World powers: 'serious concerns' about Iran's atom program

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The European Union's political director Helga Schmid and Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, from left, wait for a bilateral meeting as part of the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Roland Zak)

VIENNA – The world powers that remain party to the nuclear deal with Iran expressed "serious concerns" Wednesday about Tehran's violations of the pact, while acknowledging that time was running out to find a way to salvage it.

Wang Qun, Chinese ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, told reporters after talks in Vienna between the parties to the deal, including Iran, that they are “racing against time to work out a specific solution so as to safeguard" the landmark 2015 agreement.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known, promises Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear program, with the goal of preventing Iran from developing a bomb — something the country's leaders insist they do not want to do.

Since President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. unilaterally out of the deal in 2018 and reimpose American sanctions, Iran's economy has been struggling. Tehran has gradually been violating the deal's restrictions to pressure the remaining parties to the agreement — China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain — to provide new incentives to offset the American sanctions.

In response, the Europeans in January invoked a dispute resolution mechanism, designed to resolve issues with the deal or refer them to the U.N. Security Council.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters that Iran still remains "open to any initiative which can ensure Iran's dividends of the JCPOA."

"We are fully prepared to reverse the steps we have taken so far in return for the fulfillment of the other side's commitments in the JCPOA," he said.

In a statement following the meeting, the EU's top official for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said "serious concerns were expressed regarding the implementation of Iran's nuclear commitments under the agreement."