World powers, Iran discuss nuclear deal amid questions on US commitment
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World powers, Iran discuss nuclear deal amid questions on US commitment

Tehran officials refuse to comment on periodic meeting assessing state of accord, as Trump threatens to pull out of 2015 agreement

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)
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)

Officials from the US, Russia and other major world powers in charge of assessing the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday with delegates from Iran, amid growing questions about the US commitment to the plan.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi and other delegates refused to comment on the closed-door session after it wrapped up and before bilateral meetings were expected to begin.

The periodic meeting of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Joint Commission, or JCPOA, was being closely watched for an indication of American thinking following President Donald Trump’s firing of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week.

Trump has vowed to walk away from the 2015 agreement in mid-May unless European countries join the US in addressing what the president says are its key flaws. These include no penalties for Iran’s missile work and support for terror groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

Tillerson’s firing and the choice of anti-Iran hard-liner Mike Pompeo to replace him have fueled speculation that Washington will pull out — a move that likely would kill the deal.

Araghchi told a parliamentary committee in Tehran on Wednesday that Tillerson’s ouster was proof that Trump would pull out and promised that Iran would withdraw if the US does.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In addition to the US, Russia and Iran, the Vienna meeting included delegates from the European Union and China.

State Department policy planning chief Brian Hook, who led the US delegation, scheduled a press briefing later in the day.

The nuclear deal, which was negotiated during the Obama administration, limits Iran’s enrichment and stockpiling of material that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program. In exchange, Tehran was granted widespread relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions.

Trump’s next deadline to extend some of those concessions is May 12, and he has vowed not to do so again unless the Europeans meet his demands.

EU foreign ministers, who will meet to discuss the issue Monday in Brussels, are expected to affirm that they believe the deal with Iran is good, and work to discourage Trump from pulling out of the deal in May. At the same time, they’re expected to start putting greater stress on Iran’s missile development and its destabilizing role in the region.

On Thursday Channel 10 news reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told members of his cabinet that Trump will likely walk away from the deal in May.

Netanyahu reportedly made the remarks during the cabinet meeting on Sunday when he relayed the details of his meeting with Trump in Washington a week earlier.

“I believe Trump is very close to canceling the nuclear agreement,” Netanyahu reportedly told his ministers. “The president spoke in the presence of his staff and senior government officials when he told me that if there is no significant change, he’ll pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.”

Netanyahu said he warned US officials that, “buried within the Iran nuclear deal are many dangers to the world, including a specific danger of nuclearizing of the Middle East.”

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