Iran leaders on diplomatic push to salvage nuke deal, demand EU guarantees

President Rouhani vows to stay in accord if remaining signatories abide by it; FM Zarif visits China; thousands call for resuming nuclear program

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) meets Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing on May 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS PETER)
Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) meets Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing on May 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS PETER)

Iran’s leaders pushed Sunday to preserve the nuclear deal with world powers after the US pulled out of it, with its foreign minister embarking on a diplomatic tour to China demanding that the European signatories remain faithful to the accord.

“European countries must guarantee that despite the US pullout from the JCPOA, the interests of the Iranian nation will be preserved,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said, using the official name of the agreement, according to Iran’s Mehr news site.

“The European Union has made the most demands on Iran after US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, urging us to stay committed to the international agreement,” he added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani similarly said that the Islamic Republic would stay in the deal if the European countries, along with Russia and China, continued to abide by it.

“The US withdrawal… is a violation of morals, the correct way to carry out politics and diplomacy and against international regulations,” he said during a meeting with visiting Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena.

“If the remaining five countries continue to abide by the agreement, Iran will remain in the deal despite the will of America,” he continued, according to Reuters.

In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with officials and industrialists, at a petroleum conference in Tehran, Iran, May 8, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians signed a petition calling on authorities to resume the country’s nuclear program, which was significantly curbed under the 2015 pact, in response to US President Donald Trump’s pullout last week, Iran’s semi-official Fars news site reported.

After meeting officials in Beijing Sunday, Zarif will continue his whirlwind diplomatic tour by flying to Moscow and Brussels to consult with the remaining signatories to the agreement.

Washington’s decision to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose sanctions infuriated its allies in Europe as well as China and Russia.

China was one of the six powers — with the United States, Russia, France, the UK and Germany — that signed the historic pact, which saw sanctions lifted in return for a commitment by Tehran to significantly reduce its nuclear activity.

Zarif, who is set to hold talks with his opposite number Wang Yi, hailed Tehran’s relations with Beijing, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

“We have had good relations with China before and since the deal,” he said. “China is by far the first economic partner of Iran. We are certain that today China is by our side.”

US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Before leaving, Zarif published a government statement on his Twitter page, slamming Trump’s “extremist administration” for abandoning “an accord recognized as a victory of diplomacy by the international community.”

It reiterated that Iran was preparing to resume “industrial scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe provided solid guarantees it could maintain trade ties despite renewed US sanctions.

Trump hit back Saturday evening, tweeting that the accord had failed to contain Iran’s militarism.

“Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40 percent since the Obama negotiated Nuclear Deal was reached… just another indicator that it was all a big lie,” he wrote.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week he is highly doubtful that Europe will provide the “real guarantees” needed for Iran to stay in the nuclear deal.

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