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Europeans brainstorm on how to keep the Iran nuclear deal in play

EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels
Malta's Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela talks with his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt during a EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 15, 2019. REUTERS

Brussels -- European Union nations were looking to deescalate tension in the Persian Gulf area and call on Iran to stick to the 2015 nuclear deal despite the pullout of the United States and the re-imposition of sanctions. At their regular monthly meeting, the EU foreign ministers were also looking to drum up further support for their barter-type system to trade with Tehran and get around possible U.S. sanctions. Ten nations are already on board the mechanism, known as INSTEX.

Iran has said it needs improved economic ties with Europe since the United States has re-imposed harsh sanctions on Tehran's oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.

"The Europeans claim that they want to salvage the deal, but we haven't seen them ready for investment to do so," Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told reporters as he landed in New York to participate in a United Nations economic development forum on Monday. "The mere saying that they are interested in saving an international agreement is different from investments to maintain it. The Europeans haven't shown this."

Iran's Mission to the U.N. told CBS News Zarif would speak at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Meeting this week. CBS News' Pam Falk said Zarif was also expected to speak with U.N. officials, but the Trump administration restricted his movements to Iran's U.N. Mission and United Nations headquarters, about six blocks away. 

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Echoing her European counterparts, Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said as the meeting got underway in Brussels that "it is still not too late, but Iran really has to stick to its obligations."

U.K.: Deal "isn't dead yet"

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says that even if the window to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff over the Iran nuclear deal is quickly closing, he still holds out some hope that the agreement can be salvaged.

Hunt said ahead of a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday that Iran would still be "a good year away" from developing a nuclear weapon, allowing for more time to make sure the nuclear deal can be preserved.

Hunt said the deal "isn't dead yet and we are totally committed" to keeping the region denuclearized.

In a series of tweets, Hunt said the U.K. and its partners "expect progress in (Iran) returning to JCPOA (nuclear deal) compliance," and he noted that it was "not just Europe supporting it but Russia and China too."

Germany urges Iran to sit tight

A senior German official insists Iran must fulfill the terms of the nuclear deal to realize hopes of better economic ties with the outside world.

Iran, which is suffering from U.S. sanctions re-imposed after Washington withdrew from the deal last year, recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set by the 2015 deal.

It says these moves can be reversed if given enough economic incentives. European powers still on board the deal are setting up the system known as INSTEX to trade with Tehran.

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Michael Roth, Germany's deputy foreign minister, said as he arrived at a meeting in Brussels on Monday: "We want to uphold our part of the agreement."

He added that INSTEX "makes economic cooperation possible, but it is necessary for Iran to keep to the commitments it made. It must stay true to the agreement, otherwise this all makes no sense."

China blames U.S. for standoff

As the meeting got underway in Brussels, China sought to keep the pressure on from afar, calling on all parties to remain committed to the 2015 nuclear deal and saying the U.S. should respect the interests of others and abandon its maximum-pressure approach with Iran.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that "all parties should keep calm and exercise restraint and stay committed to solving problems through dialogue under the framework of a comprehensive agreement."

He described U.S. pressure as the root cause of recent developments, and said it's "better for the one who made the trouble to fix it."

Russia has repeatedly blamed the current standoff on the U.S., also, backing the Iranian argument that it was the Trump administration that violated the 2015 deal by walking away from it and re-imposing sanctions unilaterally.

In response, Iran recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set by the agreement.

Geng said China hoped "the U.S. will abandon its wrong practices, respect the legitimate rights and interests of other parties and not hinder the implementation of the agreement."

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