France on Monday urged the European Union to levy a new raft of sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program as well as its actions in Syria, in an effort to stop the US from exiting the nuclear deal with Tehran.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian insisted that his country was determined to keep the 2015 nuclear deal, signed in Vienna, intact. However, he told reporters that there were other issues not covered in that accord which had to be dealt with.
“We are totally determined to make sure that the Vienna deal is respected. And we must act with strength to achieve that,” he told reporters. “But at the same time, we can’t exclude the Iranian responsibility in the missile proliferation and the very questionable role of Iran in the whole Middle-East region.”
US President Donald Trump said in January that the deal between Iran and major powers must be “fixed” by May 12 or the United States will walk away, likely ending the accord. The comments came as he European signatories to the deal reportedly mulled a proposal to stiffen penalties on the Islamic Republic.
The comments by Le Drian, who met with Iranian officials in Tehran earlier this month, were slammed by Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi.
“The French foreign minister’s comments over the missile issues are, unfortunately, a repetition of the improper words of the past,” he said, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News site. “His recent statements about the Islamic Republic of Iran are not comprehensible and to a large extent seem be odd and illogical after his visit to Tehran.”
According to a confidential document circulated to EU members and obtained by Reuters Thursday, Germany, the UK and France suggested that the European Union impose new sanctions on Iran.
The three, all signatories to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, were checking whether the other countries would agree to such actions targeting certain “militias and commanders” in a bid to save the deal from collapse.
“We will…be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles” in the missile program and the Syrian civil war, the document said, according to Reuters.
It spoke of “intensive talks” with Washington to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of US support for the agreement beyond May 12.”
On Sunday, Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most influential Republicans, predicted that Trump will not extend the nuclear deal.
“I think the president likely will move away from it, unless our European counterparts really come together on a framework,” he said. “And it doesn’t feel to me that they are.”
Asked whether he thought the president would pull out of the Iran deal, Corker replied, “I do. I do.”
Corker’s remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told members of his cabinet a week ago that Trump would walk away from the deal in May, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.
The 2015 accord between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany curtailed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran, which according to the UN atomic watchdog has been abiding by the deal since it came into force in January 2016, has ruled out any changes to the agreement.
Talks in Vienna on Friday, a regular review of the accord, involved Iran and the six other signatories.
Trump’s decision this week to replace Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo as secretary of state has been widely seen as another bad omen for the agreement.
Tillerson and his erstwhile cabinet ally Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had urged Trump to listen to the Europeans to preserve the agreement.
Pompeo, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, is seen as taking a harder line on Iran and has railed against the deal since he was a Kansas congressman.
Agencies contributed to this report.