By Robin Emmott and John Irish
BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
The joint paper, seen by Reuters, was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions as they would need the support of all 28 EU member governments.
The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord signed by world powers that curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.
Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12 that they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” – which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama – or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.
“We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles,” the document said, referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s role backing Syria’s government in the seven-year-old civil war.
Analysts say the nuclear agreement, touted at the time as a breakthrough reducing the risk of a devastating wider war in the Middle East, could collapse if Washington pulls out.
The document said Britain, France and Germany were engaged in “intensive talks with the Trump administration to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of U.S. support for the (nuclear) agreement beyond May 12”.
The European powers and the United States held several rounds of talks this week on the issue, diplomats said.
The document referred to sanctions that would “target militias and commanders”. It proposes building on the EU’s existing sanctions list related to Syria, which includes travel bans and asset freezes on individuals, and a ban on doing business or financing public and private companies.
The issue is highly sensitive because the 2015 pact between Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – lifted international sanctions that crippled Iran’s oil-based economy.
While the EU retains some sanctions on Iranians over human rights abuses, it rescinded its economic and financial restrictions on Iran in 2016 and does not want to be seen to be reneging on the agreement.
While Iran signed up to limits on its uranium enrichment activity, which it has repeatedly said is for peaceful power generation, not atomic bombs, it has refused to discuss its missile programme, which it says is purely defensive.
The Islamic Republic has dismissed Western assertions that its activities in the Middle East are destabilising, and also rejected Trump’s demands to renegotiate the nuclear accord.
In the joint document, Britain, France and Germany set out questions and answers that seek to show that legally, the European powers would not be breaking the terms of the nuclear deal. It said that they are “entitled to adopt additional sanctions against Iran” as long as they are not nuclear-related or were previously lifted under the nuclear agreement.
The European powers said new sanctions are justified because Iran “did not commit further to stop undertaking ballistic missile destabilising activities” under the nuclear agreement.
The nuclear deal’s terms did not cover ballistic missile activity. Iran has said its effort to develop ballistic weaponry is solely for defensive purposes and has nothing to do with its nuclear energy ambitions.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich)