Paraguay opens its Israel embassy in Jerusalem, second country to follow U.S. lead

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, following the dedication ceremony of the embassy of Paraguay in Jerusalem, May 21, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Paraguay opened its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, the second country to follow the United States in making the politically sensitive move from Tel Aviv.

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the inauguration ceremony. The United States relocated its embassy to Jerusalem a week ago, drawing Palestinian anger. It was followed by Guatemala on Wednesday.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who with broad international backing want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as their capital.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it annexed after the 1967 conflict, as its capital.

“This is a historic day that strengthens ties between Paraguay and Israel,” Cartes said at the ceremony.

“A great day for Israel. A great day for Paraguay. A great day for our friendship,” Netanyahu responded. “You have not only the support of our government but the profound gratitude of the people Israel.”

Hanan Ashrawi, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced Paraguay’s move.

“By adopting such a provocative and irresponsible measure that is in direct contravention of international law and consensus, Paraguay has conspired with Israel, the United States and Guatemala to entrench the military occupation and to seal the fate of occupied Jerusalem,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

In December, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing decades of U.S. policy and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Most world powers do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city and says its final status should be set in peace negotiations.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Dan Williams and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

U.S. sees strong shared interests with European Union on Iran concerns

FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Pho

WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States on Sunday said it hopes to use strong shared interests that have emerged with its European Union partners in recent months to move forward on addressing Iran’s nuclear program, missile development and role in regional conflicts.

A State Department official said the shared interests could form a “foundation to continue to work together moving forward.”

Iran said on Sunday that it would join a meeting with diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to exit the 2015 nuclear accord.

It said Washington would not participate in the meeting of the joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying there were also discussions about a possible new pact between Iran and world powers that would cover the same ground as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.

These could include provisions to address U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said.

“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper.

Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said.

The State Department official said Washington hoped the EU would focus “on the central issue here:  Iran’s multiple set of malign behaviors with regard to its nuclear program, missile development, terrorism, regional conflicts, and other issues.”

Three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep Trump from quitting the nuclear deal said Friday’s meeting would address only the implementation of the 2015 deal, but not offer Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi rejected reports of a proposed new agreement as “irrelevant claims”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

“A meeting set for the next few days for the first joint commission without the United States … will only cover issues of the nuclear accord between Iran and the other members,” Qasemi said.

Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television that the “joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal.”

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic roadmap” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Damon Darlin in Washington, Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Dale Hudson, William Maclean)

Muslims must stop other countries opening Jerusalem embassies: Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Secretary General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen are seen during a meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers Council in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. Hudaverdi Arif Yaman/Pool via Reuters

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Parisa Hafezi

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey called on Muslim countries on Friday to stop other nations from following the United States and moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, as it opened a meeting in Istanbul on Friday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after Israeli forces this week killed dozens of Palestinian protesters who were demonstrating in Gaza against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. move and the violence in Gaza, declaring three days of mourning. Erdogan has described the actions of the Israeli forces as a “genocide” and Israel as a “terrorist state”.

“We will emphasise the status of the Palestine issue for our community, and that we will not allow the status of the historic city to be changed,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an opening address. “We must prevent other countries following the U.S. example.”

The events in Gaza have also sparked a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel, with both countries expelling each other’s senior diplomats this week.

The plight of Palestinians resonates with many Turks, particularly the nationalist and religious voters who form the base of support for Erdogan, running for re-election next month.

TRADE TIES

Despite the rhetoric, Israel was the 10th-biggest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4 billion of goods, according to IMF statistics.

“We have excellent economic ties with Turkey. And these relations are very important for both sides,” Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Israel Radio on Friday when asked if Israel should break ties with Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy reversed decades of U.S. policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Guatemala this week became the second country to move its embassy to the holy city, and Paraguay said it would follow suit this month.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian television after arriving in Istanbul that “Israel’s recent crimes in Palestine and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem need serious coordination between Islamic countries and the international community”.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Friday said Israel had systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million people in Gaza “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Syrian rebel fighters pull out of their last besieged area

A woman gestures as she stands on rubble of damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Aboud Hamam

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The remaining fighters started to withdraw from the last rebel-held enclave in central Syria on Wednesday, state television reported, sealing the government’s control over the area and opening a major stretch of the country’s most important highway.

It further cements President Bashar al-Assad’s dominant position over the most populated parts of Syria after years of fighting, but means any new military campaign might risk direct conflict with foreign powers.

The withdrawal may also be the last in a series of agreed evacuations used by the government to defeat besieged insurgents by forcing them to surrender territory in return for safe passage to opposition areas in the north.

Often brokered by Assad’s Russian allies, such agreements have in recent years become a defining characteristic of Syria’s seven-year war.

In the last two months alone, the United Nations says 110,000 people have been evacuated to northwestern Syria and rebel-held areas north of Aleppo.

The opposition has called it a policy of forced displacement amounting to demographic change to force out Assad’s opponents. The Syrian government has said nobody is forced to leave and those who stay must accept state rule.

The last besieged rebel area, being fully evacuated on Wednesday, is the large enclave located between the cities of Hama and Homs around the towns of Rastan, Talbiseh and Houla.

Rebels still hold large swathes of northwest and southwest Syria that are not besieged because they border Turkey and Jordan, which have at times backed the insurgents and are guarantors of limited truces in those areas.

The only other area still surrounded by the Syrian army, in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus, is held by Islamic State fighters who look unlikely to agree to withdraw to the patch of desert they still hold in east Syria.

More than a quarter of Syria is held by an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that the United States helped in the fight against Islamic State.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants to pull American troops from Syria, but the Pentagon has said they are staying for now.

SIEGE

Assad focused on the remaining besieged rebel pockets last month after taking back Eastern Ghouta, the biggest insurgent enclave near Damascus, in a ferocious, weeks-long offensive.

Having held the area being evacuated on Wednesday for years, rebels agreed earlier this month to withdraw along with their families and other civilians who did not want to come back under Assad’s rule.

Since the enclave straddled Syria’s main north-south highway in the stretch between Hama and Homs, recapturing it will significantly ease communication lines in government areas.

Some 27,000 people have left the enclave already since the evacuations began earlier this month, a local government official said. The last convoy of buses began to leave on Wednesday, according to state media.

Last month, 66,000 people left Eastern Ghouta under similar agreements, the U.N. has said. Other major evacuations have included from east Aleppo in late 2016, when more than 30,000 people left.

Tens of thousands of other people have left smaller pockets in recent years. It has added to a humanitarian crisis in northwestern Idlib province, where the pre-war population of about 1 million people has been doubled by those fleeing other parts of the country.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Maersk latest company to shun Iran as EU scrambles to save nuclear deal

FILE PHOTO: The Maersk ship Adrian Maersk is seen as it departs from New York Harbor in New York City, U.S., June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Phot

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk on Thursday joined a growing list of companies preparing to call a halt to doing business with Iran, casting doubts on whether European leaders can keep alive a nuclear deal with Tehran.

Maersk’s move comes a day after French energy group Total and other European companies signaled they could exit Iran ahead of a reimposition of sanctions following the United States’ decision to pull out of the Iran accord.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that the European Union must protect European Union companies doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions.

But Macron, joining EU leaders for a summit in Bulgaria, also said he recognized that big companies would want to protect their own interests.

“International companies with interests in many countries make their own choices according to their own interests. They should continue to have this freedom,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran means European countries that have since invested in the country will be at risk once new sanctions come into effect.

Maersk Chief Executive Soren Skou said: “With the sanctions the Americans are to impose, you can’t do business in Iran if you also have business in the U.S., and we have that on a large scale.”

“I don’t know the exact timing details, but I am certain that we’re also going to shut down (in Iran),” Skou told Reuters in an interview following Maersk’s first-quarter earnings.

MSC, the world’s second biggest container shipping group after Maersk, said on Wednesday it would stop taking new booking for Iran.

Other companies which have warned they would wind down business in Iran following reinstated sanctions include German insurer Allianz, Siemens and Danish oil product tanker operator Maersk Tankers, previously owned by the Maersk conglomerate.

Maersk’s Skou said higher oil prices which followed the U.S. withdrawal were hitting its container shipping business because of higher bunker fuel prices.

Oil prices hit their highest level since November 2014 on Thursday, with Brent crude creeping ever closer to $80 per barrel. [O/R]

(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Jon Boyle and Jane Merriman)

Russia postpones bill making U.S. sanctions compliance a crime

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Polina Nikolskaya and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers on Thursday voted to postpone the second reading of a bill being discussed in the lower house of parliament that would make it a crime to comply with Western sanctions on Russia.

The lower house said it would hold talks next week with businesses before proceeding further with discussion of the draft law, a day after business lobby groups on Wednesday publicly voiced opposition to it.

“We support postponing (discussion) for further consultations because of numerous appeals and insufficient legal preparation,” said Nikolai Kolomeytsev, a lawmaker for the Communist party, which often backs the Kremlin on important issues.

Russian lawmakers in a first reading on Tuesday approved a bill making it a crime punishable by up to four years in jail to refuse to supply services or do business with a Russian citizen, citing U.S. or other sanctions.

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said in a statement on Wednesday that the bill creates risks of unreasonable criminal prosecution of Russian and foreign citizens, and could harm the investment climate.

Business representatives will be invited to discuss the bill with lawmakers next Wednesday.

“I think we can find a construction under which these fears can be removed. And then the law will pass without any fears and, generally speaking, we need it,” lawmaker Valery Gartung said on Thursday. He is a member of the Just Russia party which often allies itself with the Kremlin.

The bill is one of two items of legislation drawn up by lawmakers in response to the United States’ decision to impose sanctions on Russia last month.

Washington blacklisted some of Russia’s biggest companies and businessmen, striking at allies of President Vladimir Putin to punish Moscow for alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other “malign activities”.

Later on Thursday, lawmakers in a second reading approved the second item of legislation. The bill would give the government authority to ban trade in certain items with countries deemed to be unfriendly to Moscow.

Under the bill, the Russian president would decide which products would be affected by the restrictions, and any decision would be subject to approval from parliament.

The legislation also bars affected countries and those countries’ citizens from taking part in the privatization of Russian property.

The legislation has been diluted since it was first put forward. Lawmakers originally proposed restricting imports of U.S.-made software and farm goods, U.S. medicines that can be sourced elsewhere, and tobacco and alcohol.

The legislation must pass a third reading, before being approved by the upper house of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin.

(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe)

Taliban emerge from hiding to battle Afghan forces in city near Iran

Residents look at an Army vehicle which was damaged during battle between Afghan security forces and Taliban in Farah province, Afghanistan May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

By Storay Karimi and Mohammad Stanekzai

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Taliban fighters emerged from hiding in the dead of night to launch attacks in the Afghan city of Farah, battling government forces who thought they had cleared out the insurgents following heavy clashes earlier in the week, residents and officials said.

The heavily armed fighters had gone to ground in residential areas following their surprise attack on Tuesday, when they nearly overran Farah, before Afghan troops backed by U.S. air power fought them off.

“From one side, there were Taliban and from the other side, war planes firing from the air. People were terrified,” said city shopkeeper Qudratullah.

The Taliban fighters emerged from their hiding places about an hour before midnight on Wednesday, some of them firing on security forces from rooftops, with gunbattles raging into the early hours of Thursday.

At least one suicide bomb attack was launched near the city’s police headquarters.

“The city has been turned into a military zone, people are worried and shops are closed,” said resident Baz Mohammad.

“After what happened last night, anything can happen any time.”

