Diplomats meeting in Vienna in a bid to save a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers made progress but it was “not enough” to stop Tehran scaling back compliance with the accord, according to the Iranian deputy foreign minister.
Officials from the deal’s remaining signatories – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Iran – held talks in the Austrian capital on Friday after Tehran warned that it would soon breach a limit on the amount of enriched uranium set out in the agreement.
“It was a step forward, but it is still not enough and not meeting Iran’s expectations,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters. “I don’t think the progress made today will be enough to stop our process but the decision will be made in Tehran.”
The meeting took place amid growing concern that the deal could collapse, a year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord, which limits Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from sanctions.
After pulling out, the US reimposed sanctions on Iran and called for Iranian oil exports to be reduced to zero as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, which has dramatically reduced Iran’s oil exports.
The remaining signatories to the deal want Iran to remain within its limits but Tehran says they have not offered sufficient incentives.
In addition to the stockpile limit, Iran has said that in early July it will start to enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent cap agreed in the deal.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said the progress at the talks was unlikely to be enough for the Iranians to remain within the limits set out in the deal.
“What happens next is up to the leadership here to decide. We know that they are going to go ahead with scaling back their commitment,” she said. “In the next few days, we’ll see how far the Iranians go.”
Araqchi said the Europeans told the meeting that INSTEX, a trade mechanism designed by European countries to bypass US sanctions on Tehran, had been made operational, with some transactions already processed, but that it would need to expand in order to satisfy Iran.
“For INSTEX to be useful for Iran, Europeans need to buy oil or consider credit lines for this mechanism otherwise INSTEX is not like they or us expect,” he said.
Oil exports are a key source of revenue for Iran.
The payment system, which would act as a middleman in trade between Iran and European companies and reduce the need for direct transactions, had been widened to include more countries beyond the UK, France and Germany, he said.
European countries said the scheme was operating.
“INSTEX now operational, first transactions being processed and more EU Members States to join,” Helga Schmid, senior EU diplomat, said on Twitter.
Reporting from Vienna, Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane said the meeting appeared to be broadly positive but cautioned that the world powers did not send high-level delegations to the talks.
“This meeting had been presented by the Iranian side as perhaps the last chance to reach a conclusion,” he said. “Iran sent its deputy foreign minister here but the other parties did not send senior foreign ministers to attend, so the ball is in the other parties’ court.”
Foreign ministers from Iran and the five remaining signatories would meet “very soon”, Araqchi said.
China rejects US sanctions
Meanwhile, China’s delegate at the talks, Fu Cong, said Beijing would continue to import Iranian oil despite Washington’s sanctions on Tehran.
“We reject the unilateral imposition of sanctions,” he said. “For us, energy security is important and the importation of Iranian oil is important to Chinese energy security and also the livelihood of the people.”
He added that the meeting was “conducive to easing tensions in the region”, referring to sabre-rattling between Washington and Tehran in the Gulf.
Concern about a possible confrontation in the region escalated sharply last week when Iran shot down a US unmanned drone, which Tehran said was in its airspace. The US said it was downed in international airspace. US President Donald Trump ordered retaliatory attacks on Iran but later cancelled them, saying they would not have been proportional.
It was the latest in a series of escalatory events in the Gulf region in recent weeks, including alleged attacks on tankers which the US has blamed on Iran, despite Tehran’s denials.