June 10, 2019 - Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Monday met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who traveled to Tehran in an effort to save the 2015 nuclear deal.
Before meeting Rouhani, Maas sat for talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Maas told a joint news conference with Zarif that Britain, France and Germany are committed to stick to their commitments from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers.
“We want to fulfil our obligations,” he said. “We cannot work miracles, but we will try to avert a failure (of the nuclear deal),” Maas added.
He warned that confrontation between the United States and Iran is now “explosive” and could lead to military escalation.
“The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious,” said Maas who has become the most senior Western official to visit Iran since a war of words erupted last month.
Maas said it was important to continue dialogue with Iran and use those talks also for frank discussions. “A dangerous escalation of existing tensions can also lead to a military escalation.”
Maas said it was in Iran's "political and strategic interest" to stay in the 2015 nuclear deal and “the dialogue with Europe.”
He also insisted that the deal – which has been hanging in the balance since the United States unilaterally withdrew from it last year – was "extraordinarily important" for Europe.
Iran signed the landmark accord with China, Russia, Germany, Britain, France and the United States, leading to sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
Iran has accused the US of “waging economic war” by reimposing and extending sanctions. Nevertheless, it reassured Germany’s Heiko Maas that it still wants to work with European powers to salvage a deal to curb its nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions, which Washington abandoned a year ago.
The European signatories to the deal have found themselves caught in the middle as the United States and Iran have taken increasingly aggressive postures in recent weeks.
Washington sharply tightened sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and companies to halt all imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system. It has since also began discussing military confrontation, dispatching extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
The administration of US President Donald Trump argues that the deal, reached under his predecessor Barack Obama, is not tough enough and seeks to force Iran to make more concessions with new sanctions.
Washington says the nuclear deal should be expanded to cover other issues including Iran’s missile program and its regional policies. European countries share those concerns, although they argue that it would be harder to address them without the nuclear deal in place.
Iran has repeatedly said it will not negotiate over its missiles as they are part of its defense power.
Washington’s European allies opposed its decision to abandon the nuclear deal. They have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, though with no success so far. All major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran have since called them off for fear of US punishment.
On May 8, Iran retaliated by saying it no longer considered itself bound to keep to the limits of stocks of heavy water and enriched uranium that were agreed as part of the deal.
And it warned that it would stop by early July abiding by restrictions on the level to which it can enrich uranium and on modifications to its Arak heavy water reactor, unless other parties to the deal speed up work on mitigating the effects of US sanctions.
Iran says the Europeans have not done enough to provide it with alternative ways to engage economically with the outside world. Maas acknowledged limits to how much help the European countries can provide.
In an effort to protect at least some of Iran’s economy from US sanctions, France, Britain and Germany have set up a special purpose vehicle called INSTEX, designed to allow trade payments that would bypass sanctions. It has yet to be launched.
Maas said America's departure from the nuclear deal prevented Iran from receiving the full benefits of the agreement but the European Union was doing its utmost to make it up to Tehran.
"Germany still supports the JCPOA and we believe Iran should be able to use its economic advantages," he said using the official name of the deal.
"We want Iran's trade and its economic growth to increase through INSTEX with Europe and it is Iran's right to enjoy the JCPOA's financial benefits."
Ahead of meeting Zarif, the German foreign minister acknowledged that the economic benefits Tehran hoped for from the deal were now "more difficult to obtain" but urged Iran to fully respect the agreement.
“This is an instrument of a new kind, so it’s not straightforward to operationalize it,” Maas told reporters. “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future.”
The three EU members want INSTEX to meet norms for legitimate financing set by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, even though Iran as a country is not yet fully compliant with them.
“We had frank and serious talks with Maas,” said Zarif, one of the nuclear deal’s architects.
"Together with Germany and the European Union, we have a common goal: to maintain (the nuclear agreement), put an end to tensions and conflicts in the region and (allow) the Iranian people to economically benefit (from this agreement)," Zarif said.
“Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the deal to save it,” he said of the deal.
Zarif said he made it clear to Maas in the meeting that implementing the JCPOA was all he expected the Europeans to do.
Zarif blamed the United States for the escalation, warning the US that it “cannot expect to stay safe” after launching an economic war against Iran.
“Mr. Trump himself has announced that the US has launched an economic war against Iran,” Zarif said. “The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war.”
Those who wage such wars cannot expect to remain safe.”
Zarif also warned: “Whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it.”
Referring to calls on Iran by the West to sit down for direct talks with the US, Zarif said Washington's approach to the nuclear deal was proof that there was no point in talks.
"First of all, we have this agreement that is the outcome of two years of compact negations and 12 years of diplomatic work," he noted. "Have they implemented this one that now they expect talks on other issues?"
"They should first show us that negotiations with the US will have a benefit and then ask for talks," he continued.