A French envoy was due in Tehran on Tuesday to boost European efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, after Iran warned Europe against retaliatory measures for breaching a uranium enrichment cap.
The accord between Tehran and world powers promised sanctions relief, economic benefits and an end to international isolation of the Islamic republic in return for stringent curbs on its nuclear programme.
But Tehran says it has lost patience with perceived inaction by European countries more than a year after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the landmark agreement.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tasked with inspections, while Iran consistently lived up to its commitments under the deal until recently it is now in breach of two of them.
French President Emmanuel Macron sent his top diplomatic advisor to Tehran after Iran announced on Monday it had passed 4.5 percent uranium enrichment — above the 3.7 percent limit under the agreement.
Emmanuel Bonne is due to visit until Wednesday but details of his schedule were unclear.
Bonne is « to piece together a deescalation » strategy, the French presidency’s office said.
The 2015 deal had been described as a triumph of diplomacy against unilateralism and a major step to counter proliferation.
But after the US withdrew in May 2018 and reimposed stinging sanctions on Iran, especially on its banking and oil sectors, the future of the accord became uncertain.
As the Iranian economy went into free-fall, Tehran demanded that the other parties to the deal, especially France, Germany and Britain, deliver the promised economic benefits and help it bypass US sanctions.
– Rising tensions –
However, it gradually became clear that this was no simple task, and Iran — whose economy is heavily dependant on oil sales — changed tack and said it would reshape its policy of « strategic patience ».
In May, a year after Trump’s withdrawal, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would roll back its commitments under the deal in stages every 60 days in an effort to force the other parties to deliver on their side of the bargain.
As tensions rose the United States dispatched a naval carrier, bombers and extra troops to the region to counter perceived threats from Iran.
Last month Trump said he had called off a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic republic at the last minute after Tehran shot down a US drone that it said had crossed into its airspace, a claim denied by Washington.
The IAEA confirmed on Monday that Iran had enriched uranium to a level above the deal’s cap of 3.67 percent, though the 4.5-percent level reported by Tehran is still far below the 90 percent necessary for military purposes.
The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed this month that Iran has exceeded a 300-kilogramme limit on enriched uranium reserves, another cap that was imposed by the deal.
– ‘US, Europe deceiving us’ –
Macron on Saturday held an hour-long conversation with Rouhani in which he said he wanted to « explore the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties ».
He suggested that be done by July 15.
On Monday the White House confirmed that Macron and Trump had talked about the standoff.
The two leaders « discussed ongoing efforts to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and to end Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the Middle East, » the White House said in a statement.
While immensely popular to begin with, the nuclear deal has now lost some of its appeal among supporters in Iran.
« The US and the European countries are deceiving us… We wasted six years investing in our relationship with Europe, » Majidi, a salesman in Tehran, adding that the best option now is to pull out of the deal immediately.