Schools were also declared closed for the whole of the month of Ramadan, which began on Thursday, because of the security situation, said Kabir Haqmal, media advisor to the ministry of education.

After months of relative calm over the winter, the latest fighting underlines the challenge facing the Kabul government and its U.S. allies who are struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency.

The United States has sent thousands of extra trainers to help Afghan forces and stepped up air strikes dramatically, with the aim of pressing the Taliban to the negotiating table, but there has been little to indicate the plan is working.

BLAMING IRAN

In Farah, U.S. forces have provided air support with A-10 attack aircraft and pilotless drones, while the Afghan air force has conducted numerous strikes with its own helicopters and A-29 ground attack aircraft.

Officials had earlier said the city was clear of Taliban but confirmed the fighting overnight.

“A number of Taliban clashed with Afghan forces in different parts of the city,” said Fazel Ahmad Sherzad, the city’s police chief.

“Right now there is no fighting but a search and clearance operation is underway,” he said.

He said a number of foreign fighters appeared to be operating with the Taliban but there was no way of independently verifying that. Officials in Farah often blame neighboring Iran for helping the Taliban in the area.

Fighting has increased across Afghanistan in recent weeks with government forces under heavy pressure in provinces including Badakhshan, Baghlan and Faryab in the north, Farah in the west and Zabul and Ghazni south of the capital Kabul.

In addition, Kabul itself has been targeted by a wave of suicide attacks that have killed and wounded hundreds of people since the beginning of the year.

Remote and sparsely populated Farah, on the border with Iran has seen heavy fighting for months with Taliban forces inflicting heavy casualties on the police and army and even on elite special forces units.

(Additional reporting by Qadir Sediqi in KABUL; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea says won’t hold talks with ‘incompetent’ South unless differences settled

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s chief negotiator called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent” on Thursday, denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South unless its demands are met.

The comments by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the country, were the latest in a string of inflammatory statements marking a drastic change in tone after months of easing tension with plans for denuclearisation and a summit scheduled with the United States.

Ri criticized the South for participating in the drills, as well as for allowing “human scum” to speak at its National Assembly, the North’s KCNA news agency said in a statement.

“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of south Korea,” the statement said.

It did not elaborate.

KCNA, in its English-language service, deliberately uses lower-case “north” and “south” to show that it only recognises one undivided Korea.

North Korea on Wednesday said it might not attend the June 12 summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

A South Korean presidential Blue House official said the South intends to more actively perform “the role of a mediator” between the United States and North Korea, but that goal has been cast into doubt by Ri’s comments.

“On this opportunity, the present south Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation,” Ri’s statement said.

The statement did not identify the “human scum” by name, but Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat to Britain who defected to the South in 2016, held a press conference on Monday at the South Korean National Assembly for his publication of his memoir.

In his memoir, “Password from the Third Floor”, Thae describes North Korean leader Kim as “impatient, impulsive and violent”.

SUMMIT IN DOUBT

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told parliament that North Korea and the United States had differences of views over how to achieve denuclearisation. Trump acknowledged on Wednesday it was unclear if the summit would go ahead.

“It is true that there are differences of opinion between the North and the United States on methods to accomplish denuclearisation,” Kang told lawmakers, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Trump will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 22.

The Blue House intends to “sufficiently convey (to the United States) what we’ve discerned about North Korea’s position and attitude… and sufficiently convey the United States’ position to North Korea”, thereby helping to bridge the gap, the official said.

Asked if she trusted Kim Jong Un, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang said: “Yes.”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that the United States had demanded North Korea ship some nuclear warheads, an intercontinental ballistic missile and other nuclear material overseas within six months.

The newspaper, citing several sources familiar with North Korea, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to have told the North Korean leader when they met this month that Pyongyang might be removed from a list of state sponsors of terrorism if it complied.

The Asahi also reported that if North Korea agreed to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation at the Singapore summit, Washington was considering giving guarantees for Kim’s regime.

