PARIS, France — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tuesday that several issues were still hindering a French-led bid to save a landmark 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program.
“There is still lots to work out, it’s still very fragile,” Le Drian told journalists in Paris regarding the talks between Tehran and three European countries — France, Britain and Germany — to keep the nuclear deal alive after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord last year.
Trump later reimposed harsh sanctions that have pummeled the Iranian economy, hoping a strategy of “maximum pressure” would force Tehran to accept a stricter accord to curtail its nuclear ambitions.
But 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 of Macron.
He said talks were now focused on a possible guaranteed credit line for Tehran, in exchange for oil and for Iran promising to adhere to the terms of the 2015 deal.
Tehran would also have to commit to easing geopolitical tensions in the 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.
Earlier Tuesday, The New York Times and Iranian media reported that France has offered to extend a $15 billion letter of credit to Iran in exchange for the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the nuclear deal.
The $15 billion package would make up for about half of Iran’s annual oil sales, the report said, and ease some of the economic pressure on it.
Also Tuesday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani ruled out holding any bilateral talks with the United States, and warned that Iran would stop complying with other elements of the 2015 accord if the talks with European nations yield no results by Thursday.
As part of their efforts to keep the nuclear deal alive, France, Germany and Britain have set up a mechanism called INSTEX that would allow continued trade with Iran despite the US sanctions, but it has yet to yield results.
“We have to finish the work on INSTEX… normally it should work,” Le Drian said.
The subject could be on the table when French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire meets his US counterpart Steven Mnuchin in Washington on Tuesday.
Macron and Rouhani have held a series of phone calls in recent weeks aimed at salvaging the nuclear deal.