Patrick Wintour, Saeed Kamali Dehghan — The Guardian May 1, 2018
European leaders have pushed back against Israel’s claims that it has new evidence showing that Iran is breaching the nuclear deal with the west signed in 2015.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has hailed the Israeli claims as significant, as the 12 May deadline approaches for Donald Trump to decide whether to pull out of the deal. But Pompeo declined to say whether they represented proof that Iran was in violation.
The overall initial view in European capitals was that the documents did reveal new material about the scale of Iran’s programme prior to 2015, but nothing that showed a subsequent breach of the deal itself.
The French foreign ministry said that the details needed to be “studied and evaluated” but that the Israeli claims reinforced the need for the continuation of the deal, by which Iran accepted nuclear inspections in return for the loosening of economic sanctions.
“The pertinence of the deal is reinforced by the details presented by Israel,” a statement said. “All activity linked to the development of a nuclear weapon is permanently forbidden by the deal.”
The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, also said Netanyahu’s presentation showed the importance of keeping the deal. “The Iran nuclear deal is not based on trust about Iran’s intentions; rather it is based on tough verification,” he said.
The Israeli presentation – made by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – may not have been designed to change thinking in Europe, but instead to bolster Trump’s resolve to stick to his campaign pledge and quit the deal, known as the JCPOA.
In a bid to push back against Israel, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, said Netanyahu’s allegations had “not put into question” Tehran’s compliance with the deal and the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) had produced 10 reports saying Iran had met its commitments.
“The International Atomic Energy Authority is the only impartial international organisation in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear commitments,” she said. “If any country has information of non-compliance of any kind it should address this information to the proper legitimate and recognised mechanism.”
The IAEA itself said a report by its director in 2015 “stated that the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009”, and that the IAEA’s board of governors “declared that its consideration of this issue was closed”.
A German government spokesman said it would analyse the Israeli documents, but added that the JCPOA had unprecedentedly strong monitoring mechanisms. The spokesman said: “It is clear that the international community had doubts that Iran was pursuing an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme. That is why the nuclear agreement was reached in 2015.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 the UK’s Middle East minister, Alistair Burt, insisted the JCPOA “contributes to peace in the region”. He added: “Iran has reduced its uranium stockpile by 95%, its centrifuges by two-thirds and as recently as February has been judged by the International Atomic Energy Authority to be in compliance with the JCPOA.”
Burt, who returned from a visit to Tehran at the weekend, reiterated the European view that Trump’s other concerns about Iran, including its nuclear programme after the deal, expires in 2025, its interventions elsewhere in the Middle East and development of a ballistic missile programme can be addressed in a new supplementary deal.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke by phone with Netanyahu and reiterated his plan for an additional broader deal with Iran that would address Israel’s security concerns. Macron at times has also suggested the 2015 deal could be folded intact into a broader deal meeting Trump’s wider concerns about Iran.
Macron, the UK prime minister, Theresa May, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, discussed the fate of the deal by phone on Sunday, with the focus shifting increasingly to whether it will be possible for the EU and Tehran to continue the deal if the US pulls out.
Both Merkel and Macron met Trump in Washington last week, and Macron came away saying he did not think he had persuaded Trump to stay in the deal.