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EU foreign policy chief heads to Tehran in effort to revive nuclear talks

Josep Borrell tweets that ‘diplomacy is the only way’ to return to the 2015 deal, while Iran says meeting will focus on ‘status of negotiations to lift sanctions’

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

TEHRAN, Iran — European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is set to travel to Tehran on Friday for a surprise visit that could breathe new life into stalled talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Borrell was due to arrive in the Iranian capital at night to meet Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other officials, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

“Diplomacy is the only way to go back to full implementation of the deal and to reverse current tensions,” Borrell tweeted as the EU confirmed his two-day trip in a statement.

News of his previously unannounced visit comes after Amir-Abdollahian said last week that Iran still believed the negotiations could succeed.

“The visit, which is part of ongoing consultations between Iran and the European Union, will focus on bilateral relations, some regional and international issues, as well as the latest status of negotiations to lift sanctions,” said a statement from Khatibzadeh.

News of the previously unannounced visit comes after Amir-Abdollahian said last week that Iran still believes the negotiations can succeed.

Illustrative: Photographers and TV cameramen watch a demonstration of a monitoring camera used in Iran during a press conference of Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria on June 9, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The talks in Vienna, which began in April last year, aim to return the United States to the nuclear deal, including through the lifting of sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments.

The negotiations have been stalled since March amid differences between Tehran and Washington, most notably due to a demand by Iran to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a US terror list. Reports earlier this week indicated that Tehran may be willing to drop the demand that Washington delist its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp as a terrorist group, what emerged as a key sticking point in talks.

Amir-Abdollahian on Wednesday said Iran was “serious” about reaching an agreement in the negotiations.

“The nuclear negotiations train has reached difficult stops as they near the end,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Enrique Mora, the European Union’s coordinator for the talks, posted on Twitter a picture of himself together with Borrell and US negotiator and Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley in Brussels.

“In-depth conversation about #JCPOA and regional perspectives in the wider Middle East. Malley reiterated firm US commitment to come back to the deal,” he wrote.

Illustrative: Enrique Mora, a leading European Union diplomat, right, shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at the start of their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, March 27, 2022. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for guarantees it could not develop a nuclear weapon — something Tehran has always denied wanting to do.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 under then president Donald Trump, before imposing waves of biting sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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