Iran on Saturday warned France to avoid “hasty and ill-considered positions,” after French President Emmanuel Macron was reported to say any new nuclear negotiations with Tehran would be “very strict,” and that only a very short time remains to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Macron told Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya TV in an interview that any talks should include the Saudis, a major regional foe of Iran. The French leader reportedly said it was important not to repeat the “mistake” of leaving other countries in the region out of the 2015 nuclear accord.
Macron’s comments were not aired but rather reported by Al Arabiya in Arabic.
“Negotiations with Iran will be very strict and it will be necessary to include our partners in the region in the nuclear agreement, including Saudi Arabia,” he was quoted saying.
He warned that “the time remaining to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is very short.”
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said in response that “The nuclear accord is a multilateral international agreement ratified by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which is non-negotiable and parties to it are clear and unchangeable.”
He cautioned Macron to “exercise restraint and refrain from hasty and ill-considered positions.”
He said that “The United States has withdrawn from this agreement and Europe has been unable to maintain it, and if there is a desire to revive and maintain the deal, the solution is simple: The United States will return to the accord and all sanctions will be removed.”
He also attacked France’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, saying “French weapons, along with other Western weapons, not only cause the massacre of thousands of Yemenis, but are also the main cause of instability in the Persian Gulf region.”
Former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal in 2018. Under the deal, Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development. Iranian state TV reported Thursday that Iran has exceeded 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium within a month, moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels.
US President Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal. But he has said Tehran must resume compliance first, a demand reiterated by new Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.
On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran’s recent nuclear activities do not mean that it is seeking to build an atomic bomb. Meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Zarif claimed Tehran does not view nuclear arms as a tool for security.
He once again stressed that Iran expects the US to return to the 2015 nuclear deal before it halts its increased enrichment activities and returns to compliance with the accord.
On Thursday, Iran said it plans to install 1,000 new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility within three months and that its scientists had exceeded previous goals for uranium enrichment.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made the announcement about the centrifuges while Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf visited the Fordo nuclear facility, an underground site near the city of Qom.
Natanz is Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plant. An explosion at the site last year, which foreign media reports have attributed to Israel or the US, damaged an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant.
Uranium enriched to 20% is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90% enrichment. Western nations have criticized Iran’s enrichment activity and called on Tehran to adhere to its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.
The Biden administration’s policy on Iran is expected to be a point of contention between the new US administration and Israel. Israeli officials have voiced strong objections to the US rejoining the nuclear deal, and have also issued threats against Iran in recent weeks.
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi issued a rare public criticism of the US plans on Tuesday and said that he had ordered the military to develop operational plans for striking Iran’s nuclear program. Defense Minister Benny Gantz later appeared to rebuke Kohavi for the comments.
Iran’s aggressive moves in recent months were believed to be partially aimed at increasing its leverage ahead of negotiations with Biden.
The Biden administration has pledged to consult with Israel and its other Middle East allies before making decisions regarding Iran.
Biden on Friday appointed Robert Malley, a veteran Middle East official, as his administration’s special envoy for Iran. Iran hawks are “aghast,” believing Malley to be a key architect of the 2015 deal, AP said without citing named sources.
These hawks are said to fear Biden “wants to rejoin the Iran deal at any cost and may be willing to sacrifice the security of Israel and the Gulf Arab states to do so,” AP reported. The hawks, it said, regard Malley as less than fully supportive of Israel.