Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days, says top EU diplomat

EU’s Josep Borrell announces renewal of stalled negotiations during surprise trip to Tehran; US envoy: ‘We remain committed to the path of meaningful diplomacy’

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) attends a press conference with Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Iran's capital Tehran, June 25, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) attends a press conference with Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Iran's capital Tehran, June 25, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AFP) — Talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which have been stalled for three months, will resume within days, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Saturday during a surprise visit to Tehran.

“We will resume the talks on the JCPOA in the coming days… I mean quickly, immediately,” Borrell told a news conference in the Iranian capital, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Borrell made the announcement after a two-hour meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the second day of a previously unannounced visit to the Islamic Republic.

Amir-Abdollahian confirmed the resumption of the negotiations.

“We have had a long but positive conversation on global cooperation between Iran and the EU,” Amir-Abdollahian said. “We will try to solve the problems and differences through the negotiations that will resume soon.”

The Iran nuclear deal has been hanging by a thread since 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord and began imposing crippling economic sanctions on America’s arch-enemy.

Robert Malley, the Biden administration special envoy for Iran, testifies about the JCPOA during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, May 25, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Israel is fiercely opposed to a return to the 2015 deal, which it campaigned against at the time of its signing, viewing Iran as untrustworthy and unable to keep its commitments.

Successive Israeli governments have warned for decades that Iran seeks to build a nuclear weapon.

The administration of incumbent US President Joe Biden has sought to return to the agreement, saying it would be the best path with the Islamic Republic.

The talks began in April last year but stalled in March amid differences between Tehran and Washington, notably over a demand by Iran to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a US terror list.

‘Meaningful diplomacy’

On the eve of Borrell’s trip, the US pointman on Iran, Robert Malley, had “reiterated firm US commitment to come back to the deal” over a meal with the EU diplomatic chief, according to the EU’s coordinator for the talks, Enrique Mora.

“We remain committed to the path of meaningful diplomacy, in consultation with our European partners,” Malley said in a tweet.

France, one of the six world powers that agreed to the 2015 deal, had on Friday appealed to Iran to “seize this diplomatic opportunity to conclude now, while this is still possible.”

Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday that Iran was “serious” about reaching an agreement while calling for “realism from the American side.”

Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during the 51st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

The nuclear deal reached with six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the US — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for guarantees it could not develop an atomic weapon.

Iran has always denied wanting a nuclear arsenal.

Cameras removed

In April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US still believed a return to the accord was “the best way to address the nuclear challenge posed by Iran.”

Blinken warned at the time that the “breakout time” for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb if it so chooses was “down to a matter of weeks” after the deal pushed it beyond a year.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors adopted a resolution this month censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the previous discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three sites that Tehran had not declared as having hosted nuclear activities.

On the same day, June 8, Tehran said it had disconnected a number of IAEA cameras that had been monitoring its nuclear sites.

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 (IAEA) about the current situation in Iran at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 09, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi later confirmed that 27 cameras had been disconnected, leaving about 40 still in place.

The move by Iran, he warned, could deal a “fatal blow” to the negotiations unless the UN nuclear watchdog’s inspectors were given access within three to four weeks.

The visit by Borrell, his first to Tehran since February 2020, could be a determining factor in the fate of the deal.

During the talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the accord, Iran has repeatedly called for guarantees from the Biden administration that there will be no repeat of Trump’s pullout.

Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran last month that it blames on Israel and a number of other deaths of security and scientific personnel in Iran.

CNN reported last week that Israel had been keeping the US in the dark over its covert operations, including targeted assassinations and sabotage against Iran’s nuclear program.

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