Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

France makes proposal to bring Iran to negotiating table

The Iranian government has said they will work on the proposal

French President Emmanuel Macron has made a proposal to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and Iran says it’s ready to hear Paris out. AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron has made a proposal to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and Iran says it’s ready to hear Paris out. AFP

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said he would meet Iranian officials ahead of this weekend's G7 summit and make proposals aimed at de-escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation since United States President Donald Trump pulled his country out of Iran's nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

Iran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.

With the accord on the brink of collapse, Mr Macron said he wanted the summit to yield a clearer strategy on how to avoid a further deterioration in the region.

"In the coming hours before the G7, I will have meetings with the Iranians and propose ideas," Mr Macron told reporters.

Leaders from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU will attend the Group of Seven meeting in the southwestern French resort of Biarritz.

With punishing US sanctions squeezing its economy, Iran is demanding that European powers that are party to the nuclear accord – France, Britain and Germany – do more to protect the financial gains Tehran stood to make under the accord.

"We have made proposals either for a softening of sanctions or a compensation mechanism to enable the Iranian people to live better," Mr Macron said, without giving more details.

Then Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javid Zarif on Thursday said he was prepared to work on French proposals to salvage the deal.

"There are proposals on the table, both from the French and the Iranian side, and we are going to work on those proposals tomorrow," he said at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

Mr Zarif added: "I'm looking forward to having a serious conversation with President Macron about possibilities to move forward."

He had said on Monday he would meet Mr Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris on Friday.

The US has made no indication it will ease any sanctions and it was unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Mr Macron has proposed.

Mr Macron said that in return he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations that would include its ballistic missile programme and regional activities.

"We shall see what the response from the Iranians is in the hours ahead," Mr Macron said. "And we shall see how the Americans are ready to move forward."

Mr Trump's argument for pulling Washington out of the nuclear accord last year was that it did not go far enough to rein in Iran.

Two French diplomats said a joint meeting was likely, but that it had not been made public due to the sensitivity of the Iran issue.

Meanwhile, Iran again renewed threats against international shipping in the Gulf region if they are prevented from exporting oil by US sanctions, with President Hassan Rouhani warning America against raising the pressure on Tehran.

Wednesday’s warning came as Mr Zarif said Iran could act “unpredictably” in response to any “unpredictable” US policies put forward by Mr Trump.

"World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran's oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can't have the same security as before," Mr Rouhani said while meeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Khamenei's official website.

"So unilateral pressure against Iran can't be to their advantage and won't guarantee their security in the region and the world."

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the Trump administration last year quit the 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and began to ratchet up sanctions. Tehran has denounced the new penalties as "economic warfare".

In a speech at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Mr Zarif appeared to echo Mr Rouhani's tone.

"Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos. President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable. Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability and unpredictability is chaotic," he said.

Mr Zarif also addressed the United States' efforts to create a security operation, which so far Britain, Australia and Bahrain have joined, to guard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

"It's clear that the US' intention... [of having a] naval presence in the… Gulf is to counter Iran… Don't expect us to remain quiet when somebody comes to our waters and threatens us," he said.

Global commodity trading has been rocked in recent months after a series of attacks on international merchant vessels, which the United States has blamed on Iran, and an Iranian seizure of a British oil tanker. Tehran has denied accusations that it was behind attacks on six tankers in May and June.

Washington, which has by far the strongest Western naval contingent in the Gulf, has been calling for its allies to join it in an operation to guard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital gateway for the world’s oil industry.

Erik Hanell, the owner of the British-flagged tanker detained by Iran while entering the Gulf, met Mr Zarif in Stockholm on August 20 to make the case for the ship and its crew to be freed.

The Stena Impero was diverted to an Iranian port on July 19, two weeks after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. That ship was released this week.

"A constructive dialogue was had and we shared information around the case," Mr Hanell, chief executive of Stena Bulk, said in a statement on Wednesday. "It was important for us to emphasise the importance of the release of the 23 crew...Also for the release of the Swedish-owned vessel Stena Impero."

Meanwhile, President Rouhani attended an unveiling ceremony on Thursday for the mobile Bavar-373 system, a domestically built long-range, surface-to-air missile air defence system.

"With this long-range air defence system, we can detect... targets or planes at more than 300 km, lock it at about 250 km, and destroy it at 200 km," Defence Minister Amir Hatami told state television.

Tehran shot down a US military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile in June. It says the drone was over its territory, but Washington says it was in international airspace.

The event took place on Iran's National Defence Industry Day. Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing many weapons.

Western military analysts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its long-range ballistic missile program contributed to Washington last year leaving the nuclear deal.

Updated: August 22, 2019 04:15 PM

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