French President Emmanuel Macron has warned of the potential for "conflict" after Iran announced plans to boost its uranium-enrichment capacity following the U.S. decision to withdraw from its nuclear deal with world powers.
At a press conference with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris late on June 5, the French leader called on "everyone to stabilize the situation and not give into this escalation, which would lead to only one thing: conflict."
He said that the Iranian decision to expand its nuclear infrastructure did not constitute grounds for quitting the 2015 agreement, which gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities.
Despite the vows of European leaders to keep honoring their end of the deal, Iran's announcement that it will move toward restarting more intensive uranium-enrichment activities -- even as it vowed to continue adhering to the deal -- showed how close the agreement is to collapsing entirely, Macron said.
"It simply shows that when you decide to unilaterally end an accord it does not encourage the other party to respect it," the French leader said in a blunt rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump and his decision to withdraw from the deal.
Netanyahu, who originally travelled to Europe this week to defend the U.S. decision, told the news conference that he did not attempt to convince Macron to follow the U.S. example and abandon the deal because he believes it will die from its own weight.
"I did not ask President Macron to leave the deal because I think it is basically going to be dissolved by the weight of economic forces," he said.
Netanyahu was apparently referring to decisions by Total, Allianz, LUKoil, Reliance, and other global businesses in the last month to reconsider doing business with Iran because of the threat of billion-dollar fines that could be imposed by the United States for violating U.S. sanctions that are due to be reinstated under Trump's decision.
France's PSA, which manufactures Peugeot and Citroen cars, this week became the latest major Western business to announce it plans to pull out of Iran, where it sold nearly 445,000 cars last year.
Netanyahu said that in his meeting he sought to persuade the French leader to focus on "how to stop Iranian aggression in the region."
He claimed Tehran was using the "cash bonanza" from sanctions relief under the nuclear deal to build up its forces in Syria with the intent of using that as a platform for staging attacks on Israel.
In his tour of Europe, Netanyahu has warned that the growing presence of Iran's Shi'ite militias and military advisers, along with Shi'ite allies like Lebanon's Hizballah, in a Sunni majority country like Syria has the potential to "spark another religious war" that will send refugees flooding into Europe.
Meanwhile, Iran defended its notification to the International Atomic Energy Agency on June 5 that it will soon open a new center for producing new centrifuges to increase its uranium-enrichment capabilities.
Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the country's Atomic Energy Organization, said the move was allowed under the nuclear accord, and did not mean Tehran's efforts along with European powers to keep the deal alive "have failed."
The European Union said a first assessment indicated the new steps announced by Iran did not constitute a violation of the agreement.
"However, at this particularly critical juncture, they will not contribute to build confidence in the nature of the Iranian nuclear program," Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, told AFP.
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. But Netanyahu insisted Iran's move was aimed at restarting its program to produce nuclear weapons capable of "destroying the state of Israel."
"We are not surprised [by Iran’s announcement]," he said in a video statement. “We will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons."