TEHRAN: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) shakes hands with French presidential envoy Emmanuel Bonne on Wednesday. — AP
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French envoy in Iran talks as Trump threatens to up sanctions

TEHRAN: French Presi­dent Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser met Iran’s president on Wednesday winding up a day of talks in Tehran aimed at saving a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and easing tensions between Tehran and Washington.

But as Emmanuel Bonne pressed the high-level talks, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to warn that US sanctions against Iran would soon be “increased substantially”, charging Tehran had “long been secretly ‘enriching’” uranium.

The 2015 accord between Iran and world powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), promised sanctions relief, economic benefits and an end to international isolation in return for stringent curbs on the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.

But Tehran says it has lost patience with perceived inaction by European countries more than a year after Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the agreement and imposed punishing sanctions.

In his meeting with Bonne, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran had “completely kept the path of diplomacy and talks open”, according to a statement from his office. He called on other parties to the deal to “completely implement their commitments” to keep it alive.

Bonne also met Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his deputy Abbas Araghchi.

His mission was “to try and open the discussion space to avoid an uncontrolled escalation, or even an accident”, according to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Before meeting with Bonne, Zarif said “negotiations are never possible under pressure”, in reference to US sanctions against Iran.

Pointing to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, he added that the Europeans “must solve that problem.”

‘Very critical phase’

Bonne arrived in Tehran after Iran announced on Monday it had surpassed 4.5 per cent uranium enrichment — above the 3.67 per cent limit under the accord, though still far below the 90 per cent necessary for military purposes.

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Iran surpassed 300 kilogrammes of enriched uranium reserves, another limit that was imposed by the deal.

At the request of the US, the International Atomic Energy Agency was to hold a special meeting on Iran’s nuclear programme at its Vienna headquarters on Wednesday.

A source at the French presidency said “we are in a very critical phase. The Iranians are taking measures that are in violation [of the agreement] but [they] are very calibrated”.

“Donald Trump is a dealmaker,” the source added. “The Iranians exaggerate, but not too much, and Trump is exerting maximum pressure but he is doing this so that he can get a deal.”

Last month, Trump said he had called off a retaliatory military strike against Iran at the last minute after the Islamic republic shot down a US drone that it said had crossed into its airspace, a claim denied by Washington.

Trump re-upped the pressure on Wednesday, claiming “Iran has long been secretly ‘enriching’” uranium in violation of the accord.

“Remember, that deal was to expire in a short number of years. Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!”

Despite the heightened rhetoric between the US and Iran, Macron is pursuing his diplomatic track.

On Saturday, he held an hour-long conversation with Rouhani in which he said he wanted to “explore the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties”.

The White House confirmed that Macron and Trump had also discussed the standoff.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019

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