0705 GMT January 20, 2019
French President Emmanuel Macron said he has no “plan B” for the Iran nuclear deal and that the United States should stay in the agreement as long as there is no better option.
He made the remarks in a Fox News interview on Sunday, the day before he arrives in Washington for a three-day state visit, Reuters reported.
Macron and US President Donald Trump will discuss the Iran nuclear agreement at the White House on Tuesday, a senior US administration official said on Friday. They will also discuss the joint military strike on Syria this month following a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus, the official said.
The 2015 deal reached between Iran, the United States and five other world powers put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Trump has called it one of the worst deals ever negotiated and will decide by May 12 whether to restore US economic sanctions on Tehran, which would be a severe blow to the pact. Trump has pressured European allies to work with Washington to fix the deal.
“I don’t have any plan B,” Macron said. “Let’s present this framework because it’s better than the sort of North Korean-type situation.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also plans to meet US president in Washington, defended the Iran nuclear deal, saying that her country will “watch very closely” to ensure it is being fulfilled. She made the remarks in an interview with an Israeli TV channel.
On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Tehran is ready to “vigorously” resume nuclear enrichment if the US ditches the 2015 nuclear deal, and said that further “drastic measures” are being considered in response to a US exit.
Zarif told reporters in New York that Iran is not seeking to acquire a nuclear bomb, but that its “probable” response to a US withdrawal would be to restart production of enriched uranium, AFP reported.
“America never should have feared Iran producing a nuclear bomb, but we will pursue vigorously our nuclear enrichment,” added Zarif, who is in the United States to attend a UN meeting on sustaining peace.
Zarif’s comments follow a warning earlier this week from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Washington would "regret" withdrawing from the nuclear deal, and that Iran would respond within a week if it did.
Zarif said the European leaders must press Trump to stick to the deal if the United States "intends to maintain any credibility in the international community" and to abide by it, "rather than demand more."
The foreign minister also warned against offering any concessions to Trump.
"To try to appease the president, I think, would be an exercise in futility," he said.
If the United States buries the deal, Iran is unlikely to stick to the agreement alongside the other signatories – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, said the foreign minister.
"That's highly unlikely," he said. "It is important for Iran to receive the benefits of the agreement and there is no way that Iran would do a one-sided implementation of the agreement."
European diplomats have argued that the deal could be salvaged without the United States, with a view to bringing Washington back in the fold at a later time, possibly under a new administration.
"The United States under the Trump administration has done everything it could to prevent Iran from benefiting from this agreement," Zarif charged.
The foreign minister warned of "drastic measures" under discussion in Iran.
Zarif declined to specify, pointing to "what certain members of our Parliament are saying about Iran's options."
Despite the threats of a tough response to a US pullout, Zarif also left open the possibility of diplomatic action during a 45-day period to formally notify the withdrawal.
"Whether other things can be done during those 45 days ... is a hypothetical question that needs to be addressed at that time," said Zarif.
A decision by Trump to walk away, he warned, would send a message to all governments "that you should never come to an agreement with the United States, because at the end of the day, the operating principle for the United States is, what's mine is mine, what's yours is negotiable."
Change of attitude
Also speaking with CBS News, Zarif said Iran is open to prisoner swap negotiations with the US if the Trump administration shows a "change of attitude."
Negotiations are a "possibility certainly from a humanitarian perspective, but it requires a change of attitude," Zarif said in an interview with CBS television's "Face the Nation" aired on Sunday.
Zarif blasted the US administration for showing "disrespect" toward Iran.
"You do not engage in negotiations by exercising disrespect for a country, for its people, for its government, by openly making claims, including this illusion about regime change," Zarif said.
In January 2016, after months of secret talks between senior Iranian and US officials during Barack Obama's administration, Tehran released four Americans in exchange for seven Iranians being released in the United States.
A fifth American, identified as Matthew Trevithick, was also released separately as an "associated goodwill gesture."