Iran's Zarif tells France: Avoid 'absurd nonsense' about Tehran's nuclear work


FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday dismissed a claim by France that Tehran was in the process of building up its nuclear weapons, calling it "absurd nonsense".

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche published on Saturday, said Iran was building up its nuclear weapons' capacity and it was urgent that Tehran and Washington return to a 2015 nuclear agreement.

"Dear colleague: You kick-started your cabinet career with arms sales to Saudi war criminals. Avoid absurd nonsense about Iran," Zarif said in a Twitter post, in which he tagged his French counterpart @JY_LeDrian.

French President Emmanuel Macron's government has drawn criticism from some countries and rights groups over its support of Saudi Arabia's actions and allowing weapons it has sold to Riyadh potentially to be used in its Yemen operations.

"Reality check: YOU are destabilising OUR region. Stop protecting criminals who chainsaw their critics and use YOUR arms to slaughter children in Yemen," Zarif tweeted, referring to Le Drian's previous post as French defence minister.

Iran, which denies seeking to make nuclear bombs, rejected a statement on Saturday by three European powers party that warned the Islamic Republic against starting work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, saying it violated the nuclear pact and had serious military implications.

Zarif criticised France, Germany and Britain - which remain in the deal with China and Russia - for failing to enforce the agreement since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal and restored harsh economic sanctions on Iran.

"E3 leaders — who rely on (the) signature of OFAC functionaries to carry out their obligations under JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) — have done ZILCH to maintain JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Remember @EmmanuelMacron's stillborn initiative or UK non-payment of court-ordered debt? JCPOA is alive because of Iran and not E3," Zarif tweeted.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has pledged to return the United States to the deal "if Iran resumes strict compliance" with the agreement that imposed strict curbs on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.

In reaction to Trump's "maximum pressure" policy, Iran has gradually breached many of the deal’s restrictions. But Tehran says it could quickly reverse those steps if Washington first lifts its sanctions.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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