Iran’s top diplomat hopeful of forging ‘clear future’ for nuclear deal after talks in China

Mohammad Javad Zarif meets Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on diplomatic tour aimed at saving 2015 agreement after US withdrawal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 10:41pm

Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday said he was hopeful of forging a “clear future design” for the nuclear deal facing collapse after Washington’s withdrawal, at the start of a diplomatic tour aimed at rescuing the agreement.

“We hope that with this visit to China and other countries we will be able to construct a clear future design for the comprehensive agreement,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters after talks in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

Zarif will later fly to Moscow and Brussels to consult the remaining signatories to the 2015 agreement denounced by US President Donald Trump.

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Washington’s decision to withdraw from the deal and reimpose sanctions angered its European allies as well as China and Russia.

China was one of the six powers – with the United States, Russia, France, the UK and Germany – that signed the historic pact, which saw sanctions lifted in return for the commitment by Tehran not to acquire nuclear weapons. 

Wang Yi said he believed Zarif’s tour would “improve countries’ ... understanding of Iran’s position” and help Tehran protect its “legitimate national interests”. Both hailed the “comprehensive strategic partnership” between their countries.

Tehran’s chief diplomat embarked on the tour as regional tensions spiked just days after unprecedented Israeli strikes in Syria which a monitor said killed at least 11 Iranian fighters, triggering fears of a broader conflict between the two arch-enemies.

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said on Sunday that if its interests were protected, Tehran would remain committed to its 2015 nuclear deal.

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Tuesday’s US withdrawal from the accord was a “violation of morals”, Rowhani said in remarks carried by state television.

“If the remaining five countries continue to abide by the agreement, Iran will remain in the deal despite the will of America,” he said during a meeting with Sri Lanka’s president.

As he arrived in Beijing, Zarif said Tehran was “ready for all option(s)”, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

“If the nuclear deal is to continue, the interests of the people of Iran must be assured,” he added.

Rowhani has said Iran would stay committed to the deal, which Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia also signed, provided those powers could ensure Iran was protected from sanctions against key sectors of its economy such as oil.

The three European states have also recommitted to the agreement, but senior cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University on Friday that Europe was not to be trusted.

The head of the elite Revolutionary Guards also warned against relying on foreign powers to guarantee Iran’s interests.

“America’s exit aims to break the Iranian people’s resistance, which is not new ... but today’s problem is not US sanctions, it’s that some officials look towards outside rather than looking at domestic potentials,” Guards commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

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On Wednesday, Jafari had cast doubt on European nations’ ability to save the nuclear accord.

With the deal on shaky ground in the face of fierce opposition from hardliners at home, some analysts say the pragmatic Rowhani faces the prospect of serving out his second term as a lame-duck leader. 

Meanwhile, European diplomats in Tehran fumed that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal could undermine years of patient work to restore commercial and diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic. 

“Since the signing of the JCPOA [nuclear deal], we have gone from an atmosphere like a gold rush, to one of utter depression,” said a Western trade diplomat on condition of anonymity. 

“We are waiting now for how the decision-makers in the European Union will react. If the EU leans towards accommodating the US, all the progress we have made since 2015 will be lost.”

Additional reporting by Reuters