FIRMS GEAR FOR IRAN DRAWDOWN ON U.S. SANCTIONS THREAT
BERLIN, May 20, (Agencies): Three European Union sources have denied that diplomats meeting in Vienna on Friday to salvage the imperilled Iranian nuclear deal after Washington withdrew will discuss offering Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.
A German newspaper reported on Sunday that diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia will meet in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by US President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.
The Welt am Sonntag newspaper cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying that the diplomats would discuss a proposal for a new agreement between Iran and world powers that would be the same as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.
These could include provisions to address US concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile programme and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements.
Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper. Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said. But three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep US President Donald Trump from quitting the nuclear deal told Reuters later on Sunday that this was incorrect “The Vienna meeting next Friday will address the implementation issues and details of the JCPOA,” one EU source said. “The meeting will not cover any other issues.” No immediate comment was available from the German foreign ministry. Iran said on Sunday it would take part on Friday in a meeting of a joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.
“On Friday, the joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television. On Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic road map” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.
Iran and European powers have made a good start in talks over how to salvage the deal but much depends on what happens in the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said last week. France meanwhile is looking to see if the European Union could compensate European companies that might face US sanctions for doing business with Iran, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday. Le Maire referred to EU rules dating back to 1996 which he said could allow the EU to intervene to protect European firms against any sanctions imposed by the United States, adding that France wanted the EU to toughen its stance in this area.
In 1996, when the United States tried to penalise foreign companies trading with Cuba, the EU forced Washington to back down by threatening retaliatory sanctions. “Are we going to allow the United States to be the economic policeman of the world? The answer is no,” Le Maire told C News TV and Europe 1 radio on Sunday. “Strengthening that 1996 rule … would allow us to take charge ourselves of the cost of any potential sanctions paid by firms, which could therefore be paid for on their behalf by the European Union,” added Le Maire. European companies conducting business in Iran face US sanctions after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The 2015 agreement, worked out by the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, China and Iran, lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear programme. The pact was designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. The other signatories have indicated that they hope to salvage the nuclear deal. Le Maire said European companies looking to invest abroad, such as in Iran, could aim to get financing from within Europe, rather than via US dollars or US banks.
EU leaders have pledged to try to keep Iran’s oil trade and investment flowing but admitted it will not be easy to do so. Iran’s foreign minister told the EU’s energy chief on Sunday that the 28-country bloc was not doing enough to preserve the benefits for Iran from the 2015 pact. On May 16, French energy giant Total joined other European companies in signalling a possible exit from Iran in light of Trump’s decision. “There might be some element of arbitration for the European companies in Iran, but ultimately nobody will want to get on the wrong side of US sanctions,” said Lorne Baring, chief investment officer at fund management firm B Capital SA.
The European Union is not doing enough to preserve the benefits for Iran from the 2015 international nuclear pact following the withdrawal of the United States, Iran’s foreign minister told the EU’s energy chief on Sunday “With the withdrawal of America, (Iran’s) public expectations from the European Union have increased in order to maintain the deal’s gains, and in the current context, the European political support for the accord is not sufficient,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told Miguel Arias Canete in Tehran, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported. “We have to preserve this agreement so we don’t have to negotiate a new agreement,” Arias Canete told Western journalist after two days of meetings with Iranian officials in Tehran.
“Our message is very clear. This is a nuclear agreement that works.” Under the deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. With the threat of new US sanctions looming over them, some foreign firms have already started signaling their intention to pull back from Iran. “The announcement of the possible withdrawal by major European companies from their cooperation with Iran is not consistent with the European Union’s commitment to implementing (the nuclear deal),” Zarif was quoted as saying. Iran said Saturday it would wait to see whether Europe produces tangible results in overcoming US sanctions before it decides whether to stay in the nuclear deal, as a top EU official visited Tehran to present plans for maintaining trade ties. “The ball is in the court of the EU. They have presented different proposals, we will see if they materialise,” said the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi.
He was speaking after meeting European Union Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, the first high-level Western official to visit Iran since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers earlier this month. Canete called the nuclear deal “fundamental for peace in the region” as he outlined EU plans to continue oil and gas purchases and protect European companies from US sanctions as they are phased in over the next six months. He also had detailed talks with Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh on practical solutions, which he said included plans for direct payments between central banks and state-backed insurance for shipments.
A group of experts later met their Iranian counterparts to hash out the details. Zanganeh said there were no plans to change Iran’s pattern of oil exports, which amount to 3.8 million barrels per day, with 70 percent going to Asia and 20 percent to Europe. Salehi acknowledged Europe’s efforts to protect trade but said: “We want tangible results, otherwise we take our own decisions. I personally don’t want to see such decisions being taken.”