Crisis talks on Iran nuclear deal set to kick off in Vienna

The remaining signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are set to meet in Austria’s capital, Vienna, to renew discussions aimed at salvaging the accord in the wake of United States‘ unilateral exit last year.

Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in Sunday’s extraordinary gathering, the European Union’s foreign policy service said.

The meeting will “examine issues linked to the implementation of the JCPOA in all its aspects,” the EU said, referring to the nuclear deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The landmark agreement, which offered Iran relief from global sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, is in danger of unravelling following Washington’s move in May 2018.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has since reimposed punishing sanctions against Tehran, plunging its economy into recession and bringing hardship to ordinary Iranians.

The pact’s remaining signatories oppose Washington’s move but have struggled to protect trade with Iran.

In May, Iran said it would disregard certain limits the deal set on its nuclear programme. After surpassing a cap on stockpiles of enriched uranium, Iran’s atomic agency earlier this month said it has also started to enrich uranium to a higher grade than the 3.67 percent set in the JCPOA. 

Iran’s Rouhani hints at possible swap for seized tankers (3:00)

All of the moves were “reversible within hours” if the remaining signatories upheld their commitments, according to Iranian officials. However, they have also threatened to take further measures if the parties, especially European nations, did not help Tehran circumvent the US sanctions, particularly the restrictions on its ability to export oil. 

Tanker row

Meanwhile, tensions have also escalated with a string of incidents involving tankers and drones, including Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in June on allegations it was breaching EU sanctions on Syria. 

Iran retaliated on July 19 by impounding a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. 

Arriving at Sunday’s meeting in Vienna, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi linked the tanker row to the discussions over the nuclear deal.

“Developments have occurred, such as the seizure of the tanker carrying Iranian oil in Gibraltar, which in our view is considered a breach of the JCPOA,” Araghchi said in comments carried on Iranian state TV.

“Countries party to the JCPOA must not create any obstacles in the way of Iran exporting its oil,” he added.

France, Britian and Germany have set up a special trade channel, known as INSTEX, to help EU members trade with Iran. But Iranian officials say the mechanism does not meet Iran’s needs as it does not facilitate oil exports.

Separately, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani denounced on Sunday a British plan for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz. 

“The presence of foreign forces will not only not help the security of the region, but will be the main factor for tension,” Rouhani told Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi during a meeting in Tehran. 

Iran and Oman had primary responsibility for securing the Strait of Hormuz, he said, adding: “The roots of the unpleasant events and tension in the region today are the unilateral withdrawal of US [from the 2015 nuclear deal]. 

Oman, which maintains warm ties with both Iran and the US and has previously been a go-between for the two countries that severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

The US and Iran came to the brink of a major military confrontation in June after Iranian forces shot down an unmanned US drone. Trump said he called off retaliatory air raids at the last moment because the resulting death toll would have been too high.

Weeks later, on July 18, Trump said a US warship “destroyed” an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, a claim Tehran has dismissed.      

The US and Saudi Arabia have also blamed Iran for multiple suspected attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies.      

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