Iran envoy heads to France as Paris leads to fix nuclear crisis

President Hassan Rouhani's special representative and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi (above) is leading an economic delegation to France on Sept 2, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

TEHERAN (BLOOMBERG) - Efforts by France and Iran to salvage the nuclear deal are gaining momentum as Teheran's special envoy heads back to Paris and officials signal movement towards restoring some of the Islamic Republic's crucial oil exports.

President Hassan Rouhani's special representative and deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, is leading an economic delegation to France on Monday (Sept 2) on his second trip in less than six weeks.

He'll be continuing the most substantive negotiations between Iran and a Western power since US President Donald Trump exited the 2015 nuclear deal last year and slapped a slew of crippling sanctions on Iranian oil and other sectors.

The talks will focus on a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron that allows Iran to continue selling oil, despite US sanctions on its crude industry.

According to an Iranian lawmaker, the proposal includes a US$15 billion (S$20.8 billion) credit line to Iran, to be paid in three instalments and used for "oil pre-purchases", the semi-official Tasnim news reported, citing an interview with conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also on his way to Moscow for talks with counterpart Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The latest diplomatic push to stave off a crisis that has threatened security in the Persian Gulf - a critical route for global oil shipments - comes just before Iran's threatened third scaleback of its compliance with the accord on Sept 6.

Continuing Negotiations

"Talks between Iran and the Europeans will continue", Mr Zarif said in an interview to ICANA, the official news service of Iran's Parliament.

"If by Thursday the Europeans don't take the needed measures, then, in accordance with what we previously announced, we will write a letter to the Europeans explaining to them what our third step entails."

Mr Araghchi said last Saturday that discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Macron at the Group of Seven summit last week "have shown flexibility with regard to Iran's oil", according to the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency.

Mr Trump said at the meeting in Biarritz that he'd support extending a letter of credit to Iran, secured against oil sales.

"Teheran will be extremely cautious about what Europeans can deliver on their own without a US green light," said Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"But for now at least, given Mr Trump's messaging at the G-7, it seems the French have got the US green light on pushing forward with the economic package they have been discussing with the Iranians."

Both Teheran and Paris "are looking forward to a resolution and an end result", Mr Mahmoud Vaezi, Mr Rouhani's chief of staff said in a state TV interview last Saturday.

He reiterated Iran's position that direct talks with the US are impossible while Washington maintains its so-called maximum pressure strategy on Iran that includes sanctions on its economy.

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