Europeans struggle to preserve nuclear deal with Iran nuclear

Published 8:14 am Thursday, May 9, 2019

BERLIN — The world powers struggling to preserve a nuclear deal with Iran are facing an increasingly uphill battle, with a new deadline from Tehran on finding a solution to make up for last year’s unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the accord and the increasing economic hardship that has put on the Islamic Republic.

After Iran notified Britain, Russia, China, the European Union, France and Germany of its intentions in a letter, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address Wednesday that the nations have 60 days to come up with a plan to shield his country from the sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump after he pulled Washington out of the deal.

“If the five countries join negotiations and help Iran to reach its benefits in the field of oil and banking, Iran will return to its commitments according to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said.

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The 2015 deal, intended to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, promised economic incentives in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Despite efforts so far by the others to keep the deal from collapsing, Iran’s economy has been struggling and its currency has plummeted in value after the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions.

Later Wednesday, Trump issued an executive order announcing new sanctions targeting Iran’s steel, aluminum, copper and iron sectors, which provide foreign currency earnings for Tehran.

Many international corporations are reluctant to risk running afoul of Washington and have severed ties with Iran; a complicated barter-type system set up by the Europeans to allow their businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran — and thus evade possible U.S. sanctions — is not yet finalized.

Iran has continued abiding by the stipulations of the deal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but had been expressing increasing frustration with the inability of the Europeans to provide economic relief, culminating with Wednesday’s threat to resume higher enrichment of uranium in 60 days unless new terms are negotiated.

Despite Rouhani’s threatening rhetoric and the now-ticking clock, Europeans were cautiously hoping the Iranian president was not on the verge of breaking the deal but instead seeking to show strength domestically as the economy slumps.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his office had been in contact with all the others involved in the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, since the announcement to see what could be done to get Tehran to back down.

“Our opinion is and remains: We want to preserve the agreement, in particular to prevent Iran from coming into possession of nuclear weapons,” he told reporters. “We don’t need further escalation in the region.”