European powers took their first step yesterday towards punishing Iran for breaking its nuclear agreement, triggering the deal's mechanism to resolve breaches. The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, plus the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, said in a statement that Iran was "pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments" under the deal, known as the JCPoA. "These compliance issues must be addressed within the framework of the JCPoA, and a Joint Commission should be convened urgently," they said.
Convening a joint commission of signatories, the Europeans plus Russia and China, is the first step in a process foreseen in the agreement that could eventually lead to a "snapback," bringing back the international sanctions lifted by the deal.
Iran's move, coupled with earlier abandoning the deal's limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile, intensifies pressure on Europe to find any effective way around U.S. sanctions that block Tehran's oil sales abroad. President Donald Trump last year pulled the U.S. out of the accord and began imposing a "maximum pressure" campaign of strict sanctions on Tehran, over the objections of his European allies. The remaining powers in the agreement, including Britain, France and Germany, have sought to keep it alive by developing a money transaction system known as Instex that allows Iran to circumvent U.S. sanctions and continue doing business with international partners. Iran has said multiple times that even if it does pull out of the nuclear agreement, the country has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.