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said the measures North Korea has taken to ease tension should be acknowledged, and all other parties, especially the United States, should cherish the opportunity for peace.

Cancellation of the summit, the first between U.S. and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what could be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

This comes at a time his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fueled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

North Korea defends its nuclear and missile programs as a deterrent against perceived aggression by the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North has long said it is open to eventually giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nuclear umbrella” alliance with Seoul.

North Korea said it was pulling out of the talks with South Korea after denouncing U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nuclear assets”.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “I hope that in the end common sense will prevail, and the summit will take place and it will be successful.”

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO and Michael Martina in BEIJING, and Cynthia Kim, Ju-min Park and Josh Smith in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. investigating Cambridge Analytica: New York Times

FILE PHOTO: Window cleaners work outside the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Pho

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry,

Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe.

The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said.

Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper.

The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters. Former officials with Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available to comment.

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported. Bannon left the White House on August 2017.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Merkel defends nuclear deal, Iran says won’t ‘surrender’ to U.S.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the 2018 budget debate at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back on Wednesday against Washington’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, saying the accord helped outside powers worried about Tehran’s regional role to pursue their concerns with the Islamic Republic.

Iran reiterated it would not surrender to U.S. pressure and would resist U.S. “plots”, following President Donald Trump’s abandonment of the 2015 agreement last week.

Repudiating the result of more than a decade of diplomacy, Trump complained that the deal does not cover Iran’s ballistic missiles, its role in regional wars or what happens after the pact begins to expire in 2025.

Major European countries share Trump’s concerns but argue that the nuclear deal is the best way to stop the increasingly influential regional power from obtaining an atomic weapon.

Merkel reasserted a defense of the deal in remarks to lawmakers in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

“The question is whether you can talk better if you terminate an agreement or if you stay in it … we say you can talk better if you remain in it,” she said.

“This agreement is everything other than ideal, but Iran is, according to all the knowledge of the international nuclear authorities, sticking to the commitments of the agreement.”

The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions in 2016 in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program, under strict surveillance by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Trump last week announced he planned to reimpose an array of sanctions lifted by the accord, and the U.S. Treasury on Tuesday imposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank governor, three other individuals and an Iraq-based bank.

Iran meanwhile said the new U.S. sanctions were an attempt to derail efforts to save the deal.

“With such destructive measures, the American government is trying to influence the will and decision of the remaining signatories of the JCPOA (nuclear agreement),” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

Iran has described the sanctions as illegal and has warned that if talks to rescue the accord fail, it would ramp up its nuclear program to a level more advanced than before.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Trump expected Tehran to leave the deal after the U.S. withdrawal, but Tehran had refused to follow that plan by trying to save the deal with its remaining signatories.

“Trump played his first card, but miscalculated the second move,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the ISNA agency.

GUARANTEES

He also said Iran would not surrender to U.S. pressures.

“They think they can make the Iranian nation surrender by putting pressures on Iran, by sanctions and even threats of war… The Iranian nation will resist against the U.S. plots,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

However the top advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said he doubted Tehran’s talks with European nations to save the deal would be successful.

“I doubt that the talks with the Europeans will be fruitful. I hope we see good results, but …. we should become self-sufficient,” Ali Akbar Velayati said, Fars news agency reported.

European powers this week vowed to shore up the deal by trying to keep Iran’s oil and investment flowing, but admitted they would struggle to provide the guarantees Tehran seeks.

British, French and German foreign ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday to see how they can save the nuclear deal without the United States, but appeared hard-pressed over how their companies could continue doing business with Iran once Washington begins to reimpose sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his meeting with European Union officials in Brussels had been a good start, but he wanted to see guarantees materialize.

The Europeans and Iranians have tasked experts to come up with measures quickly and will meet again in Vienna next week.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that a senior Iranian official has met Chinese oil buyers this week to ask them to maintain imports after U.S. sanctions kick in.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafed, additional reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)