President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was unlikely and that a regional conference should be called by year end.

France has long supported the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) as a step towards regional agreements over other issues, including defense, security, and trade. But speaking to France Inter radio Monday, Macron said he hoped to establish a “new framework” involving regional powers, including Iran, that was probably now needed, and that he was “very cautious” over prospects for restoring the JCPOA.

Macron suggested current unrest in Iran, which he characterized Saturday as a “revolution,” had “fragilized” the 2015 agreement, which the United States left in 2018, leading Iran after 2019 to expand its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits.

The French president was criticized Sunday by Iran’s foreign affairs spokesman for meeting with overseas Iranian opposition activists, including US-based Masih Alinejad, who is prominent in social media and more recently on US and other media networks.

Nasser Kanaani called Macron’s comments after the meeting – which encouraged Alinejad to praise France as “the first country to officially recognize this revolution” – “a flagrant violation of France’s international responsibilities in the fight against terrorism and violence.”

Iran has been presenting the protests as "riots" and some protesters as "terrorists". It has already sentenced one protester to death for allegedly attacking a government building.

A university student holding up a sign that shows the Islamic Republic's "battery running low"

Although around 40 security forces have been killed during protests since September, more than 330 demonstrators have died mostly by bullets of regime’s official and unofficial gunmen.

While the logic of the JCPOA separated Iran’s nuclear program from other issues, the distinction has become harder to maintain given international publicity of protests following the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of Tehran ‘morality police.’

So far, the US and three European JCPOA signatories – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – have said they are committed to reviving the agreement, and that the failure of 18-month talks is due solely to Iran making demands beyond the original agreement. Meetings are due in Tehran later this month as International Atomic Energy Agency seeks what it deems satisfactory answers over uranium traces found in sites linked to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear work. Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi, have said the IAEA probe into the matter should be dropped in order to revive the JCPOA.

Dim prospects?

Prospects for a regional conference – Macron’s proposed ‘new framework’ – appear dim, and the French president did not specify who should be involved. Multilateral efforts to end the war in Yemen, or the violent fragmentation of Syria, have floundered.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, despite Iraq-brokered talks, have not restored diplomatic relations broken off 2016 after Riyadh executed leading Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, and most Arab states hold the Arab League position that Israel should not be recognized until it accepts a viable Palestinian state. Russia, ostracized by the US and European Union over Ukraine, coordinates oil policy with Saudi Arabia and has military cooperation with Iran.

Macron clearly did not accept Alinejad’s view that diplomatic relations with Iran be broken off and established instead withwhat she called “the Iranian opposition.” Alinejad has also organized a petition calling for the removalof Rob Malley, the US official who has led talks aimed at JCPOA restoration.

European Union foreign ministers meeting today in Brussels are expected to impose new sanctions on Iran– with Macron telling France Inter radio he was among those pushing for measures against leading officials and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). US spokesman Ned Price said last week that while Washington was “looking at all appropriate tools” for dealing with Iran’s “foot-dragging,” it was already “very heavily sanctioned, to say the least…”

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