TEHRAN: Iran said on Saturday it would wait to see whether Europe produces tangible results in overcoming US sanctions before deciding whether to stay in the nuclear deal, as a top EU official visited Tehran to present plans to maintain trade ties.
“The ball is in the court of the EU. They have presented different proposals, we will see if they materialize,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters.
It threatened to resume industrial uranium enrichment “without limit” unless its interests are preserved.
Salehi was speaking after a meeting with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, the first high-level Western official to visit Iran since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this month.
Since Trump’s announcement on May 8 about the US exit, European countries have said they will try to keep Iran’s oil and investment flowing, but have also admitted they will struggle to provide the guarantees Tehran seeks.
Canete called the nuclear deal “fundamental for peace in the region” as he outlined EU plans to continue oil and gas purchases and protect European companies, despite renewed US sanctions on Iran that are set to be phased in over the next six months.
“For sure there are clear difficulties with the sanctions,” Canete said at a press conference alongside Salehi.
“We will have to ask for waivers, for carve-outs for the companies that make investments.”
Salehi acknowledged Europe’s efforts but said: “We want tangible results, otherwise we take our own decisions. I personally don’t want to see such decisions being taken.”
‘All kinds of possibilities’
Salehi said Iran had several options, including resuming its 20 percent uranium enrichment, if the European countries failed to keep the pact alive. He said the EU had only a few weeks to deliver on their promises.
“If the other side keeps itself committed to its promises we also will be keeping ourselves to our promises ... We hope the situation will not arise to the point that we will have to go back to the worst option,” Salehi told reporters in English.
“There are all kind of possibilities, we can ... start the 20 percent enrichment.”
Salehi said the Iranian people had lost trust in the nuclear agreement, and if trade benefits were not protected “they will lose more confidence... and we will be forced to leave.”
“We hope their efforts materialize ... America’s actions ... show that it is not a trustworthy country in international dealings,” Salehi told the joint news conference in Tehran.
European leaders have outlined measures to protect EU firms from US sanctions.
But several of their companies — including France’s Total and Holland’s Maersk — have already said it will be impossible to stay in Iran once US sanctions are reimposed unless they receive explicit exemptions from Washington.
Iran’s trade with the EU is around €20 billion, evenly split between imports and exports.
The vast majority of EU purchases from Iran — 90 percent — are oil purchases, going primarily to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Germany.
Iran, which has the world’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, produces some 3.8 million barrels of oil per day, 70 percent of which goes to China and other Asian countries, and 20 percent to Europe.
It also has the second-biggest gas reserves in the world, but limited infrastructure means little is exported.
Russia and China — the other parties to the nuclear deal — have also vowed to maintain trade with Iran and are less vulnerable to economic pressure from Washington.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran’s level of enrichment must remain at around 3.6 percent. Iran stopped producing 20 percent enriched uranium and gave up the majority of its stockpile as part of the agreement.
Uranium refined to 20 percent fissile purity is well beyond the 5 percent normally required to fuel civilian nuclear power plants, although still well short of the highly enriched, or 80 to 90 percent, purity needed for a nuclear bomb.
Canete was set to meet Iran’s Environment Minister Isa Kalantari and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh later on Saturday, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday.