Nuclear deal partners hold urgent talks

The remaining signatories to the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna yesterday to discuss ideas to save the agreement and reduce tensions in the Gulf.

The Secretary General of the European External Action Service, Helga Schmid, chaired the meeting, which was convened at the request of France, Germany, Britain and Iran. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said after the meeting: “The atmosphere was constructive. Discussions were good. I cannot say that we resolved everything, I can say there are lots of commitments.”

Iran announced yesterday that it will restart activities at the Arak heavy-water reactor. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to repurpose the facility towards research and medicine. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, told Iran’s parliament that Iran would renege on the commitment. Heavy water can be used to make plutonium, which can be enriched to produce material for a nuclear weapon.

Earlier this month, the UK, France and Germany issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply troubled” by events in the Gulf, and said it was “time to act responsibly and seek a path to stop the escalation of tensions and resume dialogue”.

Araghchi told Iranian state TV that: “Developments have occurred, such as the seizure of the tanker carrying Iranian oil in Gibraltar, which in our view is considered a breach of the JCPOA. Countries party to the JCPOA must not create any obstacles in the way of Iran exporting its oil.” He also described British proposals for a European-led mission to escort tankers through the Strait of Hormuz as “provocative”.

The UK Ministry of Defence has announced that a second UK warship, the type-45 destroyer HMS Duncan, has arrived in the Gulf to work alongside the frigate HMS Montrose and accompany British vessels through the Strait of Hormuz.

On Sunday Iran published a letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson that said: “I hope that your familiarity with the issues of the relations of Iran and England and your presence once in Tehran will be a considerable help to get rid of existing obstacles in the growth and expansion of relations between us.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz is: “Vital not just to the UK, but also our international partners and allies.” He added that: “While we continue to push for a diplomatic resolution that will make this possible again without military accompaniment, the Royal Navy will continue to provide a safeguard for UK vessels until this is the reality.”