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Cautious Success: G7 Foreign Ministers Pressure U.S. to Stay in Iran Deal

Hélène Emorine, G7 Research Group
April 24, 2018

At this weekend's G7 foreign and security ministerial held in Toronto, pressure ramped up on the United States to keep the Iranian nuclear deal alive. During the meeting of G7 foreign ministers on their own, all of the G7 partners tried to convince John J. Sullivan, U.S. deputy secretary of state (Mike Pompeo, the nominated Secretary of State, has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate) of the benefits of the Iranian deal in hopes of persuading President Donald Trump to stay in the agreement. The G7 foreign ministers' meeting comes just a few weeks before the May 12 deadline set by Trump for the Europeans to "fix" the deal or he will pull the United States out.

The Iranian deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was negotiated by the Permanent Five members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) plus one (Germany), the European Union and Iran and adopted on October 18, 2015. The JCPOA lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran curbing its internationally condemned nuclear energy program. Under the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, continuously monitors Iran's nuclear sites and verifies that Iran does not secretly develop a nuclear bomb.

The G7 foreign ministers have strongly supported the JCPOA since its adoption, starting with the 2016 Hiroshima Foreign Ministers meeting, and continuing with the 2017 Lucca G7 foreign ministers meeting, where the communiqué reaffirmed that the "continued and full implementation of the JCPoA is essential to build confidence that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in nature." (see Appendix A). Since its adoption, the G7 leaders themselves have reiterated their support for the JCPOA at the 2016 Ise-Shima Summit and at the 2017 Taormina Summit.

Yet, since Trump's presidency began in 2017, the U.S. president has been a vocal critic of the Iran deal, one of the key foreign policy achievements of his predecessor Barack Obama. Trump has said that unless European allies fix the deal's "terrible flaws" by May 12, the United States will withdraw from the JCPOA.

At a press briefing in Toronto on April 23 on the margins of the G7 foreign ministers' meeting, UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson told reporters "there was a strong view around the table that we need to make the case for the JPCOA." He acknowledged that "there are understandable anxieties about Iranian behaviour" but that "it is better to have the JPCOA to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons" than nothing at all.

When asked whether French president Emmanuel Macron would act as a representative for Europe in urging Trump to stay in the Iran deal during his visit to Washington this week, Johnson replied, "There is not a centimetre between the UK and France on the JPCOA. We think it's a valuable agreement, the greatest achievement of collective display of diplomacy over the last couple of decades." He told reporters that "we don't want anyone walking away."

Speaking at a press briefing during the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Toronto today, German foreign minister Heiko Maas had a similar message. He said that German chancellor Angela Merkel will urge the U.S. president to stay in the JPCOA when she meets Trump in Washington on Friday. "We believe it is extremely important to uphold this agreement. Were it to fail or the U.S. to drop out, we would not have anything comparable to it and we fear that the situation would significantly deteriorate with everything that goes with it," Maas told reporters.

On Monday, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that "It's either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage President Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more importantly to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith."

Yet there is a very real possibility that the United States will walk away from the historic agreement. At a press conference in Toronto on April 23, Sullivan said that Trump is "very concerned with Iran's behaviour and with the [JCPOA]." He told reporters that Trump's goal is to "strengthen the [JCPOA] if it can be strengthened and protect American interests which have been threatened by Iran for decades."

The 2018 G7 Foreign Ministers' Communiqué released in the evening of April 23, 2018, did include one paragraph on the JCPOA in section on non-proliferation and disarmament. The ministers stated their commitment to "permanently ensuring that Iran's nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful, in line with its [Non-proliferation Treaty] obligations and its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) never to seek, develop or acquire a nuclear weapon. We strongly support the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its crucial monitoring and verification work to help ensure Iran's compliance with its JCPOA and other commitments, including safeguard obligations."

The communiqué's support fell short of the foreign ministers' support for the JCPOA in previous years (see Appendix A). Yet it seems that the pressure of the United States's G7 partners has worked for now, leaving the door open for the possibility of it to remain in the Iran deal past Trump's May 12 deadline set.

Appendix A: G7 Foreign Ministers' Support for the JCPOA (2016-2018)

2016 G7 Statement on Non-proliferation and Disarmament 2016 G7 Foreign Ministers' Hiroshima Declaration on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation 2016 Joint Communiqué: G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting 2017 Joint Communiqué: G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting 2017 G7 Foreign Ministers' Statement on Non-proliferation and Disarmament 2018 G7 Foreign Ministers' Joint Communiqué 2018 Joint Statement of Foreign and Security Ministers
We laud the historic achievement of the JCPOA between the E3/EU+3 and Iran to ensure the Iranian nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful. We welcome conclusion and continuing implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between E3/EU+3 and Iran, which demonstrates the resilience of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation architecture. We welcome the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) as an important contribution to the non-proliferation regime. We the G7 Members remain committed to the full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) endorsed by UNSCR 2231(2015) We are committed to permanently ensuring that Iran's nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful, in line with its NPT obligations and its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) never to seek, develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.  
The agreement must be fully and rigorously implemented. We are determined that the JCPOA be fully and rigorously implemented, for which the verification activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are key. The G7 will continue to actively support its full and effective implementation, including activities of the IAEA which is responsible for monitoring and verifying Iran's nuclear-related commitments. Continued and full 
implementation of the JCPoA is essential to build confidence that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in nature.
We support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) as an important contribution to the non-proliferation regime. We strongly support the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its crucial monitoring and verification work to help ensure Iran's compliance with its JCPOA and other commitments, including safeguard obligations.  
We pledge to do our utmost to ensure that all necessary resources, including financial ones, are made available to the IAEA, which assumes the critical responsibility in monitoring and verification to confirm that Iran is meeting its JCPOA commitments   The implementation of the JCPOA has created the opportunity for a new relationship between Iran and the international community. We value the JCPoA's 
comprehensive structure and the commitment by all parties to its solid verification mechanism.
Continued and full implementation of the JCPoA is essential to build confidence that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in nature.    
The G7 has voluntarily provided the IAEA more than 5 million US dollars for that purpose and we encourage other states to do the same.     We commend and continue supporting the IAEA in its crucial work in Iran, including monitoring and verification to help ensure compliance with Iran's JCPoA commitments and safeguard obligations, thus playing a key role in fostering mutual trust We value the JCPoA's comprehensive structure and the commitment by all parties to its solid verification mechanism.    
      We stress the need for all parties to entirely and consistently fulfil all their commitments under the JCPoA in good faith. We commend and continue supporting the IAEA in its crucial work in Iran, including monitoring and verification to help ensure compliance with Iran's JCPoA commitments and safeguard obligations, thus playing a key role in fostering mutual trust.  
        We stress the need for all parties to entirely and consistently fulfill all their commitments under the JCPoA in good faith.    
Total for 2016: 9 Total for 2017: 11 Total for 2018: 2

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