Netanyahu told May he was focused on making sure Iran did not get a nuclear weapon and on “how to roll back Iran’s aggression in the region”.
The European signatories are scrambling to save the accord, which they see as crucial to forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon. However, the US president has said the deal is deeply flawed.
The Israeli pressure is designed not only to back Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal but also to force European firms to disinvest from Iran.
May also raised the subject of the UN’s call for an independent inquiry into the killing of dozens of Palestinian protesters on the day the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
May stressed she recognised Israel’s right to self-defence but called on Netanyahu to act to alleviate the situation. The Israeli prime minister insisted the protests were driven by the militant group Hamas and that the response was aimed at minimising causalities.
Rival groups of protesters gathered outside Downing Street waving Palestinian and Israeli flags before Netanyahu’s arrival.
On Tuesday, Iran said it had ordered preparations for increasing uranium enrichment capacity in case the nuclear agreement collapsed. It also announced it had completed a new centrifuge assembly centre at the Natanz nuclear site.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the move stopped short of breaching the terms of the nuclear deal, but came close to crossing the red line. “This initiative is unwelcome. It shows a sort of irritation,” he told Europe 1 radio. “It is always dangerous to flirt with the red lines, but the initiative taken … remains totally within the framework of the Vienna [nuclear] deal.”
The finance ministers and foreign secretaries of the UK, Germany and France have jointly written to their US counterparts seeking assurances that the US will not impose secondary sanctions on EU firms operating in Iran. Their letter says that JCPOA is “the best means through which we can prevent a nuclear armed Iran”.
Speaking in France ahead of his meeting with May, Netanyahu was confident that the EU firms operating in Iran would not be able to resist US sanctions.
“I didn’t ask France to withdraw from JCPOA because I think it will be dissolved by weight of economic forces. My interest is not this or that agreement but to make sure Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and the last thing anyone wants is to have this theocratic dictatorship [with] a nuclear arsenal,” he said.
Several big companies, including France’s Total and the Netherlands’ Maersk, have already said it would be impossible to stay in Iran once sanctions were fully reimposed over the next six months, unless they received explicit exemptions from Washington. Boeing also announced it was cancelling plans to provide two Iranian carriers.
The European Investment Bank said on Wednesday that it could not help shield trade between the EU and Iran from US sanctions, dashing the hopes of some EU finance ministers that it might be a source of finance for EU firms operating in Iran. The bank said it “should remain a solid and credible institution on the international capital markets, and this would be incompatible with ignoring possible sanctions against Iran”.