Macron
© EPA/Thomas Samson
French President Emmanuel Macron
The French president floated a new proposal to Iran on how to soften the blow of the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. The Iranian foreign minister said Tehran is ready to discuss it.

The 2015 international agreement lifted economic sanctions from Tehran in exchange for accepting restrictions on its nuclear industry. Last year, Washington pulled out of the deal and launched a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran. The European signatories promised they would work on shielding the Iranians from the American U-turn, but Tehran was not satisfied and eventually started downgrading its commitments under the deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said he has new proposals on what the Europeans can do about the situation.

"We have made proposals either for a softening of sanctions or a compensation mechanism to enable the Iranian people to live better," Macron said, without elaborating. He said he would relay his plan to Tehran ahead of the upcoming G7 summit that France hosts.

Responding to the news on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated his government was willing to negotiate. "There are proposals on the table... and we are going to work on those proposals," he said at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

The Iranian diplomat is expected to meet Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris on Friday.

The nuclear deal was meant to prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon, an ambition Tehran denied having. The promise of lucrative business deals with European companies was a major incentive for Iran to sign the agreement.

The Trump administration's pressure campaign scared off foreign companies interested in dealing with the Iranians. The US has a lot of leverage on the global financial system and has threatened to punish any company found to be dealing with Iranian entities. The Europeans tried to mitigate those fears by creating a special mechanism that would insulate companies doing business in Iran, but the progress was slow and inconclusive.

Tehran announced it would be gradually pulling out of the nuclear deal exactly a year after the US withdrawal, saying it was necessary to convince the Europeans to act more decisively. Before that, Iran had been in full compliance with its obligations, according to the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA.