The remaining signatories of a multinational nuclear deal with Iran have met for the first time in a bid to save the landmark pact following a decision by the US to unilaterally withdraw and re-impose sanctions on Tehran.
At Iran’s request, delegates from China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union gathered on Friday in Austria’s capital, Vienna, where they reaffirmed their commitment to the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told reporters in Vienna that Tehran was negotiating with the other signatories to “to see if they can provide us with a package which can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting”.
“The next step is to find guarantees for that package,” he said, adding that Iran needed specifics on how that would happen by the end of May.
Washington has not only promised to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” on Tehran, but also threatened to punish companies that trade with it. Some Western companies have already quit Iran or said they may have to leave because of the new US sanctions.
For Iran to stay in the deal, Araghchi said “specific mechanisms and practical solutions” were required to convince companies to continue doing business with Tehran, and address its concerns over its oil exports and banking flows.
He said talks would continue over the next few weeks “particularly at an expert level”, after which Iran would decide whether or not to stay in the accord.
“We got the sense that Europeans, Russia and China … are serious and they recognise that JCPOA’s survival depends on the interests of Iran being respected,” Araghchi added.
He said that in theory the deal could survive without the US, but acknowledged “in practice I’m not sure”.
Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all chances to succeed, provided that we have the political will.
“I must tell you that the JCPOA is a major international asset. It does not belong to the United States, it belongs to the whole international community.”
In a statement after the talks, Helga Schmid, the EU representative who chaired the meeting, said parties to the deal discussed “practical solutions” to ensure, among others, the continued sale of Iran’s oil and gas, protection of businesses investing in Iran, as well as effective banking transactions and transport links.
Under the landmark accord, Iran had accepted limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions.
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He denounced it as deeply flawed as it did not cover Iran’s ballistic missiles programme, its role in Middle East conflicts or what happens after the deal begins to expire in 2025.
The remaining parties to the deal strongly opposed Trump’s decision, with European leaders arguing that undoing the nuclear deal would make it far harder, not easier, to address Washington’s concerns.
They said they will stick to the deal as long as Tehran meets its commitments. Inspectors have repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the deal.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, set out conditions on Wednesday for Iran to stay in the pact: unless Europe guarantees Iran’s oil sales will not suffer, Tehran would resume enrichment activities that are currently prohibited.
Khamenei also rejected any new negotiations over Iran’s missile programme, which was not covered by the nuclear deal.