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EU Seeks More Time in Effort to Resolve Iran Nuclear Dispute

FILE - Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmit attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2019.

The European Union’s top diplomat said Friday that more time is required to unravel a dispute between countries involved in the Iran nuclear agreement, as the Europeans struggle to keep alive a deal hampered by U.S. sanctions.

On Jan. 15, Britain, France and Germany reluctantly triggered the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism to force Iran into discussions on possible violations of the deal. That started a process that could result in the resumption of U.N. and EU sanctions on Iran if no solution is found.

But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is coordinating the effort to resolve the standoff, said the three European powers involved in the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic incentives agree “that more time is needed due to the complexity of the issues involved.”

“The timeline is therefore extended,” Borrell said in a statement. The dispute mechanism provides for a period of about one month, which can be prolonged if all parties agree, to resolve any disagreement. But Borrell has declined to confirm that the one-month clock has actually started ticking.

Borrell also underlined that during his consultations in recent days all parties that continue to adhere to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “reconfirmed their determination to preserve the agreement which is in the interest of all.”

The accord, which Iran signed with the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia, has been unraveling since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018 and reinstated sanctions designed to cripple the Islamic Republic under what the U.S. called a “maximum pressure” campaign.

Borrell said the so-called joint commission on the deal will meet again in February , without providing a precise date. He noted that beyond the dispute over Iran’s alleged violations, participants are also trying to address “the wider impacts of the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of sanctions.”

Iran announced early this month what it said was its fifth and final step in violating the deal, saying it would no longer abide by any limitation to its enrichment activities following the U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency, which officially monitors whether Tehran is respecting the deal, has not signaled any new violations since then.