Iran will "take a strong step" away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week, a government spokesman said on Monday, as top Iranian diplomats travelled to France and Russia for last-minute talks.
The comments from Ali Rabiei reinforced the Friday deadline Iran had set for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil in the global market, the Associated Press reported on Monday. Crushing US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal over a year ago have halted those sales.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow, while his deputy was to travel to Paris with a team of economists on Monday in a renewed diplomatic push.
The developments come after French President Emmanuel Macron surprised the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in France by inviting Zarif last week.
"Iran's oil should be bought and its money should be accessible to return to Iran," Rabiei said. "This is the agenda of our talks."
It's unclear what the terms of negotiation are. In theory, anyone caught buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to US sanctions and potentially locked out of the American financial market.
Iran has already gone over limits set by the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is known.
The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5 per cent, above the 3.67 per cent allowed.
Uranium Enrichment Programme
Enriched uranium at the 3.67 per cent level is enough for peaceful pursuits and is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent. At the 4.5 per cent level, the uranium can help power Iran's Bushehr reactor, the country's only nuclear power plant.
It remains unclear what further step Iran will take, though it could involve restarting advanced centrifuges prohibited by the deal or further bumping up its enrichment of uranium. Iran insists the steps it has taken so far are easily reversible.
"We will announce implementation of the third step in a letter to the Europeans if the Europeans do not impalement necessary measures by Thursday," Zarif told Iran's parliament news agency, ICANA, on Sunday.
The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal and Washington's increased sanctions on Tehran, which have been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.
That has left the other signatories — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.