Major powers scrambled on Sunday at a meeting in Vienna to salvage their nuclear deal with Iran in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions on the Mideast regional power.
Diplomats from Iran and the other nations that remain in the deal recommitted to it. The deal was struck between Iran and the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union.
“The atmosphere was constructive and the discussions were good,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi said after the meeting ended, adding that all of the parties other than the United States were “determined to save this deal.”
The 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, required Iran to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of United Nations-brokered international sanctions.
But the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the deal a year ago, assuring allies it was making the world a safer place. Then the Trump administration began reimposing harsh economic sanctions on Iran, undoing years of complex diplomacy waged during the Obama administration.
In May, Tehran announced plans to resume enriching uranium at higher levels if the other world powers would not accept new terms under the JCPOA. And at the start of this month, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Tehran breached a stockpile limit for low-level enriched uranium allowed under the deal.
Iran is limited to enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, enough to fuel a commercial nuclear power plant, as part of the JCPOA. Weapons grade uranium has to be enriched to around 90 percent. Iran previously enriched uranium to 20 percent, which cuts in half the time it takes to get to 90 percent.
— European External Action Service – EEAS 🇪🇺 (@eu_eeas) July 28, 2019
Very pleased to host my distinguished friend Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Oman’s FM, in Tehran today.
Discussed effects of the US’ #EconomicTerrorism on Iran; bilateral relations, regional developments & security in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. pic.twitter.com/ga7QDAavJc
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) July 27, 2019
Agreement to hold more talks
Europeans have been urging Iran to restore its full compliance with the deal, while Iran has been pressuring for some sort of offsets to the sanctions that Trump reimposed. Tehran also seeks greater trade particularly with China and the E.U.
The meeting, chaired by E.U. officials at the request of Britain, France, Germany and Iran, “was held in order to discuss the need regarding the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA in all its aspects,” the E.U. said in a statement.
“Participants reaffirmed their continued commitment to preserving the JCPOA,” it said. “They recalled that both nuclear commitments and sanctions-lifting are essential parts of the agreement.”
Those at the meeting also agreed to continue talks at a ministerial level in the near future.
Complicating the diplomacy, however, were Iran’s aggressive actions against ships in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. response to expand its military presence in the region.
Iran downed a U.S. drone and impounded a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz days after British authorities, citing violations of E.U. sanctions, detained an Iranian oil tanker with 2 million barrels of crude oil off the coast of Gibraltar.
Araghchi linked the tanker dispute to the talks over the nuclear deal. “Countries party to the JCPOA must not create any obstacles in the way of Iran exporting its oil,” he said.
The head of the Chinese delegation said all parties wanted to save the deal and opposed the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
“First, all sides have expressed their commitment to safeguard the JCPOA and to continue to implement the JCPOA in an objective manner, and a balanced manner,” Fu Cong, director general of the China foreign ministry’s arms control department, told a news conference.
“The second point I take away from the meeting is that all sides have expressed their strong opposition against the U.S. unilateral imposition of sanctions, especially the extraterritorial application of the sanctions,” he said, “and they also expressed support and appreciation of China’s efforts to implement the JCPOA, in particular China’s effort to maintain normal trade and oil relations with Iran.”