France's foreign minister said on Wednesday that a decision on salvaging Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers was just days away, but that it was now up to Tehran to make the political choice.
Indirect talks between Iran and the US on reviving the tattered agreement resumed last week after a 10-day hiatus and officials from the other parties to the accord - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - have shuttled between the two sides as they seek to close gaps.
Western diplomats previously indicated they hoped to have a breakthrough by now, but tough issues remain unresolved. Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers.
“We have reached tipping point now. It's not a matter of weeks, it's a matter of days,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament, adding that the Western powers, Russia and China were in accord on the outlines of the accord.
“Political decisions are needed from the Iranians. Either they trigger a serious crisis in the coming days, or they accept the agreement which respects the interests of all parties.”
The agreement began to unravel in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US and reimposed far reaching sanctions on Iran, which then began breaching the accord's limits on its uranium enrichment activity.
Diplomats and analysts say the longer Iran remains outside the deal, the more nuclear expertise it will gain, shortening the time it might need to race to build a bomb if it chose to, thereby vitiating the accord's original purpose. Tehran denies it has ever sought to develop nuclear arms.
Western diplomats say they are now in the final phase of the talks and believe that a deal is within reach.
“We are coming to the moment of truth. If we want Iran to respect its (nuclear) non-proliferation commitments and in exchange for the US to lift sanctions, there has to be something left to do it,” Le Drian said.
Iran said on Monday it was “in a hurry” to strike a new deal as long as its national interests were protected and that restoring the pact required “political decisions by the West”.
Key bones of contention remain Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no more sanctions or other punitive steps in future, and how and when to restore verifiable restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activity.
The agreement curbed Iran’s enrichment of uranium to make it harder for Tehran to develop material for nuclear weapons, in return for a lifting of international sanctions.
The Islamic Republic has since rebuilt stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity, close to weapons-grade, and installed advanced centrifuges to speed up enrichment.