Iran nuclear deal commission meets to save 2015 accord

Tehran says it would be prepared to curb its nuclear programme if Europe provides ‘meaningful’ economic benefits. (AP pic)

VIENNA: The remaining parties to the faltering Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Wednesday in their first gathering after Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute process over Tehran’s successive pullbacks.

The meeting comes as the parties try to find a way to save the landmark 2015 agreement, which has been crumbling since the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.

The Europeans hope to persuade Tehran to come back into line with the deal curbing Iran’s nuclear programme after Tehran made a series of steps away in protest at the US pull-out.

Wednesday’s meeting at political directors’ level, convening the commission set up by the deal, will be chaired by EU senior official Helga Schmid.

“This is a chance though not of 100 percent to stop escalation before it is too late,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian Embassy in Vienna on Twitter.

In its last announcement in early January, Tehran said it would no longer observe limits on the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

It was its fifth step away from the deal since US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal and led to Germany, Britain and France triggering the dispute process on Jan 14.

The process spells out several steps, the last one of which is notifying the UN Security Council. UN sanctions would then automatically “snap back” after 30 days unless the Security Council voted to stop it.

‘Far from a result’

A diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that no time table had been fixed for solving the dispute, adding “we are still far from a result”.

“We all want to save the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known) so that the inspectors can continue their work in Iran,” the diplomat said, referring to the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Vienna-based UN nuclear agency has been tasked with monitoring the deal’s implementation and issues regular reports, the latest of which is expected within days.

Western diplomats recognise it is highly unlikely Iran will heed calls to come back into full compliance without substantial concessions in return – such as an end to US sanctions or Europe taking measures to offset their economic impact.

But they hope the use of the dispute process will convince Iran not to make any more moves away from the deal, giving space for back-channel diplomacy aimed at bringing Washington and Tehran back into alignment.

The diplomat told AFP that Iran could also “at least freeze its uranium stocks” as a possible positive outcome of the current discussions.

At a major international security conference in Munich earlier this month, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be prepared to move back towards the deal if Europe provides “meaningful” economic benefits.

Europe has set up a special trading mechanism called Instex to try to enable legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran, but it has yet to complete any transactions and Tehran regards it as inadequate.

The renewed US sanctions have almost entirely isolated Iran from the international financial system, driven away oil buyers and plunged the country into a severe recession.