Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader.
Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, in which the Paris government would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has reimposed on Tehran for more than a year following Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018.
The plan put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions. A large portion of Iran’s economy relies on cash from oil sales.
Most of that money is frozen in bank accounts across the globe. The $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil. In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015.
Since May, Iran has rowed back on its nuclear commitments three times in compliance with articles 26 and 36 of the nuclear agreement.
The US president has hinted at an openness to considering Macron’s pitch for placating the Iranian government – a move intended to help bring the Iranians to the negotiating table and to rescue the nuclear agreement that Trump and his former national security adviser John Bolton worked so hard to torpedo.
At the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France last month, Trump told reporters that Iran might need a “short-term letter of credit or loan” that could “get them over a very rough patch.”
Zarif’s meeting in Biarritz
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made a surprise appearance at that meeting. To Robert Malley, who worked on Iran policy during the Obama administration, that visit indicated that “Trump must have signaled openness to Macron’s idea, otherwise Zarif would not have flown to Biarritz at the last minute.”
“Clearly, Trump responded to Macron in a way that gave the French president a reason to invite Zarif, and Zarif a reason to come,” he said.
The French proposal would require the Trump administration to issue waivers on Iranian sanctions. That would be a major departure from the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
Meanwhile, President Trump is also considering meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Trump has repeatedly indicated he is ready to meet with Rouhani.
The US president said on Friday that he believes that Iran's officials want to talk, adding to expectations that he is trying to arrange a summit with his Iranian counterpart at the upcoming UN assembly, according to AFP.
"I can tell you that Iran wants to meet," he told reporters at the White House.
However, the Iranians have so far not given a positive response.
“Warmongering don't work”
On Wednesday, Rouhani blasted the Trump administration, which has poured pressure on Iran, saying "the Americans must understand that bellicosity and warmongering don't work in their favor. Both... must be abandoned."
"Iran's policy of resistance will not change as long as our enemy continues to put pressure on Iran," President Rouhani said in televised remarks.
In a telephone call with his French counterpart Macron on Wednesday, Rouhani rejected as “meaningless” the notion that the Islamic Republic may hold talks with the US administration while the economic sanctions are in place.
The idea of a Trump-Rouhani meeting was floated last month by French president, who has been spearheading European efforts to de-escalate tensions.
Rouhani said in response that Iran was ready to comply with the nuclear deal only if the Americans did so too.
Arch-foes Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing sanctions against Iran.
Iran responded by scaling back its commitments to the accord, which gave it the promise of sanctions relief in return for limits on its nuclear program.
However, some analysts see hope for more compromise following this week's exit of Trump's hardline national security adviser John Bolton, who in the past has called for the use of military force and regime change.
Bolton's departure came just days after Iran announced it had fired up centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles in another step back from the deal.
Daily Beast, AFP and IRNA contributed to this story.