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May 10, 2019

US aircraft carrier passes Suez Canal: Europe rejects Iran’s ‘ultimatum’


May 10, 2019

Sibiu, Romania: European powers on Thursday denounced Tehran’s threat to resume nuclear work, drawing a sharp response from the Iranian foreign minister who accused them of caving in to US bullying.

The three European signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal urged the Islamic republic to stick to its commitments after it said it would stop respecting some limits imposed by the agreement.

And they rejected an ultimatum from President Hassan Rouhani, who threatened to go further if they fail to deliver sanctions relief to counterbalance US President Donald Trump’s renewed assault on the Iranian economy within 60 days.

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and France, Germany and Britain -- the three European signatories to the deal -- voiced "great concern" at President Hassan Rouhani’s dramatic intervention.

"We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps," they said in a joint statement, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the deal is known.

"We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA." Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif hit back on Twitter, scornfully dismissing the European communique.

"EU statement today is why JCPOA is where it is: the US has bullied Europe -- and rest of world -- for a year and EU can only express ‘regret’," Zarif tweeted.

"Instead of demanding that Iran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord, EU should uphold obligations," he said, calling for the "normalization of economic ties."

Tehran says its announcement on Wednesday was a response to unilateral US sanctions -- imposed since Trump ripped up what he called a "horrible" deal -- which have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy.

Europe has stressed the importance of the deal -- in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief -- for its own security, and EU leaders discussed the crisis at their summit in the Romanian town of Sibiu.

Russia, another signatory to the deal along with China, on Thursday denounced new US sanctions on Iran’s mining industry and called for talks to preserve the deal.

Moscow said it understood why Iran had decided to suspend some of its commitments under the deal in the face of US sanctions but urged Tehran not to go further.

French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for calm, saying Europe must work to convince Iran to stick with the deal.

"We must not get jumpy or fall into escalation," Macron said, warning that leaving the deal would "unstitch what we have achieved". "That’s why France is staying in, and will stay in and I profoundly hope Iran will stay in," Macron said as he arrived for an EU summit in Romania.

The EU statement stressed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) role in monitoring Iran’s compliance with the deal -- suggesting no concrete action is likely until the inspectors’ next report at the end of May.

Mogherini said she had "a lot of concern" about this week’s developments but stressed that Iran was so far still "fully compliant" with the deal.

Meanwhile, American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln passed through the Suez Canal on Thursday, Egyptian authorities said, as a US strike group heads towards the Gulf amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.

US President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton on Sunday announced the deployment of an aircraft strike group and bomber task force in a "clear and unmistakable" message to Iran that it would respond to any attack on the US or its allies.

To reach the Gulf, the carrier must pass through the strategically vital Suez Canal which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

General Ralph Groover, the US defence attache in Cairo, commended Egyptian authorities for ensuring the vessel’s "complete safety" during its passage, according to a statement from the canal’s Port Authority.

A senior official from the authority, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed to AFP that the carrier had passed through the canal "smoothly". "We have nothing to do with its political dimensions," he said.