French PM: Israel, Saudis must be involved in new talks on Iran nuclear deal

US National Security Council said set to hold urgent meeting on Tehran’s nuclear program, as Macron offers to be ‘honest broker’ in negotiations

By TOI STAFFToday, 11:40 am  1

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on February 4, 2021 (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on February 4, 2021 (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron offered Thursday night to be an “honest broker” in talks between the United States and Iran in order to revive the 2015 nuclear accord.

“I will do whatever I can to support any initiative from the US side to re-engage in a demanding dialogue, and I will… try to be an honest broker and a committed broker in this dialogue,” Macron told the Atlantic Council think-tank.

Former US president Donald Trump took the US out of the accord in 2018 and hit Iran with numerous sanctions, and it has since largely collapsed, with Tehran returning to enriching uranium to degrees and amounts beyond the caps set by the deal. The French leader tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to persuade Trump to respect the 2015 pact.

Macron argued in favor of new negotiations with Iran that would also place limits on the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile program. and which would include Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The latter countries were fiercely opposed to the 2015 deal and supported Trump’s decision to pull the United States out.

Iran has said repeatedly it will not agree to any new negotiations.

“We have to find a way to involve in these discussions Saudi Arabia and Israel because they are some of the key partners of the region directly interested by the outcomes with our other friends of the region,” Macron said.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu (right) hosts French President Emmanuel Macron at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020 (Koby Gideon/GPO)

It was unclear whether Macron’s offer to be a “broker” would be welcomed in Washington.

The US National Security Council will hold an urgent meeting Friday on Iran’s nuclear program, according to an Axios report, as the administration of US President Joe Biden considers how to engage with Tehran in an effort to return to the deal.

Axios said a central issue under debate will be whether to move quickly to return to the accord, or to wait until after the Iranian presidential election in June.

Meanwhile, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Thursday the US is “actively engaged” in consultations with its European allies, particularly Germany, the UK, and France, to “produce a unified front when it comes to our strategy towards Iran and towards dealing with diplomacy around the nuclear file.”

According to Reuters, the foreign ministers of the US, UK, France and Germany are expected to discuss the Iran deal in the coming days.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested in an interview this week that the European Union could help “synchronize” actions by both sides in order to build trust and revive the deal.US National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Iran insists that the US drop new sanctions imposed by Trump before it returns to the deal, but the new Biden administration has said Tehran should respect the terms of the 2015 deal before it will act.

Zarif’s suggestion to involve the EU received a cool reception in Washington, where a State Department spokesman reiterated US demands on Tuesday.

On Tuesday US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington and Tehran were “a long way” from a return to the deal.

Price said US President Joe Biden has been “very clear” that “if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the [deal], the United States would do the same, and we would then use that as a platform to build a longer and a stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.

“Of course, though, we are a long way from that.”

Price said the first steps for Washington were “consulting with our allies, consulting with our partners, consulting with Congress before we’re reaching the point where we’re going to engage directly with the Iranians and willing to entertain any sort of proposal.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Caracas, Venezuela, November 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

He added: “We haven’t… had any discussions with the Iranians, and I wouldn’t expect we would until those initial steps go forward.”

Last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5% permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.

The United Nations’ nuclear agency said Iran has continued to ramp up its nuclear program in recent weeks by further enriching uranium and installing new centrifuges at its underground Natanz plant, according to a Tuesday report.

Iran insists it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Iran was currently months away from being able to produce enough material to build a nuclear weapon. And, he said, that timeframe could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if Tehran further violates restrictions it agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Biden administration officials have indicated that Israel will be involved in its decision-making process regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

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