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European Nations Trigger Iran Nuclear Deal Dispute Mechanism

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. And since then, Europe has been trying to salvage it. Right now, though, the European effort looks shaky. France, Germany and the U.K. were all part of the deal. Those three countries announced this morning that they're considering whether to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran.

Nathalie Tocci knows this agreement well. She was a senior adviser to the EU's foreign policy chief. She's on the line. Good morning.

NATHALIE TOCCI: Good morning.

KING: So we were talking this morning because France, Germany and the U.K. said they triggered the agreement's dispute mechanism. What does that mean?

TOCCI: Well, that essentially means that they will be negotiating with Iran. And this dispute resolution mechanism essentially gives Iran another 35, approximately, days and try and seek Iran's full compliance within the mechanism. If this fails, then, essentially, there will be an advice provided by the so-called advisory board. And if that advises the group to then turn to the U.N. Security Council, there would indeed be the possibility - in fact, probably the certainty - of a so-called snapback of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

An important point to highlight is that the snapback does not require the consent of all five permanent members of the Security Council because it essentially simply calls for a nonrenewal of the waiver. And therefore, it only requires basically one state - i.e., for instance, the United States, to name the obvious one - to essentially vote in favor of the reimposition of sanctions for the sanctions to be reimposed.

KING: What...

TOCCI: So basically, there is not an automatic move to the reimposition of sanctions. But indeed, an important step - in my view, a very unfortunate step - has been taken today.

KING: What did Iran do?

TOCCI: Well, Iran has essentially said it will no longer sort of accept restrictions to the number of centrifuges that it has to essentially produce and stockpile enriched uranium. It has not - and this is why I don't think the dispute resolution mechanism should have been triggered - it has not said that it will actually go back to an enrichment of uranium, for instance, 20%, which is basically the kind of percentage that indicates a willingness by Iran to move up towards a military rather than simply civilian scale nuclear program.

So it basically said it will increase the quantity, if you like, not the quantity of its enriched uranium. So in my view, it is a very risky move that the Europeans have taken - and in my view, also not a particularly, let's put it, courageous move in terms of facing up to where the real noncompliance of all this really is, which, frankly speaking, is in the United States.

KING: OK. There was an interesting bit of timing this morning. France, Germany and the U.K. triggered this mechanism only a couple of hours after Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said - he was on the BBC; he was asked about the nuclear deal. And he said, let's work together to replace it and get a Trump deal instead. Later on, his spokespeople said he didn't mean to suggest that President Trump had a better idea for an Iran nuclear deal. But what do you make of those comments? Is Boris Johnson talking as part of a coordinated European strategy on Iran and nukes, or is he just talking for himself?

TOCCI: I think he's definitely just talking for himself.

KING: OK.

TOCCI: I think this is the first instance of a post-Brexit Britain talking for itself. To be honest, a new deal is really - is pie in the sky, to be honest. I mean, if the existing deal has not been complied with - and it has not been complied with because there's been a violation by one side, which has then triggered a noncompliance by the other side - the trust between the parties is so low at the moment that there is no scope whatsoever for any new deal.

KING: Nevertheless, do you think Tehran wants to stay in this deal?

TOCCI: Well, I think the signals that it's provided up until now indicates that it's done - it does. I mean - you know, sort of - it's been well over a year and a half now that, essentially, Iran has been taking decisions that so far have been reversible decisions, which have basically been indicating, on the one hand, we've got to do something because there's a violation on the one side and we can't simply stay put on our side, so we've got to do something. But we will not do something that indicates taking irreversible steps.

And even this last fifth announcement that they made on the 5 of January basically indicates a reversible step. Now, it does indicate the fact that Iran will not ask for permission if it will eventually go up to an enrichment to 20%, which could happen at any time, but it has basically not taken that step yet. Had it been an Iranian decision either to increase the enrichment of uranium to 20% or, perhaps even more importantly, a denial of access to inspectors, that would have signaled Tehran's...

KING: It would be, yes, a very different situation. Nathalie Tocci - we have to leave it there - senior adviser at the EU. Thank you.

TOCCI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.