France steps up pressure for Iran nuclear deal

Foreign Ministry says window of opportunity to revive 2015 agreement is closing

Iran's chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, right, leaves after a meeting during negotiations in Vienna. Photo: EPA

France said on Thursday that time was running out to revive the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran as negotiations continue in Vienna.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said the countries involved were "very close to an agreement" but that "the window of opportunity is closing", echoing what other diplomats have said.

She said France was "concerned about the risks that additional delays pose to the possibility of concluding", after Russia's demands to discuss sanctions linked to the war on Ukraine added a late complication to the talks.

Ms Legendre said France, Britain and Germany, a grouping known as the E3 within the discussions, were calling on all parties to "take a responsible approach" and "make the decisions necessary" to bring the 11-month talks to a close.

The talks are aimed at bringing Iran back into compliance with limits on its nuclear activities in return for the US lifting sanctions that it reimposed when it quit the deal in 2018.

The aim of those limits is to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, something it says it has no intention of doing.

Western countries have said that the clock is ticking because Iran's increased nuclear activity will eventually pass the point where the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is officially known, can restrain it effectively.

Iran offered mixed signals on Thursday by blaming the US for the impasse while also saying it had "vigorously pursued the removal of sanctions" that have weakened the country's economy.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said the Americans were raising "unjustified pressure to hastily reach an agreement" which "show that US isn’t interested in a strong deal that would satisfy both parties".

President Ebrahim Raisi said officials were conducting negotiations according to a framework set out by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and "will not retreat from any red lines which were announced".

The supreme leader himself weighed in to say that Iran’s ballistic missiles programme, nuclear scientific progress and regional military policies remain non-negotiable.

Updated: March 10, 2022, 3:14 PM