World powers pressured Iran on Friday to reverse recent atomic activities that violate the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, but stopped short of deciding on whether to proceed with a move that could see the case brought before the UN Security Council and a “snapback” of sanctions that had been lifted under the accord.
The Vienna meeting came amid heightened friction between Iran and the West. Tehran has rolled back its commitments under the deal in response to Washington's withdrawal last year and reimposition of sanctions that have crippled its economy.
With Tehran angry over a lack of European protection from US sanctions, there appears scant scope for compromise.
The Europeans and Iran clashed on Thursday over the Iranian ballistic missile program before senior diplomats from the remaining parties to the deal - Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - met Iranian officials in Vienna on Friday to assess the state of the nuclear agreement.
Fu Cong, director general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters after the meeting that China had argued against invoking the so-called dispute resolution mechanism of the agreement.
“Iran has made it very clear that all the actions are reversible and that they are ready to come back to full compliance,” he told reporters.
Tehran's violations — all announced in advance and verified by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors — have been an attempt to pressure the other world powers involved to offer new economic incentives to offset the effect of the American sanctions.
Iran has previously suggested it would walk back those activities if it receives the economic incentives it needs.
Following the meeting, Iranian representative Abbas Araghchi told reporters that he thought the world powers "are interested to find practical solutions so they can continue their economic cooperation with Iran."
“We see that seriousness amongst these countries, but of course there are problems and obstacles in the way,” he said.
The European nations involved have threatened that they could invoke the dispute resolution mechanism, which can be triggered by any party to the JCPOA, if Iran does not comply.
That mechanism is a month-long process, which could lead to the matter being brought before the UN Security Council and could result in the eventual "snapback" of sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.