US isolated at nuclear watchdog meeting on Iran

Setback comes as EU makes progress on mechanism to evade Washington's sanctions

GENEVA • The United States found itself isolated at a meeting of the UN's nuclear watchdog that it had called to pressure Iran into adhering to the 2015 nuclear deal, even as it seeks to convince allies to join a coalition to patrol waters off Iran and Yemen amid skyrocketing tensions in the Strait of Hormuz.

The setback came as the EU indicated that progress was being made on a controversial barter mechanism to circumvent American sanctions and conduct trade with Iran.

At Wednesday's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), US Ambassador to International Organisations in Vienna Jackie Wolcott asserted that Iran was engaged in "nuclear extortion" by breaching uranium enrichment limits stipulated in the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reported Agence France-Presse.

Her Iranian counterpart, Mr Kazem Gharib Abadi, heaped scorn on the claim. He told the assembled diplomats it was an "oddity" that the meeting had been called by the US, "the country that declared the JCPOA to be a terrible deal".

Russia's Ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted after the meeting that the US "was practically isolated on this issue".

A US administration official insisted that the Iranian and Russian position did not reflect the majority feeling among members.

The official did, however, confirm that the US had discussed with the remaining three European parties to the JCPOA whether they would be prepared to call the IAEA meeting before doing so itself.

 

Separately, the EU's foreign policy secretary-general, Ms Helga Schmid, yesterday said that in addition to 10 EU nations that had agreed to be part of a transaction channel set up as a means to allow companies to keep trading with Iran despite sanctions, more non-EU states were expected to join, the Associated Press reported.

The unilateral pullout of the US from the Iran nuclear deal has sent tensions in the Gulf soaring as President Donald Trump forges ahead with a policy of "maximum pressure" against Teheran in coordination with its Middle East allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel.

Meanwhile, the US hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday.

Japan yesterday said it will gather information from the US and carefully consider its response, The Washington Post reported.

In recent weeks, Mr Trump has asked publicly why the US should be responsible for securing Persian Gulf shipping lanes, noting on Twitter last month that other countries are far more dependent on oil from the region.

The US hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday.

Washington and its allies in the Gulf see Iran and its network of proxy forces in Yemen and Lebanon, as well as its strong ties with Syria, as the primary threat in the region and have worked together to isolate Teheran.

With these countries likely to find themselves on the front lines of any military conflict with Iran, some of the smaller states are hesitant to support the more combative stance of the US and regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Kuwait and Oman, which have pursued bilateral relations with Iran, have long resented Saudi attempts to pressure them into adopting a more confrontational foreign policy, analysts say.

Though Saudi officials have not openly called for a military campaign against Iran, the kingdom has been the most forceful in condemning what it says are Iran's "aggressive policies".

And Israel has threatened to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2019, with the headline 'US isolated at nuclear watchdog meeting on Iran'. Print Edition | Subscribe