Iranian FM in talks with European powers to salvage N-deal

US President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement. (REUTERS/File)
Updated 15 May 2018
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Iranian FM in talks with European powers to salvage N-deal

  • Mohammad Javad Zarif met EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini ahead of evening talks with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany
  • European firms, especially those from France and Germany, rushed to invest in Iran following the 2015 accord

BRUSSELS: Iran’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that efforts to save the nuclear deal after the abrupt US withdrawal were “on the right track” as he began talks with European powers in Brussels.

But European diplomats have sought to play down expectations of Tuesday’s meeting, stressing the enormous challenge of finding a way around US sanctions punishing foreign businesses trading with Iran, which have global reach.

“There is no one magic solution — there will be a complicated, comprehensive series of options at both the EU and national level, therefore it will take some time,” a senior EU official said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif met EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini ahead of evening talks with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany — the three European signatories to the 2015 landmark deal who are scrambling to preserve it.

Tehran has warned it is preparing to resume “industrial-scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe can provide solid guarantees that it can maintain the economic benefits it gained from the nuclear agreement despite the US reimposing sanctions.

Zarif gave an upbeat assessment after a “good and constructive” meeting with Mogherini.

“I believe we’re on the right track to move forward in order to ensure that interests of all the JCPOA remaining participants, particularly Iran, will be preserved and guaranteed,” he told reporters. 

The deal’s official name is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The EU insists the deal is working, pointing to repeated UN inspections verifying Tehran’s compliance with its side of the bargain, and Mogherini’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told AFP ahead of Zarif’s arrival that “we must do our utmost to preserve it.”

EU leaders aim to show a united front on preserving the Iran deal when they meet for a pre-summit dinner in Sofia on Wednesday, officials said.

Mogherini and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will outline to the leaders what measures the bloc could take to shield its now substantial economic interests in Iran.

European firms, especially those from France and Germany, rushed to invest in Iran following the 2015 accord, under which Tehran agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for the repeal of punishing international sanctions.

German exports to Iran totaled nearly €3 billion in 2017, while French exports soared from €562 million in 2015 to €1.5 billion in 2017 and oil giant Total has pledged to invest some $5 billion in the South Pars gas field.

When he quit the deal last week, US President Donald Trump gave businesses a maximum of six months to wind up operations in Iran or face penalties under American sanctions.

Zarif’s meetings in Brussels cap a whirlwind global tour, including trips to both Russia and China, the two other signatory nations, in a bid to bolster support.

Washington’s decision to go against its European allies’ advice and abandon the deal has pushed them closer to Beijing and Moscow on the issue as diplomats try to keep the pact alive.

French President Emmanuel Macron held phone talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, according to a Kremlin statement, which said they had “confirmed Russia and France’s commitment to make the deal work".

Zarif was in Moscow to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, a day after visiting leaders in Beijing.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at the start of a meeting.

On Monday Zarif also sent a letter to the UN in which he accused the US of showing a “complete disregard for international law” in pulling out of the deal.

Washington has long complained that the nuclear deal does nothing to stop Iran’s ballistic missile program or its interference in conflicts across the Middle East from Syria to Yemen.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington still wants to work with Europe to counter Iran’s “malign behavior” and was working hard to thrash out a more wide-ranging deal with its European partners.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the European powers would not shy away from pressing Iran on these issues.

“Our meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Brussels is a chance to discuss how we can continue to support sanctions relief with Iran while they maintain their nuclear agreement obligations, but also raise our worries about Iran’s wider, disruptive behavior in the Middle East region,” Johnson said.

But while Pompeo has talked up the prospect of renewed coordination with America’s allies, another top aide reminded Europe its companies could face sanctions if they continue to do business with the Middle Eastern power.


Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.