Le Drian: ‘Still lots to work out’ to save Iran nuclear deal
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks on the credit arrangement, which would be guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues, were continuing, but US approval would be crucial.
The idea is "to exchange a credit line guaranteed by oil in return for, one, a return to the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal)...and two, security in the Persian Gulf and the opening of negotiations on regional security and a post-2025 (nuclear program)," Le Drian told reporters in Paris. "All this (pre)supposes that President Trump issues waivers."
European leaders have struggled to dampen brewing confrontation between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, which assures Iran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them sharply this year. Iran has responded by dropping some of the limits on nuclear material in the deal, and has set a deadline for this week to take further steps.
‘Still lots to work out’
Le Drian said that several issues were still hindering the French-led bid to save the landmark 2015 accord.
“There is still lots to work out, it’s still very fragile,” Le Drian said of the talks between Tehran and three European countries — France, Britain and Germany — to keep the nuclear deal alive after Trump pulled out of it.
Trump surprised many at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, last month by saying he would be prepared to meet his Iranian counterpart.
That came after the summit host, President Emmanuel Macron, invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend the talks, though he did not meet with Trump directly.
“The president sensed that President Trump was open to softening the strategy of maximum pressure, to find a path that could allow a deal to be reached,” Le Drian said.
He said talks were now focused on the possible guaranteed credit line for Tehran in exchange for oil and in exchange for Iran promising to adhere to the terms of the 2015 deal.
Tehran would also have to commit to easing geopolitical tensions in the Persian Gulf region, and participate in Middle East talks on improving regional security, Le Drian said.
“That all supposes of course that President Trump allows waivers on some points” of the new US sanctions on Iran, he added.
Macron has spent the summer trying to create conditions that would bring the sides back to the negotiating table.
An Iranian delegation was in Paris on Monday, including oil and finance officials, for talks to fine-tune details of credit lines that would give Iran some respite from sanctions that have crippled its economy and cut off its oil exports.
"The question is to know whether we can reach this ($15 billion) level, secondly who will finance it, and thirdly we need to get at the very least the tacit approval of the United States. We still don’t know what the US position is,” said a source aware of the negotiations.
A senior Iranian official familiar with the negotiations said: "France has offered the credit line of $15 billion but we are still discussing it. It should be guaranteed that we will have access to this amount freely and also Iran should be able to sell its oil and have access to its (own) money."
"President Macron is trying hard to resolve the issue and help save the deal … and we have overcome some issues and narrowed gaps but still there are remaining issues."
A second Iranian official said: "Although the EU and particularly France have goodwill, they should convince the US to cooperate with them … If not, Iran is very serious about decreasing its nuclear commitments. There is no logic to respect the deal, if it has no benefits for us."
A European diplomatic source confirmed the $15 billion figure.
Le Maire in Washington
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire flew to Washington on Tuesday in part to discuss the credit mechanism. One diplomat said that might be when the United States gives its response to French proposals.
Iran says it aims to keep the 2015 deal alive, but cannot abide by it indefinitely unless the European countries that signed it ensure it receives the promised economic dividends.
Tehran has called on the Europeans to accelerate their efforts to alleviate the impact of US sanctions.
The first source said talks for now did not go into how the credit lines would be repaid, although it would require Iranian oil exports to resume eventually. Certain countries were discussing with France possible involvement in such a mechanism.
"Importing the oil at some point is essential, but we need to have the agreement of the Americans. We are trying to persuade them (the Iranians) not to do more (reductions in commitment to the nuclear deal), but it's not the end of the story for the mechanism if they do," the source said, adding that for now Iranian backtracking was reversible.
Iran has asked for $3 billion a month to extend the proposals beyond the end of this year, the source said.
Macron has said that as a condition of any credits, Iran must return fully to the terms of the nuclear deal and open a negotiation on those other issues. French officials declined to comment on the details of the plan.
"It’s extremely sensitive and we don’t want the opponents of this idea to make it fail. It’s extremely volatile,” said a French diplomatic source.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.