Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country would be announcing a new step in scaling back its nuclear commitments by Thursday despite a diplomatic push for relief from US sanctions.
“I don’t think that… we will reach a deal, so we’ll take the third step and we will announce the details today or tomorrow,” Rouhani was quoted by the presidency website as saying on Wednesday. “Iran’s third step is of an extraordinarily significant nature.”
Iran and three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — have been engaged in talks to save a landmark 2015 agreement that has been unraveling since the US withdrew from it in May last year.
The efforts have been led by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been trying to convince the US to offer Iran some sort of relief from sanctions it has reimposed since its pullout.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Rouhani said the two sides were getting closer to an agreement on a way to resolve burning issues.
“If we had 20 issues of disagreement with the Europeans in the past, today there are three issues,” the Iranian president said. “Most of them have been resolved but we haven’t reached a final agreement.”
Both Rouhani and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi expressed doubts Wednesday that Europe would succeed in salvaging the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The US sanctions have curbed Iran’s oil exports and sent its economy into freefall while what was left of the deal steadily unraveled.
At the same time, tensions spiked across the Persian Gulf over mysterious tanker explosions, the shooting down of a US military surveillance drone by Iran and America deploying more troops and warplanes to the region.
Under the nuclear agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But since Trump’s pullout, Iran has already taken steps contrary to the terms of the deal, although it insisted they remained within the framework of the pact.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the deal. The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5 percent, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal but still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.
This week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Moscow while Araghchi went to Paris and elsewhere in Europe to press for a solution that would give Iran relief from sanctions while deescalating the tensions.
Little seems to have come of those trips.
“I see that it’s unlikely a conclusion will be reached with Europe today or tomorrow,” Rouhani said.
Araghchi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying “it is unlikely European countries can take an effective step” before the deadline.
Meanwhile, the idea of a phased credit line to pre-purchase Iranian oil has been floated amid the diplomatic efforts, something Araghchi reiterated.
Europe, he said, needs to compensate Iran in the “amount of $15 billion over a 4-month span” and “after that, Iran is ready for talks.”
Rouhani indicated that after Friday’s deadline expires and Iran takes the next step, another two-month deadline to Europe will follow with the aim of resuming talks.
“They know what we want, and we know what they want,” Rouhani said.