European countries triggered a dispute mechanism in their nuclear deal with Iran, a move that could lead to the return of United Nations sanctions on Tehran.
Britain, France and Germany said that they had been “left with no choice” but to make the move.
Iran announced on January 5, after the U.S. killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani, that it would no longer be bound by limitations on its nuclear energy programme.
Tehran had been gradually reducing its commitments under the deal since the United States withdrew and re-imposed sanctions in 2018. With Washington threatening secondary sanctions against European businesses dealing with Iran, Tehran argued that it could no longer reap the financial benefits laid out in the pact in exchange for curbing its nuclear programme.
By initiating the dispute mechanism, the Western European signatories begin a process that could eventually result in a “snapback” of U.N. sanctions, although officials made clear such an outcome is not their current intention.
Instead, they appear to hope that triggering the process could help bring Iran back in line with its commitments under the 2015 deal, which it negotiated with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
In their statement, the three Western European signatories said they would not be joining the Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran and reiterated their “regret” at the U.S. decision to withdraw.
“Our goal is clear,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a statement. “We want to preserve the agreement and reach a diplomatic solution within its framework.”
A State Department spokesperson applauded the European decision, saying, “The time is now to end Iran’s extortion.”
“Nations must unite behind this effort to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its continued destabilising actions,” the spokesperson said.