European leaders pledge to salvage Iran deal

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French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed Europe’s commitment to the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday while urging Tehran to take part in future discussions over its ballistic missile program.

A day after US President Donald Trump announced he was quitting the pact, putting him on a collision course with some of the US’ closest allies, Macron spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by telephone as attempts to salvage the deal began in earnest.

According to an Élysée Palace readout of the call, Macron urged Iran to “engage in a wide discussion with all parties involved” on topics including the country’s nuclear program after 2025, its ballistic missiles and its actions across the Middle East.

Macron confirmed that the French and Iranian foreign ministers would meet soon to ensure progress.

Earlier Wednesday, France’s Foreign Secretary Jean-Yves Le Drian had attempted to calm tensions by insisting the Iran deal was “not dead.”

“The American logic is an isolationist, protectionist and unilateral logic,” Le Drian told French radio station RTL. “This is a break with international commitment and France deeply regrets this decision. We will bring businesses together in the coming days to try and preserve them as much as possible from the US measures.”

Representatives from France, the UK and Germany — key signatories to the six-nation negotiating group that brokered the 2015 Obama-era Iran deal — would meet with their Iranian counterparts on Monday and were committed to preserving the agreement, Le Drian said.

That may yet prove difficult. On Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast doubt on whether the agreement could be saved by Europe and accused Trump of telling “several lies” during his announcement.

In his speech Tuesday, Trump described the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curb Iran’s nuclear program as “defective at its core” and said “it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”

Trump said the “decaying and rotten” agreement would not prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb, and railed against the fact that it didn’t address Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for US-designated terrorist groups in the Middle East.

While Trump’s withdrawal represented a huge setback for the Iran deal, a source close to Macron’s office insisted Wednesday that it was only the end of a chapter, not the end of the story.

During a visit to Washington in late April, Macron floated the idea of a broader deal that would address Iran’s ballistic missile program and wider role in the region.

Sources at the Élysée Palace told CNN that Iran’s President had been open to the idea of a broader deal before Trump’s announcement. The question now, the sources said, was whether Rouhani remains receptive now Trump has quit the pact. Iran did not respond to a CNN request for comment.

Merkel, May pledge to uphold deal

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference that Germany had noted the US decision with “regret and concern” but said that Iran had “stuck to its obligations” laid out in the agreement.

”We must not question the Iran deal, however we also need to talk about a broader deal that goes beyond it,” Merkel added.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May echoed her European counterparts Wednesday, telling Parliament that the pact was “an important step forward in helping to keep the world safe” and that she had made clear to Trump “in a number of conversations” that the deal should stay in place.

May conceded there were other issues related to Iran that needed to be addressed, including “ballistic missiles, the question of what would happen at the sunset clause at the end of the nuclear deal, and the destabilizing activity of Iran in the region. Those are issues that need to be addressed and we are working with our European and other allies to do just that.”

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Parliament he regretted Trump’s decision, but added that “Britain has no intention of walking away.”

In a statement published Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that “as of today” Iran has met all of the requirements of the nuclear deal.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said, “Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime under the JCPOA.”

Anger in Tehran

Trump’s decision sparked anger in Tehran, where Iranian lawmakers burned printouts of the American flag and the Iran deal in parliament Wednesday. The lawmakers were set to vote on a motion that would call for a “proportionate and reciprocal action” against the US for leaving the JCPOA, semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.

President Rouhani said Iran would take a few weeks to decide how to respond to the US withdrawal, but ordered the country’s “atomic industry organization” to be prepared to “start our industrial (uranium) enrichment without limitations.” He said Iran would abide by its commitments while it consults with the other signatories to the JPCOA.

On Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei described Trump’s address as “shallow” and warned that Iran would not be intimidated by the US.

“Last night you heard the shallow statements Trump made. There were several lies in his speech. He threatened the Iranian govt. and the Iranian nation, claiming he would do one thing or another. On behalf of Iranian nation: ‘Mr. Trump, you couldn’t lift a finger if you tried,'” Khamenei tweeted in English on Wednesday.

In an earlier tweet Khamenei said: “I don’t trust these three EU countries either. If the govt. wants to make a contract, they should ask for a guarantee, or else they will all do just as the U.S. did. If there’s not definite guarantee, the #JCPOA cannot continue.”

While Trump’s decision was met with dismay in Europe, Israel and Saudi Arabia praised the US withdrawal.

“Thank you President Trump for your bold decision and your commitment to prevent Iran from ever getting nuclear weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted Tuesday.

Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US and brother of the Crown Prince, wrote on Twitter that his country “fully supports” Trump’s decision and added that “we always had reservations with regards to sunset clauses, ballistic missiles program, and Iran’s support for terrorism in the region.”

By Melissa Bell, Saskya Vandoorne and James Masters, CNN

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