Iran seeks assurances on nuclear deal after US pullout

VIENNA — Iran will pull out of a landmark deal to stop the country from developing nuclear weapons unless it receives concrete guarantees that the economic incentives of the pact will be protected by the other parties, following the U.S. decision to unilaterally withdraw and Washington's threat of sanctions against companies who trade with Iran, a senior Iranian official said Friday.

"We are still complying but we have not decided whether to yet to stay in the deal or not," the official told a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity. "It depends on the remaining JCPOA participants, if they can actually compensate for the absence of the United States in the deal."

The other countries involved in the JCPOA, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Joint Commission, met Friday for the first time without the U.S. after Iran called for an urgent meeting of the body in Vienna. Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to the deal, and the Iranian delegation emerged saying they were more confident than before, and made no mention of timelines.

"I think we have good reasons to think we will succeed, provided that, once again, all of us have relevant political will," said Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's arms control and non-proliferation department.

The other nations have all previously said they want to stay in the 2015 deal, which limits Iran's enrichment and stockpiling of material that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program. In exchange, Tehran was granted widespread relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions.

Speaking ahead of the Vienna talks, the Iranian official said that for his country to stay in the deal, the relief granted would have to be guaranteed by the other parties involved and that Tehran needs specifics on how that will happen by the end of May. Tehran will make its final decision in a "few weeks."

The official said that in theory the deal can survive without the U.S., but acknowledged "in practice I'm not sure."

He acknowledged the timeline was tight, but said that European nations had "wasted" the past few months trying to convince President Donald Trump not to pull out of the nuclear deal over his contention it was not tough enough on Iran. Among other things, Trump said the deal needed to address Iran's ballistic missile program and involvement in regional conflicts while the others had argued those issues could be negotiated separately.

New U.S. sanctions are being phased in, but already many non-U.S. companies have said that they likely will curtail operations in Iran for fear of losing access to the much more important American market.

Iran is looking for guarantees it can continue to sell its oil on world markets, have international banking access and broad protection for ongoing trade, among other things.

"We cannot continue the deal ... unless the remaining participants will compensate and take countermeasures against U.S. sanctions and continue economic relations with Iran," the official said.

He said Iran was looking for "specific mechanisms and practical solutions" to convince companies to continue doing business with them.

"We believe Iran's economy is attractive enough to bring companies and banks and businesses into Iran," he said. "What we need is a safe atmosphere for them to do business with Iran and we expect Europeans to provide them that security," adding that China and Russia also needed to contribute.

"We made it very clear today that there are things that will take more time," a senior EU official said. "It's clear that we need to move forward quickly and we agreed to intensify ongoing work."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week called for the negotiation of a new deal that would go far beyond the single focus of the 2015 agreement and would have the status of a formal treaty — a suggestion Iran flatly rejects.

"There is no trust at all to engage with the U.S. on any subject," the Iranian official said. "We made the JCPOA in good faith and we remained committed to the JCPOA and they just pulled out... so name me a single reason why we should enter into a new negotiation with the U.S. or a new deal? One president signs, the other president nullifies; I don't think anybody can negotiate with the U.S. with such behavior."

The official noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday reported Iran had complied with limits on the level to which it can enrich uranium, its stock of enriched uranium and other items. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano was invited by the JCPOA on Friday to address the group on his agency's findings.

If it pulls out of the deal, Iran would likely revert to its nuclear doctrine before the agreement or maybe even escalate its activities, the official said.

"We would have all options available," he said.

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