VIENNA • Nations that remain in the Iran nuclear deal met yesterday for the first time since US President Donald Trump left the pact, but diplomats see limited scope to salvage it after Washington vowed to be tougher than ever on Teheran.
British, Chinese, French, German and Russian officials will try to flesh out with Iran's deputy foreign minister a strategy to save the deal by keeping oil and investment flowing, while circumventing US sanctions that risk hurting the economy.
The 2015 accord rests on lifting sanctions and allowing business with Iran in exchange for Teheran curbing its nuclear programme.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said the talks will continue after the round of discussions in Vienna yesterday.
"For the time being we are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package which can actually give Iran the benefits of sanctions-lifting and then the next step is to find guarantees for that package and we need both legal and political commitments by the remaining participants in the (deal)," Mr Araghchi told reporters.
The deal's proponents say it is crucial to forestalling a nuclear Iran and preventing wider war in the Middle East.
But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday threatened the Islamic Republic with "the strongest sanctions in history" if it did not change its behaviour in the Middle East.
"Pompeo was like taking a cold shower," said a European diplomat. "We'll try to cling to the deal hoping that there is a possibility of a transaction, but we're under no illusions."
At the heart of yesterday's talks, chaired by the European Union, were guarantees sought by Iran from the Europeans that they can protect trade. They will also want assurances that all parties will continue to buy Iranian oil.
Iran's supreme leader set out a series of conditions on Wednesday for Iran to stay in the deal.
"This is a very important meeting that will show whether the other parties are serious about the deal or not," an Iranian official told Reuters. "We will understand whether, as our leader, said, the European can give us reliable guarantees or not."
Highlighting how difficult it will be, the US Treasury announced on Thursday more sanctions on several Iranian and Turkish companies and a number of aircraft in a move targeting four Iranian airlines.
Some Western firms have already quit Iran or said they may have to leave because of US sanctions.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said he expected the other signatories to present "a new package" that would be within the boundaries of the agreement, but did not include "any other issues".
Mr Trump denounced the accord, completed under his predecessor Barack Obama, because it did not cover Iran's ballistic missile programme, its role in Middle East conflicts or what happens after the deal begins to expire in 2025.
While European nations share those concerns, they have said that as long as Teheran meets its commitments, they would remain in the deal.