France, Russia scramble to protect Iran nuclear deal as Tehran grows restless

France, Russia scramble to protect Iran nuclear deal as Tehran grows restless
France's Macron said he and his Russian counterpart expressed shared desires to protect the dwindling Iran nuclear deal.
5 min read
13 January, 2020
Iran announced it will pull back from all commitments [Getty]
France and Russia expressed a shared aim to protect Iran's historic nuclear deal, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday, after Iran announced its withdrawal from key commitments.

Macron said the sentiment was shared with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call between the two world leaders, in a statement published by Paris.

The call came amid fears of the deal's total collapse following weeks of heightened tensions between the US and its arch enemy Iran.

Ahead of an emergency meeting in a bid to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East last week, France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Iran could develop nuclear weapons in the next year if it continues violating the 2015 nuclear accord.

"If they continue with unravelling the Vienna agreement, then yes, within a fairly short period of time, between one and two years, they could have access to a nuclear weapon, which is not an option," Le Drian told RTL radio.

Tehran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) alongside the US, UK, Germany, France, China, Russia and the European Union in July 2015.

The future of the nuclear deal has been in question since May 2018, when US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and adopted a policy of "maximum pressure" on Iran, slapping a slew of punishing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

But France, the UK and Germany are scrambling to keep alive a 2015 deal that reined in Tehran's nuclear programme after Tehran announced it would no longer stick to restrictions on uranium enrichment or the numbers or types of centrifuges it can operate.

Read more: US President Donald Trump vows Iran 'will never have nuclear weapons' in angry, all-caps tweet

Iran said it would forego the "limit on the number of centrifuges" it had pledged to honour in the 2015 agreement, casting doubt on an EU push for talks to salvage the deal.

Tehran said it would continue cooperating "as before" with IAEA inspectors.

Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, tweeted that the accord, which has been teetering on the brink of collapse since US President Donald Trump pulled out, was "now more important than ever".

European-led efforts to keep Iran in the deal - which curbed its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief - have borne little fruit since the US withdrew in May 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions.

In line with the usual EU policy, Borrell said the bloc would wait for further details of Iranian breaches from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before deciding how to respond.

"Deeply regret Iran's latest announcement on #JCPOA. As ever we will rely on @iaeaorg verification," Borrell tweeted, using an abbreviation for the deal's formal name.

"Full implementation of #NuclearDeal by all is now more important than ever, for regional stability & global security. I will continue working with all participants on way forward."

Meanwhile, Trump urged signatories to the JCPOA to withdraw from the accord, blaming the "very defective" deal.

"Iran's hostility substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed... and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash," the US president said.

"The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognise this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place," Trump urged.

However, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the JCPOA remains "the best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran".

"It is a shell that is currently being voided, but it remains a shell into which we can put substance again," he said.

Tension triggers

The US killing of Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes in Baghdad prompted Iranian retaliation strikes on Iraqi bases housing US troops in the neighbouring country.

No casualties were reported in that attack, however missiles launched from inside Iran struck a Ukrainian passenger jet that was mistaken for a cruise missile, killing all 176 aboard the flight.

Iranian authorities had initially blamed technical failures for the plane crash before then admitting to "unintentionally" downing the jet amid a period of heightened alert.

Anger over the death of passengers, mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, sparked protests in Iran in recent days, with many denouncing "liars".

Javad Kashi, a professor of politics at Tehran Allameh University, wrote online that people should be allowed to express their anger in public protests.

"Buckled under the pressure of humiliation and being ignored, people poured into the streets with so much anger," he wrote. "Let them cry as much as they want."

Iranian security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Tehran's initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, online videos show.

There was no immediate report in Iranian state-run media on the incident near Azadi, or Freedom Square, in Tehran on Sunday night after a call went up for protests there.

Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by Associated Press show a crowd of demonstrators fleeing as a tear gas canister landed among them.

People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: "They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square. Death to the dictator!"

Another video shows a woman being carried away in the aftermath as a trail of blood can be seen on the ground. Those around her cry out that she has been shot by live ammunition in the leg.

"Oh my God, she's bleeding nonstop!" one person shouts. "Bandage it!" another shouts.

Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the sidewalk.

Tehran's police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, later denied his officers opened fire.

"Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance," Iranian media quoted Rahimi as saying. "Police did not shoot in the gatherings since broad-mindedness and restraint has been agenda of the police forces of the capital."

However, uniformed police officers were just one arm of Iran's security forces who were out in force for the demonstrations.

Follow us on 
Twitter and Instagram to stay connected