Thursday 18 July 2019

France's Macron trying to save Iran deal with July 15 talks

French President Emmanuel Macron (Ricardo Pareggiani/AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron (Ricardo Pareggiani/AP)

Iran will today announce an increase in uranium enrichment to 5pc, a concentration above the limit set by its 2015 nuclear deal, in a move signalling a deepening challenge to escalating US sanctions pressure.

The declaration, flagged in advance by Iran's Fars news agency, comes at a time of sharply increased US-Iranian confrontation, a year after Washington broke a 2015 deal and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the accord in exchange for Tehran curbing nuclear work.

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In a sign of heightening European concern, French President Emmanuel Macron said he and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had agreed to seek conditions for a resumption of dialogue on the Iranian nuclear question by July 15. Macron's office said he would keep on talking with Iran and other involved parties to "engage in a de-escalation of tensions related to Iranian nuclear issue."

The deal is aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to a year from roughly 2-3 months. Iran says its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation, and not to make bombs.

Today's planned announcement is a setback for Britain, France and Germany, co-signatories of the deal who have pressed for months to persuade Iran to remain committed to the accord.

Iran says Europeans have done "too little, too late" to salvage the pact.

Washington tightened those curbs from May, ordering all countries and companies to halt all imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.

In reaction to the US sanctions, Iran said it would scale back its commitments to the deal after a 60-day grace period to allow European signatories develop a plan to keep the deal alive.

However, Iran's Rouhani said last week that all the measures taken by Iran were "reversible" if other parties to the deal fulfilled their promises.

Iran's main demand is to be allowed to sell its oil at the level which existed before Washington pulled out of the deal. Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) in late June - a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump broke the nuclear deal.

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