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Diplomats Gather In Europe In Last-Ditch Effort To Save Iran Nuclear Deal


We begin with a look at efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal. Some people have described it as a patient in intensive care. Diplomats from the countries that negotiated the agreement in 2015 gathered again today in Vienna, this time without the United States. Iran called the meeting to declare the U.S. in violation of the deal since President Trump has pulled out of it. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Vienna.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Vienna is once again home to nuclear diplomacy, this time in a last-ditch effort to save the nuclear agreement from splintering under the weight of President Trump's announcement that unless Iran meets a dozen conditions, American sanctions will once again hit the Iranian economy. The other five countries in the deal - Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - have expressed varying degrees of criticism over Trump's move. Just as when the deal known as the JCPOA was being negotiated, it with six countries against one. But analyst Ali Vaez with the International Crisis Group says this time that one is the U.S.

ALI VAEZ: For the Iranians, this is an extraordinary political victory because for four decades, it was the U.S. that was accusing Iran of violating international norms. This is the first time Iran has the world powers siding with it and condemning the U.S. as being the violator of the JCPOA.

KENYON: But however much Iran may enjoy portraying the U.S. as an isolated rogue state, there seems little doubt that the coming American sanctions will inflict economic pain on Iran. It's a question of how much. A senior Iranian official says Tehran will give the Europeans until the end of May - less than a week away - to produce a package of economic and political guarantees designed to enable Iran to continue doing business with international companies and to continue getting paid for its exports. Iran's oil and gas exports have climbed steadily since the JCPOA was implemented.

Intensive talks with the Europeans are now underway, though the official says too much time was wasted by European diplomats who focused on trying to change Trump's mind about the pullout. There are discussions about protective laws known as blocking statutes to shield companies that do business in Iran and special lines of credit for companies that are willing to take the risk. But the Iranian official who spoke on background adds that in his personal opinion, the odds are against such a salvage effort succeeding.

Laura Rockwood, head of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, agrees that the threat of American sanctions against European companies known as secondary sanctions will force CEOs to make some tough choices no matter how hard Europe tries to mitigate the impacts.

LAURA ROCKWOOD: It may come down to the long arm of the secondary sanctions of the United States. And if you are an industry that has a lot of business in the United States, would you want to risk that simply to have a new market in Iran?

KENYON: But as the Iranian official pointed out today, the JCPOA is not an economic deal; it's a security deal. And Rockwood says Trump's pull out is a threat to the entire international movement to use diplomacy to keep nuclear weapons from spreading. She says that's what makes Trump's comments about wanting to improve the nuclear deal so exasperating.

ROCKWOOD: If the U.S. government really wanted an improvement of the agreement, the last thing they should have done is thrown the agreement out.

KENYON: As things stand, Iran says talks with Europe will continue, but there's no chance it will be negotiating anything with the United States anytime soon. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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