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Middle East

Macron's proposed new Iran deal - could it work?

media United States President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte for a State Dinner at the White House Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed broadening the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, instead of scrapping it altogether, as US President Donald Trump has threatened to do. Macron’s proposals are ambitious. Perhaps too ambitious.

On the second day of his visit to the US, Macron suggested new negotiations might be possible on several issues:

  • Reinforcing the 2015 agreement, which blocks Iran’s nuclear activity until 2025;
  • Extending the deal past 2025;
  • Curbs on Iran’s ballistic missile programme;
  • Limits on Iran’s political involvement in the Middle East.

European negotiators brought up curbs on the ballistic missiles during the 2014 negotiations, Benjamin Hautecouverture, a research fellow at the French foundation for strategic research, points out. But, in the face of strong Iranian resistance, the matter was dropped in favour of the single-issue nuclear deal.

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Iran, Syria and the Middle East

As for the fourth proposal, to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East, especially Syria, “it was an idea of President Trump”, Hautecouverture told RFI. “I would say that this fourth pillar is a way to address Trump’s issue but it’s still pretty new. And we cannot see, realistically speaking, what it would mean in the negotiating basket. So it is the most theoretical, or vague, element of this new deal.”

Hautecouverture and other observers agree that Macron’s proposal is about buying time, as Trump has until 12 May to decide whether or not to withdraw from the deal. If he does so, sanctions would be reimposed on Iran.

“By proposing a new process, we are saving time, to see whether the Trump administration, after the spring and summer and after the bilateral summit with North Korea, in particular, can evolve and change, and agree not to destroy everything,” says Hautecouverture.

Iran unlikely to agree

Iran would have to sign up to any new deal, of course, and President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that the current agreement should not be changed. Tehran has warned it will withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty if Trump does not sign the sanctions waiver on 12 May.

Iran has not reaped the benefits it hoped for from the current deal, so is unlikely to agree to more negotiations, according to Milad Jokar, a Middle East expert at the Institute of Prospective and Security in Europe, says

“The US has not respected its part of the commitment, because there are still sanctions that are not lifted and the Iranian population is still suffering from those sanctions,” he told RFI.

Macron’s proposals, if they can forestall Trump’s 12 May decision, could give the sanctions relief time to work and could make Iran more receptive to future negotiations.

The ballistic missile programme and Iran’s political involvement in the region are important issues for Macron and Europe.

The Middle East is in Europe’s backyard, says Jokar, and Iran is in the heart of the Middle East.

"Instability in the Middle East is starting to have a political cost in Europe, the refugee crisis is bringing internal issues in the EU," he argues. "And then, of course, you have non-proliferation issues. The nuclear deal basically prevents Iran from having the technical means to have a nuclear weapon and therefore start a proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, which is directly connected to the European Union.”

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