European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Chad's Foreign Minister Cherif Mahamat Zene prior to a meeting at the Europa building, Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

EU powers to discuss Iran deal as Pompeo heads to Brussels

May 13, 2019 - 1:13 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union powers were meeting Monday to thrash out ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat, and were likely to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The meeting between the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini comes as the Europeans struggle to keep financial supply lines open to Iran to offset the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic's shattered economy,.

"We in Europe agree that this treaty is necessary for our security," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. "Nobody wants Iran to get possession of an atomic bomb and that's been achieved so far."

Mogherini said the talks will focus on "how to continue to best support the full implementation of the nuclear deal."

The United States pulled out of the 2015 accord a year ago, saying it does nothing to stop Iran from developing missiles or destabilizing the Middle East. The Europeans insist that the agreement was never meant to address those other issues.

Tensions began ramping up last week, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that signatories to the deal now have 60 days to come up with a plan to shield his country from the sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.

As the sanctions bite, domestic pressure is increasing on Rouhani to demonstrate that Iran can still benefit from an agreement based on providing it with economic opportunities in exchange for limiting nuclear development.

Maas said the Europeans "are working on the assumption that Iran won't withdraw step by step from this treaty, but rather meet all of its commitments."

Even so, the EU cannot keep Iran's economy afloat alone.

The Europeans have set up a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible U.S. sanctions. The workaround, dubbed INSTEX, is not yet operational as Iran has not completed its part of the scheme.

They have also introduced a "blocking statute" protecting European companies from the effects of U.S. sanctions, but many international corporations do more business in the United States than in Iran and have already severed ties there rather than risk running afoul of Washington.

"We have already initiated concrete steps in recent months, especially as concerns the payment channel and INSTEX. Now this instrument needs to be further operationalized and used in order to continue implementing" the nuclear agreement, Maas said.


AP writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.