Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's hopes of creating a wedge between Europe and the United States seemed to vanish, amid mounting questions about the future of the nuclear deal.
The dialogue between EU and Iran had stalled around ten days ago, according to Iranian and European sources.
Diplomatic sources said Saturday that a message conveyed by envoys from six countries discussed lack of patience with the development of ballistic missiles and the behavior of Tehran’s intelligence in European territory. This was faced with a “violent” response from Iranian officials who “stood up abruptly and violently closed the door in an unusual breach of protocol.”
Iran confirmed that the dialogue had reached a dead end, adding that the European delegation found “locked doors”, as Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi refused to conduct any dialogue.
Diplomats from three European countries in the nuclear deal (France, Britain, and Germany), as well as envoys from Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium, conveyed a message that "alarmed" Iranian diplomats on January 8.
The message conveyed indicated that Europe can no longer tolerate Tehran’s ballistic missile tests and assassination plots on European territory, Reuters quoted four European diplomats.
The meeting was on the eve of EU's first sanctions against Iran since the 2015 Vienna deal with Tehran over curbing its nuclear program. The sanctions were largely symbolic, but the violent meeting involved an unexpected shift in European diplomacy.
Europe is drawing closer to US President Donald Trump's policy in isolating Iran with tough sanctions, although European governments still support the 2015 Vienna accord.
Last week, Iran ignored the US and French warnings about Resolution 2231 and fired a missile carrying Payam satellite, meaning “message”. The mission failed according to Tehran.
Meanwhile, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi revealed his country is preparing to enrich nuclear fuel of 20 percent purity. He also said that Tehran was ready to reach uranium enrichment within four days, signaling Iran's willingness to leave the nuclear deal.
Diplomats say smaller EU states have joined France and Britain in a tougher stance on Tehran, including considering new economic sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Iranians developing the ballistic missile program, three diplomats said.
On January 9, EU named a unit of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence as a terrorist organization and froze its assets in addition to the assets of two other men.
Three diplomats indicated that a similar set of measures is being prepared, but getting all 28 EU members to agree will take time.
“We’d prefer not to take these measures, but they need to stop trying to kill people on our territory and over the last three years they have beefed up their ballistic program,” Reuters quoted one senior European diplomat.
Although there are different views in Europe, the shift could have consequences for President Rouhani’s government as it looks up to European capitals to salvage the deal via the mechanism.
Diplomats indicated that the alleged assassination plots by Iran on French and Danish soil in 2018 were the last straw for Europe, even though Tehran denies the plots and insists the missile tests are purely defensive.
In conjunction with the meeting of Western diplomats in Tehran, the Netherlands publicly blamed Iran for killings in its territory in 2015 and 2017, which Iran denies.
The diplomat said that after the attack, Deutschland now takes a more hawkish stance than France.
State news agency IRNA quoted an “EU spokesperson” as having said that the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for trade with Iran “is about to become operational,” a week after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a summit in Poland in February, which will discuss the Middle East, specifically Iran.
EU tried to show Iran that compliance with the nuclear accord would still mean economic benefits despite Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions and cessation of Iranian oil exports.
EU is set to officially launch the mechanism later this month but it will not be operational for several months. It will be registered in France, run by a German and likely to include Britain as a contributor.
In this regard, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, who helped seal the 2015 deal, is cautious of moving too fast for fear of provoking a complete collapse of the accord, four diplomats said.
EU foreign ministers planned to issue a rare joint statement in January regarding Iran’s interference in the region and they wanted to call for an end to missile tests, but they said Mogherini wants to see the SPV established first, reported Reuters.
Neither EU nor Iran commented on the European official’s statement, as an EU official reported that Mogherini is unable to attend due to another official engagement.
A US State Department official said there was now “a growing international consensus” on Iranian threats, adding that Washington welcomes Europe’s efforts to counter Iranian terrorism on European soil, its missile launches, human rights abuses, and other threats.
EU insisted on a dialogue with Tehran, and despite its agreement with the US administration on the threat of ballistic missiles, European countries want to avoid overlap between the nuclear and missile files.
At meetings between European and Iranian diplomats last year, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, pressed for gestures on Iran’s role in Syria’s war and for help to end the conflict in Yemen. But various bilateral talks on the ballistic program did not yield any results.
Meanwhile, a senior EU diplomat indicated that there’s a feeling of frustration among Britain, France and Germany, and others, after the first phase of diplomacy with Iran.
“We thought we could get some effort from the Iranians in several areas.”
Iran accuses Europe of being unable of safeguarding the nuclear deal, as Iran's Deputy FM said that “operational steps” were needed from Europe as political support, not enough.
On Thursday, head of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts Ahmad Jannati said Europe “would do nothing in our interest”. State TV reported Jannati as saying that Europeans are “worse than Americans. If not, they are not any better.”
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