UK, Germany and France trigger Iran deal dispute resolution mechanism

Tuesday 14th January 2020 16:00 GMT

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs the UK continues to be committed to the deal, the JCPOA, and that the mechanism was triggered to restore a diplomatic track.

The nuclear agreement, reached under former US president Barack Obama, imposed restrictions and monitoring of Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Under President Donald Trump, the US abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling economic sanctions.

Sky's diplomatic editor, Dominic Waghorn, says the latest move by the European countries aims at buying time to try and resuscitate a deal that is currently on life support. If the dispute is not resolved, the deal will be pronounced dead.

Waghorn says, however, that the deal cannot be fully revived until America can be persuaded to return to the deal - which is currently out of the question.

Mr Raab told the House of Commons: "The UK, France and Germany will remain committed to the deal and will approach the DRM (dispute resolution mechanism) in good faith, striving to resolve the dispute and bring Iran back into full compliance with its JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) obligations."

But Mr Raab was forced to deny he and the prime minister are on different pages with the deal, after Boris Johnson had floated the idea of a new deal negotiated by Donald Trump.

Mr Johnson spoke to BBC Breakfast about the existing deal, saying the US saw it as "flawed" but that Mr Trump, whose negotiating skills he complimented, should replace it with his own deal if he doesn't like it.

Mr Raab said Mr Johnson was fully committed to the deal but open to a broader initiative to address concerns.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi responded in a statement which said: "The Islamic Republic of Iran, as in the past, has complete readiness to support any (act of) goodwill and constructive effort to save this important international agreement."

He dismissed the latest move by the Eurpean powers as "passive" action.

It comes after Iran's president said the downing of a plane in Tehran was an "unforgivable error" and "all those involved will be punished."

In a televised speech on Tuesday, Hassan Rouhani said the "tragic event" would be investigated thoroughly, saying "one person cannot be solely responsible for the crash".

An undisclosed number of suspects accused of a role in the downing of the plane have been arrested, Iran said.

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The downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane, which killed all 176 people on board last week, has sparked protests in Iran, and about 30 people who took part in the demonstrations were arrested, Iran's judiciary said.

Some were later released.

Iran's judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said those arrested had taken part in "illegal gatherings", adding that Iran has "tolerance towards legal rallies".

The arrests come as the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany said they were referring Iran's breaches of a nuclear deal to a dispute resolution mechanism.

Britain's ambassador Rob Macaire, was detained for about an hour on Saturday amid street protests. Iran said he was held on suspicion of organising, provoking and directing radical actions; he said he had gone to a vigil for the victims of the crash and left when some chanting began.

On Tuesday, a prominent cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, said expelling the ambassador would be "the best thing that can happen to him" - otherwise, he said, supporters of Major General Qassem Soleimani could "chop him to small pieces".

Mr Raab said the UK has not received formal notification that the ambassador will be expelled.

Maj Gen Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike on 3 January.

After days of denying blame, Iran acknowledged on Saturday it had "accidentally" shot the plane down - hours after it had fired missiles at two US bases in Iraq in retaliation for Maj Gen Soleimani's killing.

Mr Rouhani said: "Iranian armed forces admitting their mistake is a good first step.

"We should assure people that it will not happen again" - but he said his government was "accountable to Iranian and other nations who lost lives".

He also called for a special court to be set up to investigate, with a "ranking judge and dozens of experts".

"This is not an ordinary case" - he said.

"The entire the world will be watching this court".

Aviation officials from Iran, Ukraine and Canada are holding a meeting in Tehran to discuss the investigation into the plane crash. Most of the victims were Iranians and Canadians.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight PS 752 was directed to Kiev and had just taken off from Tehran. Initially, Iranian state television said the flight down due to what it described as "technical problems" after leaving Imam Khomeini airport.

The UK has denounced the detention of its ambassador as a violation of diplomatic conventions.

Iran's ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, was summoned to the Foreign Office on Monday following the "unacceptable" treatment of Mr Macaire.

Mr Raab called Mr Macaire's arrest a "flagrant violation of international norms".

"The Iranian government is at a cross-roads moment.

"It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards," he said.

Mr Johnson has faced criticism for not returning from his holiday immediately to deal with the crisis.

On Tuesday he told the BBC: "I was not in this country but I worked very hard, as you can imagine, in making sure there was a European response."

The prime minister said Britain had played its "traditional role" in serving as the bridge between the "European powers and the United States".

He added that there was no need for Britain to have been informed before the attack, saying: "This was not our operation. There was no reason for us to be told."

Mr Johnson also called on Donald Trump to replace the Iranian nuclear deal with his own new agreement.

"If we're going to get rid of it, let's replace it and let's replace it with the Trump deal," - Mr Johnson said of the 2015 nuclear arms control deal with Tehran.

"That would be a great way forward. I don't want a military conflict between us, the United States and Iran, let's dial this thing down."

The nuclear deal that is in place is designed to limit Iran's uranium enrichment efforts - and therefore its capacity to build a nuclear missile - in return for an easing of sanctions. Its dispute resolution mechanism was triggered on Tuesday.

In a joint statement foreign ministers from the UK, Germany and France said they were "left with no choice, given Iran's actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments."

Five nations whose citizens died in the plane crash will meet in London on Thursday to discuss taking legal action against Iran, Ukraine's foreign minister said.

Vadym Prystaiko added that the countries will also discuss compensation and the investigation

The victims were four Britons, 57 Canadians, 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans.

There were also several children among the passengers, including an infant.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Global News TV that the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash would still be alive and at home with their families now if there had been no tensions in the region.

According to a transcript, Mr Trudeau said he did not receive a heads up before the United States killed Maj Gen Soleimani.

He said: "The US makes its determinations. We attempt to work as an international community on big issues.

"But sometimes countries take actions without informing their allies".

On Sunday, he attended a memorial service at the University of Alberta for the victims, alongside Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney, and David H Turpin, President of the University of Alberta.

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