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France offers $15bn to save Iran nuclear deal

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a speech during a press conference within the EU Leaders Summit in Brussels, Belgium on 22 March, 2019 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]
French President Emmanuel Macron makes a speech during a press conference within the EU Leaders Summit in Brussels, Belgium on 22 March, 2019 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

US President Donald Trump's attempt to apply "maximum pressure" on Iran is set to face a major push back following reports that France is nearing an agreement with Tehran for a $15 billion package to compensate the Islamic Republic for oil sale losses to US imposed sanctions.

Discussions of a deal are underway in Paris between a senior Iranian delegation who arrived in the French capital yesterday and representatives of President, Emmanuel Macron. The compensation package, Western and Iranian sources have said, is part of a deal to persuade Iran to continue compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord signed with USA, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany known as the P5+1 countries.

The deal suffered a fatal blow last year following Trump's decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and re-impose crippling sanctions on Tehran. Oil export, which makes up the bulk of Iran's revenue, suffered tremendously, prompting a major diplomatic crises and an escalation of military tensions.

Iran has also threatened to enrich its uranium beyond the limits agreed in the nuclear deal unless cosignatories deliver the promised economic benefits. "We will reconsider our decision to decrease our commitments [to the nuclear deal], if 4+1 [ world powers excluding the US] will meet part of their commitments," President Hassan Rouhani is reported saying by the Financial Times after his delegation met in Paris.

READ: Tehran calls on Trump to 'return' to landmark nuke deal

Enriching uranium beyond the agreed purity level of 3.67 per cent is one of the retaliatory steps taken by the Iranians. Rouhani has warned that unless "significant steps" are taken to save the deal enrichment of uranium would reach another phase.

According to the New York Times a deal may have been struck to convince Iran to honour the nuclear treaty. According to the US daily, "the core of the package is a $15 billion letter of credit that would allow Iran to receive hard currency, at a time when most of the cash it makes from selling oil is frozen in banks around the world." The sum is said to account for about half the revenue Iran normally would expect to earn from oil exports in a year.

If the report is true Macron will have staved off a major escalation in tension, which all cosignatories have been trying desperately to avoid, except the US. Trump, with backing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has strongly opposed winding down pressure on Iran. "This is precisely the wrong timing to hold talks with Iran," Netanyahu said last week.

French officials have not made any comment on the $15 billion package but a spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry is reported saying yesterday that discussion with the Iranians "was pretty much a technical discussion, and it went pretty well, on the whole."

Iran has said that if the talks fail, it will escalate its nuclear activity starting Friday.

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