As Iran becomes increasingly concerned about Europe’s ability to protect the 2015 nuclear deal that US President Donald J Trump unilaterally abandoned, officials from Tehran will meet with Russia, China, the France, Germany and the UK in Vienna to discuss ways to preserve the landmark agreement.
In a statement released by Iran’s public broadcaster IRIB on May 21, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed his government’s concerns that Europe is not fully committed or capable of protecting the agreement and its investments in Iran as European companies may freeze their investment programmes until Brussels comes up with a clear plan for how it can legally shield them from a new round of US sanctions, Zarif said.
“With the withdrawal of America …. the European political support for the accord is not sufficient,” Zarif told EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete in Tehran, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.
The statement came after Zarif’s meeting with Cañete, just as the French energy behemoth, Total, announced it is freezing its €4.1 billion investment programme in Iran.
Although Europe remains committed to the 2015 framework agreement with Iran, individual companies fear that US secondary sanctions are forcing them to choose between the US market and Iran.
In Vienna, the five remaining partners to the agreement will seek to broker a compromise between Tehran and Washington to keep the negotiations on track. EU officials are reportedly exploring the possibility of widening the scope of the 2015 deal to include Iran’s missile programme.
These claims were dismissed by Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi, as “irrelevant,” which was followed-up by a statement from Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi who said the meeting in Vienna will focus on “how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal.”
Three EU sources have told the international media that the upcoming meeting in Vienna will not offer additional financial incentives to Tehran, but will focus on how to further strengthen the existing deal.
In the meantime, the US State Department issued a statement on Sunday suggesting Washington is open to working with its partners to address common concerns over Iran’s missile programme and Tehran’s role in supporting their fellow Shiites in regional Middle East conflicts, including proving weapons, training, and financial support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and close its close ally in Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
On May 21, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Europe to support Washington’s new roadmap – one that will force Iran back on the negotiating table to discuss its missile programme. It remains unclear, however, if Washington will be able to rally support from Europe, Russia, or China after Trump demonstratively ignored the advice of his partners and many of his closest advisors, all of whom said the deal was working and that Iran had not violated a single tenet of the pact since it came into effect two years ago.
The 2015 landmark agreement was considered a landmark foreign policy achievement for Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. The deal ended more than a decade of economic isolation for Iran and empowered reformist-minded politicians such as President Hassan Rouhani to take on the Islamic Republic’s fossilised hardliners and the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps. Conservative critics in the US have, however, claimed that the deal has done little to contain Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts as well as contain Tehran’s missile ballistic programme.
Despite the claims, the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly said that the agreement has successfully halted the weaponisation of Iran’s nuclear programme.