Iran’s foreign minister has has held talks in China as he began a diplomatic tour with the remaining signatories of a multinational nuclear deal following the recent US withdrawal from the landmark 2015 pact.
Speaking on Sunday in Beijing, Mohammad Javad Zarif underlined Tehran’s readiness “for all options” but expressed optimism that this round of negotiations could save the 2015 deal.
“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 said, speaking alongside his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
“[But] if the nuclear deal is to continue, the interests of the people of Iran must be assured.”
Earlier on Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would remain committed to the deal “if the remaining five countries abide by the agreement”.
After the Chinese capital, Zarif will attend talks in Moscow and Brussels with representatives of the pact’s other signatories.
Under the deal signed in Vienna with six world powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union – Iran scaled back its uranium enrichment programme and promised not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed that Tehran has been meeting its nuclear commitments fully.
However, US President Donald Trump, a long-time critic of the agreement, on Tuesday defied last-ditch efforts by European allies and announced Washington’s withdrawal from the deal.
Trump directed his administration to “immediately begin the process of re-imposing sanctions” related to the deal, a White House statement said.
The sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, including petrochemicals, energy and finance.
All foreign businesses operating in Iran will be required to “wind down” activities or “risk severe consequences”, the statement added, in effect threatening billions of dollars’ worth of business deals.
A number of European companies, including Airbus, Siemens and Total, have established operations in Iran since the signing of the deal.
While announcing his decision, Trump called the agreement “defective at its core”, claiming that after the lifiting of the sanctions Tehran “used its new funds to build nuclear-capable missiles, support terrorism and cause havoc throughout the Middle East and beyond”.
Some analysts, however, accused him of doubling down on hawkish policies towards Iran.
Fellow signatories to the deal have been quick to denounce Trump’s decision.
Following his meeting with Zarif on Sunday, China’s foreign minister said Beijing will “work to maintain the [nuclear] deal”, state news agency Xinhua reported.
“China will take an objective, fair and responsible attitude, [and] keep communication and cooperation [up] with all parties concerned,” Wang said.
Earlier in the week, France, Germany and the United Kingdom expressed “regret and concern” over the US’ withdrawal.
“Together, we emphasise our continuing commitment to the JCPOA. This agreement remains important for our shared security,” a joint statement signed by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday.
Russia also criticised Trump’s decision, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov alleging the move was “protectionism in disguise”, in comments made on Thursday to state news agency TASS.
Prior to leaving Iran, Zarif published a government statement via Twitter criticising Trump’s “extremist administration” for abandoning “an accord recognised as a victory of diplomacy by the international community”.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi reports Zarif’s tour was an attempt to “salvage the nuclear deal and keep it on life support”.
“They have faith Russia and China will stand by their side as some of their closest allies and biggest supporters,” added Basravi.
“But it really is a question mark as to what Europe can do for them in the face of … America’s position in the global banking system and the punitive measures they could take on countries and businesses in Europe that do business in Iran.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has has called the US withdrawal “impudent” and “worthless”.
Khamenei said on Wednesday Iran does not trust France, Germany and the UK to provide the “real guarantees” needed for Iran to remain in the agreement.
Basravi said the Rouhani government’s “political health … hangs in the balance” as the administration has “married itself to this deal and championed it as the answer to all” of the country’s economic woes.
“Now, even though hardline critics of the government say they support the president, they are predicting that this will shake the foundation of Rouhani’s cabinet,” added Basravi.
Iran has warned it could resume uranium enrichment “without limit” in response to Trump’s decision.