Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has given Europe a two-month deadline to save a nuclear deal with the announcement that “extraordinary” steps away from the deal set to be revealed this week will not take effect until later in the year.

French and Iranian diplomats have been holding talks on the future of the deal, which is at risk of unravelling since the US withdrew last year, with a focus on setting up a four month $15bn (£12.3bn) credit line as a prepayment for Iranian oil sales.

Rouhani said insufficient progress had been made for a deal to be reached ahead of a deadline on Wednesday or Thursday for Iran to announce fresh breaches of the nuclear accord, but the steps would be implemented in two months’ time.

Iran has so far reduced its commitments under the deal in two respects: increasing its uranium stockpiles and declaring it would enrich uranium above the 3.67% limit.

The next step is believed to focus on research and development. “The third step will be the most important one and it will have extraordinary huge effects,” Rouhani said.

He said the number of disagreements in the talks between Iran and Europe might have been reduced from 20 to three, but that did not mean the talks had reached a conclusion. “Europe has another two-month deadline for negotiations, agreement, and a return to its commitments,” he said.

In July 2015, Iran and a six-nation negotiating group reached a landmark agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that ended a 12-year deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme. The deal, struck in Vienna after nearly two years of intensive talks, limited the Iranian programme, to reassure the rest of the world that it cannot develop nuclear weapons, in return for sanctions relief.

At its core, the JCPOA is a straightforward bargain: Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its nuclear programme in return for an escape from the sanctions that grew up around its economy over a decade prior to the accord. Under the deal, Iran unplugged two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out 98% of its enriched uranium and filled its plutonium production reactor with concrete. Tehran also accepted extensive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has verified 10 times since the agreement, and as recently as February, that Tehran has complied with its terms. In return, all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January 2016, reconnecting Iran to global markets.

The six major powers involved in the nuclear talks with Iran were in a group known as the P5+1: the UN security council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – and Germany. The nuclear deal is also enshrined in a UN security council resolution that incorporated it into international law. The 15 members of the council at the time unanimously endorsed the agreement.

On 8 May 2018, US president Donald Trump pulled his country out of the deal. Iran announced its partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal a year later.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Iran correspondent

The deal with the west was brokered in 2015 and included Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, in particular on oil exports. But after Donald Trump withdrew the US and reimposed sanctions, Tehran has threatened the deal’s future if European countries cannot come up with a solution for Iran to sell its oil abroad.

US sanctions sent Iran’s economy into freefall as tensions have also risen in the Gulf.

The Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesman said the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, was in the US to try to gain US support for the French plan for a credit line, but he thought that would not come into time for the Iranian deadline.

The US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, did not rule out the Macron plan, saying the US was studying the credit line proposal. He said US policy remained one of maximum economic pressure on Iran, but “it is up to the president at his discretion whether to dial the pressure up or down”.

If the Macron plan won US support, Iran might be able sell at least 700,000 barrels of oil a day, more than double its current exports.

The French president is trying to engineer a new stage-by-stage agreement that does not replace the 2015 nuclear deal but supplements it and has made intense efforts to draw Trump into his mediation efforts.

Similar efforts were made by France before Trump pulled out of the deal in May 2018, but they failed to persuade the US president that the deal was salvageable.

Macron has been warning the Iranians not to take fresh steps away from the deal, saying it would send the wrong signal.

Rouhani claimed there was a conflict within the US on how to proceed. “Hardliners, neocons and racists in the US do not want the relationship between Iran and the US to be right – whenever we move forward, they spoil it,” he said. “The US exit from the nuclear deal was the result of this triangle of radicalism inside the White House.”


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