomats call “snapback”—under the UN Security Council resolution that affirmed the deal.
That legal analysis, however, has been challenged by European officials, Russia and China.
“We believe it is not … possible because we believe that the US abandoned the JCPOA,” European Union foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said, using the abbreviation for the 2015 accord.
That has left all parties with an incentive to resolve the issue before the American legal argument is put to the test.

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