Iran pressures Europe for relief from sanctions

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TEHRAN — 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 Monday as top Iranian diplomats traveled 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 on the global market.

Crushing U.S. sanctions imposed after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal have curbed Iran’s oil exports and sent its economy into freefall. In response, Iran has surpassed limits on nuclear enrichment set out in the accord in a bid to pressure Europe to find a way around the U.S. sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow, while his deputy traveled to Paris with a team of economists Monday in a renewed diplomatic push.

The developments come after French President Emmanuel Macron surprised the Group of Seven summit in France by inviting Zarif last week.

Rabiei described Iran’s strategy to journalists at Monday’s press conference in Tehran as “commitment for commitment.”

“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.”

In theory, anyone caught buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to U.S. sanctions and potentially locked out of the American financial market.

An Iranian lawmaker on Sunday said France has proposed a $15 billion credit line in three phases to prepurchase Iranian oil, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. In exchange, Iran would halt steps it’s taken to break away from the deal and return to full compliance, lawmaker Ali Motahari was quoted as saying.

Negotiations continued as just last week the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA as the deal is known. The U.N. agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed.

It remains unclear what further step Iran could 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.

Meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Zarif reiterated that it was up to Europe to ensure the deal’s survival.

Nasser Karimi is an Associated Press writer.