BERLIN — Representatives of Iran and the world powers working to save the nuclear deal with Tehran agreed Tuesday in Vienna to do everything possible to preserve the landmark 2015 agreement in their first meeting since the United States announced a bid to restore United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Helga Schmid, the European Union representative who chaired the meeting, said afterwards on Twitter that the “participants are united in resolve to preserve the #IranDeal and find a way to ensure full implementation of the agreement despite current challenges.”
Iranian representative Abbas Araghchi did not comment after the day of talks, but ahead of the meeting said the U.S. move would “definitely be an important discussion” topic with delegates from France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.
President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action unilaterally in 2018, saying that it was a bad deal and needed to be renegotiated.
The deal promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but with the reinstatement of American sanctions, the other nations have been struggling to provide Iran the assistance it seeks.
Complicating the matter, the U.S. announced recently it was triggering a 30-day process to restore virtually all U.N. sanctions on Iran, invoking a “snapback” mechanism that is part of the JCPOA agreement. Washington’s argument is that as an original participant it still has that right, even though it left the deal.
Other signatories to the JCPOA agreement have rejected that argument, setting the stage for a potential crisis in the Security Council later this month, with the U.S. claiming to have re-imposed sanctions and most of the rest of the world saying the Trump administration’s action is illegal and ignoring it.
After U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to the U.N. to invoke snapback on Aug. 20, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, whose country held the rotating council presidency, said there was overwhelming opposition in the 15-member body to the U.S. position. He said it was unlikely there would be any action on Washington’s demand.
Niger’s U.N. Ambassador Abdou Abarry, who took over the rotating council presidency on Tuesday, said: “Up until there would be maybe new facts, and I haven’t seen any yet, we are staying at the level of the Security Council aligned with this position as expressed by the president, ambasador Djani.”
Chinese representative Fu Cong told reporters after the Vienna meeting that the member countries all agreed that the U.S. no longer has “the legal ground or legal standing to trigger snapback” and that in China’s view Washington was using it to “try to sabotage or even kill the JCPOA.”
He suggested the other countries were also not prepared to “just wait and see” whether Trump is reelected in November.
“The U.S., even though it is a superpower, is just one country,” Fu said. “So other countries are moving on.”
The Russian delegate to the JCPOA, Mikhail Ulyanov, took a swipe at the U.S. ahead of the meeting, tweeting that Tuesday’s talks involved “participation of all (not self-proclaimed) participants of the nuclear deal.”
Afterward, he tweeted that the meeting “demonstrated that its participants are fully committed to the nuclear deal and are determined to do their best to preserve it.”
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do.
However, since the U.S. withdrawal, Iran has been steadily violating its restrictions on the amount of uranium it can enrich, the amount of heavy water it can possess, and the purity to which it enriches its uranium. That’s all to put pressure on the other nations involved to come ahead with more economic incentives.
It now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount — or the purity — it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
Those working to save the deal also note that despite the violations, Iran continues to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to access all sites in the country.
Last week, Iran held out an olive branch to end one issue of contention, agreeing to allow IAEA inspectors into two sites where the country is suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material in the early 2000s.
Iran had insisted the agency had no right to inspect the sites, since they dated to well before the JCPOA came into effect.