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Iran could have nuclear weapons in one or two years, says France

File photo of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
File photo of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. © Johanna Geron, REUTERS

Iran could have nuclear weapons in one to two years if the country carries on violating the 2015 nuclear accord, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday. The warning came as EU foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting in Brussels to try to salvage the nuclear deal.

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"If they continue with unravelling the Vienna agreement, then yes, within a fairly short period of time, between one and two years, they could have access to a nuclear weapon, which is not an option", Le Drian said on RTL radio.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – commonly called the Iran nuclear deal – was adopted in Vienna, Austria in 2015 between Iran and the P5 + 1 (five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany). US President Donald Trump officially withdrew from the agreement in May 2018.

European Union foreign ministers are holding an emergency meeting Friday to seek ways to guide the US and Iran away from confrontation, knowing that a miscalculation on either side could leave the bloc facing a war and a serious nuclear proliferation crisis on its doorstep.

The meeting follows the US killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week, sparking Iranian missile strikes targeting US forces at two Iraqi bases.

On Wednesday, Trump called on Britain, France and Germany to join him in withdrawing from the nuclear agreement.

The recent tensions have highlighted Europe’s struggle to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal amid tough US economic sanctions on Iran.

Iran says nuclear inspections can continue

With Iraq also caught between the crossfire of Iran and the US, there are growing concerns that the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group could be weakened, or even forced out of Iraq, something that the European powers see as crucial to prevent for their own security interests.

"We need to coordinate and maximise the effect everybody has in trying to de-escalate what the Iranians do, but it's the same for the Americans. What's most worrying is a miscalculation," a French diplomatic source told Reuters.

But Iran's decision on Monday to scrap limits imposed on its nuclear enrichment under the arms control accord has also left the European powers in an awkward position.

Iran, which says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes, has already breached many of the restrictions under the deal, intended to increase the amount of time Tehran would need to accumulate enough fissile material for an atomic bomb from two to three months to about a year.

Despite its nuclear announcement, Tehran has said inspectors from the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, can continue their inspections, leaving some wiggle room for diplomacy.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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