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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Iran rejects France's call to curb missile programme

French foreign minister visits Tehran as European governments attempt to avert US withdrawal from nuclear accord

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif greets his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Tehran on March 5, 2018. Tasnim News Agency via Reuters
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif greets his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Tehran on March 5, 2018. Tasnim News Agency via Reuters

Iran rebuffed French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian's calls to curb its missile programme on Monday after a day of tense discussions in Tehran aimed at salvaging its historic nuclear deal.

Mr Le Drian said there was "still a lot of work to do" on Iran's missile programme after meeting with top officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Mr Zarif countered that Europe needed to "play a more constructive role to preserve" the nuclear deal.

"And above all to put pressure on the United States to meet its commitments under the deal and not to allow it to present illogical and illegal demands," Mr Zarif said.

The visit comes in the midst of a scramble by European governments to salvage the 2015 deal after US President Donald Trump threatened he would abandon it unless tough new restrictions were placed on Iran before May 12.

Mr Trump set the 120-day deadline in January for the US congress and European allies to "fix" the nuclear deal, removing "sunset clauses" that mean it expires in 2026 and reining in Iran's missile programme and regional activities.

Iran has refused any re-negotiation or additional clauses, arguing that the US has already failed to keep up its end of the bargain on the existing accord.

Mr Rouhani issued a statement after meeting Mr Le Drian, saying: "Preserving the nuclear accord will prove to the world that negotiation and diplomacy are the best option for solving problems, while its collapse will signify that political negotiations are a waste of time."

Mr Le Drian has insisted he is not "an emissary of Trump", but he has taken a firm line on Iran's missile programme and regional interventions that mirrors the rhetoric from Washington.

"There are programmes for missiles with ranges of several thousand kilometres which are not in line with UN Security Council resolutions and go beyond what is needed to secure Iran's borders," the minister told Le Journal du Dimanche on the eve of his visit.

He said Iran was risking fresh sanctions if it did not curb its missile programme, which is currently limited to 2,000 kilometres.

Despite Mr Le Drian's tough talk on missiles, France remains firmly behind the nuclear agreement.

"We want to preserve the nuclear deal because it is working, it's robust and because the Iranians are respecting it," his team said ahead of the visit.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly found Iran is abiding by its commitments, which curbs its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said on Monday that losing the nuclear deal "would be a great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism".

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