Iran threatened to nix its nuclear deal unless the three European signatories to the nuclear deal — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — offer Tehran strong incentives.
“We do not trust the three European countries, like we don’t trust the US; without receiving a strong guarantee from these three European countries, we won't stick to the nuclear agreement [the JCPOA],” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday in Tehran.
An English version of the speech he gave in the aftermath of the US decision to nix the deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran
was posted on his web site.
The E3 countries have been hopefull they can sway Iran to remain in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action under which Tehran agreed to curb is nuclear program in exchange for an agreement from the six world powers that they would lift their economic sanctions.
Russia and China are also signatories to the deal and, like the E3, have no interest in ending it.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “The deal is not dead. There's an American withdrawal from the deal but the deal is still there.”
But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who helped engineered the 2015 deal to ease Iran's economically crippling isolation, told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a phone call that Europe had only a "limited opportunity" to preserve the pact, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported.
"(Europe)...must, as quickly as possible, clarify its position and specify and announce its intentions with regard to its obligations," ISNA quoted Rouhani as saying to Macron.
Macron urged Rouhani to keep respecting the deal and consider broader negotiations.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel's Kan 11 news that Europe was in total denial.
Europe’s position is "a return to the same story as in 1938. It is total blindness and an attempt to escape reality,” Liberman said.
These “people are living in total denial ... It is clear to everyone that Iran aspires to nuclear weapons,” Liberman said.
France's Le Drian, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) all said Iran was honoring its commitments under the accord.
"The region deserves better than further destabilization provoked by American withdrawal," Le Drian said.
The European Union said it would ensure sanctions on Iran remain lifted, as long as Tehran meets its commitments.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "deeply concerned" by the withdrawal, the RIA news agency said.
Merkel said that, while the existing deal should not be called into question, there should be discussion of "a broader deal that goes beyond it."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson spoke of a "follow-on agreement" but said it was now up to Washington to come up with concrete proposals. Macron said he wanted a broader discussion with all relevant parties on the development of Iran's nuclear program after 2025, when key elements of the current deal expire, as well as Iran's ballistic missile program and wider Middle East issues.
Iranian officials will next week meet counterparts from France, Britain and Germany.
The chances of saving the deal without Washington depend largely on whether international firms are willing and able to keep trading with Iran despite the threat of U.S. sanctions.
In a sign of what may be in store, Trump's ambassador to Berlin tweeted, within hours of taking up his post, that German businesses should halt activities in Iran at once.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the United States should not consider itself the world's "economic policeman."
Britain, France and Germany said they would do all they could to protect their business interests in Iran, yet it was unclear how far they would be able to shield firms from U.S. sanctions.
Brussels has a "blocking statute" at its disposal that bans any EU company from complying with U.S. sanctions and does not recognize any court rulings that enforce American penalties.
But the statute has never been used and is seen by European governments more as a political weapon than a regulation, because its rules are vague and difficult to enforce.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman made the limits of potential action clear: "UK businesses may wish to consider the implications for their business activities in Iran and, where necessary, seek appropriate legal advice."
European companies including carmaker PSA, plane manufacturer Airbus and engineering group Siemens all said they were watching the situation.
A senior French diplomat said businesses would ultimately be forced to choose between their Iranian economic interests and their potential U.S. interests, adding: "Generally, that decision is quickly made in favor of the U.S."
Rouhani, whose position could be weakened by a blow to Iran's economy, struck a more conciliatory tone in a televised speech, saying Iran would negotiate with EU countries, China and Russia.
"If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the JCPOA with the cooperation of all countries, the deal will remain," he said.
A Western diplomat who declined to be named said the decision "announces sanctions for which the first victims will be Trump's European allies."
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “Our aim is clear: We keep committed to the nuclear deal. For our own security concerns alone. And therefore, we will work for this treaty to have a future. It is the successful result of a long-term difficult diplomatic negotiations. And most of all: the deal is working.
"It cannot be in the interest of Iran to jeopardize the path that we have chosen with that deal and the chances that have occurred to Iran because of it. And that is why we call on Iran to keep on acting responsibly and stick to the commitments under the deal,” Maas said.
“It is totally unclear what the US envisages as an alternative to the deal that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons while being able to verify compliance,” Maas added.
Trump announced on Tuesday he would reimpose US economic sanctions on Iran to undermine what he called "a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.”
The 2015 agreement was the fruit of more than a decade of diplomacy, the pact was designed to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Trump complained that the deal, the signature foreign policy achievement of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, did not address Iran's ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 or its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
His decision raises the risk of deepening conflicts in the Middle East, puts the United States at odds with European diplomatic and business interests, and casts uncertainty over global oil supplies. Oil prices rose more than 2 percent on Wednesday, with Brent hitting a 3-1/2-year high.
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