Ali Khamenei’s statement came in the wake of French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative to step up European efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear pact.
The Iranian leader’s declarations appeared on his website on Tuesday. He criticised Europe for not sticking by any of the 11 commitments it made under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
One of them includes “refraining from policy intended to adversely affect normalisation of economic relations with Iran".
“We abided by our commitments and even beyond them. Now that we've begun to reduce our commitments, they [Europe] oppose it. How insolent!” Khamenei said on his website.
Roxane Farmanfarmaian, lecturer in modern Middle East politics at the University of Cambridge, describes the declaration as a strong and symbolic move.
“This is Ali Khamenei telling the Europeans that our economy is in tatters because of the sanctions and we need you to start making a difference,” she said.
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Last week, on 8 July, Iran’s nuclear agency said it had enriched uranium to 4.5 per cent purity and was considering increasing it to 20 per cent in 60 days’ time.
The nuclear agreement allows Iran to enrich uranium up to a purity of 3.67 per cent.
“The Iranians felt that they are being unfairly condemned by the Europeans because they have abided by the deal throughout the last year since the United States left the deal [in 2018] and put sanctions on Iran,” Farmanfarmaian declared.
She said that the slight raise in the level of enrichment is not a move by Iran to show the world it is planning to restart its nuclear programme. Instead, it is a signal to the Europeans that the impact of the US sanctions has been significant and “they need the Europeans to start helping them financially”.
On Monday 15 July, following a meeting of the European Union foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said that the remaining parties do not intend to invoke the deal's mechanism to punish non-compliance for now.
Mogherini added that current data from the United Nations nuclear watchdog did not regard Iran's recent steps as constituting "significant non-compliance".
“This deal was all about a balance between giving Iran economic benefits in return for the Iranians reducing their nuclear programme.
“The Iranians fulfilled their commitments and have reduced their nuclear programme and the West has never given them economic benefits,” said Farmanfarmaian.
France leading efforts to save nuclear deal
On Monday, while in Serbia, President Macron said that he will speak to Iran’s President Hassan Rohani – at his request – as well as to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.
“The momentum we built over the last few weeks has, I think, prevented the worst from happening and overreactions on the Iranian side," Macron said. "In these difficult conditions, we will continue our mediation and negotiation work.”
Farmanfarmaian said that including Russia is a good move.
“Putin represents one of the few countries that is not restricted by the US financial situation since they themselves are under sanctions by the United States.
“I would suggest that Macron needs to broaden this even further and involve the Chinese. Because they too are unaffected by US financial issues and they continue to import Iranian oil. They have clearly shown that they will not cooperate on the sanctions on Iran,” Farmanfarmaian added.
According to her, both Russia and China have the capacity to provide possible mechanisms to help the Iranians become more financially secure.
“President Macron has clearly taken the lead and read the signals the Iranians have sent. Sending an envoy to Iran shows that he is very aware of the challenges,” she said.
European vs American approach
The European signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) appear to have little room for manoeuvre on the economic front, faced with an uncompromising US stance. Farmanfarmaian says that the EU’s response is to establish a multilateral approach.
Trump tweeted that he was not going to cooperate with Macon’s suggestion and that he will substantially increase sanctions on Iran in response to its further enrichment of uranium.
“One of the extraordinary things about Trump is that he is known to act in ways that are unexpected,” declared Farmanfarmaian. “It is clear that one of the things he does want is to enjoy a television op with Iran and be seen as striking a new Trump deal. Possibly before the end of the campaign for the presidential elections.”
Farmanfarmaian is of the opinion that the JCPOA will evolve in such a way that “Iran will continue to enrich slightly more and stockpile more” but the Europeans will work to keep the deal “alive rather than allowing it to die.”
Follow Roxane Farmanfarmaian on Twitter @RoxaneFarma
Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt