European officials: Progress made towards agreement on Iran

European officials say they are making headway toward an agreement to address U.S. concerns about Iran nuclear deal.

Elad Benari ,

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European officials are making headway toward an agreement to address U.S. concerns about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a European diplomat said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

A second diplomat said, however, it was unclear if U.S. President Donald Trump would embrace their work.

“We came out feeling like we are making good progress towards addressing the president’s concerns and coming (up) to an agreement,” the first European diplomat told a small group of reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Senior diplomats from the three European nations that are party to the deal met Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s director of policy planning, in Washington on Wednesday to try to find a way to salvage the arms control pact, according to Reuters.

The crux of the 2015 agreement between Iran and six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - was that Iran would restrict its nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Trump, who has blasted the 2015 nuclear deal as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, in January decided to extend a waiver on nuclear sanctions that were imposed on Iran.

However, he made clear it was the last time he would extend the waiver and has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal.

Trump sees three defects in the deal: a failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program; the terms under which international inspectors can visit suspect Iranian nuclear sites; and “sunset” clauses under which limits on the Iranian nuclear program start to expire after 10 years. Trump wants all three strengthened if the United States is to stay in the deal.

A second European diplomat was more pessimistic about Wednesday’s meeting, telling Reuters that even if U.S., British, French and German diplomats reach agreement it was unclear whether Trump would embrace it.

Asked if Trump would sign on, this European diplomat told Reuters, “Anything is possible, but if he doesn’t renew the waivers the situation will deteriorate quickly. Confidence will be dead and the Iranians risk pulling out themselves.

“I’m not especially optimistic,” the diplomat added. “In the end it will be decided by one volatile person.”

Recent reports indicated that Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles program and its role in Syria’s war in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the deal.

A subsequent report, however, said the three countries are struggling to persuade their EU partners to back new sanctions, with Italy in particular expressing skepticism that the initiative would persuade Trump not to leave the deal.