BRUSSELS — Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday ratcheted up pressure on Iran to stop violating its landmark nuclear deal in a last-ditch effort to resolve their differences through talks while also starting a process that could bring back punishing U.N. sanctions on Tehran.

The three European Union countries are being pressed on one side by U.S. President Donald Trump to abandon the agreement like he did in 2018, and on the other side from Iran to provide enough economic incentives for them to roll back their violations.

Now, the Europeans have reluctantly triggered the accord’s dispute mechanism to force Iran into discussions, starting the clock on a process that could result in the “snapback” of U.N. and EU sanctions on Iran.

The three nations specifically avoided threatening the sanctions while emphasizing hopes for a negotiated resolution. They held off their announcement until tensions between the U.S. and Iran had calmed down after the Jan. 3 killing of an Iranian general in an American drone strike so their intent would not be misinterpreted.

“Our goal is clear: We want to preserve the accord and come to a diplomatic solution within the agreement,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement. “We will tackle this together with all partners in the agreement. We call on Iran to participate constructively in the negotiation process that is now beginning.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned of a “serious and strong response” to the European move. But at the same time, ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi held out an olive branch, saying his country was “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the nuclear deal, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.

The U.S. State Department said it fully supports the decision to initiate the dispute resolution mechanism. “We believe further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted by nations,” it said in a statement.

“The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer,” Trump said, according to the statement.

The accord, which Iran signed with the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in 2015, has been unraveling since Trump pulled out in 2018 and reinstated sanctions designed to cripple the Islamic Republic.

The Europeans felt compelled to act, despite objections from Russia and China, because every violation of the deal reduces the so-called breakout time Iran needs to produce a nuclear bomb, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Parliament.

At the time of the signing of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, Iran’s “breakout” time was estimated to be as little as two months. With the safeguards in place, limiting Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, the number and types of centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium, and the purity that is allowed, that estimate grew to more than a year.

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