Iran and major powers met Tuesday in Vienna to review adherence to their 2015 nuclear deal as uncertainty grows about the landmark accord’s future under US President Donald Trump.
The regular quarterly meeting was expected to hear, as Washington confirmed last week, that Iran is sticking to its side of the deal with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
The accord saw Tehran drastically curb its nuclear activities in order to ease concerns that Iran wanted to build an atomic bomb. In return nuclear-related Western and UN sanctions were lifted.
However, Trump has ordered a 90-day review, saying last Thursday that Iran was “not living up to the spirit” of the “terrible” deal because of its actions in other areas.
This refers to Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebels in Yemen, and militias in Iraq and in Lebanon as well as Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday the review would examine the nuclear accord “in the larger context of Iran’s role in the region and in the world, and then adjust accordingly.”
Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Wednesday expressed misgivings about the nuclear deal itself, in particular the time limits in key areas.
Iran cut the number of centrifuges that “enrich” uranium — making it suitable for power generation and at high purities for a bomb — from about 19,000 to 5,000.
Together with other restrictions and ultra-tight UN inspections, Iran pledged to stay at this level for 10 years and not to enrich uranium above low purities for 15 years.
– Tehran not satisfied –
Its uranium stockpile will also stay below 300 kilos (660 pounds) — well short of what would be needed for an atomic bomb — for 15 years.
Tillerson said the accord “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and had been a way of “buying off” Tehran “for a short period of time”.
Iran is not happy either, with critics of President Hassan Rouhani — facing a tough battle for re-election next month — charging that the nuclear deal has failed to provide all the promised economic benefits.
While nuclear-related sanctions were lifted, those related to human rights or missiles remained or have been expanded, frustrating Iran’s efforts to boost trade.
Last week Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s comments by saying that Washington was failing to live up not just to the spirit of the nuclear deal, but its wording as well.
“So far, it has defied both,” Zarif said on Twitter.
Tuesday’s “Joint Commission” meeting among senior diplomats was held behind closed doors — in the same plush Vienna hotel where the deal was hammered out — with no press events planned.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, was representing Iran in the talks. Iranian news agency IRNA quoted him as saying that Iran was adhering to the deal but that this did not completely hold true for the other side.