Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif met his European counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday for the first time since the United States’ acrimonious departure from the nuclear deal (JCPOA) earlier this month.
Mr Zarif met with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK as the quartet scrambled to keep the JCPOA alive without US involvement.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also met with Mr Zarif on Tuesday morning for discussions that the Iranian foreign minister described as “good and constructive”.
He added “we are on the right path to move forward” and noted that talks would continue over the next two weeks.
Mrs Mogherini said: "The European Union is determined to preserve this deal that is essential to our security and the security of the region."
The meetings follow a declaration made on May 8 by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Iran would engage with the European signatories of the JCPOA, irrespective of US involvement.
US President Donald Trump described the deal, which was struck in 2015, as “horrible and one-sided”. In one of the first indications of the US tightening sanctions over the Islamic Republic, the US added a number of high-ranking officials to its sanctions list, including the governor of Iran's Central Bank, Valiollah Seif.
In a statement prior to the talks, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson made it clear that the UK was hoping European powers would be able to preserve their end of the deal, independent of the United States.
“The UK and our European partners continue to view the nuclear deal as vital for our shared security, and remain fully committed to upholding it. We are working with France and Germany to explore the best way forward. We will look at potential options for supporting continued sanctions relief for Iran to ensure we meet our commitments under the deal, as well as calling on Iran to continue to abide by the restrictions the deal places upon their nuclear programme,” he said.
Mr Johnson also asked the US not interfere in European efforts to preserve the deal. “I also call on the US to avoid any actions that could prevent the remaining parties to the agreement from meeting their commitments under the deal – including delivering sanctions relief through legitimate trade,” he said.
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Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, said that the Iranians' greatest fear was economic isolation on a global level.
"It’s a tough one to be a bridge-builder in this context. It’s not something that anyone envies Europe for," he said. “We have never seen anything like this before. We’re in the realm of people trying to improvise."
Mr Zarif met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday in Moscow, as he undertakes a string of meetings with key figures in an effort to rescue the deal.
But despite Iranian insistence that their rights be guaranteed, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday in Moscow that whilst it was possible to discuss the deal’s future without the US, its preservation would require Iranian concessions.