European powers say they are nearing plan to save Iran nuclear pact

Chief US negotiator says some progress made as Washington seeks ‘supplemental’ deal

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said he had heard details about the European-US proposals only from media reports. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said he had heard details about the European-US proposals only from media reports. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

 

Western envoys said on Wednesday that Britain, Germany and France were nearing a package to put to US president Donald Trump to try to persuade him to save the Iran nuclear agreement, even as Tehran scorned the US leader as a “tradesman”.

Mr Trump has described the 2015 pact, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions, as the worst deal ever negotiated and has threatened to wreck it by reimposing US sanctions next month.

Brian Hook, the chief US negotiator with the three European nations who are seeking a way to keep the United States in the deal, told National Public Radio in Washington: “We’re not there yet, but we’ve made some progress.”

Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France, who all struck the accord with Iran and the US, see the deal as the best way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

Western envoys said three months of meetings were culminating in a package of separate measures that could be taken against Tehran in the hope they would satisfy Mr Trump while keeping the deal intact. “This is about convincing President Trump, it’s not a new deal with Iran,” a senior European Union diplomat said.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s intelligence minister, Israel Katz, said a prospective US-European deal on Iran’s nuclear programme might make Mr Trump stay his hand. Mr Katz did not say whether Israel backed a separate arrangement put forward by French president Emmanuel Macron in talks with Mr Trump on Tuesday.

Israel has in the past called for the deal, which was signed in Vienna and is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to be “fixed or nixed”.

Supplemental agreement

In Geneva, a US nonproliferation official, Christopher Ford, told reporters: “We are not aiming to renegotiate the JCPOA or reopen it or change its terms,” but Washington wants a “supplemental agreement” to bring in further rules, terms and restrictions.

Britain, France and Germany do not want any renegotiation of the accord. They are trying to draw up separate measures agreed between Europe and the United States to address areas not dealt with by the deal, mainly Tehran’s support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and containment of Iran’s ballistic missiles programme. That could include new EU sanctions on Iran, diplomats said.

The new measures could include ways to increase the time it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon in the future, although that issue is proving the most difficult, diplomats say.

Two European diplomats said the plan was broadly in line with stronger measures to contain Iran that Mr Macron discussed with Mr Trump during a visit to the White House on Tuesday.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani earlier told a live television audience that foreign powers had no authority to tinker with the nuclear deal, and questioned Mr Trump’s qualifications to question such a complex international agreement.

“They say that with the certain leader of a European country we want to make a decision about a seven-sided agreement,” Mr Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television. “For what? With what right?” he added.

Scorn

He reserved particular scorn for Mr Trump, who informed European powers on January 12th that they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” or he would refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran.

The US sanctions will resume unless Mr Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12th. “How can a tradesman, a merchant, a building constructor, a tower constructor make judgments about international affairs,” Rouhani said, referring to Trump’s career as a property developer.

Most European governments are behind the diplomatic effort to persuade Mr Trump. “We will continue to discuss the issue with the UK and France, but also with the US,” Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said in Brussels. “The Vienna nuclear agreement is very important and we want to uphold it. We want to help along a situation where the US stays in the agreement beyond May 12th,” he said.

Mr Rouhani said he had heard details about the European-US proposals only from media reports but had discussed the issue with Mr Macron. “I have personally spoken with Mr Macron a few times by telephone and one time extensively in person,” Mr Rouhani said. “I told him frankly that not a single sentence will be added or subtracted from the nuclear deal. The deal is the deal.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel will hold talks with Mr Trump in Washington on Friday. – Reuters