Iran deal’s European signers to meet in Vienna in bid to save accord

Tehran pessimistic about deal’s prospects, while Europeans plan to raise subject of Iran’s ‘proven violations of their commitments’ amid rising Gulf tensions

Illustrative: Iranian diplomats and officials from the P5+1 powers meet in Vienna to discuss the 2015 nuclear accord on April 25, 2017. (AFP/Joe Klamar)
Illustrative: Iranian diplomats and officials from the P5+1 powers meet in Vienna to discuss the 2015 nuclear accord on April 25, 2017. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

The European signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are set to meet in Vienna on Sunday to try to save the foundering agreement, which has seen a US withdrawal last year and Iranian violations in recent weeks amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf.

No progress is expected from the meeting, which comes a month after a previous fruitless meeting in the Austrian capital, where six world powers and Tehran sealed the agreement four years ago.

The deal, intended to guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful, began to fall apart after the unilateral withdrawal of Washington in May 2018 and the reinstatement of US sanctions, to which Tehran responded by freeing itself at the beginning of July of some of its commitments, especially limits on uranium enrichment.

Critics of the nuclear deal, including the Trump administration and Israel’s Netanyahu government, have noted it does not rein in Iran’s aggressive policies in the region, or push off its nuclear capabilities beyond its 10- and 15-year horizons for lifting its enrichment restrictions, while allowing Tehran to continue development of ballistic missiles and other technologies linked to eventually constructing a nuclear attack capability.

Straining under the economic pressure of sanctions, Iran has threatened to continue its gradual withdrawal from the agreement if the other parties — France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China — do not help it to circumvent US sanctions.

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

European attempts to save the deal and enable Iran to do business with world markets in exchange for its continued adherence to the agreement have so far been ineffective.

Another meeting at the ministerial level is planned for the European parties, including France, Britain and Germany, as well as the European Union. No date has been set.

It is “imperative to talk to the Iranians after the proven violations of their commitments,” a European diplomat told AFP before Sunday’s gathering, calling it a “preparatory meeting ahead of the ministerial meeting that will be necessary.”

An EU statement said the meeting was requested by Britain, France, Germany and Iran, and will “examine issues linked to the implementation of the deal in all its aspects.”

European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who helped shepherd the agreement to its eventual signing in July 2015, will be represented by the EU foreign service’s secretary general Helga Schmid, who will chair the gathering.

Abbas Araghchi (R), political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, and the Secretary General of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmid attend E3/EU+3 and Iran talks at Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria on March 16, 2018. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

Iranian officials do not believe the Europeans will succeed in resuscitating the deal, according to reports.

“We are not optimistic about the EU,” one member of the Iranian negotiating team in 2015, Sayed Mohammad Marandi, told the Turkish Anadolu news agency. “So far, they have shown themselves to be too intimidated by Trump. Nevertheless, we are giving them an opportunity to change policy and commit themselves to implementing the nuclear deal,” Marandi was quoted as saying.

In early July, Iran began to exceed the 300-kilogram authorized ceiling for its low-enriched uranium stocks and the 3.67-percent tolerated level of enrichment, although these violations were classified by European leaders as still reversible at this stage.

The meeting comes amid sharp tensions between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf, which has seen attacks attributed to Iran against oil tankers in the region.

Iran has long claimed its nuclear program is peaceful, but the US, Israel and many Gulf states have insisted it is meant to eventually produce nuclear weapons.

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