EU fails to agree on new Iran sanctions as Trump deadline approaches

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By Middle East Affairs

As the deadline approaches to “fix” an international nuclear accord with Iran, the sanctions that were meant to soothe U.S. President Donald Trump into remaining in the deal have failed to pass in the European Union.

The agreement – signed in 2015 by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and Iran – is in danger of falling apart if Trump’s demands aren’t met by May 12, which is when he is scheduled to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

The deal was cemented under former president Barack Obama’s administration and ensured that in exchange for relief on sanctions that crippled its economy, Iran would curb its nuclear missile program. However, Trump has threatened to pull out if the European signatories don’t address what he calls terrible flaws in the deal.

Germany, Britain and France have pressed the European Union to introduce new sanctions on Iran, mostly against individuals who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his seven-year civil war on rebel groups. The European signatories hoped this would encourage Trump to stay in the deal.

On Monday, however, Reuters reported that Italy formed a strong opposition against the sanctions during the European Union Commission. Backed by Austria, Italy is seeking to make strong trade ties with Iran and doesn’t want its options hindered by sanctions. The Commission members also expressed fears that enforcing new sanctions would not keep Trump from dropping out of the deal.

Some diplomats later said this might mean the EU won’t meet Trump’s May 12 deadline.

“It may be that the nuclear agreement is dead in the water anyway, so why risk emboldening the radicals in Iran and undermining our chances to win contracts there,” Reuters reported one diplomat as saying.

Yet another noted that the Commission still had four weeks to figure out a plan: “We are clearly heading there, though we need a bit more time.”

A third diplomat told Reuters it did not seem “very likely” that the Commission would put new restrictions in place by mid-May.

The Commission agreed to continue work on the issue, Reuters said, as the EU as a whole values the international nuclear deal. The EU also extended last week its already-existing sanctions on Iran related for human rights issues, which the U.S. welcomed.

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