French president’s top adviser in Tehran in bid to save nuclear deal

Official to try to deescalate rising tensions after Macron and Rouhani agreed on July 15 deadline to solve current impasse

France's President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)
France's President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser is spending two days in Tehran as part of an urgent bid to deescalate rising tensions with Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers, an official said Tuesday.

An Elysee Palace official said that adviser Emmanuel Bonne left for Tehran on Tuesday, seeking ways to restart dialogue. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and asked for anonymity.

Macron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed in a weekend conversation to set a July 15 deadline to solve the current impasse, and ultimately save the 2015 nuclear accord that the US pulled out of last year.

Macron spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday — the day Iran began enriching uranium beyond the accord’s 3.67% limit, after breaking the limit on size of stockpiles.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, right, is accompanied by French Political adviser for North Africa, Middle East and United Nations Emmanuel Bonne, left, at the Elysee Palace, Jan. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency on July 8 “verified that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67 percent U-235,” the IAEA said in a statement, hours after Tehran said it had exceeded the agreed cap and reached 4.5% enrichment.

The Iranian violations of the 2015 agreement are to be the subject of an extraordinary meeting of the governors of the IAEA at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna on Wednesday.

Iran also said it would consider going to 20% enrichment or higher, rapidly bringing its program closer to weapons-grade levels.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Iran “was trying right now to cross the line… They are trying to signal through small steps that they will move towards a bomb… It will take them a few years if they want that, and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on July 7, 2019. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

Later Monday, he called for the international community to ratchet up pressure on Iran.

“They attack tankers, they down American drones, they’re firing missiles at their neighbors. It’s important to respond to these actions not by reducing the pressure, but by increasing the pressure,” he told Pastor John Hagee by video link at the Christians United For Israel Conference.

The future of the pact has been in doubt since Trump unilaterally exited a year ago, and reimposed the harsh sanctions that the deal had lifted.

While Iran’s recent measures to increase enrichment and break its low-enriched uranium stockpile limit could be easily reversed, Europe has struggled to respond, even after getting a 60-day warning that the increase was coming.

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

Under the nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment was set at 3.67%, a percentage closely monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. The IAEA said it was waiting for a report from its inspectors before commenting on Iran’s move.

The decision to ramp up uranium enrichment purity came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal’s 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile could begin to narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.

On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country remained open to diplomacy to save the agreement, though it had “no hope” that the international community could salvage the deal.

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