EU top envoy ‘optimistic’ on new Iran nuclear talks, though nothing confirmed

Josep Borrell says he hopes diplomats will meet with Iranian officials later this week in Brussels as a prelude to restarting negotiations to revive 2015 deal

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a dinner, prior to an EU summit, at the Brdo Castle in Kranj, Slovenia, October 5, 2021. (Darko Bandic/AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a dinner, prior to an EU summit, at the Brdo Castle in Kranj, Slovenia, October 5, 2021. (Darko Bandic/AP)

The European Union’s top diplomat said Monday that he is optimistic that negotiations to save the nuclear deal with Iran will restart and hopes officials will meet for preliminary talks later this week.

Discussions in Vienna aimed at reviving the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have been suspended since June. Recent diplomatic activity has aimed at getting parties back to the table, while Iranian sources have said a meeting was being arranged in Brussels to discuss a return to Vienna.

“You never know. I am more optimistic today than yesterday,” Borrell said, according to Reuters. “No confirmation yet, but things are getting better and I hope we will have preparatory meetings in Brussels in the days to come.”

Borrell spoke as he arrived in Luxembourg for a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

His remarks came after an Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that his country will meet with European representatives in Brussels to discuss restarting the Vienna negotiations.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that “talks with the 4+1 Group will restart on Thursday in Brussels,” MP Ahmad Alirezabeigui told the ultraconservative news agency Fars after a closed-door session with the minister.

The lawmaker was referring to four UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France and Russia — along with Germany.

Iran and those five nations opened talks in Vienna in April with the European Union also attending, while the United States has taken part in indirect negotiations.

The US, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain struck the JCPOA accord in Vienna with Iran on its nuclear program in 2015. But former US president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions.

Since then, Tehran — which insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only — has also retreated from many of its commitments under the accord raising concerns it is drawing close to the threshold for weapons production.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden has said he is ready to return to the agreement if the Islamic republic re-adheres to its nuclear commitments. Iran says it wants the US to first lift its sanctions, a move Washington has ruled out while also warning that time to save the accord is dwindling. Borrell, who was in Washington last week, similarly cautioned that the clock is running out.

The Vienna talks aimed at reviving the deal were suspended in June, when Iran elected ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi as president.

EU envoy Enrique Mora was in Tehran Thursday to press for a firm date for resuming talks.

Tehran said following the discussions that Iran and the EU had agreed to hold further dialogue in Brussels within days.

Borrell said Friday he was “ready” to meet Iranian leaders in Brussels as part of efforts to revive the faltering deal. But a spokesperson for Borrell was unable to confirm at the time “if and when” a meeting in Brussels would place.

“The goal remains to resume negotiations in Vienna as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

Another Iranian lawmaker, Behrouz Mohebbi Najmabadi, said on Twitter Sunday that negotiations would resume “this week.”

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