GENEVA, July 2, (AFP): Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Switzerland on Monday at the start of European trip billed as of “prime importance” after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The tour, which also includes a stop in Austria, is part of Tehran’s efforts to secure Europe’s continued support for the landmark agreement aimed at preventing Iran from building the atomic bomb. Substantial parts of the historic nuclear pact were negotiated in Switzerland before it was signed in July 2015 in Vienna, where the Rouhani will head on Wednesday.
The trip will be an “opportunity to talk about the future of the (nuclear) agreement,” he told reporters at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport before boarding his fl ight, state television showed. Rouhani and his large delegation were greeted by Swiss President Alain Berset, along with an honour guard, after they landed in Zurich.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also scheduled to hold talks with Swiss officials in the capital Bern. The visit comes nearly two months after US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the agreement, to the ire of the other signatories — China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia — which along with the European Union have continued to back the accord.
Iran has warned it is ready to resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent — above the level permitted in the deal — “within days” if the deal falls apart. Rouhani’s trip will be of “prime importance” as it could “provide a more precise picture of cooperation between Iran and Europe,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said in comments carried by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on Saturday. Austria on Sunday took over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency, while Switzerland represents US interests in Iran owing to the absence of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran.
Vienna is also the home of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the accord. The nuclear deal has been the cornerstone of Rouhani’s policy of greater openness with the West, and the US move has seen him severely criticised by ultra-conservatives at home. Even before Trump’s decision, Iranians had long complained that the hoped-for uptick in foreign investment after the deal had not materialised. Washington’s decision paves the way for new US sanctions against Tehran, which will encompass businesses from third countries that continue to operate in Iran.