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Iran insists door to negotiations 'still open' as EU nations scramble to save nuclear deal

The nuclear deal has been under threat since the US withdrawal in 2018 [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 January, 2020

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Iran's foreign ministry on Monday suggested the door to negotiations remain open as the UK, France and Germany scrambled to revive the nuclear deal.
Iran insisted the "door to negotiations" remains open amid continued efforts to protect a historic nuclear deal with world powers that has come under threat since the US withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

"Tehran still remains in the deal... The European powers' claims about Iran violating the deal are unfounded," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a weekly news conference in Tehran, saying that the "door to negotiations" had not been closed.

"Whether Iran will further decrease its nuclear commitments will depend on other parties and whether Iran’s interests are secured under the deal," Mousavi added.

The remarks came after the UK, France and Germany launched a process last week charging Iran with failing to observe the terms of the 2015 deal curtailing its nuclear programme. Tehran accuses the bloc of inaction over US sanctions.

The EU three insisted they remained committed to the agreement, which has already been severely undermined by the US exit from it in 2018 and its reimposition of unilateral sanctions on key sectors of Iran's economy.

On Sunday, Iran's parliamentary speaker warned of unspecified repercussions for the UN's nuclear watchdog if European nations that launched a dispute mechanism against the Islamic Republic act "unfairly".

"What the three European countries did regarding Iran's nuclear issue... is unfortunate," parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

"We clearly announce that if Europe, for any reason, uses Article 37 of the nuclear agreement unfairly, then Iran will make a serious decision regarding cooperation with the agency," he said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Russia also condemned the European move, warning it risked causing a "new escalation".

In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry said it saw "no reason for such a move".

"We do not rule out that the thoughtless actions of the Europeans could lead to a new escalation around the Iranian nuclear accord," it said in a statement.

Since May 2019, Iran has progressively scaled back some commitments under the agreement in response to the US sanctions and Europe's inability to circumvent them.

It has stressed, however, that they can be reversed if Tehran's interests are realised.

In-depth: A decades-long battle: The Iran-US rivalry explained

Iran's latest and final step in January entailed forgoing the limit on the number of machines used to make uranium more potent.

The 2015 nuclear deal - known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - was struck in Vienna by Iran, the EU three, the United States, China and Russia. 

The accord aimed to restrict Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Western powers feared were aimed at developing weapons, in return for sanctions relief.

The three countries said they would not join "a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran" championed by Trump.

But the UK's prime minister, Boris Johnson said he would be willing to work on a "Trump deal" to replace the JCPoA, which was negotiated by the administration of former president Barack Obama.

"That's what we need to see. I think that would be a great way forward," Johnson said, noting that "from the American perspective it (the 2015 deal) is a flawed agreement."

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab denied that Johnson's remarks represented a shift, saying London backed the nuclear deal while also wanting a wider pact that would go beyond Iran's atomic drive to cover all contentious issues.

The deal has a provision that allows a party to claim significant non-compliance by another party before a joint commission.

Articles 36 and 37 of the deal say if the issue is not resolved by the commission, it then goes to an advisory board and eventually to the UN Security Council, which could reimpose sanctions.

The decision to begin the so-called dispute mechanism process comes as tensions soar between the West and Iran following the killing of top commander Qasem Soleimani in a US air strike, and the admission by Tehran days later that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner.

"The issue is not Iran's behaviour," said the parliamentary speaker.

"It is America's threats that have pushed a powerful European country to a humiliating and unjust" position, said Larijani.

Germany confirmed last week that the United States had been threatening to impose a 25-percent tariff on European cars if the bloc continued to back the nuclear deal.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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