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Iran, EU officials meet on nuclear deal amid Gulf tensions

The European Union is an ardent backer of the nuclear deal [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 June, 2019

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A meeting between Abbas Araghchi and Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, focused on the 2015 nuclear deal while also touching upon regional and international issues.

Iran's deputy foreign minister met a top EU diplomat on Saturday to discuss the future of the troubled nuclear deal, state media said, amid rising tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The meeting in Tehran between Abbas Araghchi and Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, focused on the 2015 nuclear deal while also touching upon "regional and international issues", according to IRNA news agency.

The talks follow attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday that the United States has blamed on Iran, despite Tehran's denials.

US-Iran strains have escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the landmark nuclear deal which Iran signed with world powers.

The European Union is an ardent backer of the deal and has pledged to support Tehran in the face of crippling US sanctions, but Iranian officials have voiced frustration at the lack of concrete steps taken so far.

Tehran has given the remaining partners of the deal until July to make good on their pledges, or warned it will step back from its key nuclear commitments.

In May, European powers said they still backed the nuclear deal with Iran, but rejected any "ultimatums" from Tehran to keep it alive.

In their statement, the Europeans underlined "our own firm commitments under the agreement including as regards sanctions-lifting for the benefit of the Iranian people" but criticised the US sanctions

The European powers added that they were "determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran" in an effort to keep the imperilled pact afloat.

But it said that Iran must at the same time "implement its commitments under the JCPoA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps".

Schmid's stop in Tehran follows visits last week by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The latter was in the Iranian capital when the tanker attacks happened, with explosions hitting a Japanese-owned vessel and a Norwegian-operated one.

The incident near the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway which is vital to the world's oil supply, has raised fears of conflict erupting in the region. 

Gulf powers urge response 

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia and the UAE called for decisive action to protect energy supplies as the two tankers headed to port.

The United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan called on world powers "to secure international navigation and access to energy", a plea echoed by regional ally Saudi Arabia after the incident sent crude prices soaring.

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah, whose country is bitterly opposed to Iranian influence in the region, called Saturday for a deescalation of tensions.

"We remain hopeful in attaining a broader framework for cooperation with Iran," he said at a summit in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih called for a "swift and decisive" response to threats against energy supplies after Thursday's "terrorist acts".

Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani also called the attack a "direct threat" to energy supplies, calling on world powers to protect international shipping lanes and hold the perpetrators accountable.

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