France, Britain aim to show unity on Iran as G7 looms
BIARRITZ - France and Britain aimed on Friday to present a united front on how to deal with Iran, where they have been at odds with the United States, as world powers prepare to discuss tensions on the issue during the G7 leaders' summit.
European states have been scrambling to save a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord last year and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran that have crippled its economy.
Trump is due to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the G7 in southwest France, as Britain's exit from the European Union nears and London's European allies watch to see how the Trump-Johnson dynamic plays out.
They are also looking to see if there is any change of course from Britain, notably on Iran.
"We are strong supporters of the JCPOA (Iran deal)," said a British diplomatic source in Biarritz. "We think that it is very important that Iran doesn't get the nuclear weapons ... It is important that it continues and I don't think you will find any change in the British government position."
The source said it was critical that Iran complies fully with the accord, but that while Johnson would listen to the US position there would not be a radical change in approach.
"If the US president has other ideas on how we can achieve that (Iran not getting nuclear weapons), we are very happy to talk about it," the source said.
'The right direction'
European powers party to the deal - France, Britain and Germany, known as the E3 - have remained united despite pressure from Washington, with Paris leading efforts to defuse tensions as Iran gradually reduces some of its commitments to the accord.
"Great Britain is sticking to its classic European choices ... be it in climate, biodiversity, Iran or defence," said a French official in Biarritz. "It's important to keep the E3 together on Iran."
French President Emmanuel Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday in a closed-door session with the aim of discussing proposals that could ease the crisis, including the idea of reducing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.
Zarif said the talks had been productive and "went in the right direction", but more work needed to be done.
"France presented some suggestions and we presented some suggestions about how to carry out (the nuclear deal) and the steps that both sides need to take," Zarif was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.
"Of course it depends on how the European Union can carry out the commitments within (the nuclear deal) and also the commitments that they made after (the nuclear deal) and America's exit," Zarif said.
Macron is due to discuss his proposals with Trump at the weekend. The talks with Zarif came one day before Macron begins hosting world leaders for the G7 summit, and the Iranian nuclear programme is set to be a central issue.
Tensions over Iran's nuclear programme have spiralled in the last months after Tehran ramped up its atomic activities in response to the abrupt US pullout from the nuclear deal.
Iran wants to see greater relief from the sanctions that are increasingly biting its economy, and, according to Zarif, are causing the Iranian people "tremendous stress".
'US doesn't hold all cards'
Zarif reaffirmed that if Tehran believed Europe could begin to fulfil its side of the bargain on the nuclear deal, Iran could then reverse the measures it took to ramp up its nuclear programme.
"Once Europe starts implementing its commitments, Iran will also be prepared to reverse the steps that it has taken," Zarif said.
Pressed on what the suggestions involved, Zarif did not give specifics but said Europe needed to find ways to ease the situation for Iran even with the US no longer part of the deal.
"We are searching for ways Europe can in fact implement its commitments so that we can reverse the steps we have taken," he said.
"For us, what is important is to be able to continue to conduct business with the European Union," he said.
What is being discussed is how this can be done "with or without the US", he added.
In a message to Europe, Zarif said that it was possible to solve the issue even without the involvement of the United States in the nuclear deal.
"I do not think the US holds all the cards. If Europe and the international community decide to do so, they can in fact take measures required to sustain the deal," he said.
The 2015 nuclear deal was seen as a signature foreign policy achievement of president Barack Obama and a landmark moment in ties between United States and Iran, after relations were severed in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the pro-West Shah.
But Trump never hid his dislike of the deal and walked out of it in 2015, to the dismay of Washington's European allies.