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World

European Countries Trigger Diplomatic Provision Of Iran Nuclear Deal

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After U.S. drone strikes killed a top Iranian commander, Iran responded in part by further backing away from the nuclear deal it agreed to in 2015. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, Iran agreed to limits on its nuclear program and opened its doors to international inspectors. The goal - to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But in 2018, the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran. So now Britain, France and Germany are trying to salvage the deal and focus Iran back into compliance, but the agreement was already hanging by a thread. That's according to Sanam Vakil of Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think tank. We spoke to her earlier.

SANAM VAKIL: They're unhappy because of Iran's breaches. And they also believe that they have to not just protect the deal, which was a multilateral agreement negotiated over a prolonged period of time - some people say a decade. They also have to protect the principle of nonproliferation, so they are pushing back against Iran by beginning a process that has been clearly delineated in the Iran nuclear agreement to resolve conflicts. But worst case scenario, it could end up in the return of EU sanctions against Iran.

CORNISH: What tools do they have left? What leverage do they have left over Iran?

VAKIL: I don't think that they have many tools at their disposal. What they do have is the ability to talk to both sides, to lobby them that a nuclear crisis is really not the endgame here. The goal was to prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear program. But beyond that, also, Europe has not been able to deliver Washington, nor deliver Tehran.

CORNISH: For a while, it seemed like there was some attempt to try and get the U.S. back into the deal, but now we are hearing this from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Here he is with the BBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: My plea to our American friends is - look. Somehow or other, we've got to stop the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon. But if we're going to get rid of it, let's replace it, and let's replace it with the Trump deal.

CORNISH: So obviously, there's still an attempt to try and get the U.S. back to the table. But what does Johnson mean when he talks about the Trump deal?

VAKIL: I think Boris Johnson is playing to President Trump's desire to have his own stamp on a deal with Iran. And he is merely suggesting, let's tweak this agreement a little. Let's make it a bigger, better Trump deal.

CORNISH: And so how do you think this is going over in Iran?

VAKIL: The big question in Tehran right now is, what can Europe actually do in this moment? From Iran's perspective, over the past two years, European efforts have been fruitless. They haven't succeeded in convincing Trump to come back to the JCPOA. They haven't been able to provide Iran with any economic incentives to remain compliant in the JCPOA. And there are hardliners in Tehran that are saying Europe is irrelevant and thinking that they have to perhaps continue to up the ante within the nuclear agreement, if not kill the agreement, in order to maybe gain some more attention, to raise some eyebrows, to show the world that this strategy has actually been a complete failure.

CORNISH: Is this JCPOA - is this nuclear deal dead, moot? What's the status now?

VAKIL: It is dying. It's not completely dead yet. I think the problem here is that there's not a lot that the remaining signatories can do to save the deal. The problems over the JCPOA really remain between the Trump administration and Iran. Iran is willing to come back to the negotiating table if the Trump administration provides it an offramp, some form of economic concession or sanctions relief. And the Trump administration, in this current climate, sees Iran as weakened, sees its policy as being positive and successful. We're seeing protests in Iran. We're seeing Iran backfooted in the region. And I don't think that they're likely to shift their positions, so we're in a bit of a stalemate period. Everybody is playing for time. But it does look ultimately that, without any bold moves from the Iranians or from the Trump administration, that the JCPOA, unfortunately, will die.

CORNISH: That's Sanam Vakil.

Thank you so much for your time.

VAKIL: Thank you for having me on, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.