EU takes new steps to save the Iran nuclear deal

Bloc's foreign ministers meet in Brussels today amid fears that the deal is on the brink

European foreign ministers seek to flesh out how to convince Iran and the United States to reduce tensions and initiate a dialogue as they gather for a Brussels meeting today amid fears that the 2015 nuclear deal is close to collapse.

Speaking shortly before the Brussels meeting, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that there was still time to save the deal signed in 2015 between Iran and world powers, adding that despite the US being Britain's closest ally it disagreed on how to handle the Iran crisis.

"Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb. There is still some closing, but small window to keep the deal alive," Hunt told reporters.

Similarly, France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Europe had to remain united in trying to preserve the deal and convince Tehran to reverse its decision not to comply with parts of the accord.

"The Europeans have to stay united on this issue," Le Drian told reporters on Monday, calling Iran's decision to reduce compliance with the deal that the United States abandoned last year "a bad response to a bad decision".

The meeting in Brussels comes a day after France, Britain and Germany - the European signatories to the accord - warned that the deal could collapse any moment now and urged for the resumption of dialogue. The countries' joint statement released on Sunday by the French president's office called on "all stakeholders to pause, and consider the possible consequences of their actions".

"We believe that the time has come to act responsibly and to look for ways to stop the escalation of tension and resume dialogue," it added.

The accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed in Vienna by Iran, the US, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia. But Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including on its key banking and oil sectors.

In response, Tehran announced in May it would scale back its commitments to the deal despite calls by the European parties to the pact to continue its full compliance. Since then, Tehran has increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the agreed limit and has begun to enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent permitted under the agreement.

"The message on Monday will be to show EU unity, but make it clear to Iran that it needs to come back into line," a European diplomat was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"For now nothing is reversible so we have more room for diplomacy," the source added but warned that the deal is nevertheless on the brink.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday pointed the finger at the Europeans, as Tehran continues to demand that they help it bypass US sanctions.

"There is a serious difference between doing something and announcing your willingness," Iranian state TV quoted him as saying.

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