Diplomats representing the Iran Nuclear Deal signatories held two meetings this week solely to discuss the ongoing Iranian nuclear issue. On Sunday, representatives from Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and the European Union met with counterparts from Iran. While nothing solid came from the Sunday gathering in Vienna, they did leave in agreement on two key points and resolved to hold higher-level discussions in the near future. 

According to Fu Cong, lead negotiator for Beijing, all parties in attendance agreed that salvaging the 2015 nuclear agreement was in the best interests for all involved. Since US President Donald Trump imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Iran, the nation’s economy has been in a free fall. In response, the Irani government broke two conditions of the accord by exceeding enrichment levels and stockpile limits in early July. Those actions have failed to bring the US back to the negotiating table, but European leaders are more than willing to hold talks with representatives from Iran. 

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi said that his nation would continue to downscale its honoring of the nuclear deal’s conditions until a fair solution is met. For Tehran, that solution involves economic relief and most pertinently, a means to resume its oil sales across the world. Oil is the primary driver of the Iranian economy and, since US sanctions, exports have fallen to nearly 10 percent of their previous levels. While he did not receive any assurances on Sunday, Araghchi was pleased with the discussions and said “the atmosphere was constructive.” 

Upon leaving the summit, Fu said that there was unanimous objection to the US sanctions and their application outside of America. While the sanctions come from neither the EU or United Nations, many companies and nations have chosen to cancel their business with Iran for fear of repercussions from Washington. Trump has displayed a willingness and ability to retaliate against nations by way of tariffs and even to target individual companies as in the case of Chinese telecom giant Huawei. 

China is one of the few states still purchasing Iranian oil, an action that the diplomats commended, but their decision not to join China is an obvious sticking point. From Iran’s point of view, it could be argued that Beijing is still working with Tehran, so if European powers approve of this, why shouldn’t they do the same? 

At another meeting in Brussels on Monday, European representatives expressed hope that Iran will return to compliance by abiding by the 2015 accord, but it is clear that time is running out. In a few weeks, the deadline for Trump to extend sanctions waivers will pass. The waivers are currently used by several nations across Europe, Russia and China. They are targeted towards the nuclear industry and the conversion of Iranian reactors as a coordinated effort to limit its nuclear production capabilities. Once the waivers expire, provided Trump decides not to renew them, diplomats at the meeting are worried it might push Iran to increase its nuclear efforts. Currently, Iran still allows inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify its nuclear production, but the door is open for it to revoke their access. 

As an interim measure to help the Iranian economy, Europe launched INSTEX, which is essentially a trade platform with Iran that operates on a barter system as opposed to the US dollar. Critics of the program point out that the products currently offered on it are not sanctioned, thereby reducing its usability, but leaders on Monday discussed the idea of allowing oil to be traded on it as well. If they take that step, the move would certainly receive condemnation from Washington. Thus far, the American position has relied on a “maximum pressure” approach, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This means stifling Iranian oil exports by strong-arming other nations to cancel their imports. 

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, was still in New York this weekend where he attended the UN Economic and Social Council. Europe must turn its words into actions, he said when speaking about the ongoing battle to save the nuclear deal. A desire to keep the deal “is totally different from being ready to make the investments required to save the deal,” Zarif said. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang put the onus on Washington to resolve the dispute. Both China and Russia are in agreement that the US has created the crisis by leaving Iran with no other options. 

It is “better for the one who made the trouble to fix it,” Shuang stated. He also preached that both sides must remain calm and committed to diplomacy. 

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered harsh words for European diplomats working to save the nuclear deal, comparing it to the “European appeasement in the 1930’s” of Hitler’s Germany. For Israel, an Iranian nuclear program is viewed as wholly unacceptable, despite the regular IAEA inspections and Tehran’s insistence that it is not aiming to produce nuclear weapons. 

As all signatories to the deal, aside from the US, work to save it, there is a growing feeling that there must be definitive action. The meetings this week could be viewed as a step in the right direction, but until they produce results, the Iranian economy remains in limbo.