In a gesture of frustration with Iran’s flagrant breach of its commitments to limit nuclear enrichment under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Britain, France and Germany have said they would retain ballistic missile and nuclear proliferation-related sanctions on Iran that were set to expire in mid-October.
Under the terms of the original deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, some United Nations sanctions were to be lifted on Oct. 18 as part of a sunset clause that would allow Iran to import and export ballistic missiles, including missiles and drones with a range of 186 miles or more.
The European action on Thursday is in part symbolic, because it will not prevent the expiration of the United Nations sanctions, meaning that the path will be clear for Russia to buy Iranian missiles — it already buys the country’s drones — for its war against Ukraine.
Iran said in response that the move by the three signatories to the original deal, along with Russia, China, and the United States, is “illegal and provocative” and “clearly violated” the accord.
In a statement and a letter to the E.U. foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, who serves as the coordinator of the accord, the deal’s three European signatories said that they would keep sanctions relating to Iran’s ballistic missile program because of Iran’s extensive breaches of restrictions on enriched uranium and access for U.N. nuclear inspectors.
They said that their refusal to lift these sanctions did not violate the agreement, because Iran had not responded to complaints about noncompliance under the terms of the deal. Iran, they said in a statement, had “refused opportunities to return to the J.C.P.O.A. twice” and had “continued to expand its program beyond J.C.P.O.A. limitations and without any credible civilian justification.”
The three countries said they would now transfer U.N. sanctions on Iran that were scheduled to be lifted next month into domestic law, while the European Union will retain existing sanctions, including on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iran has argued that after former President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, it had kept to the terms for a year before breaching them in response to Mr. Trump’s reimposition of tough American sanctions.
But President Biden’s efforts to negotiate with Iran to return to the agreement have faltered, and Iran has moved ahead to enrich uranium to 60 percent, close to the quality needed for a nuclear weapon.
There have been quiet efforts since then to ensure that Iran does not enrich to weapons grade, along with negotiations to release five American citizens held prisoner in Iran and a promise not to enrich uranium above 60 percent in return for some $6 billion in seized Iranian assets.
But Tehran is now widely believed to be in position to develop enough weapons-grade uranium for several bombs if it elects to do so. Iran has always denied any intention of making a nuclear bomb, saying its enrichment was only for civilian use, but there is no civilian use for uranium enriched to 60 percent.
The original accord also bars anyone from buying, selling or transferring drones and missiles to and from Iran, an element that has clearly been breached by Iran’s sale of drones to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Some critics have called on the Europeans to trigger a snapback mechanism in the agreement, which would have ended the deal and kept the U.N. sanctions in place globally. European diplomats have said they would do that only if Iran enriched to weapons-grade levels.
“Our commitment to finding a diplomatic solution remains,” the Europeans said in their statement in their statement. “This decision does not amount to imposing additional sanctions nor to triggering the snapback mechanism. We stand ready to reverse our decision, should Iran fully implement its J.C.P.O.A. commitments.”