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EU, Iran see 'urgency' in saving nuclear accord

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Photographs by AP/YVES HERMAN

European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (back to camera) meet Tuesday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Brussels.

BRUSSELS -- Major European powers and Tehran committed Tuesday to keep working together to save the Iran nuclear deal despite U.S. President Donald Trump's determination to kill it off.

European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany said after talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that salvage efforts focused on economic, business and banking issues could produce "practical solutions in the next few weeks."

"There was awareness of the urgency," Mogherini said after the meeting in Brussels.

"If I can use the metaphor that some raised around the table, we all have a relative in intensive care and we all want to get him or her out of intensive care as soon as possible," she said.

Germany, France and Britain all are signatories of the 2015 deal, which was meant to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The U.S. pulled out of the pact last week and promised to impose tough economic sanctions on Iran.

Mogherini said "expert talks" on relevant financial and economic issues such as banking transactions and oil would begin soon and that the deputy foreign ministers from the three European nations and Iran would meet in Vienna next week.

"We reaffirmed together our resolve to continue to implement the nuclear deal in all its parts, in good faith, and in a constructive atmosphere," she said.

Zarif said, "We are on the right track. A lot depends on what we can do within the next few weeks."

The steps forward underscored the EU's hopes that diplomacy and the promise of economic benefits might keep Iran in the fold of a nuclear deal that Europe sees as essential to security.

"It won't be easy, that's clear to all of us. But if we want to stay in this agreement and ensure that Iran stays in this agreement and abides to the terms of the agreement, then we need to talk about this," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a labor union conference in Berlin: "The agreement against nuclear weapons in Iran is an agreement that certainly has weaknesses, but an agreement that we should stand for."

Still, in Brussels, the European diplomats wanted to show they weren't gullible and wouldn't drop other divisive issues with Tehran, including its role in the Syria conflict.

"I want to stress we are under no illusion about the stuff Iran gets up to in the region, in the Middle East. We have no illusions about Iran's disruptive behavior, but we think we can tackle those in other ways," British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said.

Mogherini agreed at the end of a long day of diplomatic meetings.

"As you know very well, we have many other disagreements," she said. But, she added, "with the nuclear deal in place we have better chances to address any other issues we have to address with Iran."

Trump's withdrawal from the deal has imperiled not only the accord, but the threat of sanctions could trickle down to European companies doing business with Iran.

"We have to accept, be realistic about the electrified rail, the live wire of American extraterritoriality and how that can serve as a deterrent to businesses," Johnson said.

The European Commission has been examining measures to counter the introduction of any U.S. sanctions that could harm European businesses. The commission is expected to unveil them to EU leaders at a summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, today.

Trump's decision also has roiled politics in Iran, where President Hassan Rouhani has staked his political legacy on delivering prosperity for Iranians through the nuclear deal. Iranian hard-liners who always felt the agreement made too many concessions may be emboldened to restart nuclear enrichment, but they could risk airstrikes from the United States and Israel if they did so.

The split Iranian position was clear Tuesday, with other leaders adopting a tough stance in Tehran as Zarif offered his friendlier stance in Brussels.

"We have the capacity and we are ready to resume our nuclear activities to a much higher level if the talks fail with Europeans to save the nuclear deal after America's exit," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency, was quoted as saying by Iran's Fars news agency, Reuters reported.

Information for this article was contributed by Raf Casert, Lorne Cook, Jill Lawless, Sylvie Corbet and Frank Jordans of The Associated Press and by Michael Birnbaum of The Washington Post.

A Section on 05/16/2018

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