Macron’s Top Diplomatic Adviser Looks to Save Iran Nuclear Deal
By Ladane Nasseri
French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser heads to Iran on Tuesday, seeking to persuade the Islamic Republic to reverse breaches that have raised pressure on European nations struggling to save the landmark 2015 nuclear deal from collapse.
Emmanuel Bonne will meet with Iranian leaders, including a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to French officials. His trip comes a day after Iran started enriching uranium to purity levels beyond the 3.67% cap set in the accord and pledged to further scale back its commitments in response to U.S. sanctions reimposed after President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement a year ago.
French officials say they see room for compromise as Iran’s infringements have been carefully calibrated and Trump has underlined his desire for new talks that seek to also limit the country’s missile program and support for proxy militias around the Middle East. Iran has held open the door to negotiations with Europe but has said it will not speak to the U.S. unless sanctions are eased first.
On Monday evening, Trump and Macron discussed by phone efforts to ensure that Iran doesn’t obtain a nuclear weapon and to curtail its role in the broader Middle East, according to an emailed White House statement.
The latest developments in Tehran have increased pressure on European nations who’ve urged Iran to stick with the multi-party deal even as they struggle to find a mechanism that would allow it to keep selling its oil, the main source of government revenue.
Iran is producing oil at the slowest clip since 1986, making U.S. sanctions as effective as the devastating Iraq-Iran war that ended more than 30 years ago. The measures have hit the currency, fueled inflation and set back economic growth.
U.S. officials say their policy of maximum pressure is designed to force the Iranian government to negotiate a broader deal. But the approach has weakened the hand of moderate President Hassan Rouhani and prompted Tehran to dig in.
The U.S. is “waging war in all areas simultaneously, and using all its power in military, economic and social sphere to confront Iran,” General Hossein Salami, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted as saying Tuesday by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. “The more time passes, the more serious the enemy’s threats become.”
Iran’s latest violations of the accord are likely to stoke further friction with the U.S., which has accused the Islamic Republic of being behind a spate of attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz shipping chokepoint. Iran denies any wrongdoing.
Ties with the U.K. have also been strained by its seizure of a supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar that it said was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European and U.S. sanctions against that war-torn country. Iran said the tanker was in international waters and not headed to Syria. It has vowed to retaliate, highlighting mounting risks to shipping in a region that exports about a third of all seaborne oil.
“It will be reciprocated, at a suitable time and in a suitable place,” Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff for Iran’s armed forces, was quoted as saying by the IRNA.
Though the rhetoric has continued to escalate, all sides have said they want to avoid war.
France, Germany and the U.K. have managed to deliver a financial channel known as INSTEX that aims to protect some trade with Iran—initially only food and medicine—from U.S. penalties. But Iran wants a trade vehicle that can also be used to buy its oil.
Bonne will meet on Wednesday with Ali Shamkhani, a representative of Khamenei and chairman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, to discuss the nuclear agreement and mechanisms to counter U.S. penalties, according to a Fars news agency report.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, who are on the ground daily thanks to the existing deal, verified on Monday that Iran is enriching uranium above the agreed cap.
The IAEA will hold an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, convened at the behest of the U.S., to discuss Iran’s breaches of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear agreement is formally known.
“We continue to urge Iran not to take further measures that undermine the nuclear deal, to stop and reverse all activities that are inconsistent with its commitments,” European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said. “We are currently in contact with the other JCPOA participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the agreement.’’