Iran nuclear deal: EU vice-president makes uncertain comments

Image copyright AFP Image caption Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had seemed keen to see the agreement continue

The EU’s foreign policy chief has refused to take a “clear” stand against the Iran nuclear deal, contradicting the approach of one of the bloc’s officials.

Jerome Powell said in a statement that it was time for the pact, between Iran and the major powers, to be re-examined to “reflect changing realities in the region”.

The comments were denounced by the Iranian foreign ministry as “wrong and biased”.

But it followed speculation that the EU could step in to rescue the accord.

EU politicians had been discussing plans to set up a guarantee scheme to keep trade flowing with Iran, in an effort to salvage the deal.

There were suggestions that the bloc could issue loans to support the Iranian economy and provide technical support, in addition to granting some financial guarantees.

‘We are not running away’

EU External Relations Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Brussels that the bloc was “ready to consider all options that would secure the nuclear deal, including the possibility of enhancing the credibility of the economic cooperation with Iran”.

However, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated that Europe’s interest in the agreement was political, not economic.

“We are not running away,” she said.

There had been mounting speculation that the EU would try to salvage the accord, which was signed in 2015 after years of difficult negotiations.

Speaking at a meeting in Berlin, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had seemed to indicate his interest in keeping the accord alive.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted this image of himself outside the UN

“We want Europe to shoulder its responsibility and stick with the nuclear deal,” he said.

But the response from the Iranian foreign ministry appeared to contradict the president’s comments, in which he described the P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany) as being the “last guarantors” of the agreement.

At a press conference in Vienna, where the deal is being discussed, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said Iran’s attitude was “unmixed” and that the deal should be “beneficial for us all”.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption A figure in the White House has suggested the deal could be reopened to include Iran’s missile programme

“The Europeans did not want us to go ahead with this deal, and so we accepted that,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

“Now they want us to abandon it, but we don’t want to abandon it. In this situation we need the EU more than ever.”

Mr Zarif and President Rouhani both spoke to the international media in the Austrian capital following a meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Those who believe in the Iranian deal must do the same, Mr Rouhani said.

“We [still] believe in the political deal, and if some of our partners believe in it they must also do the same,” he said.

The pact, which seeks to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting sanctions, came into force in January 2016.

Following the US withdrawal from the deal, the US reinstated sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry and banking sector.

Reuters reported that countries which buy or sell Iran’s oil will face new US penalties if they do not comply with the sanctions.

Efforts to persuade more European firms to continue selling Iran oil have so far resulted in just a handful of companies suspending sales or reconsidering contracts.

A French oil major, Total, was unable to secure financing for a multibillion-dollar project to develop Iran’s South Pars gas field, with the bank doing the necessary paperwork only last week.

Efforts to prevent US sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank by encouraging European companies to insure their Iranian oil shipments have not yet produced positive results.

Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann

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