SIBIU (Romania) • European powers yesterday rejected "ultimatums" from Teheran, but vowed to fight to save the Iran nuclear deal as tensions with the US soared.
Iran said it would defy some restrictions agreed under the 2015 accord and threatened to go further if Europe, China and Russia fail to deliver sanctions relief within 60 days.
Teheran said it is responding to unilateral United States sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump ripped up what he called a "horrible" deal, dealing a severe blow to the Iranian economy.
Europe has stressed the importance of the deal - in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief - for the country's own security.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said it would be on the agenda at a summit of the bloc yesterday in the Romanian town of Sibiu.
French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for calm, saying Europe must work to convince Iran to stick with the deal.
"We must not get jumpy or fall into escalation," Mr Macron said.
European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and France, Germany and Britain - the three European signatories to the deal - voiced "great concern" at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's dramatic intervention.
"We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps," they said in a joint statement, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
"We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran's compliance on the basis of Iran's performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA."
Mr Macron warned that leaving the deal would "unstitch what we have achieved".
"That's why France is staying in, and will stay in and I profoundly hope Iran will stay in," Mr Macron said as he arrived for the summit.
But there are tensions within the EU, with some countries under domestic pressure to take a tougher line on Teheran, particularly after Iranian intelligence was accused over assassination plots in France, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Europe and Washington have been at loggerheads over how to deal with Iran since Mr Trump took office.
In recent days, the US deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, raising military tensions.
Mr Trump hit back at Teheran's threats by tightening the economic screws further, slapping sanctions on the Iranian mining industry to add to severe measures on oil exports - the country's main money-maker.
"Teheran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct," Mr Trump said in a statement.
Since the US pullout, Europe has sought to keep Iran in the deal by trying to maintain trade via a special mechanism called Instex to clear payments without falling foul of American sanctions.
But their efforts have borne little fruit so far, with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissing them as a "bitter joke".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG