Iran will return to nuclear deal only under oil credit line, says official
Updated 18:19, 04-Sep-2019

A senior Iranian official confirmed on Wednesday that Tehran would return to its nuclear deal commitment only if it got 15 billion U.S. dollars for oil sales over four months, as stipulated in a draft French plan to salvage the accord, the Fars News Agency said. 

France has proposed offering Iran about 15 billion U.S. dollars in credit lines until year-end if Tehran comes fully back into compliance with its 2015 nuclear deal, a move that hinges on Washington not blocking it. 

"Our return to the full implementation of the nuclear accord is subject to the receipt of 15 billion U.S. dollars over a four-month period, otherwise the process of reducing Iran's commitments will continue," Fars quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi as saying.

"Either Europe has to buy oil from Iran or provide Iran with the equivalent of selling oil as a credit line guaranteed by Iran's oil revenues, which in some sense means a pre-sale of oil," Araqchi said.

There were still "serious disagreements on the agenda" of any future talks between Iran and its nuclear deal partners, he said.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi (R) and Secretary General of the European External Action Service Helga Schmit (L) attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi (R) and Secretary General of the European External Action Service Helga Schmit (L) attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2019. /Reuters Photo

France pushes 15 billion U.S. dollar credit line plan for Iran, if U.S. allows it

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said talks on the credit arrangement, which would be guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues, were continuing, but U.S. approval would be crucial.

The idea is "to exchange a credit line guaranteed by oil in return for, one, a return to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) ...and two, security in the Gulf and the opening of negotiations on regional security and a post-2025 (nuclear program)," Le Drian told reporters. 

"All this supposes that President Trump issues waivers."

European leaders have struggled to dampen brewing confrontation between Tehran and Washington since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, which assures Iran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them sharply this year, causing Iran’s vital oil sales to plummet. 

Iran has responded by breaching some of the limits on nuclear material in the deal and has set a deadline for Thursday to scale back its nuclear commitments further unless the Europeans keep their promises to salvage the deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 22, 2019. /Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 22, 2019. /Reuters

'Maximum pressure'

For the U.S. to permit a credit line for Iran would contradict its stated policy of imposing "maximum pressure" to force Tehran to rein in its nuclear and missile programs as well as what Washington views as its destabilizing regional behavior.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman referred queries about France's proposal to the White House, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

French President Emmanuel Macron has spent the summer trying to create conditions that would bring the sides back to the negotiating table. At a G7 meeting in France last month, Trump appeared open to the idea of credit lines, though U.S. officials later ruled out lifting sanctions as a condition for new talks.

An Iranian delegation that included oil and finance officials was in Paris on Monday for talks to fine-tune details of credit lines that would give Iran some respite from sanctions that have crippled its economy and cut off its oil exports.

"The question is to know whether we can reach this (15 billion U.S. dollar) level, secondly who will finance it, and thirdly we need to get at the very least the tacit approval of the United States. We still don't know what the U.S. position is," said a source aware of the negotiations.

A senior Iranian official familiar with the negotiations said, "France has offered the credit line of 15 billion U.S. dollars but we are still discussing it. It should be guaranteed that we will have access to this amount freely and also Iran should be able to sell its oil and have access to its (own) money."

A second Iranian official said, "Although the EU and particularly France have goodwill, they should convince the U.S. to cooperate with them ... If not, Iran is very serious about decreasing its nuclear commitments. There is no logic to respect the (2015) deal, if it has no benefits for us."

Le Maire Washington

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire met U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Washington on Tuesday, but a U.S. Treasury statement about the meeting made no mention of Iran.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would never hold bilateral talks with the United States, but said if all U.S. curbs imposed on Iran were lifted, Washington could join multilateral talks between Tehran and the other parties to the 2015 pact.

The Trump administration says the nuclear deal is deficient, as many of its terms expire after a decade, and it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support of proxy forces around the Middle East.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on Tuesday that Iran was capable of resuming enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity within two days. Purity of 20 percent is considered an important intermediate stage on the road to producing the 90 percent pure fissile uranium needed for an atomic bomb.

Rouhani said,  "We will announce (cuts in commitments) which will accelerate the activities of Iran's nuclear programme," on Wednesday, adding that "the third step (in reducing Iran's commitments) will be the most important one and it will have extraordinary effects."

"I think it is unlikely that we will reach a result with Europe by today or tomorrow," Rouhani said. "Europe will have another two-month to fulfil its commitments," he said.

(With input from Reuters)