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May 28, 2018 10:54 am

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program Is ‘Red Line,’ Deputy FM Warns, as EU Seeks to Preserve 2015 Nuclear Deal

avatar by Ben Cohen

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Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi speaking to reporters in Vienna. Photo: Screenshot.

As EU foreign ministers convened in Brussels on Monday to try and keep alive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Tehran regime’s deputy foreign minister warned that the country’s ballistic missile program — a key factor behind the US decision to reinstate punishing sanctions earlier this month — was a “red line” that could not be crossed in negotiations.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters in Vienna on Sunday that while European parties to the deal, in particular the French government, wanted to address the missile program, Iran was “not willing to discuss such matters.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was reported to have raised the missile issue during a May 9 telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in the context of a broader appeal to Tehran to stick with the agreement despite the US withdrawal.

Araghchi was in the Austrian capital for  first “joint commission” meeting  between Iran and the other signatories of the 2015 deal — China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany — since President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that the US was pulling out of  the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the technical name for the deal, and would instead impose sanctions on Tehran.

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One anonymous Iranian official who spoke to the AFP news agency said that as far as the Iranians were concerned, the deal was already in “intensive care.” Iran has threatened to resume more intensive uranium enrichment activities if the deal collapses.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, described the atmosphere at the Vienna talks as “good” as she arrived for Monday’s discussions in Brussels with the bloc’s foreign ministers.

“Our work first and foremost is to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran,” she said.

Mogherini added that the EU intended to protect companies trading with Iran from the effects of US sanctions. “We have been acting already at European Union level to put in place a set of measures to make sure that the nuclear agreement is preserved and the economic investments from the European side, but also from other sides in the world, are protected,” she said.

Top business executives are skeptical, however, that the EU can deliver on its promise. Speaking at an economic forum in the Russian city of St. Petersburg over the weekend, Patrick Pouyanne — CEO of French oil giant Total — told reporters, “In Iran we need a waiver from the United States.”

“You heard Mr Pompeo just as I did,” Pouyanne added, referring US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s May 21 announcement of ramped-up sanctions. “Do you really think he’s going to hand out waivers?”

Total had already abandoned a multi-billion dollar project at Iran’s South Pars oil field five days before Pompeo’s speech. The company has confirmed it will close all its operations in Iran by Nov. 4 unless it is granted a waiver by the US government.

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