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Iran and EU begin talks to save nuclear deal

Iran, UK, France and Germany meet to keep landmark agreement alive by keeping investment flowing
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives at the EU council in Brussels (Reuters)

Iran's foreign minister on Tuesday hailed talks with the EU to try to find a way to rescue the Iran nuclear deal after the US pulled out as a "good start".

"We're not there, we're beginning the process," Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters after meeting his French, British and German counterparts in Brussels.

The three European signatories to the landmark 2015 deal are leading international efforts to preserve it after US President Donald Trump withdrew and reimposed sanctions lifted under the accord.

Tehran has said it wants guarantees that the economic benefits the deal brought will continue if it is to stick with it. Zarif said he expects to see progress "within the next few weeks".

The EU has said it will stick to the deal as long as Iran does, but the Islamic Republic has warned it is ready to resume "industrial-scale" uranium enrichment if it is not satisfied.

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The deal, painstakingly negotiated over more than a decade, lifted punishing economic sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran significantly scaling back its nuclear ambitions. 

Trump cast the agreement into jeopardy a week ago when he abruptly pulled the US out.

The EU cannot provide legal and economic guarantees to Iran after Washington pulled out of the accord, but is serious about seeking a way to keep investment flowing, the EU's top diplomat said on Tuesday.

After a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran, Britain, France and Germany, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the group will come forward with measures in the next few weeks after tasking experts to protect European business in Iran.

The group will meet again in Vienna next week at the level of deputy foreign ministers.

On Wednesday, the European Commission will discuss the EU's 1990s-era blocking sanctions, Mogherini said. They might help shield European businesses from US penalties but have never been used.

"We are working on finding a practical solution," Mogherini told a news conference. "We are talking about solutions to keep the deal alive." 

She added that measures would seek to allow Iran to keep exporting oil and for European banks to continue to operate without US penalties.

"We have a quite clear list of issues to address. We are operating in a very difficult context ... I cannot talk about legal or economic guarantees but I can talk about serious, determined, immediate work from the European side."

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