Britain, France and Germany have triggered the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a step that over months could result in the collapse of the agreement entirely and the return of European sanctions on Tehran.
US President Donald Trump reinstated them to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles.
Under the agreement, worldwide sanctions against Iran were lifted in return for Tehran agreeing to curb its nuclear programme. Iran has responded by gradually exceeding numerous limitations it had signed up to in the deal.
The existing accord was signed in 2015 between Iran and Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and the USA plus Germany.
Under the mechanism outlined in the deal, the European Union would then inform the other parties - Russian Federation and China as well as Iran itself.
The issue can then be passed to ministerial level within 15 days or left indefinitely at this level.
Activating the mechanism - which is only possible if one or more signatories suspect a non-compliance with the deal - could eventually lead to the UN Security Council deciding whether to bring back sanctions against Iran.
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"At one point we have to show our credibility", said one of the European diplomats. The second diplomat said: "Our intention is not to restore sanctions, but to resolve our differences through the very mechanism that was created in the deal".
The aim was not to reimpose United Nations sanctions, they said.
Iran rolled back its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) following the death of its most influential military leader, Qassem Soleimani, in an American drone strike.
After the killing of Soleimani, Iran targeted USA forces in Iraq, apparently without any casualties.
On 8 January Iran accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner while its forces were on high alert following strikes on USA targets.
Tensions had been rising between the US and Iran since May 2018, when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the landmark deal.
"If you get rid of this nuclear deal, the JCPOA, it's what Trump wants". President Trump is a great dealmaker, by his own account.
An Iraqi army soldier stands guard near a US-made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base, Iraq. President Donald) Trump's moves in Iran in the last 10 days, we now have a very unpredictable partner in Mr.
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