Parties to Iran Nuclear Deal Meet but Make Little Progress on Saving It

Meeting of senior officials came more than a month after European parties to the pact — France, Britain and Germany — formally accused Iran of violating its terms

A bilateral meeting as part of the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, Austria, February 26, 2020.
Ronald Zak,AP

Parties to Iran's nuclear deal made little progress on Wednesday towards saving the agreement as Iran is still breaching many of its central terms in response to U.S. sanctions, but efforts to ease Tehran's economic pain continued, delegates said.

Wednesday's meeting of senior officials came more than a month after European parties to the deal - France, Britain and Germany - formally accused Iran of violating its terms, setting off a process that could eventually reimpose international sanctions lifted under the agreement.

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But, in a move underlining how torn the Europeans are between pressuring Iran not to breach the deal and still trying to save it, the European Union's foreign policy chief said this month the powers would indefinitely extend the time limits in that process to avoid having to reimpose sanctions.

Delegates said that process, known as the dispute resolution mechanism, was not even discussed at Wednesday's meeting, though the Europeans did criticize Iran.

"Serious concerns were expressed regarding the implementation of Iran's nuclear commitments under the agreement," the EU foreign policy service's Secretary General Helga Schmid, who chaired the meeting, said in a statement.

"Participants also acknowledged that the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions did not allow Iran to reap the full benefits arising from sanctions-lifting," she added.

Breaches

Iran has breached several central limits of the deal, including on its stock of enriched uranium, in response to the U.S. withdrawal and Washington's reimposition of sanctions that have slashed Iran's oil exports.

Together its ongoing breaches are eroding the deal's central aim - keeping Iran a year away from being able to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to. Iran says it can quickly reverse its breaches if U.S. sanctions are lifted. Washington says its campaign of "maximum pressure" will force Iran to negotiate a more sweeping deal.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi focused on European efforts to set up a vehicle that will allow a small amount of barter trade with Iran, known as Instex, which has yet to perform a transaction.

"It is important that we can say that the JCPOA is still alive," he said, referring to the deal by its full name - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"We know that the Europeans are trying. We know that there is willingness but the lack of ability is obvious."