Iran's remaining partners in the 2015 nuclear deal vowed Friday to keep the energy exporter plugged into the global economy despite the U.S. withdrawal and sanctions threat.
Tehran's top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif praised them for their "will to resist" U.S. pressure, two months after President Donald Trump walked away from the landmark accord.
Britain, France and Germany along with Russia and China met with Iran in Vienna to offer economic benefits and assurances that would lessen the blow of sweeping U.S. sanctions announced by Trump.
They said they remained committed to the accord and to building up trade and investment links with Iran, including "the continuation of Iran's export of oil and gas" and other energy products.
"All the members, even the three allies, have committed and have the political will to take action and resist the United States," Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif told a Vienna news conference broadcast by the Fars news agency.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had Tuesday labeled the U.S. push to cut Iran's oil production to zero "a baseless fantasy" and an attempt to drive "imperialist policy in flagrant violation of international law".
'Protect companies from sanctions'
The foreign ministers Friday agreed on an 11-point list of joint goals in the Austrian capital, where the accord was signed with the aim of stopping Iran from building the atomic bomb in return for sanctions relief.
In the joint statement, Zarif and other top diplomats reconfirmed their commitment to the deal and its "economic dividends" for Iran, which has suffered worsening financial turbulence since Trump abandoned the accord.
The five powers said they are committed to keeping economic, financial and transport channels open with Iran.
They also agreed to enlist other countries to counter U.S. economic sanctions, said EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini, who chaired the Vienna meeting.
"The participants will work (...) with international partners in order to encourage them to follow the same policies and to establish similar mechanisms in their economic relations with Iran," she told reporters.
The European Union has already taken steps to shield European companies from U.S. sanctions, and it promises limited financial compensation to companies that are hit by the U.S. measures. In addition, the bloc has authorized the European Investment Bank to finance Iranian projects.
Zarif said that the level of detail at which these issues were discussed in Vienna made him more optimistic about the future of the nuclear deal.
He added, however, that Europe had only made pledges so far.
"They must be implemented by the time the sanctions come into force," the minister demanded.
Trump in May slammed the nuclear accord signed under his predecessor Barack Obama as "horrible" and "defective at its core," earning applause from Iran's regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Iran, which strongly denies ever seeking to build a nuclear bomb, has warned it could resume uranium enrichment for civilian purposes if the deal collapses.
Since Trump's shock move in May, Washington has warned other countries to end business in Iran and stop buying its oil from early November or face punitive measures.
Several major firms -- including France's Total and Peugeot, and Russia's Lukoil -- have said they are preparing to leave.
Iranians have complained that the hoped-for rise in foreign investment and trade after the deal has not materialized. The rial currency has fallen, prices have risen and the country has been hit by street protests and strikes.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas conceded that "we won't be able to compensate for all the effects of enterprises withdrawing from Iran because they see their American business interests threatened by the sanctions".
"After the withdrawal of the United States, which we can't understand, we face a difficult situation," he added, but he stressed that "we want to make clear to Iran that it will still gain economic benefits through this agreement".
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