Iran and France have moved closer in their views on the future of Tehran’s nuclear deal with the west after talks between the countries’ presidents, the Iranian government has said.The French president, Emmanuel Macron,

and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan

Rouhani, spoke for two hours by telephone, a spokesman said, as Paris continued its diplomatic initiative to salvage the deal, which has been at risk of unravelling since the US withdrew last year.“Fortunately the points of views have become closer on many issues and now technical discussions are being held on ways to carry out the Europeans’ commitments,”

said the Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiei.The deal was brokered in 2015 and included Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear

activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, in particular on oil exports. But after Donald Trump withdrew the US and re-imposed sanctions,

Tehran increased its uranium enrichment

and stockpiles and threatened further breaches of the agreement.Macron has reportedly been trying to launch a $15bn credit line to pre-purchase

Iran’s oil, but it is not clear if the US would allow such a move or sanction any company or country that sought to buy Iranian oil. In pulling out of the nuclear deal last year, the US vowed to drive Iran’s oil exports

to zero to pressure Tehran into renegotiating

the deal struck with Barack Obama. Tehran is unlikely to settle for any deal that does not allow it to export a minimum 700,000 barrels a day. Current

sales have fallen to 300,000 a day.Trump has been unclear how he would renegotiate the nuclear deal, and it is likely Macron is proposing a three-stage process involving commitments

by both sides that ends with an extended nuclear deal, and wider pledges. The French president has the conditional backing of the UK and Germany

for his efforts.French diplomats are meeting the Iranian deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, in Paris on Monday to discuss outlines of the deal. France has said its objective is “to have a sequence where there are commitments on both sides”.The talks are being held against the backdrop of an Iranian threat to take a third as yet unspecified step away from the nuclear deal as early as Thursday or Friday. Tehran said this planned third reversible step would be outlined in the middle of this week. The announcement is likely to coincide with a visit to the UK by the US vice-president, Mike Pence.The UN nuclear watchdog, the International

Atomic Energy Agency, on Friday gave an update on Iran’s two previous steps away from the deal. It announced that just over 10% of Iran’s uranium stockpile was now enriched up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% limit stipulated

in the 2015 deal.It also said Iran’s total stockpile of uranium, which under the accord should be no more than the equivalent of 300kg of uranium hexafluoride,