Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, left, talks to Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, right, and Malta's Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela during an European Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. European Union foreign ministers are discussing ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal intact after the Islamic Republic began enrichment work at its Fordo power plant. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

EU labors to keep nuclear deal alive after new Iran moves

November 11, 2019 - 3:34 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers on Monday debated ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal intact after the Islamic Republic began enrichment work at its Fordo site in a fresh act of defiance that seems likely to spell the end of the painstakingly drafted international agreement.

At talks in Brussels, the EU powers that signed the 2015 agreement — Britain, France and Germany — were expected to signal what action should be taken as the bloc awaits a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on whether Iran is still complying with its commitments.

The EU sees the nuclear pact as a key component of regional and global security and has struggled to stop the deal from unraveling since President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of it over a year ago, triggering debilitating economic sanctions against Iran.

"It's a great agreement and we need to keep it alive," Slovakia's foreign minister, Miroslav Lajcak, told reporters. But it remains unclear what more the EU can do as Iran's economy buckles under the weight of sanctions, apart from renew its appeals for restraint and dialogue.

The Europeans have poured a lot of cash and credibility into ensuring the deal stays afloat. A safeguard was built to keep money flowing to Tehran, but it has not been effective. A system is in place to protect European companies doing business in Iran from U.S. sanctions, even though many remain reluctant because they fear being shut out of the more lucrative American market if they do.

One option could be to trigger the dispute mechanism in the agreement, which would open a window of up to 30 days to resolve the problem. Some are even calling on the Europeans to impose their own sanctions on Iran.

"Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions. We're not going to solve the problem like that," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. "Right now, we should wait for the report from the IAEA to see where we stand."

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said that he was "very worried about Iran's behavior," after uranium gas was injected into centrifuges at Fordo last Thursday to produce low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power plants. Under the deal, Tehran was not supposed to do this at the site until 2030.

However, the Europeans are hardly surprised by Iran's actions. They believe that the writing has been on the wall since Trump withdrew from the agreement last year, claiming that it does not to stop Tehran developing missiles or undermining stability in the Gulf region.

"Sadly, it's a degradation that was to be expected," Asselborn said.

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