Jens Stoltenberg condemns Iran but stresses drone attack decision was not made by Nato
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, had said it is imperative that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, but held back from endorsing the US assassination of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad, stressing it was a decision made by the US, and not by either Nato or the coalition against Islamic State.
His intervention came as the EU commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, also warned Iran that it is imperative that it return to the nuclear deal, remarks that could presage a European decision to abandon the deal if Iran does not recommit itself to its terms.
Stoltenberg was speaking after he said Nato diplomats in Brussels had been briefed by video conference by US state department and Pentagon officials on their rationale for killing Suleimani.
He did not specify whether the US gave any intelligence assessments to back claims made by officials in America that Suleimani was masterminding attacks on US diplomats likely to take place in the weeks or months ahead.
Iranian sources have endorsed Iraqi government claims that Suleimani was in Baghdad last week to personally convey an Iranian message in response to Saudi Arabian calls for a reconciliation process. He was on a peace mission, Iranian diplomats claimed. A similar claim had been made by the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Stoltenberg confirmed that Nato training operations in Iraq were being suspended due to fallout from the US strike on Suleimani, but he said he wanted them to restart as soon as possible.
The Iraqi parliament has called for the removal of US troops from Iraq, but there is less clarity whether coalition forces will be allowed to continue to train the Iraqi army to fight Islamic State.
Stoltenberg stressed: The important thing now is to de-escalate and avoid further increases in tensions on the region.
He added: We are united in condemning Irans support of a variety of different terrorist groups. At the meeting today, allies called for restraint and de-escalation. A new conflict would be in no ones interest. So Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations.
Iran on Sunday responded to the attack by saying it could in future free itself from all the constraints imposed by the nuclear deal signed in 2015, but at the same time said it would continue to allow UN nuclear inspectors from the IAEA to visit Iranian nuclear sites in line with the existing regime. Iran argues that this move, its fifth and final step away from the deal, does not represent a full-scale tearing up of the nuclear deal from which the US withdrew 18 months ago.
Frances foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that European powers would decide in coming days whether to launch a dispute resolution process that could lead to a reinstatement of United Nations sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the deal.
The repeated violations (by Iran) leave us today asking about the long-term validity of this accord. We are considering launching the dispute mechanism resolution…We will take a decision in the coming days, Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM-TV.
Advocates of the deal point out that Tehran, contrary to expectations on Sunday, did not announce that it would increase its levels of uranium enrichment to 20%. it also did not announce how many new centrifuges it intends to build. But it did give itself complete leeway to break out of any of the commitments within the deal. Iran said it was willing to return to the deal, if sanctions were lifted and benefits previously offered to Tehran in terms of increased trade occurred.
Iran has already breached many of the deals restrictions, including on the fissile purity to which it enriches uranium, its overall stock of enriched uranium, the nature of the centrifuges with which it enriches uranium, and where it enriches uranium.
The IAEA said in a statement it would continue with its inspections and continue to provide reports to member states on its findings.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif briefed both the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, and the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, about this development. He also complained about the response to the attack on Suleimani. Maas last week said he understood the reasons for the killing, but he criticised Trump for threatening sanctions against Iraq in response to their plan to close American bases in the country.
According to Iranian news agencies, Zarif described the failure to understand the realities of the region as a strategic mistake by Europe. He also attacked their failure to do more to keep the nuclear deal alive.
The remaining European signatories to the deal, France, Germany and the UK, have not yet announced that they are pulling out of the deal, or reimposing European sanctions.
EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the state of the deal, and whether European states should abandon it altogether.
Von der Leyen was critical of Tehran, saying: We are deeply concerned by Irans announcement that it will not respect the limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action any longer. This announcement comes at a time of severe tensions in the region. From a European viewpoint, it is important for Iran to return to the nuclear deal. We have to convince Iran that its also in its own interest.