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German Top Diplomat In U.S. To Discuss Iran Nuclear Dispute

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (file photo)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was set to meet with top-level U.S. officials on May 23 for talks expected to center on the consequences of the United States' withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Maas was set to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser John Bolton in Washington, two days after the United States vowed to impose what it said would be the "strongest sanctions in history" on Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump long complained about the nuclear accord, saying Tehran was violating the "spirit" of it by continuing to test ballistic missiles and by supporting militant activities in the region, leading him to withdraw from the pact on May 8.

Germany, France, and Britain have been trying to save the landmark agreement, which offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear ambitions.

'Determined To Preserve Deal'

The other two signatories to the accord, China and Russia, also want to maintain it.

"We in Germany, but also in Europe, are determined to do everything necessary to preserve the deal, and to keep Iran in it," Maas said after meeting congressional representatives on May 22.

This position "was in our own security interests," the German minister added.

On May 23, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris would continue to implement the accord even if it did agree with the U.S. that Iran's ballistic missile activity and regional hegemonic ambitions needed to be curbed.

"We disagree with the method because this collection of sanctions which will be set up against Iran will not enable dialogue, and on the contrary it will reinforce the conservatives and weaken President [Hassan] Rohani who wanted to negotiate," Le Drian told France Inter radio.

"Finally, this stance is likely to put the region in further danger than it is today," he added.

In a May 21 speech, Pompeo set out conditions for any new deal with Tehran, including curbing its support for armed groups in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

U.S. sanctions lifted after the 2015 accord would be re-imposed, the top U.S. diplomat said, and those and new measures would together constitute "unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime."

'Old Illusions'

Bolton told CNN on May 13 that "regime change" in Iran was not currently part of the U.S. administration’s policy.

He also voiced confidence that European countries would eventually "go along with" the U.S. decision on Iran.

In a May 23 interview on Iran’s state television, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Pompeo's comments about Iran "untrue" and based on "old illusions."

Tehran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and its compliance with the deal has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Meanwhile, the state news agency IRNA quoted the Iranian armed forces' chief of staff as dismissing U.S. demands for Tehran to curb its influence in the region, and said it would not seek permission from any country to develop defense capabilities.

"Iranian armed forces are now, thanks to God, more prepared than ever and will not wait for the permission or approval of any power to develop defense capabilities," General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri said.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa