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Netanyahu heads to NATO summit for urgent Iran talks

What happened: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a last minute trip to London to meet leaders attending the NATO summit and urge action on Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • US President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday and the White House said they discussed Iran and other critical bilateral and regional issues.
  • Netanyahu yesterday heavily criticised six European countries for joining INSTEX, a financial mechanism set up by France, the UK and Germany to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. He said: ‘They should be ashamed of themselves’.

Context: INSTEX; the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, was created to enable Iran to sell oil in exchange for imported goods and avoid US sanctions. Although the so called E3 (UK, France and Germany) have been working on the project it has taken a long time to become operational and Iran has been heavily critical of the lack of European action to facilitate trade after heavy US sanctions.

  • The E3 issued a statement, as founding shareholders of INSTEX, warmly welcoming the decision taken by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, to join INSTEX as shareholders. They said: “This step further strengthens INSTEX and demonstrates European efforts to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran and is a clear expression of our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But the E3 said: “Iran must return to full compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA without delay” and repeated their willingness to “Consider all mechanisms in the JCPOA, including the dispute resolution mechanism, to resolve the issues related to Iran’s implementation of its JCPOA commitments.”
  • In November, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran’s fourth violation of the JCPOA by confirming Iran would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into the, up-to-then, dormant 1,044 centrifuges at the Fordow facility.
  • On 9 November the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Iran was enriching uranium at its underground Fordow facility and rapidly accelerating enrichment more broadly, in clear violation of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. The IAEA said Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to 372 kilograms — which marks the addition of 130kg since the IAEA’s last quarterly report in late August, and exceeds a 300kg cap on Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium set by the JCPOA.
  • Rafael Grossi, an Argentinian diplomat will today begin work as the new director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
  • Violent protests have continued in Iran and, according to Amnesty International, 161 demonstrators have been killed. The New York Times reported yesterday that Iranian forces have killed between 40 -100 civilians with machine gun fire in one incident in a marsh near the city of Mahshahr.

Looking ahead: The NATO Leaders Meeting starts on 3 December with key events taking place on 4 December.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly seeking meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, French President Emanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Netanyahu will express Israel’s deep concern about Iranian activity in Syria and repeated violations of the nuclear deal.
  • The NATO summit is expected to be feisty affair. President Macron told the Economist in early November that NATO was ‘brain dead’ and in response Turkish President Erdogan said Macron was in a state of ‘brain death’ for his comments. Turkey is likely to be criticised for its recent invasion of Syria and the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system.
  • The US position on Iran has not changed as it continues to apply heavy pressure via sanctions but is reluctant to respond with military force to recent events such as the attack on Saudi oil fields and the shooting down of a US drone. The E3 have moved closer to the US position by calling for fresh talks on a new comprehensive agreement but is still committed to the Iran nuclear deal, albeit condemning Iran for its violations and considering use of the dispute mechanism within the deal.