Iran Makes Big Diplomatic Push to Find Fix for Nuclear Staredown
By Abbas Al Lawati and Arsalan Shahla
Iran is ramping up negotiations as signs gather that it’s closer to ending a showdown with Europe over the wobbling 2015 nuclear deal and easing a security crisis in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s top envoy Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks in Moscow with counterpart Sergei Lavrov as the threat of another erosion of Iran’s compliance with the accord looms. His deputy Abbas Araghchi went to Paris with a team of economists and central bank officials to discuss a French proposal to help restore Iran’s oil exports, the backbone of its economy.
The talks in Paris lasted 10 hours, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, without giving details. It was Araghchi’s second trip to the French capital in less than six weeks, continuing the most substantive negotiations between Iran and a Western power since U.S. President Donald Trump exited the nuclear accord last year and slapped a slew of crippling sanctions on Iranian oil and other sectors.
Talks related to the agreement also took place in Vienna, Zarif’s spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.
According to an Iranian lawmaker, the French proposal—hammered out in hours of telephone negotiations between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron, and at a recent meeting with Zarif—includes a $15 billion credit line to Iran for oil “pre-purchases,” the semi-official Tasnim news reported, citing an interview with conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari.
France has suggested the money be paid in three installments and in return, Iran would lift its threat to ramp up atomic activities on Sept. 6 and eventually revert back to full compliance with the accord, Motahari said.
“Iran’s and France’s points of view have grown closer,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference in Tehran, adding that Iran was “moving forward and advancing” in its efforts to resolve the crisis through talks.
Araghchi said Saturday that discussions between Trump and Macron at the Group of Seven summit last week “have shown flexibility with regard to Iran’s oil,” according to the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency. Trump said at the meeting in Biarritz that he’d agree to have other countries extend a letter of credit to Iran, secured against oil sales.
The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in May 2018 and crippling sanctioning of Iran’s economy triggered a security crisis that has rocked the Persian Gulf region with tanker attacks, tit-for-tat vessel seizures and the downing of military drones.
Washington’s actions also left Europe scrambling for an effective way to keep the deal alive without running afoul of U.S. sanctions.
“The French initiative is the last best hope for salvaging” the deal, said Ali Vaez at the International Crisis Group. “The key for its success is to provide Iran with some economic reprieve in the form of increased oil exports in return for compliance with the JCPOA and commitment to engage in new negotiations.”