PARIS: Iran said Monday its views have been converging with those of France on ways to save a nuclear deal at risk of unravelling since the US withdrew last year.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei also suggested President Hassan Rouhani could meet US counterpart Donald Trump if it served Iran’s interests, while cautioning there was no need to meet an “agitator” in the current circumstances.
Rouhani has had a series of phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeks aimed at salvaging the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The French leader has been trying to convince the United States to offer Iran some sort of relief from sanctions it has imposed on the Islamic republic since pulling out of the deal in May last year.
“In the past few weeks, there have been serious negotiations” between Rouhani and Macron, as well as talks with other European nations, said Rabiei.
“Fortunately, in many areas, our views have come closer together,” the government spokesman told a news conference.
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear accord and began reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran.
– ‘Useful initiative’-
The arch-foes were on the cusp of confrontation in June when Tehran downed a US drone and Trump ordered retaliatory strikes on Iran before cancelling them at the last minute.
The situation has calmed down somewhat since, with Macron expressing hopes during a G7 summit in late August of organising a meeting between Rouhani and Trump.
A French foreign ministry spokeswoman indicated Monday that, underpinning Macron’s efforts to make progress on the issue, including at last week’s G7 summit in France, “discussions are continuing with Iran on reaching a de-escalation of tensions.
“A meeting is taking place to this end in Paris today between French and Iranian experts,” she added without giving further details.
The Iranian delegation was due to be headed by deputy foreign-minister and top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi.
Also Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov joined visiting Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in welcoming French efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal while criticising Washington’s stance.
“We are hoping that this useful initiative of the French president will bear fruit,” Lavrov told reporters.
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Rouhani has played down the likelihood of a meeting, saying the Americans first needed to lift all sanctions against Iran.
But his government’s spokesman hinted on Monday that such a meeting could still happen if it suited Iran’s interests.
“The president (Rouhani) still holds the same position that because of national interests, if he’s sure that meeting someone will help our people, he will not hold back,” Rabiei said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
“In my opinion, the US president’s goal for meeting Iran’s president is one thing and ours is another. The US president’s goal is more for domestic reasons, while we aim to return to what is our right and has been neglected.”
He cautioned that “there is no reason for the president to meet an agitator and an economic terrorist in the current situation”, according to IRNA.
Iran has hit back with countermeasures in response to the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, which gave it relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its atomic programme.
It has been threatening to take a third step in reducing its commitments to the deal, reportedly on Friday, after already increasing its uranium enrichment and stockpile.
A conservative Iranian lawmaker said Macron had proposed offering Iran a $15-billion line of credit on condition it returns to the fold.
“Macron has proposed Iran stop its third step for now in exchange for this sum, and maybe retreat from its first and second steps to the initial situation,” said Ali Motahari, quoted late Sunday by Tasnim news agency.