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France, Britain, and Germany urge Iran to stick to 2015 nuclear pact, abstain from violence

Funeral of Iranian Qasem Soleimani in Ahvaz, Iran on 5 January 2020. (Ayoub Hosseinsangi/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The so-called E3 group of countries comprised of France, Britain, and Germany has called on Tehran to respect the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and refrain from violence, following the killing of a top Iranian general by U.S. forces.

In a joint statement released on January 6, the three EU signatories of the nuclear deal emphasized the importance of scaling back tensions in Iraq and Iran, and reasserted their resolve to fight the Islamic State (IS) group.

“We reaffirm our commitment to continuing the fight against Islamic State, which remains a priority. It is essential that we keep the coalition, in this regard. We call on the Iraqi authorities to continue to supply the necessary support to the coalition,” the E3 group said in a statement.

A day earlier, Iran said it would no longer abide by any of the restrictions set down in the nuclear accord, amid mounting tensions with the United States.

The government announced Iran’s fifth step back from the accord in a statement cited by official media, saying the country will forego the “limit on the number of centrifuges” used to enrich uranium.

Iran would no longer observe limitations on the level of enrichment, the amount of stockpiled enriched material, or research and development in its nuclear activities, the statement also said.

It did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program.

The announcement comes three days after a U.S. air strike killed Iran’s top military commander, Qasem Soleimani, in neighboring Iraq — further escalating tensions in the region.

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since the United States withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear accord that offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Washington has since reimposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, while Tehran has gradually reduced some of its commitments under the deal.

The statement by President Hassan Rohani’s administration said the steps could be reversed if the United States lifted its sanctions on Tehran, and that Iran will continue to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It did not say Iran was withdrawing from the agreement and didn’t back off of earlier promises it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

Under the 2015 pact, Tehran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in IAEA inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to force Iran to renegotiate the agreement, arguing that the terms were not tough enough to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, agreeing curbs to its ballistic-missile program, and ending its support for “proxy” groups across the Middle East.

Iran has refused, insisting that its nuclear program was strictly for civilian energy purposes.

The other parties to the 2015 deal — Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia — have tried to keep the accord alive.

But European partners so far have been unable to offer Tehran a way to sell its crude oil abroad despite the U.S. sanctions, which caused the value of Iran’s currency to plummet and sent its inflation rate soaring.

The EU on January 5 said it had invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Brussels for talks.

The nuclear statement came as hundreds of thousands of mourners in Iran participated in processions honoring Soleimani.

State television broadcast live footage of the January 5 ceremonies in Ahvaz and the holy city of Mashhad showing throngs of black-clad marchers accompanying a flag-draped casket containing Soleimani’s remains.

Members of the crowd chanted and beat their chests in homage to Soleimani, considered Iran’s top military commander.

His body was flown to Iran in the early morning from Iraq and is to be taken next to Tehran before his burial in his hometown of Kerman on January 7. Iran has announced state holidays for January 6-7.

As head of the Quds Force, the 62-year-old Soleimani helped orchestrate Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations.

The Quds Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

He was killed in a U.S. drone strike as he traveled in a convoy of Iran-backed militia members after leaving the Baghdad airport in the early morning hours of January 3 — a strike that substantially raised tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a deputy commander of the Iran-backed Hashd Shaabi militia in Iraq, was also killed in the raid.

Mourners marched earlier in Baghdad for Soleimani and others killed in the raid, while many anti-Iranian protesters celebrated the deaths at other sites in Iraq.

Rallies in protest of the U.S. air strike were also held in Lebanon on January 5 by followers of the Shi’ite militant group Hizballah.

In Pakistan, supporters of Shi’ite organizations took to the streets of the capital, Islamabad, and Karachi.

Trump said he ordered the strike on Soleimani, saying the Iranian commander had organized attacks on U.S. and Iraqi targets and that he was planning further terror actions.

Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack on Soleimani, one of the most powerful military men in Iran.