Addressing a joint meeting of Congress, Macron said Paris was committed to preventing Tehran from ever acquiring nuclear arms. And he suggested that the 2015 nuclear accord might fall short of that standard.
“This agreement may not address all concerns – and very important concerns – this is true,” Macron said. “But we should not abandon it without having something substantial, and more substantial, instead. That’s my position."
“France will not leave the JCPOA – because we signed it,” he continued, using the formal name of the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “What I want to do, and what we decided together with your president, is that we can work on a more comprehensive deal addressing all these concerns.”
In a consequential, hourlong, one-on-one meeting with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Macron outlined what such a deal might look like: a “four-pillared” agreement that maintains the 2015 agreement while adding terms that address Iran’s long-term nuclear work, its regional military activity, and its ballistic missile program.
The 2015 deal caps Iran’s enrichment of fissile material critical to the construction of nuclear weapons for 10-15 years, but allows Tehran to scale up the infrastructure of its nuclear program over time after that – both in its size and efficiency.
Trump wants those “sunset” clauses scrapped.
Macron’s proposal would have Trump, and the rest of the world, retain the 2015 nuclear agreement in its current form – a political challenge to Trump, who campaigned for the presidency on a vow to rip it apart.
But Trump signaled a willingness to go along with the plan: “In life, you have to be flexible,” the US president said.
In his speech to Congress, Macron said the content of the JCPOA would have to be readdressed “especially if you,” referring to the US government, “decide to leave it.” He acknowledged this was still a possibility.
And Trump, too, suggested he could withdraw from the agreement while maintaining its benefits throughout a negotiation toward this larger, more ambitious accord.
“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th,” Trump said, referring to the May 12 deadline he set on France, Great Britain and Germany to come up with “fixes” to the deal.
Turning to Macron, he quipped, “you have a pretty good idea.
“But we’ll see also if I do what some people expect,” he continued “Whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations.”
Macron warned that a hasty withdrawal from the nuclear deal might lead to “new wars” in the Middle East – an argument often made by former officials of the Obama administration, which negotiated the 2015 deal alongside the European powers, Russia, China and Iran.
Germany’s position on the French proposal is thus far unclear, although Berlin’s foreign minister began to clarify the government’s stance earlier on Wednesday.
“For us, the position stays clear – the highest priority is keeping the nuclear agreement and full implementation on all sides,” said the Foreign Ministry through its spokesman. “The nuclear agreement was negotiated with seven countries and the EU and can’t be renegotiated...
but it is also clear that beyond the nuclear agreement we want to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program serves exclusively peaceful purposes.
“We must look at this proposal carefully,” the statement continues, referring to the Macron plan. “The question is under what circumstances would Iran be prepared to let this process happen. We are in close and constructive exchange within the EU-3 and the US.”
Neither Iran nor Israel spoke favorably of the strategy, with the former claiming it was a unilateral attempt to reopen negotiations, and the latter questioning whether the plan goes far enough.
“They say that with the certain leader of a European country we want to make a decision about a seven-sided agreement,” Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “For what? With what right?” Rouhani slammed Trump as lacking “any background in law” or “international treaties,” and scorned him as a “tradesman, a merchant,” a “tower constructor making judgments about international affairs.” On Tuesday, Trump referred to the Iranians as butchers.
Meanwhile, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz noted that Iran has only ever made concessions on its nuclear work under the heavy pressure of robust sanctions – financial restrictions that would be reapplied only if Trump were to withdraw from the 2015 deal.
“The nuclear agreement must be fundamentally amended, and if not – canceled,” Katz said.