France and Germany will increase their efforts to reduce tensions over Iran, but time was running out and the risk of war could not be ruled out, their foreign ministers say
“We want to unify our efforts so that there is a de-escalation process that starts,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Paris on Wednesday.
“There is still time and we hope all the actors show more calm. There is still time, but only a little time,” he said.
Britain, France and Germany, known as the E3, plan a new push to keep Iran in the 2015 nuclear deal despite Tehran’s threat to violate one of its central limits.
But they may be nearing the end of the diplomatic road they embarked on more than 15 years ago, diplomats told Reuters on Tuesday.
Iran says it would not give European powers any more time beyond July 8 to save its nuclear deal by shielding it from US sanctions.
A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Tehran was ready to follow through on its a threat to enrich uranium to a higher level if Europe did not step in, a move that would breach the terms of a nuclear pact with world powers.
Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.
Iran added that it would start enriching uranium at a higher level unless other European signatories to the deal protected its economy from the US sanctions within 60 days.
Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who attended the French cabinet meeting, said “the risk of war in the Gulf has not been averted”.
“We need to do everything so that it doesn’t come to this. That’s why we are talking to all sides. I was in Iran and we are also talking with the Americans. We need to de-escalate through dialogue. It is a time of ‘diplomacy first’ and that’s what we are committed to.”
The E3 countries have strained to keep the accord between major powers and Iran on life support since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it last year and began re-imposing American sanctions.
Le Drian said Iran’s threat on Monday to breach the 2015 nuclear deal’s limit on its uranium hexafluoride stocks within 10 days was very worrying and not in Tehran’s interest, but he also pointed the finger at the United States.
“We also consider the US’ decision to break with the accord is not good and that its maximum pressure campaign is contributing to tensions,” he said.
The 2015 nuclear pact seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.
The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 per cent or its equivalent for 15 years.
A series of more intrusive UN inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments. Tehran has always said its nuclear program is for only electricity generation and other peaceful purposes.
But Trump said he was pulling out of the deal because it failed to address Iran’s missile program or punish it for waging proxy wars in the Middle East.
Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since attacks last week on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane at the entrance to the Gulf.