Iran to Ramp Up Nuclear Work as France Tries to Salvage Deal

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Bloomberg– The Iran nuclear deal frayed further Wednesday after President Hassan Rouhani said his country was unlikely to reach a much-anticipated agreement with Europe this week and would unveil further plans to boost its atomic activities.

At the same time, Rouhani added that Tehran would give the Europeans two more months to find a way around punishing U.S. sanctions on its oil exports, a sign he was in no rush to scuttle the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

Tehran has warned for weeks that if the European Union, a partner in the 2015 multilateral accord, couldn’t work out a mechanism by Sept. 6 that would allow Iran to export oil, it would embark upon the third and most significant stage of its plan to gradually scale back its commitments. On Wednesday, Rouhani said he didn’t expect a resolution by the deadline, according to comments he made at a cabinet meeting that were relayed to reporters.

He didn’t offer a timeline or spell out what elements of the accord his country would abandon, but said the measures would represent a “significant acceleration” of Iran’s atomic work.

“It is unlikely that we’ll reach an outcome with Europe either today or tomorrow,” Rouhani said. “Europe has a two-month opportunity to return to its commitments, for talks and to reach an agreement.”

Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron have been scrambling over the past week to agree on a proposal that would give Iran de facto waivers from strict U.S. sanctions through a $15 billion line of credit that would help to restore oil exports, the backbone of the Iranian economy.

Such an arrangement would require American approval to work, and President Donald Trump had signaled support for such a lifeline to relieve the hardship ordinary Iranians have suffered since the U.S. quit the nuclear agreement last year and reimposed tight sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy. But on Wednesday, a senior U.S. administration official termed the French plan a non-starter, though talks between France and Iran continue.

“In the U.S. there are hardliners, neocons and racists who do not want the relationship between Iran and the U.S. to be right, and whenever we move forward in this regard, they spoil it,” he said. “The U.S. exit from the nuclear deal was the result of this triangle of radicalism inside the White House,” he said, in a reference to Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

As ministers in Tehran were laboring to salvage the deal, maritime officials said they were working to release the seven crew members of a U.K.-flagged oil tanker Iran impounded in mid-July, and send them home.

The tanker was seized after British forces impounded an Iranian vessel near Gibraltar on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions, a charge Tehran has denied. The tit-for-tat seizures have been part of a series of aggressions threatening the security of crude shipments going through the Strait of Hormuz, a Middle East waterway that is the world’s most important oil chokepoint.