United Nations (United States) (AFP) – Washington and Tehran’s top diplomats confronted each other for the first time Wednesday as envoys scrambled to save the Iran nuclear deal from a skeptical Donald Trump.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met as signatories to the 2015 accord at an EU-hosted event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
European ministers called the meeting to examine ways to save a deal that US President Trump is poised to denounce, but Tehran and Washington remain far apart.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini put the bravest possible face on the encounter, stressing that Iran and the major powers agree the deal is “delivering.”
But Tillerson said the discussion had been a political one and that even if Iran is in “technical” compliance with the pact, “significant differences” remain.
Speaking to Iran’s state broadcaster after the meeting, Zarif said all “members, except one country, stressed the importance of fully observing the (deal), its being non-negotiable and that all sides should remain committed to this international achievement.”
He condemned Washington’s “verbosity, especially the very insolent remarks by the president of the country”.
– Deal an ’embarrassment’ –
Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States signed the 2015 deal with Iran in a bid to prevent it developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Tehran agreed to surrender most of its enriched uranium and accept limits to its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.
The previous US administration accepted that the deal was limited to the nuclear issue, and hailed it as a victory for Barack Obama’s non-proliferation agenda.
But Trump has denounced the agreement as an “embarrassment” to the United States and has accused Iran of breaking it in “spirit” by arming militant groups and destabilizing the Middle East.
In particular, he objects to the “sunset clause” that would see Iran resume some enrichment from 2025.
Tillerson argued that the preamble to the agreement implied that it would lead to a more stable Middle East and said Iran remains a source of instability.
“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region and this is a real issue,” he told reporters.
“That is why we talk about Iran defaulting on these expectations, since those expectations have not been met.”