Angered by EU Approach to Nuclear Deal, Iran Threatens to Withdraw From NPT

By James Carstensen | January 20, 2020 | 4:32pm EST
Iranian Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – Iran warned Monday it will withdraw from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if Germany, France and Britain refer their dispute over the Iran nuclear deal to the U.N. Security Council.

“If the Europeans continue their improper behavior or send Iran’s file to the Security Council, we will withdraw from the NPT,” the IRNA state news agency quoted Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as saying.

Iran was angered by last week’s launch by the three E.U. countries of a formal “dispute resolution mechanism” (DRM), kickstarting a 60-day process which, if unsuccessful, could see U.N. sanctions restored.

The move by the “E.U.3” came in response to Iran taking its fifth and “final” step ceasing compliance with the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The NPT recognizes only five countries – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France – as nuclear-armed states, while all others are allowed to pursue peaceful nuclear power programs only, overseen by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanueal Macron in a joint statement Sunday reaffirmed their commitment to the JCPOA, and suggested “working with international partners to find a diplomatic way through the current tensions.”

They did not mention U.S. policy. President Trump in 2018 withdrew the U.S. from the deal, and restored U.S. sanctions that had been lifted under it.

In contrast to the British-French statement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a weekend newspaper interview was openly critical of the U.S.’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on the Iranian regime, designed to change in regional behavior.

“While the U.S. unilaterally abandoned the nuclear agreement and imposed maximum pressure, we want to achieve progress through negotiations,” he told Bild am Sonntag. “France, Britain and Germany want to keep the deal to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

“We should not pretend that externally induced regime change in Tehran will automatically improve the situation,” Maas said. “That has gone badly elsewhere, like in Iraq.”

Tensions between the U.S., and Iran have been heightened over recent weeks. Iran on January 8 fired ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops, in response to a U.S. airstrike that killed Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

After the U.S. withdrawal, the three E.U. parties to the JCPOA worked to try to keep it afloat by finding ways to keep business channels with Iran open despite concerns about secondary U.S. sanctions.

The Iranian regime has accused the E.U. of not doing enough, however, and its phased moves away from JCPOA compliance are seen as attempts to compel it to do more. Those moves, in turn, prompted the European trio to trigger the DRM.

The weekend statements of commitment to the JCPOA by the European countries’ leaders appeared to have done little to temper Iran’s strong views on the matter.

Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani warned Sunday that the European countries that any “unfair” actions could prompt the regime to cease cooperation with the IAEA.

“The issue is not Iran’s behavior,” Larijani said. “It is America’s threats that have pushed a powerful European country to a humiliating and unjust position.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Monday reiterated Tehran’s rejection of the DRM.

“The European powers' claims about Iran violating the deal are unfounded," he told reporters, adding that the “door to negotiations” was not yet closed.

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, said it was an unusual move for Iran to have gone straight to threatening withdrawal from the NPT, rather than focusing on the JCPOA itself.

“There have been threats from Iran with regard to (possibly) leaving the NPT before, but this is the most blunt language coming from a high-ranking representative of the executive branch that I recall,” she tweeted.

Mukhatzhanova questioned the wisdom of the threat, saying there was “no better way to unite just about everyone against you than withdrawing from the NPT.”

The only country to date that has withdrawn from the NPT was North Korea, in 2003.

All countries are party to the NPT except for India, Pakistan, Israel, South Sudan and – since becoming the first and only country to withdraw – North Korea.


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