EU says Iran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

European Union foreign policy chief speaks with Iranian top envoy on sidelines of UN General Assembly, stresses importance of negotiations to save faltering 2015 pact

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell pauses while speaking to the press, in New York, September 20, 2021. (Brittainy Newman/AP)
European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell pauses while speaking to the press, in New York, September 20, 2021. (Brittainy Newman/AP)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday Iran’s top diplomat had assured him at their first meeting that Tehran was ready to restart talks on the nuclear deal soon.

EU-mediated negotiations began in Vienna in April aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers — an accord left hanging by a thread after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and ramped up sanctions.

The discussions, which involve the remaining parties seeking to persuade Washington to rejoin the deal and Iran to return to its nuclear commitments, have been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.

An EU statement said Borrell “underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks” at a meeting Tuesday with Iran’s new top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the statement said.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks in a recorded video message to the UN General Assembly, on September 21, 2021. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Raisi voiced support Tuesday in his international debut for reviving the nuclear accord, even as he berated the United States.

“The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions,” Raisi said in a recorded speech to the UN.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he expected a resumption of the talks “in the coming weeks,” without giving an exact date.

The 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, offered Iran a reduction of UN sanctions in return for strict limits on its nuclear program, but Tehran has progressively stepped away from its commitments in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal and imposition of sanctions.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to return to the deal, which was negotiated when he was Barack Obama’s vice-president and under Iran’s relatively moderate former president Hassan Rouhani. At the UN General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, he said the US will return to the pact only if Iran returns to all its commitments while also vowing to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon… We’re prepared to return to full compliance with [the deal] if Iran does the same,” he said.

Hopes of a revitalized deal were kept alive earlier this month by Iran agreeing with the UN nuclear agency on a new compromise regarding surveillance of its nuclear sites.

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