Iran suggests progress at last-ditch nuclear deal talks not enough as world powers attempt to overcome US sanctions

Announcement comes days before Tehran was due to breach limits on enriched uranium stockpile

Borzou Daragahi
International Correspondent
Monday 01 July 2019 23:15
Iran is to announce further potential accelerations of its nuclear programme on 7 July
Iran is to announce further potential accelerations of its nuclear programme on 7 July

Risking the ire of the United States, world powers launched a new financial mechanism on Friday that is meant to overcome American sanctions on Iran and salvage the 2015 nuclear deal.

The announcement of the launch of Instex came following an hours-long meeting in Vienna between Iranian officials and other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the landmark nuclear deal meant to restrict Iran’s nuclear programme, just days before Iran was to breach limits on its uranium enrichment stockpile because it said other parties were failing to meet their obligations.

“Instex [is] now operational,” European Union foreign policy secretary general Helga Schmid tweeted. “First transactions being processed, and other EU member states to join.”

Iran’s envoy to the meeting, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, said the launch amounted to “a step forward”, but he doubted it would suffice.

He demurred on whether Iran would hold off on breaching reactor grade stockpile limit of 300kg.

“I do not think that the progress made in the talks today is enough to dissuade Iran from changing its stance on the limits set in the nuclear deal,” Mr Araqchi told Iranian state television.”A report on the meeting will be sent to Tehran and they will make a decision.”

Iran is to announce further potential accelerations of its nuclear programme on 7 July.

The launch of Instex, months in the works, came following a dramatic day of diplomatic manoeuvring meant to save the nuclear deal.

The agreement has been imperilled since the administration of Donald Trump last year pulled out of it and, goaded by Washington hardliners, launched a campaign of maximum pressure, ostensibly to draw Iran back to the negotiating table.

It has vowed to flex its considerable economic might and oversight over the global financial system to punish any country or entity purchasing Iranian energy exports, severely damaging Iran’s economy.

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The other signatories to the agreement – the UK, France, Russia, Germany, and China – vowed to maintain the deal, which promised Iran normalised economic ties and nuclear cooperation in exchange for curtailing and opening up its atomic programme.

But progress has been lagging, and Iranians announced they would begin to step up production of reactor grade uranium, and consider other steps, including enriching to higher levels and even leaving the international Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Throughout the day on Friday, diplomats in Vienna and elsewhere strived to preserve the deal, which was enshrined into international law by a vote of the UN Security Council and seen by many as a way to avoid the risk of war and nuclear proliferation in the already volatile Middle East.

Countries that were not signatories to the deal – Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden – issued statements in support. And China hinted that it would ignore US sanctions on oil purchases from Iran.

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The last-minute launch of Instex will likely encourage Iranians to avoid bursting through uranium enrichment caps immediately, and provide a means for Iran to purchase and sell goods which are not under US sanction.

“The strength of Instex is in its declared humanitarian focus, which shields it from US pressure and also maximises the likelihood that European companies will engage the currently untested mechanism,” Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, and Sahil Shah, a fellow at the European Leadership Network, write in a paper about Instex released on Friday.

But others worry that without a means for Iran to sell its oil to countries without incurring the wrath of the US, it merely buys time. The US has said that it has no objection to Instex so long as it is used for food and medicine, but has also looked warily at it, and is being encouraged by a clique of Washington hardliners that appear to shape Mr Trump’s Iran policy to sabotage it.

“I’m pleased to see it,” Richard Nephew, a former US diplomat who helped negotiate the nuclear deal, told The Independent of Instex, “but still sceptical it changes Iran’s bottom lines and needs”.

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