Europe may take retaliatory measures against US sanctions
Rouhani urges EU to stand against US ‘illegal’ actions
Iran's foreign minister said Tuesday that efforts to save the nuclear deal after the abrupt US withdrawal were "on the right track" as he began talks with European powers in Brussels.
Mohammad Javad Zarif met EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini ahead of evening talks with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany – the three European signatories to the 2015 landmark deal who are scrambling to preserve it.
Tehran has warned it is preparing to resume "industrial-scale" uranium enrichment "without any restrictions" unless Europe can provide solid guarantees that it can maintain the economic benefits it gained from the nuclear agreement despite the United States reimposing sanctions.
Zarif gave an upbeat assessment after a "good and constructive" meeting with Mogherini.
"I believe we're on the right track to move forward in order to ensure that interests of all the JCPOA remaining participants, particularly Iran, will be preserved and guaranteed," he told reporters. The deal's official name is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“The JCPOA has benefits for all sides and we must make sure that [the US] would not benefit from its illegal exit,” he said.
"We agreed over the importance of full implementation of the nuclear deal ... and preserving the interests of Iran and all those remaining parties," he said.
Mogherini, who as the EU’s top diplomat chaired the final stretch of 12 years of negotiations to clinch the Iran accord in July 2015 in Vienna, said: “We will all save it together.”
Warning to US
Speaking ahead of the meeting with Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged the US to hold off from further destabilizing the agreement.
“The UK and our European partners continue to view the nuclear deal as vital for our shared security, and remain fully committed to upholding it,” Johnson said.
“We will look at potential options for supporting continued sanctions relief for Iran to ensure we meet our commitments under the deal, as well as calling on Iran to continue to abide by the restrictions the deal places upon their nuclear program,” he said.
Johnson also called on Washington “to avoid any actions that could prevent the remaining parties to the agreement from meeting their commitments under the deal – including delivering sanctions relief through legitimate trade.”
The European Union insists the JCPOA is working, pointing to repeated UN inspections verifying the Islamic Republic's compliance with its side of the bargain, and Mogherini's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said ahead of Zarif's arrival that "we must do our utmost to preserve it."
EU may use ‘blocking regulation’
EU leaders aim to show a united front on preserving the Iran deal when they meet for a pre-summit dinner in Sofia today, officials said.
Mogherini and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will outline to the leaders what measures the bloc could take to shield its now substantial economic interests in Iran.
The EU, which along with Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the United States, signed the nuclear accord with Iran, does have some steps it can take to shield European business in Iran.
They include retaliatory sanctions, allowing the European Investment Bank to invest directly in Iran and coordinating euro-denominated credit lines from European governments. In the past, the European Union has also lodged complaints at the World Trade Organization.
Among them is also the possible use of an EU “blocking regulation” which would, in essence, ban European companies from respecting American sanctions where those sanctions might damage EU interests, notably trade and the movement of capital.
The regulation, which has been brandished as a threat in the past but never actually used, was drawn up more than 20 years ago and would have to be revised.
The EU’s energy commissioner will also travel this week to Iran to discuss strengthening European energy support to the Islamic Republic.
European firms, especially those from France and Germany, rushed to invest in Iran following the 2015 accord, under which Tehran agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for the repeal of international sanctions.
German exports to Iran totaled nearly three billion euros in 2017, while French exports soared from 562 million euros in 2015 to 1.5 billion in 2017 and oil giant Total has pledged to invest some $5 billion in the South Pars gas field.
When he quit the deal last week, US President Donald Trump gave businesses a maximum of six months to wind up operations in Iran or face swinging penalties under American sanctions.
US ‘illegal’ actions
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the European Union to stand against the United States’ “illegal and illogical” actions, saying that Tehran could stay in the accord only if it fully benefits from it.
"Iran can stay in the JCPOA only if it fully benefits from the deal," Rouhani said.
He said the US exit from the nuclear deal was a “wrong” decision, and a “political and moral failure” for the United States that would lead to Washington “isolation” in the world.
Zarif's meetings in Brussels cap a whirlwind global tour, including trips to both Russia and China, the two other signatory nations, in a bid to bolster support.
Washington's decision to go against its European allies' advice and abandon the deal has pushed them closer to Beijing and Moscow on the issue as diplomats try to keep the pact alive.
French President Emmanuel Macron held phone talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, according to a Kremlin statement, which said they had "confirmed Russia and France's commitment to make the deal work."
Zarif was in Moscow to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, a day after visiting leaders in Beijing.
"The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended," Zarif said at the start of a meeting.
On Monday Zarif also sent a letter to the United Nations in which he accused the US of showing a "complete disregard for international law" in pulling out of the deal.
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story