Iran’s deputy foreign minister says negotiations with European countries and China on salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal following Washington's withdrawal will continue as senior diplomats concluded their talks in Vienna.
"For the time being, we are negotiating...to see if they can provide us with a package that can actually give Iran the benefits of sanctions-lifting," Abbas Araqchi told reporters on May 25 after his talks with diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and China.
"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 [nuclear deal]."
The senior diplomats met in an attempt to prevent the deal from collapsing after President Donald Trump on May 8 pulled the United States out and announced he would reinstate sanctions against Tehran.
Iranian leaders have said they will uphold their side of the deal, which involves strict curbs on their nuclear program, if the other signatories uphold theirs by making sure that Iran can keep doing business with the world, despite the revived U.S. sanctions.
"To be honest with you, we are not confident," one senior Iranian official said earlier, adding that Tehran wanted European powers to present it with a package of measures "by the end of May."
A senior EU official was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying after the meeting that the bloc could not "give guarantees but we can create the necessary conditions for the Iranians to keep benefiting from the sanctions lifting under the JCPOA and to protect our interests and continue to develop legitimate business with Iran."
"We are working on a variety of measures to mitigate consequences of the U.S. withdrawal," the official, who did not want to be named, said while cautioning that "there are things that will take more time".
Iranian ministers are under orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to seek guarantees from the Europeans for Iranian oil sales and trade, as well as their agreement to spurn U.S. efforts to negotiate a stronger and broader deal with Tehran.
Khamenei laid out a series of conditions on May 23 that he said must be met for Iran to stay in the deal.
The European powers were expected to highlight EU efforts to legally shield European companies that have established ties with Iran from the U.S. sanctions so they can continue doing business in Iran.
Diplomats said the European Union was trying to make sure that such businesses are not affected in particular by U.S. sanctions prohibiting Iran from using the U.S. dollar or U.S. financial institutions to transact business.
Iranian officials are expected to carefully scrutinize the package of measures EU officials have cobbled together to try to counter the U.S. sanctions.
Some European officials have been openly skeptical that the measures will be effective in keeping businesses from fleeing Iran. Several major corporations, including France's Total and Germany's Allianz, have already announced they are leaving unless they receive exemptions from the U.S. sanctions.
"I think this is a moment of truth for the Europeans," EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini said before the Vienna talks.
The meeting of foreign ministers is the first since Trump abandoned the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which originally provided sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear activities.
In pulling out, Trump argued that the agreement would not stop Iran from eventually developing atomic warheads, and that it did nothing to check Iran's ballistic-missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
European and Russian leaders say the deal has accomplished its goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons while contributing to stability in the Middle East.
French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking at a business forum in St. Petersburg, said his aim was to "gradually" persuade Trump to return to negotiations on the deal.
He claimed that Trump did not like the 2015 deal because it was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Also in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the changing policies of U.S. administrations, saying American leaders should not change international agreements after each presidential election.
He added that unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran are "counterproductive" and will lead to a "dead end." He urged all sides to find a solution "through dialogue."