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EU and US increasingly divided over Iran nuclear deal

A rift between the Trump administration and the EU, over whether to stick to the Iran nuclear agreement, has deepened
US, Russia, UK, Iran and EU discuss Iran nuclear deal at UN (AFP)

The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Wednesday that all parties to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers were complying with the agreement.

However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said Washington continues to have "significant issues" with the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting a growing rift between the EU and the US.

Mogherini, who spoke at the United Nations after a meeting among the parties, said that any issues outside the scope of the nuclear deal should be dealt with in a different forum.

She added that the United States, which has questioned the value of the deal, agreed that Iran was in full compliance of the agreement.

"We all agreed that all sides are fulfilling their commitments," Mogherini told reporters at the United Nations after Iran and the six nations held their first talks involving Tillerson.

Tillerson joined Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations on Wednesday for a first meeting with partners backing the Iran nuclear deal.

Mogherini chaired the closed-door meeting to discuss the 2015 deal that President Donald Trump has threatened to scrap unless it is re-opened for negotiations.

Tillerson and Zarif spoke directly in what a European diplomat described as a "very difficult" meeting.

"Tillerson and Zarif spoke directly for a relatively long time. There was no real great surprise in the positions expressed," the diplomat said.

The diplomat said there was unanimity that the nuclear deal was being respected, but the debate had not really focused on its implementation.

"There was no real visibility on what the American decision will be in October," the diplomat said.

After the meeting Tillerson said the discussion had been calm. He said: “It was a good opportunity to meet and shake hands. The tone was very matter of fact. There was no yelling. We didn’t throw shoes at one another. It was not an angry tone at all.”

But, the secretary of state said the US and Iran had very different interpretations of the 2015 agreement, and that Iran had not lived up to the expectations expressed in the document’s preface, which says the signatories “anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security”.

He also said there were "significant" concerns over the deal, signalling an increasing divide with the approach taken by EU diplomats who are keen to continue with the deal.

Trump is due to report to the US Congress by 15 October on whether he can certify that Iran is upholding its side of the accord, under which it accepted limits on its nuclear programme.

On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he had reached a decision, but did not elaborate.

"I have decided. I'll let you know what the decision is," he said.

Tillerson reportedly also said Trump had dodged a question from UK Prime Minister Theresa May on what he had decided to do about the agreement, when the two leaders met at the UN.

“He has not shared that with anyone externally. Prime Minister May asked him if he would share it with her. He said no,” Tillerson said.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran surrendered much of its enriched uranium, dismantled a reactor and submitted nuclear sites to UN inspection, while Washington and Europe lifted some sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the UN General Assembly earlier that the UN Security Council endorsed the nuclear deal and “one or two countries” could not decide its fate. 

Trump in his speech a day earlier called the nuclear deal "an embarrassment" for the United States and Tillerson later confirmed that the agreement must be "revisited".

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