Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif have agreed to remain in "close contact" over the nuclear deal between Iran and six powers in the wake of Washington's withdrawal from the landmark agreement.
Lavrov and Zarif met on May 14 in Moscow -- the Iranian diplomat's second stop, after Beijing, on a tour of key capitals as Tehran deals with the fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 accord, which provides Tehran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
In addition to the United States and Iran, the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed by Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. All of them have urged Washington to remain a part of the deal, saying it is the best way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
At the start of the talks with Zarif, Lavrov said that all the remaining signatories of the JCPOA had "legitimate interests" in keeping the deal and that "therefore we need to defend the legitimate interests of each of us together."
Zarif said that Russia had confirmed its readiness to respect the pact.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, where the UN nuclear agency head was taking part in an exposition organized by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom.
Amano and Putin made no mention of the Iran deal in their public remarks at the meeting.
After his talks in Beijing on March 13, Zarif said Iran wanted a "clear future design" for the accord.
"We hope that with this visit to China and other countries we will be able to construct a clear future design for the comprehensive agreement," Zarif told reporters after talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
"If the nuclear deal is to continue, the interests of the people of Iran must be assured," Zarif added.
After Moscow, Zarif will travel to Brussels to meet with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who is scheduled to host a meeting of German, French, and British foreign ministers on May 15 to discuss the accord.
Following talks with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in London, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on May 14 that France, Britain, and Germany were "determined" to save the Iranian nuclear deal.
"The U.S. leaving an international agreement does not mean that the international agreement is null and void," Le Drian said.
Johnson said he would discuss ways to protect European companies doing business with Iran at the Brussels meeting.
Meanwhile, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken to his German, French, and British counterparts in recent days to discuss cooperation over Iran.
"The secretary underlined that the United States and our European allies share strong interests in preventing Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon and in countering the Iranian regime's destabilizing activities in the region," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "He is hopeful we can continue strong cooperation."
Pompeo told Fox News on May 13 that Washington was ready to form a more wide-ranging Iran deal with its European partners "that achieves the outcomes that protect America."
"I'm hopeful in the days and weeks ahead we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behavior, not just their nuclear program, but their missiles and their malign behavior as well," he added.
Trump pulled out on May 8, claiming that Iran had violated the "spirit" of the deal by financing militant violence in the Middle East and by continuing to test ballistic missiles.
Iran denies financing extremist violence and says its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on May 13 that the U.S. exit from the deal could represent an end of diplomacy as a solution to global political differences.
Meanwhile, the Iranian parliament's website quoted an Iranian official as imposing a deadline for European countries to guarantee Iran's interests in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
"The Europeans have between 45 and 60 days to give the necessary guarantees to safeguard Iranian interests and compensate the damages caused by the U.S. pullout," Icana.ir said, attributing the remarks to Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi.
The German dpa news agency, citing sources, reported that the European signees have asked for 90 days.