On Tuesday night, after the meeting, Ms. Mogherini said that the foreign ministers had agreed to begin work, to “find solutions in the next few weeks,” on issues like Iran’s energy sales, banking transactions, export credits and investment, and protections for European companies working in Iran.
But preserving or increasing European investment in Iran in the face of the American sanctions is a difficult challenge — especially since the White House has made clear to Europeans that their companies will not get exemptions from the sanctions, which Washington hopes will pressure Iran into a new set of negotiations.
It was an irony that escaped few European officials: They were trying to find ways to ease the economic pressure on Iran and keep it in the nuclear deal, while Washington was trying to increase that pressure for unclear ends.
Many Europeans, like Ms. Tocci, believe that the unstated American aim is “regime change” in Iran, something that the British and French foreign ministers, Boris Johnson and Mr. Le Drian, have specifically ruled out as a European goal.
These same foreign ministers once spent weeks trying to toughen sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and its support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to please Mr. Trump and get him to agree to stay in the nuclear accord. Now they have dropped all such attempts. Instead, they were working to keep Iran in the deal at all and find ways to compensate Tehran for doing so.
While Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, has said that the American intention is to force Iran into new, broader negotiations, European officials said they had heard no American strategy for doing that.
European diplomats, speaking on background because they did not have authorization to talk otherwise, said on Tuesday that they felt no great urgency, which was just as well, given the difficulty of the task. They had the impression, they said, that Iran wants to remain in the deal so long as the government can show benefits to the population, and of course to avoid a more open confrontation with Washington.