It goes without saying that the Iran nuclear deal is on its last legs and will likely die following declarations of Tehran leaders to no longer be beholden to uranium enrichment limits (in a Jan.6 statement) after the prior US pullout from the deal, but especially following the assassination of IRGC Quds Force Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Days after Soleimani's death German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned the writing is on the wall as it marked the "first step towards the end" of the nuclear deal.
And now the deal's final unraveling has just hit another crucial indicative milestone as on Tuesday France, Britain and Germany formally triggered the dispute resolution mechanism regulating conformity to the deal, seen as the harshest measure taken thus far by the European signatories. It essentially means the European powers officially see Iran as in breach of the deal; EU punitive sanctions are now on the table.
"The European powers said they were acting to avoid a crisis over nuclear proliferation adding to an escalating confrontation in the Middle East. Russia, another signatory to the pact, said it saw no grounds to trigger the mechanism," Reuters reports.
However in taking the dire action, a joint statement underscored this should not be interpreted as meaning they've joined Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign, but are attempting to stave off an additional crisis of potential nuclear proliferation.
The chief concern, however reluctant they may have been to trigger the mechanism, is described by a senior official's quote to The Guardian:
Concern was most acute that Iran will be learning about centrifuge enrichment in an irreversible way. “The concern is they are going to learn something that it is not possible for them to unlearn,” one senior official said.
“We do not accept the argument that Iran is entitled to reduce compliance with the JCPoA,” the European signatories to the JCPOA said. “Our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran. Our hope is to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments under the JCPoA,” they said.
The mechanism was triggered upon the individual European states formally notifying the agreement's guarantor, the European Union.
"To trigger the mechanism, the European states notified the European Union, which acts as guarantor of the agreement," Reuters notes. "EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said the aim was not to reimpose sanctions but to ensure compliance." But we highly doubt the Iranians will see the measure the same way.
Tehran has for more than the past year leveled accusations that the Europeans are 'too little too late' with half-hearted measures to provide relief to Iran's economy decimated by US sanctions, such as the 'SWIFT-alternative' special purpose financial vehicle INSTEX.
Meanwhile, seizing on the nuclear's deal's apparent unraveling in progress, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said something else that certainly won't be taken warmly in Tehran: “If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal.”