Iranian chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi speaks to the media immediately after Sunday’s gathering in Vienna by the remaining signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. (Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Iran Lobbies Europe for Help in Facing US Sanctions

Following Vienna meeting, China stresses that all remaining parties seek to maintain JCPOA nuclear agreement

Iran’s chief negotiator has called a Sunday meeting of the remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic “constructive,” but said Tehran would keep backing away from the terms of the deal if the others failed to salvage it.

“We will continue to reduce our commitments to the agreement until the Europeans secure Iran’s interests,” Abbas Araghchi said.

Araghchi was referring to INSTEX, a plan proposed by the United Kingdom, France and Germany to enable payment for Iranian goods without using US dollars and thus circumvent at least some new sanctions.

The original signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, were the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union. About a year ago, the Trump Administration announced that it was pulling the US out the deal and reimposing sanctions.

The meeting in Vienna came in response to escalating tensions between Tehran and the West, including recent confrontations in the Gulf.

Ali al-Amin, a Lebanese political analyst and head of the Beirut-based Janoubia news outlet, told The Media Line that Iran was hoping the remaining signatories would work to ease the impact of the American sanctions on the Iranian economy, which is suffering as a result.

“Most of the European companies that used to work and invest in Iran stopped after the Americans reimposed sanctions,” Amin said, adding that the companies did not want to jeopardize their relations with the US.

“Iran is calling on the five countries that remain in the agreement to pressure the US to ease its punishment of Tehran,” he said. “Basically, Iran is trying to blackmail these countries.”

Nevertheless, he added, it would be very hard to get the Trump Administration to ease its sanctions, noting that “the Americans want to change the agreement and include a ban on ballistic missiles as part of it.”

After its withdrawal from the agreement, the US reinstated full sanctions against Tehran, including on its oil exports and banking sectors, saying Iran had not held up its end of the deal and was still working toward becoming a nuclear power.

Tehran calls the move “economic terrorism.”

Fu Zhong, head of the arms control department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said after the Vienna meeting that “all parties have expressed their commitment to maintain the comprehensive joint action plan of the nuclear agreement, and to continue to implement it in a balanced manner.”

He added that “all sides expressed their strong opposition to the unilateral imposition of sanctions by the United States.”

Oraib Rantawi, head of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies, told The Media Line that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees the nuclear agreement, had confirmed Tehran’s commitment to its terms, and that the US had failed to present evidence to back up its claims.

“The European countries are against the unilateral American punishments and its withdrawal from the deal,” he said, adding that Washington had “failed in forming an international coalition against Tehran.”

Rantawi said the goal of the meeting in Vienna was to find ways to enable Iran to strengthen its economy while containing the losses caused by the sanctions, saying the Islamic Republic needed “investment quickly, which means the Europeans should move.”

The Europeans, for their part, have warned that any Iranian violation of the agreement would escalate the confrontation.

Tensions on the ground are already high. British forces seized the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar on July 4, saying it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions – a claim denied by Iran. Several days later, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) captured a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz, charging it with violating international maritime rules.

US President Donald Trump has said that he would be willing to hold talks with Iran. However, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday in a statement that Washington was not seeking dialogue despite Tehran’s willingness for “talks with the United States if based on an agenda that could lead to tangible results.”

Brian O’Toole, an American analyst and non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program, told The Media Line that there probably would be no significant talks between the US and Iran.

“I think that the offer of dialogue is mostly a domestic political play by Trump, and any negotiation will be picked apart by both sides of the political debate in America,” he said.

O’Toole explained that the ideal scenario for President Trump would be to appear as if he were trying to make some sort of peaceful entreaty with Iran in the run-up to the 2020 elections – though with insufficient details for anyone to tell the difference between “political theater” and “real progress in solving the problem.”

When asked whether the nuclear deal could survive without the removal of US secondary sanctions, he stated that it would possible in the short term, but not in the long term.

“Tehran can probably play enough to its domestic audience if mechanisms like INSTEX are operational and if there is enough general criticism of the US,” he stated. “But the Iranians will want to see the economic benefit promised by the deal, and a lack of economic progress by the Rouhani administration will inevitably empower the more hardline elements [in Iran] that didn’t want the JCPOA in the first place.”

O’Toole added that the best long-term scenario for some sort of agreement would be a US president who could find a way to work with the JCPOA parties to forge a more robust and lasting accord, although a scenario like this “assumes a willingness on Iran’s part to compromise, which is a real question if the IRGC/military/intelligence apparatus gains more relative power in Iran in the interim.”

Tehran has threatened the remaining parties to the deal that “it will take new measures” if a 60-day deadline for them to announce a firm stand against US sanctions bears no fruit. It has already begun boosting its enrichment of uranium beyond the level agreed to in the accord.

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