Kerry to meet with Zarif as US signals end to Iran sanctions in sight

Top American, Iranian diplomats to hold Vienna talks after IAEA says report on Tehran nuclear compliance due Saturday

Then-US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on May 30, 2015 in Geneva. (AFP / POOL / SUSAN WALSH)
Then-US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on May 30, 2015 in Geneva. (AFP / POOL / SUSAN WALSH)

US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Vienna on Saturday for talks with his EU and Iranian counterparts, Federica Mogherini and Mohammad Javed Zarif, on the Iran nuclear deal, the State Department said Friday.

The trip comes amid speculation that the United Nation’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog is about to announce Iran has fulfilled its side of the deal to put an atomic bomb beyond its reach.

The US is waiting for the nod from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before lifting the crippling sanctions that ultimately drove Tehran to the negotiating table, the White House said Friday. In order for the economic measures to be lifted, Iran must meet certain conditions outlined in an agreement on its nuclear program with world powers reached in July 2015.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry will meet with Zarif and Mogherini to discuss the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program.

“As we’ve said, all parties have continued making steady progress toward ‘Implementation Day’ of the JCPOA, which will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” Toner said.

International and US officials have refused to confirm that implementation of the agreement will begin Saturday, but agree that it will start in the coming days and Iran expects it before Sunday.

Diplomatic sources said earlier Friday that the IAEA will likely confirm on Saturday morning that Iran has complied with the terms of last July’s landmark deal. The eagerly awaited report, which Iran had said could be released Friday, will clear the way for the lifting of the sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

It will say that Iran has scaled down key areas of its nuclear activities in line with the July 2015 agreement, which aimed to render impossible any dash to build nuclear weapons.

The measures include Iran slashing by two-thirds its number of uranium enrichment centrifuges, removing the core of its Arak reactor and sharply reducing its stock of uranium.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that Iran was making “important progress” toward curbing its nuclear program, and that it was possible Tehran had already completed all the necessary steps.

But, he said, Iran would not get any sanctions relief until the IAEA independently verified that all steps have been completed.

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