Iran accused European governments Thursday of sacrificing a troubled 2015 nuclear deal to avoid trade reprisals from US President Donald Trump who has spent nearly two years trying to scupper it.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Trump was again behaving like a "high school bully" and the decision by Britain, France and Germany to heed his pressure to lodge a complaint over Iranian compliance deprived them of any right to claim the moral high ground.
The three governments "sold out remnants of #JCPOA (the nuclear deal) to avoid new Trump tariffs," Zarif charged.
"It won't work my friends. You only whet his appetite. Remember your high school bully?"
Germany's defence minister on Thursday confirmed a Washington Post report that the United States had threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports of European cars if EU governments continued to back the nuclear deal.
"This expression or threat, as you will, does exist," Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told a news conference during a visit to London.
Zarif said Europe's unwillingness to antagonise the United States made a mockery of its stated determination to rescue the nuclear deal.
"If you want to sell your integrity, go ahead," Zarif tweeted. "But DO NOT assume high moral/legal ground."
The European states triggered a dispute mechanism established under the deal, which allows a party to claim significant non-compliance by another party before a joint commission, with appeals possible to an advisory board and ultimately to the UN Security Council.
Since Washington pulled out of the agreement and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions in 2018, EU governments have sought to find a way to allow European businesses to continue trading with Iran without incurring huge US penalties.
As its economy has gone into reverse, an increasingly frustrated Iran has hit back with the step-by-step suspension of its own commitments under the deal.
The three European governments said they lodged their complaint in response to the latest step by Tehran suspending the limit on the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium.
Speaking in India on Wednesday, Zarif already questioned how the European Union could allow itself to be "bullied" by Washington when it was the world's largest economy.
He warned the three EU governments party to the deal that their complaint could backfire, charging that they themselves were in violation because they had fallen in line with the US sanctions.
"They are not buying oil from us, all of their companies have withdrawn from Iran. So Europe is in violation," he said.
Zarif held talks in New Delhi on Thursday with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
An EU statement said the two had "a frank dialogue" in which Borrell "underlined the continued interest of the European Union to preserve the agreement".
The cooling of Iran's relations with Europe comes at a time of red-hot tensions with the United States since a US drone strike in Iraq killed a top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander earlier this month.