Iran nuclear deal commission meets to try to save 2015 accord

Above, the nuclear water reactor of Arak located south Tehran during a visit by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization officials on December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/AFP)
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Updated 26 February 2020

Iran nuclear deal commission meets to try to save 2015 accord

  • Landmark agreement pact has been crumbling since the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran
  • Renewed US sanctions have almost entirely isolated Iran from the international financial system

VIENNA: The remaining parties to the faltering Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Wednesday in their first gathering after Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute process over Tehran’s successive pullbacks.
The meeting comes as the parties try to find a way to save the landmark 2015 agreement, which has been crumbling since the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
The Europeans hope to persuade Tehran to come back into line with the deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program after Tehran made a series of steps away in protest at the US pull-out.
Wednesday’s meeting at political directors’ level, convening the commission set up by the deal, will be chaired by EU senior official Helga Schmid.
“This is a chance though not of 100 percent to stop escalation before it is too late,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian Embassy in Vienna on Twitter.
In its last announcement in early January, Tehran said it would no longer observe limits on the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
It was its fifth step away from the deal since US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal and led to Germany, Britain and France triggering the dispute process on January 14.
The process spells out several steps, the last one of which is notifying the UN Security Council. UN sanctions would then automatically “snap back” after 30 days unless the Security Council voted to stop it.
A diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said that no time table had been fixed for solving the dispute, adding “we are still far from a result.”
“We all want to save the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known) so that the inspectors can continue their work in Iran,” the diplomat said, referring to the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The Vienna-based UN nuclear agency has been tasked with monitoring the deal’s implementation and issues regular reports, the latest of which is expected within days.
Western diplomats recognize it is highly unlikely Iran will heed calls to come back into full compliance without substantial concessions in return — such as an end to US sanctions or Europe taking measures to offset their economic impact.
But they hope the use of the dispute process will convince Iran not to make any more moves away from the deal, giving space for back-channel diplomacy aimed at bringing Washington and Tehran back into alignment.
The diplomat said that Iran could also “at least freeze its uranium stocks” as a possible positive outcome of the current discussions.
At a major international security conference in Munich earlier this month, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be prepared to move back toward the deal if Europe provides “meaningful” economic benefits.
Europe has set up a special trading mechanism called Instex to try to enable legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran, but it has yet to complete any transactions and Tehran regards it as inadequate.
The renewed US sanctions have almost entirely isolated Iran from the international financial system, driven away oil buyers and plunged the country into a severe recession.


Syria’s Bashar Assad cuts tax for low-income workers

Updated 20 min 50 sec ago

Syria’s Bashar Assad cuts tax for low-income workers

  • It also amends other tax tranches to ‘reduce the tax burden on those with limited income’

BEIRUT: Syria’s President Bashar Assad moved on Wednesday to exempt more low-wage earners from income tax, his office said, as the economy buckles under the weight of US sanctions and nearly a decade of war.
The legislative decree, the first such amendment in years, widens the tranche of low-income workers exempt from tax to cover those earning $40 (50,000 Syrian pounds) or less per month, up from $12 (15,000 Syrian pounds). It also amends other tax tranches to “reduce the tax burden on those with limited income,” the presidency said.
Syrians have suffered from steep price hikes in recent months as the collapse of the currency drives up inflation and piles on hardship. The economy has been hit also by a financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon that has choked off a key source of dollars.
In a separate decision, the presidency also said Assad was giving a one-time grant of $40 (50,000 Syrian pounds) to all employees in state institutions including in the army. Retired public workers would get $32 (40,000 pounds).