Netanyahu calls for “snap-back” sanctions on Iran

What happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the signatories to the JCPOA to “snap back” sanctions against Iran “until it changes its ways”.

  • Netanyahu said: “It’s time for the nations of the world to resist Iran’s aggression and terror. It’s time to snap back sanctions. It’s time to pressure Iran until it changes its ways. Iran must stop attacking the nations of the Middle East. Iran must stop threatening to destroy Israel. Europe must stop stalling. It must act against Iranian aggression now.”
  • Netanyahu’s statement came after the top inspector for the UN’s nuclear agency reportedly accused Iran of evading attempts to gather information on uranium production at a warehouse that was uncovered by Israel last year.
  • A report in Bloomberg yesterday cited two officials as saying that Massimo Aparo told diplomats in a closed-door meeting in Vienna on Wednesday that Iran was “evading attempts to discover the source of man-made and natural uranium particles detected at a warehouse in Tehran”.
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for “serious steps” to be taken after Iran announced on Tuesday that it is resuming uranium enrichment at its underground Fordo facility – its fourth violation of the JCPOA nuclear deal. He said: “Iran’s expansion of proliferation-sensitive activities raises concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout. It is now time for all nations to reject this regime’s nuclear extortion and take serious steps to increase pressure.” Israel’s Kan News quoted an Israeli intelligence source who said yesterday saying that Iran has reduced its “break-out” time to a nuclear weapon to less than a year.
  • The US have also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA officials after an inspector was blocked from entering the country’s main enrichment site at Natanz and briefly stopped from leaving the country. Iran claimed the inspector had set off an alarm at the entrance of the building, where equipment is used to detect traces of nitrate explosives. The IAEA called the detention of the inspector unacceptable and said it disagreed with Iran’s characterisation of the incident.

Context: The heightened friction between Iran and the IAEA and the US comes after Iran announced its fourth JCPOA violation in response to US sanctions.

  • The incident with the IAEA inspector is the first flare-up between Iran and the UN atomic agency which monitors Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA nuclear agreement, since it was implemented in 2016. Before the deal, Iran repeatedly denied IAEA inspectors access to sites and accused the agency of sending in spies.
  • In a speech last year at the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu revealed the existence of a warehouse in Tehran, which he said held “massive amounts” of equipment and material that were part of a clandestine Iranian nuclear programme. Earlier this year the IAEA took samples at the warehouse and found radioactive traces, including uranium, in violation of Iran’s commitments to declare and account for such material. In September 2019 the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was stymying the IAEA probe and has yet to provide an explanation for why the radioactive material found at the warehouse.
  • The UK, Germany and France (the E3) are trying to save the JCPOA following the US decision to leave the deal and reintroduce sanctions on Iran. However, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that Iran’s fourth JCPOA violation this week “marks a profound shift” which could signal the ultimate collapse of the agreement. He added: “I think that for the first time, Iran has decided in an explicit and blunt manner to leave the JCPOA agreement.”

Looking ahead: Macron’s statement on Wednesday is the lowest public assessment by a European leader about the JCPOA and suggests that the E3’s patience with Iran is running out. EU Foreign Ministers are due to meet next Monday and will likely discuss next steps for Iran after its latest violations. The E3 have so far not chosen to trigger the dispute mechanism built within the JCPOA agreement, which could lead to the re-imposition of international sanctions on Iran and unravel the deal.

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