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Small window seen to save Iran’s N-deal: UK

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for a European Foreign Affairs meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Monday, July 15, 2019. European Union nations were looking to deescalate tensions in the Persian Gulf area on Monday and call on Iran to stick to the 2015 nuclear deal, despite the pullout of the United States from the accord and the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Tehran. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS, July 15, (RTRS): Britain said on Monday there was a “small window” of time to save the Iran nuclear deal, as Tehran signalled it would ramp up its nuclear programme – seen by the West as a cover for making atomic bombs – if Europe failed to do more to salvage the pact.

US-Iranian tensions have worsened since US President Donald Trump decided last year to abandon the nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to curtail its atomic programme in return for relief from economic sanctions crippling its economy.

“Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb. There is still some closing, but small window to keep the deal alive,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters on arrival for a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

The Brussels gathering will seek to fl esh out how to convince Iran and the United States to reduce tensions and start a dialogue amid fears that the 2015 deal is close to collapse. In reaction to the re-imposition of tough US sanctions, which have notably targeted Iran’s main oil revenue stream, Tehran has cut some of its nuclear commitments under the deal, leading the European parties to the pact, France, Britain and Germany, to warn it about not fully complying with the terms. Speaking before leaving Brussels, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom suggested the Europeans would still leave the door open for diplomacy, but that Tehran should not taking further measures that could breach the accord. “It improves their chances of having a good discussion with the EU and other partners in the JCPOA (Iran deal),” she told reporters.

“We encourage them to use all diplomatic means and create new diplomatic channels … to de-escalate the tense situation. We have to use every opportunity to keep the deal.” When asked whether European powers would seek to penalise Iran for breaking parts of its nuclear commitments, Hunt had earlier said there would soon be a meeting of the joint commission, the mechanism set up to handle potential breaches. It could ultimately lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency last week confirmed Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5 percent fissile purity, above the 3.67 percent limit set by its deal, the second breach of the deal in as many weeks after exceeding low enriched uranium stock limits. However, that is all still far below the 20 percent to which Iran refined uranium before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent needed to yield bomb-grade nuclear fuel.

Low-enriched uranium provides fuel for civilian power plants. Iran denies ever having sought a nuclear weapon. In Tehran, Iran’s nuclear agency said Tehran would return to the situation before the nuclear deal unless European countries fulfilled their obligations. “These actions are not taken out of stubbornness but to give diplomacy a chance, “ agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. “And if the Europeans and America don’t want to fulfil their commitments we will create a balance in this deal by reducing commitments and return the situation to four years ago.”

Iran says the European countries must do more to guarantee it the economic benefits it was due to receive in return for curbs to its nuclear programme under the deal. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Europe had to stay united in trying to save the deal, and Tehran should reverse its decision not to comply with parts of it.

France, Germany and Britain have sought to defuse the tensions, which culminated in a plan for US air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute. But highlighting just how difficult defusing the crisis is, Paris said on Monday a Franco-Iranian researcher had been detained in Iran and the local authorities were not giving consular access or details of her condition.

The Europeans are also trying to set up Instex, a barter-based trade conduit with Iran, but an equivalent Iranian mechanism has yet to start. Should the mechanism go ahead it would initially only deal in products such as pharmaceuticals and foods, which are not subject to US sanctions. Diplomats have that in any case they fear US blowback, while Iran has said Instex must include oil sales or provide substantial credit facilities for it to be beneficial.

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