Iran nuclear talks to resume days before critical UN session

US holds first meeting with Iranian counterparts following the announcement of additional sanctions enforcement

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

European Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton (left), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right), before the closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Ronald Zak)
European Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton (left), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right), before the closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Ronald Zak)

WASHINGTON — Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program will resume in mid-September, shortly before the United Nations General Assembly where top-level meetings are anticipated to discuss a comprehensive nuclear deal, European Union officials confirmed Thursday morning.

EU Spokesperson Michael Mann said that the talks between the P5+1 member states and Iran will resume in New York, starting on September 18. Mann added that in the frameworks of the talks, bilateral meetings will be held between the E3 European states and Iran, as well as between Iran and the United States.

The bilateral meetings will be held at the political director level – one of the highest levels on the spectrum of different types of talks. Talks have been held at varying levels, ranging from experts discussing technical aspects of the deals to meetings at the ministerial level.

The respective heads of state have not all met to discuss nuclear arrangements, although most or all of them are likely to be in New York during the late September UNGA opening session. Last year, rumors circulated that a meeting might be engineered between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but no such encounter transpired.

The E3-Iran bilateral meeting will be held in Vienna, one week before the resumption of the full talks in New York.

The parties are expected to accelerate attempts to reach a final nuclear deal before a November deadline marking one year since the parties reached an interim understanding termed a Joint Plan of Action.

Earlier Thursday, an upper-level US team led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman – Washington’s chief negotiator in the talks — met with Iranian officials in Geneva.

Iran’s Fars News agency said that on Thursday morning, Sherman met with Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi, her counterpart on Iran’s negotiating team.

The State Department announced the meeting late Wednesday night, hours before it started, and confirmed that the meetings were expected to continue through Friday.

The meeting came less than a week after the US announced a new round of penalties against companies found to be in violation of the continuing sanctions against Iran.

According to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, Rouhani said that Iran considered “some of the sanctions crimes against humanity” and said that Iran “should resist such aggression with all might and power.”

Last Friday, Washington announced penalties against almost three dozen individuals and companies for violations of the ongoing sanctions against Iran. Although some sanctions against Tehran were relaxed under the JPA, others — including those penalizing Iran for human rights violations — remain in place.

A senior US administration official implied after the Friday announcement that the latest round of enforcement was meant to add leverage to the nuclear talks.

“The message that we have conveyed has been very clear, which is that Iran can only obtain the sanctions relief, the comprehensive sanctions relief that it so desperately needs, by addressing the concerns with its nuclear program at the negotiating table,” the senior administration official said.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the even while enforcing the still-extant sanctions, “the United States remains committed to working with our P5+1 partners toward a long-term, comprehensive solution that provides confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

The US-Iran bilaterals follow talks between the European Union’s Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Zarif later described the discussions with Ashton as “good,” reiterating Iran’s commitment to achieving a negotiated agreement.

But speaking on Tuesday on France24 television, Araqchi warned that the P5+1 negotiators should take care to “avoid excessive demands” regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

The question over whether Iran has a sovereign right to enrich uranium has proven to be a sticking point throughout the talks. Iran’s critics, including Israel, have warned that allowing Iran to retain centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium would leave Iran still capable of nuclear breakout – the production of a nuclear weapon.

Although a number of states with civilian nuclear programs import uranium enriched in other countries, Iran has insisted upon retaining the capacity to enrich to civilian-grade levels.

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