Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are struggling to save the landmark 2015 accord with Iran, which has been progressively stepping up its nuclear activities since the US pulled out of the deal in 2018.
Representatives of Iran and the world powers working to save the nuclear deal with Tehran have agreed in Vienna to do everything possible to preserve the landmark 2015 agreement in their first meeting since the United States announced a bid to restore United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Helga Schmid, the European Union representative who chaired the meeting, said afterwards on Twitter that the “participants are united in resolve to preserve the #IranDeal and find a way to ensure full implementation of the agreement despite current challenges”.
Just finished chairing #JCPOA Joint Commission. Important to see that participants are united in resolve to preserve the #IranDeal and find a way to ensure full implementation of the agreement despite current challenges. pic.twitter.com/uO5bDdTlCA— Helga Maria Schmid (@HelgaSchmid_EU) September 1, 2020
Iranian representative Abbas Araghchi did not comment after the day of talks, but ahead of the meeting said the US move would “definitely be an important discussion” topic with delegates from France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.
President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action unilaterally in 2018, saying that it was a bad deal and needed to be renegotiated.
The deal promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but with the reinstatement of American sanctions, the other nations have been struggling to provide Iran the assistance it seeks.
Complicating the matter, the US announced recently it was triggering a 30-day process to restore virtually all UN sanctions on Iran, invoking a “snapback” mechanism that is part of the JCPOA agreement. Washington's argument is that as an original participant it still has that right, even though it left the deal.
Other signatories to the JCPOA agreement have rejected that argument, setting the stage for a potential crisis in the Security Council later this month, with the US claiming to have re-imposed sanctions and most of the rest of the world saying the Trump administration's action is illegal and ignoring it.
'No legal ground for snapback'
Chinese representative Fu Cong told reporters after the meeting that the member countries all agreed that the US no longer has "the legal ground or legal standing to trigger snapback” and that in China’s view Washington was using it to “try to sabotage or even kill the JCPOA”.
He suggested the other countries were also not prepared to “just wait and see” whether Trump is reelected in November.
“The US, even though it is a superpower, is just one country,” Fu said. “So other countries are moving on.”
The Russian delegate to the JCPOA, Mikhail Ulyanov, took a swipe at the US ahead of the meeting, tweeting that Tuesday's talks involved “participation of all (not self-proclaimed) participants of the nuclear deal”.
Afterward, he tweeted that the meeting “demonstrated that its participants are fully committed to the nuclear deal and are determined to do their best to preserve it”.
The meeting of the Joint Commission on #JCPOA today in Vienna demonstrated that its participants are fully committed to the nuclear deal and are determined to do their best to preserve it.— Mikhail Ulyanov (@Amb_Ulyanov) September 1, 2020
Permission for IAEA inspectors
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do.
However, since the US withdrawal, Iran has been steadily violating its restrictions on the amount of uranium it can enrich, the amount of heavy water it can possess, and the purity to which it enriches its uranium.
That's all to put pressure on the other nations involved to come ahead with more economic incentives.
It now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount, or the purity, it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
Those working to save the deal also note that despite the violations, Iran continues to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to access all sites in the country.
Last week, Iran held out an olive branch to end one issue of contention, agreeing to allow IAEA inspectors into two sites where the country is suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material in the early 2000s.
Iran had insisted the agency had no right to inspect the sites, since they dated to well before the JCPOA came into effect.
Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said last week's agreement on access kept "Iran generally in line with the rest of the world, against an isolated US".
But Fitzpatrick pointed out that "Iran's nuclear activities remain of deep concern to those states that are dedicated to non-proliferation".
Iran reportedly recently transferred advanced centrifuges used to enrich uranium from a pilot facility into a new hall at its main Natanz nuclear fuel plant, which was hit by sabotage in July.
An IAEA assessment published in June said Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium was almost eight times the limit fixed in the accord.