Iran says it will in all likelihood receive the necessary trade and banking guarantees from Europe to sustain a 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States has withdrawn from and which Washington has been attempting to break up.
In an interview with the Iran Daily published on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif referred to an array of measures being prepared or taken by Europe to keep the deal economically meaningful for Iran and sounded optimistic that those measures would be effective.
Iran reached a deal with originally six world powers in 2015, agreeing to curb its nuclear program in return for mainly the lifting of restrictions on its oil sales.
While the former US administration — with which Iran negotiated — was a party to the deal, the current administration of President Donald Trump chose to unilaterally stop implementing all American commitments under the agreement and ultimately withdrew from it on May 8.
The Trump administration also reintroduced the previous sanctions and imposed new ones on the Islamic Republic.
Despite the American withdrawal, Iran stayed in the deal but stressed that the other parties to the agreement now had to work to offset the negative impacts of the US pullout for Iran if they wanted Tehran to continue to remain in it.
A first round of American sanctions — targeting Iranian access to the US dollar, metals trading, coal, industrial software, and auto sector — took effect on Tuesday.
A second round, forthcoming on November 4, will be targeting Iran’s oil sales and its Central Bank.
Europe has been taking a range of measures to meet the Iranian demand for practical guarantees that the Islamic Republic will continue to reap the economic benefits that it is contractually entitled to.
In his Wednesday interview, Foreign Minister Zarif voiced tacit satisfaction with those measures but stressed that they were yet to take actual effect and had to be implemented more quickly.
“Europe’s package of proposals [to Iran] has clear delineations, and the general ideas in it have been enumerated. Among them is to keep banking channels for financial transactions with Iran open and to preserve [Iran’s] oil sales at their current level. The sanctions that have to do with these areas will come in November,” he said.
‘Europe on the right track’
He also referred to other European efforts to sustain the deal, including the activation of a “blocking statute” to protect those European businesses that choose to stay in Iran from American penalties and, notably, lobbying with non-European countries to either start buying Iran’s oil or increase their purchases of crude from the country.
“During my [recent] trip to Singapore…, I concluded that the Europeans are not only working to sustain the JCPOA inside of Europe but that they have taken extensive measures [to that effect] outside of it, too,” Zarif added, using an abbreviation to refer to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official title of the 2015 Iran deal.
He said the Europeans have asked other countries to open bank accounts for Iran’s Central Bank — to facilitate direct transactions and non-reliance on the American financial system — and said Europe itself is currently working to do the same.
Zarif, who was Iran’s top negotiator in the talks that culminated in the deal, said the European activities did not yet meet Iran’s expectations “but we believe they are moving in the right direction.”
‘Action needed before November 4’
Despite the activation of the European “blocking statute,” a number of European companies have left the Iranian market to avoid US punishment.
Zarif said the greater part of the European measures had to become operational before the November 4 sanctions hit, a potential sign that maintaining oil sales and financial channels with world countries were more important for Iran.
Asked if Europe would be able to meet that deadline, the Iranian foreign minister said, “Based on our observations of the trend in the international community and the resistance that all countries — not just the Europeans — … have put up against the re-imposition of the US sanctions, we believe we can secure the guarantees necessary to sustain the JCPOA.”
The US administration has meanwhile been lobbying other countries to stop doing any business with Iran.
If, according to Zarif, Europe manages to meet Iranian demands, the US’s withdrawal will have failed to bring about a collapse of the deal.
With its own actions, America has proven Iran’s conviction that Washington’s word should never be taken seriously. Europe now seems to be learning that for itself.
Europe has long maintained that the deal is delivering and that Iran is verifiably compliant with its obligations.
On Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Iran’s full compliance with the agreement warranted reciprocal commitment.
‘Iran has put America at impasse’
The US’s appeals to other countries to stop oil purchases from Iran have so far fallen flat. Immediately after Trump announced the withdrawal from the Iran deal, the three European economic powerhouses of Germany, France, and the UK — all of them also parties to the Iran deal and American allies — stressed their firm intention to stay in the agreement.
In his interview, Zarif said that by taking prudent action vis-à-vis the US, the Iranian government had put America at an impasse on the international stage.
‘No one trusts America’
Asked if Iran would take up an offer of negotiations by Trump, Zarif suggested that negotiations with an administration that suffers from internal disagreement would be “time-consuming and… futile.”
“Trusting America, particularly its new administration, is out of question, and no one in the world trusts them,” he said. “But how can one ensure that when one reaches a conclusion [in potential negotiations], agreements will be implemented?”
“We have a deal now that the whole world believes is a good deal… Well, why did the Americans pull out? If people’s impulsive behavior or the lobbing of pressure groups are to determine a country’s political trajectory, then what would negotiating [with that country] be good for?”
But he did not completely close the door.
“We will have our interests in mind,” Zarif said. “We will not be moving forward with wishful thinking, but we will not be moving forward with total pessimism, either. We will have to see… how far the Americans are ready to go to rectify their past mistakes and not repeat them.”