Iran president in Europe to rally support for nuke deal

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Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) stands with Swiss Federal President Alain Berset as they listen to the playing of national anthems after disembarking from an aircraft after his arrival at an airport in Kloten — Zurich Canton — on July 2, 2018, during an official visit to Switzerland. AFP

ZURICH (AFP) – President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Switzerland at the start of European trip billed as of “prime importance” after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

The tour, which also includes a stop in Austria, is part of Tehran’s efforts to secure Europe’s continued support for the landmark agreement aimed at preventing Iran from building the atomic bomb.

Substantial parts of the historic nuclear pact were negotiated in Switzerland before it was signed in July 2015 in Vienna, where the Rouhani will head on today.

The trip will be an “opportunity to talk about the future of the (nuclear) agreement,” he told reporters at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport before boarding his flight on Monday, state television showed.

Rouhani and his large delegation were greeted by Swiss President Alain Berset, along with an honour guard, after they landed in Zurich.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also scheduled to hold talks with Swiss officials in the capital Bern.

The visit comes nearly two months after US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the agreement, to the ire of the other signatories – China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia – which along with the European Union have continued to back the accord.

Iran has warned it is ready to resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent – above the level permitted in the deal – “within days” if the deal falls apart.

The nuclear deal has been the cornerstone of Rouhani’s policy of greater openness with the West, and the US move has seen him severely criticised by ultra-conservatives at home.

Even before Mr Trump’s decision, Iranians had long complained that the hoped-for uptick in foreign investment after the deal had not materialised.

Rouhani’s trip will be of “prime importance” as it could “provide a more precise picture of cooperation between Iran and Europe,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said in comments carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency on Saturday.

The European tour is part of a broader diplomatic effort by Tehran to rally support in the wake of Mr Trump’s May 8 withdrawal from what is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Last month, Mr Rouhani visited China, while Mr Zarif embarked on a tour of Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

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