U.S., European powers set up working group to address Iran deal concerns

UK’s Johnson says Jerusalem decision can prove helpful with “symmetrical movement in the other direction.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in London (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in London
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has entered talks with Britain, France and Germany on ways to address their joint concerns with an international nuclear deal brokered with Iran in 2015.
In London, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said their working group would begin meeting as early as next week, and that US and E3 diplomats had already generally agreed on what “flaws” in the nuclear accord would have to be addressed.
“I think there’s a common view among the E3, certainly, that there are some areas of the JCPOA, or some areas of Iran’s behavior, that should be addressed,” Tillerson said, referring to the formal name of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“And most particularly, their ballistic missile programs and our concerns over the expiry of the JCPOA and the provisions around the expiry.”
“So we’re engaging in a working group,” he added. “We’ve designated individuals that are going to be meeting to talk about what are the principles around how we might approach Iran to address our concerns with the JCPOA, and how might we fix those.”
Speaking next to Tillerson, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson echoed his concerns and noted a “wide measure of agreement” on the need to thwart Iranian expansionism in the Middle East, as well it’s ballistic missile program.
But “it’s important we do that in parallel and don’t vitiate the fundamentals of the Iran nuclear deal, and we’re sure we can do that,” Johnson added.
European governments that were a part of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program hope to preserve the accord largely in its current form. But US President Donald Trump wants amendments to the deal, or a supplemental US-EU deal tacked onto it, that effectively will impose new terms on Iran over its long-term nuclear work.
Trump has given European powers a May deadline to engage in a conversation over “fixing” the nuclear accord. He threatens to withdraw from the deal “immediately” if they do not comply, US Vice President Mike Pence told Knesset on Monday.
Trump specifically wants other world powers to recognize the link between Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its work on ballistic missiles, designed to carry nuclear warheads. He also wants them to clarify whether international inspectors have snap access to Iranian military sites that may host nuclear weapons experimentation, as they have in the past, and to address expiration dates built into the nuclear deal that allow Tehran to ultimately grow its nuclear infrastructure to industrial scale.
While London, Paris and Berlin seem amenable to a negotiation over these points, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, Frederica Mogherini, said this week she continues to oppose any actions that might infringe on the deal as it currently stands.
Johnson also addressed international concern with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, encouraging the White House to promptly release its peace plan.
“The world is really waiting to see with great interest what the United States is going to produce by way of a proposal on the Middle East peace process, and clearly, that decision feeds into that. Let’s see where we get to,” Johnson said. “Funnily enough, there is a moment of opportunity here.  A process that has been stalled for years, if not decades, could see some progress.”
“Clearly, Jerusalem now having been recognized by the United States as the capital of Israel, one would expect some sort of symmetrical movement in the other direction to get things moving,” he added.