Despite U.S. Pressure, Europeans Remain 'United' With Russia and China to 'Preserve' Iran Nuclear Deal, Diplomats Say

The European Union, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Russia remain "united" in their effort to uphold the Iran nuclear deal and plan to coordinate to counter further U.S. sanctions, despite significant pressure and criticism from the administration of President Donald Trump.

The signatories of the international treaty—known formally as the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—met Tuesday in Vienna to discuss the path forward as the U.S. aims to reimplement snapback sanctions against Iran. European and Chinese diplomats spoke favorably of the meeting and appeared aligned in their effort to preserve the pact with Iran, dismissing efforts from the U.S. to undermine the deal.

"Just finished chairing #JCPOA Joint Commission. Important to see that participants are united in resolve to preserve the #IranDeal and find a way to ensure full implementation of the agreement despite current challenges," Helga Maria Schmid, secretary general of the European External Action Service, tweeted Tuesday, sharing a photo from the joint-meeting.

Just finished chairing #JCPOA Joint Commission. Important to see that participants are united in resolve to preserve the #IranDeal and find a way to ensure full implementation of the agreement despite current challenges. pic.twitter.com/uO5bDdTlCA

— Helga Maria Schmid (@HelgaSchmid_EU) September 1, 2020

Fu Cong, the director general of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Arms control, said during a press brief that all the nation's representatives had "expressed their commitment to the JCPOA." The Chinese diplomat said the delegation had "coordinated" how they planned to respond to U.S. efforts to issue snapback sanctions.

"The U.S., even though it is a superpower, is just one country," Fu said. "So other countries are moving on."

Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov, who serves as his country's permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted that the commission had "reaffirmed today common conviction of its participants that #US, who withdrew from this agreement on 8 May 2018, can not be considered a nuclear deal participant."

The meeting of the Joint Commission on #JCPOA today in Vienna demonstrated that its participants are fully committed to the nuclear deal and are determined to do their best to preserve it.

— Mikhail Ulyanov (@Amb_Ulyanov) September 1, 2020

Morgan Ortagus, a spokesperson for the State Department told Newsweek in an email that the U.S. would continue to take action against Iran.

"The United States will not hesitate to do the right thing for regional ​and international security, even when other parties to the JCPOA are cowed by Iran's nuclear extortion. ​It is due to their failure to act that we must take the responsible action and restore U.N. sanctions on the Iranian regime," Ortagus said.

Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA in May 2018, after long criticizing the deal signed under the administration of his predecessor President Barack Obama. The international pact offered Iran international sanctions relief and investment in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. The U.S. withdrawal came despite consistent reports from the United Nations nuclear watchdog confirming that the Persian Gulf nation remained in compliance with the agreement.

Despite historically close ties to the U.S., the European signatories have been staunchly opposed to the unilateral efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the Iran nuclear deal. They have repeatedly reiterated their support for the international treaty, disregarding Trump's and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's criticism and efforts to destabilize the JCPOA.

Although the U.S. walked away from the deal and reimplemented sanctions against Iran, the country continued to abide by its commitments under the pact until one year later in May 2019. It then announced that it would begin walking back its compliance, as it suffered under the weight of U.S. sanctions. Following Trump's decision to assassinate Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in January, Iran announced that it would no longer comply with the deal's limitations. But the European signatories alongside China and Russia have scrambled to preserve the treaty, as they view it as an effective way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed power.

On August 14, Pompeo attempted to get the United Nations Security Council to extend indefinitely an arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October. But the extension failed, when only one of the nations—the Dominican Republic—on the 15-member council joined the U.S. in supporting the measure.

Less than a week later, Pompeo returned to the U.N. in an effort to not only extend the arms embargo but to reimplement full sanctions that had been placed on Iran prior to the 2015 agreement. The remaining signatories have, however, dismissed Pompeo's urging to bring back the punitive measures, noting that the U.S. withdrew from the treaty in 2018 making it ineligible to formally call for such action.

JCPOA meeting
Abbas Araghchi (C-R), political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, and Helga Schmid (C-L), secretary general of the European Union External Action Service attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission on Iran's nuclear program at the EU Delegation to the International Organizations office in Vienna, Austria on February 26 JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty

Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiee reiterated this point on Tuesday, saying that U.S. efforts against his country would soon fail.

"The sanctions and the maximum pressure policy against the Iranian nation will soon face an unforgettable fiasco," Rabiee said during a Tuesday press conference, according to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency.

"The U.S. claim has no legal basis. It is not a party to the JCPOA anymore and is not allowed to use its frameworks," he said.

The State Department argues precisely the opposite, despite the consensus of the remaining JCPOA signatories.

"U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 makes it clear that, as the previous administration repeatedly stated in 2015, a single nation can initiate restoration of sanctions and consensus is not required. On August 20, the United States informed the United Nations that the process commenced that day," Ortagus told Newsweek.

Updated September 2, 2020 at 6:46 a.m.: Comments from a State Department spokesperson have been added.