Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, said progress was made at talks in Vienna aimed at saving the nuclear deal but probably not enough to convince Tehran to change its decision to go over the deal's core atomic restrictions one by one.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmit attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2019.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmit attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2019. (Reuters)

A meeting of the remaining partners in the Iranian nuclear deal produced some progress but not enough to satisfy Tehran's demands, a senior Iranian official said on Friday, offering little prospect for now of the country backing away from a move to surpass a uranium stockpile threshold that could doom the agreement.

Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, said after meeting with senior officials from Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia, and the European Union that a complex barter-type system set up to keep trade with Iran afloat is now active. 

But he insisted that for the so-called INSTEX system to be useful, "Europeans need to buy oil from Iran, or to consider credit lines for this mechanism."

Britain, France and Germany have a special trade channel up and running with Iran that aims to circumvent US economic sanctions, the EU said in a statement. 

"France, Germany and the United Kingdom informed participants that INSTEX had been made operational and available to all EU Member States and that the first transactions are being processed," the EU said in a statement, referring to the special trade channel's formal name.

Araghchi described the meeting in Vienna, a regular quarterly gathering of signatories to the 2015 accord, as positive and constructive. 

He said it was "one step forward" compared with previous sessions, "but it is still not enough, and it is still not meeting Iran's expectations."

Ahead of the meeting, Araghchi criticised the United States over its economic aggression on Tehran.

The regular quarterly meeting of the accord's so-called joint commission, which brings together senior officials from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, China, and the European Union, is meant to discuss the implementation of the deal. 

There was no comment from the participants as they arrived for the gathering at a Vienna hotel.

The 2015 agreement aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. 

The United States withdrew from the accord last year and has imposed new sanctions on Iran to cripple its economy, in hopes of forcing Tehran into negotiating a wider-ranging deal.

President Donald Trump said on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan that "there's no rush" to ease the tensions with Iran. 

"There's absolutely no time pressure," he added. "I think that in the end, hopefully, it's going to work out. If it does, great. And if doesn't, you'll be hearing about it."

Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. It previously said it would surpass a 300-kilogramme stockpile limit set by the accord by Thursday, but an Iranian official said that it was 2.8 kilogrammes below that limit on Wednesday and there would be no new assessment until "after the weekend."

It is currently a holiday weekend in Iran.

Araghchi said he will report back to Tehran, which will make further decisions. Of the 300-kilogram limit, he said that "the decision to reduce our commitments has already (been) made in Iran, and we continue on that process unless our expectations are met."

Asked whether there would be a follow-up meeting, Araghchi said that delegates "decided to have a ministerial meeting very soon," perhaps in the next few weeks, although a time and place have not yet been determined. 

July 7 deadline

European countries are pressing for Iran to comply in full with the accord, though they have not specified what the consequences would be of failing to do so. But Iranian officials maintain that even if it surpasses the limit, it would not be breaching the deal, and say such a move could be reversed quickly.

The Europeans also face a July 7 deadline set by Tehran to offer long-promised relief from US sanctions, or Iran says it will also begin enriching its uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.

On Thursday, Iranian state TV reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a letter urging European signatories to the accord to implement their commitments, saying Iran's next steps depend on that.

Britain, France, and Germany are finalising a complicated barter-type system known as INSTEX to maintain trade with Iran and avoid US sanctions, as part of efforts to keep the nuclear deal afloat. 

It would help ensure trade between Iran and Europe by allowing buyers and sellers to exchange money without relying on the usual cross-border financial transactions.

Threats to Hormuz

Citing unspecified Iranian threats, the US has sent an aircraft carrier to the region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there.

The US has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since tankers were damaged in May and June in what Washington has blamed on limpet mines from Iran, although Tehran denies any involvement. 

Last week, Iran shot down a US Navy surveillance drone, saying it violated its territory; Washington said it was in international airspace.

On Thursday, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook met with top European diplomats in Paris. He said that he wants them to get tougher on Iran, instead of clinging to the nuclear deal.

War with Iran is "not necessary," Hook said.

"We are not looking for any conflict in the region," he said. But if the US is attacked, "we will respond with military force."

The US is trying to drum up support for an international naval force in the Persian Gulf, notably to protect shipping.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Trump on Friday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. 

She said they discussed Iran "and the question of how we can get into a negotiating process, which I advocated very strongly."

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also attending the summit, said that the Gulf region stands "at a crossroads of war and peace," news agency Xinhua and state broadcaster CCTV reported.

"China always stands on the side of peace and opposes war," Xi said, calling on all sides to remain calm, exercise restraint and promote dialogue.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world can't afford a conflict. He said it was "essential to de-escalate the situation" and avoid confrontation.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies