There is no doubt that the situation in the Middle East is very serious at the moment. There are various reasons for this. One reason is Iran’s announcement last week that it would suspend its commitments under the nuclear agreement, at least in part. And we all know that this happened in response to the decision by the United States not to extend exemptions for oil exports and non-proliferation projects under the agreement, a decision that further exacerbated the situation and the discussion on this agreement.
Let’s not be under any illusions here. Twelve months after the United States withdrew from the nuclear agreement, this could mean the end of the JCPOA in the foreseeable future. That would be – and this is not just the view of the German Government, but also of the entire European Union – a grave setback in the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, there is a risk of widespread conflict in the entire region, with serious consequences for our allies’ security, but above all for our security here in Europe. As developments off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in recent days have shown, sometimes all it takes is a spark to start a conflagration. We are extremely concerned about this. That is why we are focusing on one thing in this situation, namely that we must and we will do everything we can to prevent military escalation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The JCPOA is the best and most reliable instrument in this regard. And it will continue to be the best and most reliable instrument. It has never been a friendly favour to Iran. No, it primarily expressed our concern about Iran having nuclear weapons. In some of what was just said here, it feels like the sides have been completely reversed. If we didn’t need an agreement, we would feel a lot more relaxed. But the fact that a country like Iran can only be deterred from building an atomic bomb by the promise of economic benefits is a sign that we are dealing with a country that is not generally trusted – quite the opposite, in fact.
Nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, Iran has stuck to the agreement so far, and this shows how important it is. In the final analysis, this is also a rare achievement of multilateral cooperation. That is why we still cannot understand why the United States withdrew from this agreement. After all, ladies and gentlemen, it is precisely because we do not trust Iran that we want to preserve the agreement. That’s the whole point. At any rate, the JCPOA is currently the safest way to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. That is why the world is safer with this agreement than without it.
Ladies and gentlemen, European unity is absolutely crucial here. This unity was reiterated and reinforced by all EU Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday. All 28 EU Member States support the agreement. That became very clear once again in Brussels.
Along with the UK and French Foreign Ministers and Federica Mogherini, we used the opportunity to spell out our expectations to Iran. Iran must continue to implement its commitments under the agreement in full. We and the European Union will not accept anything less here.
That is why – and this is the benchmark – we will study the independent reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency in detail to see whether or not Iran is sticking to the commitments it made. These commitments remain the benchmark. We also agree on this in the European Union, regardless of the threats being exchanged at the moment.
We Europeans stand to the commitments arising from the JCPOA. We also made this clear again in the past with the help of various instruments. The United States withdrew from the agreement a year ago. If we had not stuck to the agreement and tried to do everything in our power to make up for what was lost as a result of the United States’ withdrawal, I don’t know why Iran would have an interest in adhering to this agreement for the past year. But it has adhered to it and that shows clearly that Tehran believes the agreement can work without the United States. That’s what we are looking into at the moment.
No one claims that things have become easier because of the United States’ withdrawal. No one would deny that the sanctions it has imposed have made it more difficult to generate economic benefits in Iran. However, we have laid the groundwork for the INSTEX payment instrument and are working step by step to make it operative – we also discussed this on Monday – under the leadership of the UK and France and with ourselves. The aim is to enable us to continue foreign trade with Iran in certain areas and, most crucially, to allow us to uphold the supply of important humanitarian goods.
We are in close and frequent contact with Iran on this topic at the moment. We are talking with Tehran about how we can ensure that the economic benefits and the supply of humanitarian goods can be continued. But I also want to let you know – and this was always the point of the agreement – that we are also using this dialogue to discuss critical issues with Iran, such as its role in Syria or its ballistic missile programme, which we do not find acceptable.
However, ladies and gentlemen, we Europeans do not bear sole responsibility for preserving this agreement. Resolution 2231 calls on all UN Member States to support the implementation of this agreement. That is why we are currently liaising closely with our international partners on all the steps we are taking, especially with our partners in the JCPOA, that is, also with Russia and China, as they too have a particular responsibility as co-signatories.
And yes, naturally we are also liaising with the United States. We discussed this with Secretary of State Pompeo in Brussels on Monday and saw that we are in fact pursuing the same goals. We want an Iran without nuclear weapons. We want Iran to abandon its destructive role in the region – in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. And we want Iran to cease its ballistic missile programme and its threats against Israel.
However, the paths we are taking to achieve these aims are different – and in the meantime, they are very different indeed. We simply don’t believe – and we also made this extremely clear to Secretary of State Pompeo on Monday – that a unilateral strategy of maximum pressure will really get us anywhere. Both my French and UK counterparts and Federica Mogherini told Secretary of State Pompeo this in no uncertain terms, as there is always a risk that maximum pressure will cause unintended escalation.
What happened in the past few days – the acts of sabotage against ships and pipelines – are signs that these dangers are concrete and real. Looking further afield at the other crises and trouble spots in the region, if there’s one thing we really don’t need, it’s another fuse. And that’s why we will do our utmost to ensure things don’t escalate.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Not only we and our French and UK partners, but the entire European Union, as I said earlier, are all talking about how it is no longer possible to reach consensus in the European Union on certain issues, but here we have an example that shows this can still work. We are all focusing on dialogue rather than rhetorical armament. We want the JCPOA to be preserved, not only to ensure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons in the future, but also to enable us to exert an influence on it in regional or other security matters. That is the strategy we will pursue unwaveringly with our partners in the European Union in the coming weeks and months.