International efforts accelerated to relieve US-Iran tensions

Thursday, 2019-08-01 14:11:04
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File Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron (R) meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters on September 25, 2018, in New York. (Photo: Getty)
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NDO – French President Emmanuel Macron recently had a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, during which he repeated his call to ease tensions between Iran and the United States and the United Kingdom.

The talk took place shortly after France, along with the other European powers which were the remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), convened an emergency meeting in Vienna, Austria, in an effort to “save” the deal from the verge of collapse.

President Macron made the phone call from the medieval fort of Bregancon on France’s Mediterranean coast, an ideal summer vacation site of the French leader. This showed the Iranian nuclear issue has always played an important role for the head of the Elysee Palace. President Macron emphasised France’s role to ensure all the JCPOA stakeholders agree to sit at the negotiating table. France has used strong diplomatic measures to find ways to resolve tensions between Iran and the US. The Elysee Palace said President Macron is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bregancon in mid-August, ahead of a G7 summit in Biarritz, which will present “new opportunities” to discuss the Iranian issue.

Diplomatic efforts have been accelerated in the context of the JCPOA-related crisis remaining in deadlock following the US’ unilateral withdrawal from the deal and Iran’s abandonment of some commitments. Representatives of the remaining countries in the Iran nuclear agreement summoned an emergency meeting in Vienna to discuss measures to salvage the deal, after Iran announced that it had exceeded the limit on its enriched uranium reserves set by the nuclear deal signed with powers in 2015. Tehran’s statements concerning its enrichment of 24 tonnes of uranium since the signing the JCPOA deal and its reconstruction of the Arak heavy water reactor are said to be a “psychological blow” that the Islamic nation launched against escalating tensions with the West.

If Tehran’s claim is verified, it means that the Gulf state has produced a larger amount of enriched uranium than previously thought and far exceeded the enrichment limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal. As for the US and its European allies, Iran’s uranium enrichment move is considered a “time bomb” as the West always warns of preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. Experts have considered the Arak heavy water reactor as a risk because it could help Iran produce plutonium, used in nuclear weapons. Iran’s claim to reduce its commitments to the JCPOA is triggering concern among the countries, because Iran’s enrichment limit as well as the operational level of the Arak heavy water reactor have inherently been regulated and placed under the control of the 2015 agreement.

New moves from Iran are said to be the “cards” to bargain with and pressure European countries to take measures to protect Tehran’s interests against US sanctions. Iran said it would continue to reduce its commitments to the JCPOA until Tehran’s interests are secured. This has pushed Europe into the status of “being between the two bullets”, as Iran requests Europe to comply with their JCPOA commitments, while the US, a leading ally and partner of Europe in many spheres, is implementing many sanction measures against Iran.

Regardless of the parties’ call for dialogue, tensions in US-Iran relations have yet to show signs of cooling down. The US formally proposed Germany to coordinate with France and the UK in the mission to ensure maritime safety through the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Iran. The US is promoting the formation of an international coalition, known as Operation Sentinel, in order to ensure security in the Gulf after a series of attacks on oil tankers there. The UK also proposed the establishment of a European-led naval alliance to carry out the task of escorting oil tankers in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned moves were considered “hostile, provocative messages” by Iran. Tehran alleged that the US rejected Iran’s proposal on speeding up nuclear surveillance and inspection in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the Islamic country because Washington “does not want to seek dialogue”. In reply, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran had refused his proposal to visit Tehran and have a direct discussion with the country’s officials.

Phone calls and urgent international dialogues are being accelerated to relieve the “heat” of the escalating tensions in the Gulf following unilateral actions by both Iran and the US. The public opinion welcomes and highly appreciates the efforts made the remaining parties of the JCPOA to salvage the deal. However, neither the US nor Iran has made any moves of relief towards dismantling the deadlock and sitting at the negotiating table. The historic agreement to prevent the threat of nuclear weapons as well as to maintain peace, stability and security in the Middle East is still “hanging by a hair”.