US sec­re­tary of state’s first face-to-face en­counter with his coun­ter­part since Trump be­came pres­i­dent

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - DAMIEN McEL­ROY

Rex Tiller­son, the US sec­re­tary of state, will on Wed­nes­day meet Ira­nian for­eign min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Zarif for the first time, to re­view im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 2015 nu­clear agree­ment with Tehran.

The US has warned that the deal signed by pres­i­dent Barack Obama, which puts curbs on Ira­nian nu­clear ac­tiv­ity for 15 years, is not work­ing prop­erly and warned Wash­ing­ton could with­draw as early as next month. Mr Trump has to cer­tify that Iran is meet­ing its end of the deal every three months, and the next dead­line looms in Oc­to­ber.

The New York meet­ing at the UN gen­eral assem­bly will be closely watched for signs that Mr Tiller­son re­mains com­mit­ted to the deal.

The gath­er­ing will be chaired by Fed­er­ica Mogherini, the EU for­eign pol­icy chief, and in­clude of­fi­cials from Bri­tain, France, Rus­sia, China and Ger­many. All six coun­tries con­ducted years of talks with Iran to con­clude the ac­cord.

State depart­ment of­fi­cials said there were no plans for Mr Tiller­son to pri­vately meet Mr Zarif, a US-ed­u­cated di­plo­mat who of­ten held talks with John Kerry, the pre­vi­ous sec­re­tary of state.

Has­san Rouhani, the Ira­nian pres­i­dent, warned yes­ter­day that European na­tions would play a vi­tal role in pro­tect­ing the deal.

He said that the UN’s nu­clear watch­dog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, had re­ported Iran was in com­pli­ance with the in­spec­tions regime.

“The ac­cord can serve as a good model for set­tling the com­plex in­ter­na­tional and re­gional is­sues,” Mr Rouhani said.

“We be­lieve that the only en­tity that can con­firm Iran’s com­mit­ment to its obli­ga­tions is the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency and ac­cord­ing to its re­ports, the Is­lamic Repub­lic has com­plied with all of its obli­ga­tions.”

He is due to ar­rive in New York for the gen­eral assem­bly and, in con­trast to re­cent years,

he is ex­pected to be on the de­fen­sive over the deal.

The New York Times re­ported last week that the Trump govern­ment was par­tial to keep­ing the deal but in­creas­ing the pres­sure with other sanc­tions.

“We are not go­ing to stand for what they’re do­ing to this coun­try,” Mr Trump said.

“They have vi­o­lated so many dif­fer­ent el­e­ments but they’ve also vi­o­lated the spirit of that deal.

“And you will see what we’ll be do­ing in Oc­to­ber. It will be very ev­i­dent.”

An­to­nio Guter­res, the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral, has called for the US to re­new its com­mit­ment to the deal at the sum­mit.

“It’s con­trib­uted to an im­por­tant de-es­ca­la­tion at the mo­ment and is a fac­tor of sta­bil­ity,”

Mr Guter­res said. “And it’s my opinion that all par­ties should do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble for this agree­ment to be pre­served.”

The agree­ment re­mains a fo­cus of con­sid­er­able dis­trust, par­tic­u­larly as Iran’s ag­gres­sive for­eign pol­icy has fu­elled in­sta­bil­ity around the Mid­dle East. Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter, said an at­tack on the deal would be at the heart of his ad­dress to the UN.

Nikki Ha­ley, US am­bas­sador to the UN, has called the deal flawed but added that it might be counter-pro­duc­tive for the US to leave the agree­ment.

“But the deal was con­structed in a way that makes leav­ing it less at­trac­tive,” Ms Ha­ley said. “It gave Iran what it wanted up front in ex­change for a tem­po­rary prom­ise to de­liver what we want.”

Ira­nian of­fi­cials have said it is pos­si­ble the US would with­draw from the deal but that Iran would, along with the European and other par­ties to the deal, agree to con­tinue the nu­clear freeze.

Ex­perts be­lieve there is an op­por­tu­nity for US pres­sure to gain con­ces­sions from Iran in spe­cific areas, par­tic­u­larly more ex­ten­sive in­spec­tions and a re­vi­sion of the sun­set clause that lifts the curbs.

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