By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) – A European official on Tuesday said he expected no difficulty persuading EU nations to maintain ballistic missile sanctions on Iran that are due to expire in October.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said he sees a window of opportunity by the end of 2023 to try to negotiate a de-escalatory nuclear deal with Iran.
“We may have a small window of opportunity to try to resume discussions with them on (a) return to the JCPOA or at least to an agreement of de-escalation … before the end of the year,” the official told reporters in Washington.
The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is a defunct 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and major powers under which Tehran agreed to restrain its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
In June, sources told Reuters that European diplomats had informed Iran they planned to retain EU ballistic missile sanctions set to expire in October under the nuclear deal, a step they said could provoke Iranian retaliation.
The sources cited three reasons for keeping the sanctions: Russia’s use of Iranian drones against Ukraine; the possibility Iran might transfer ballistic missiles to Russia; and depriving Iran of the nuclear deal’s benefits given Tehran has violated the accord, albeit only after the United States did so first.
Keeping the EU sanctions would reflect Western efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them despite the collapse of the 2015 deal, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
Asked if Britain, France and Germany, which were parties to the 2015 deal, had convinced the rest of EU to keep the ballistic missile sanctions, the European official replied: “It’s nearly agreed. I am not expecting difficulties.”
The 2015 pact, which Iran struck with the three European states, China, Russia and the United States, limited Tehran’s nuclear program to make it harder for it to get fissile material for a bomb in return for relief from economic sanctions.
As a result of Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and U.S. President Joe Biden’s failure to revive it, Iran could make the fissile material for one bomb in 12 days or so, according to U.S. estimates, down from a year when the accord was in force.
With that deal effectively dead, Iran‘s relations with the West have deteriorated over the last year, leading Washington and its allies to look for ways to de-escalate tensions and, if that happened, for a way to revive some kind of nuclear limits.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; writing by Paul Grant; editing by Tim Ahmann and Deepa Babington)