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Top EU diplomat warns prospect of restoring Iran nuclear deal ‘is shrinking’

‘But we still can do it with an extra effort,’ Joseph Borrell says after speaking with Iranian FM; vows willingness to help resolve ‘latest outstanding issues’

The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell speaks to the press after a meeting of EU defense ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell speaks to the press after a meeting of EU defense ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

The European Union’s top diplomat on Saturday warned of the diminishing prospect of reviving the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

“The possibility to strike a deal and return to JCPOA is shrinking. But we still can do it with an extra effort,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter, referring to the nuclear deal by its initials.

“As coordinator, I stand ready any time to facilitate a solution to the latest outstanding issues.”

Negotiations to restore the pact have been deadlocked since stalling in March. A key sticking point is Tehran’s demand rejected by Washington — that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideological arm of the Iranian military, be removed from a US terrorism blacklist.

Borrell’s tweet came after he spoke Friday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who warned Western nations against taking “political action” against Iran at next week’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The US, France, Britain and Germany want the IAEA’s Board of Governors to censure Iran for failing to explain longstanding questions over uranium traces at undeclared sites.

“Any political action by the United States and the three European countries in the IAEA would provoke without any doubt a proportional, effective and immediate response on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Amir-Abdollahian told Borrell, according to a statement from Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian gives a press conference after meeting his Iraqi counterpart at the foreign ministry headquarters in Iran’s capital Tehran, on April 13, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Amir-Abdollahian also lashed out at the UN’s atomic watchdog, saying a visit by the organization’s chief to Israel violated the organization’s “neutrality.”

IAEA director Rafael Grossi visited Israel on Friday for talks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett focused on Iran’s nuclear program.

A statement from Bennett’s office said the premier warned him that Iran was pushing ahead on developing a nuclear weapon while misleading the world with “false information and lies” to conceal its work.

Bennett stressed the “urgent need” to confront Iran using “all means” to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. He also called for the IAEA to send Tehran a “clear and unequivocal message” at the upcoming Board of Governors meeting dealing with undeclared Iranian nuclear sites.

“Bennett made it clear that while Israel prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, it reserves the right to self-defense and to take action against Iran in order to block its nuclear program should the international community not succeed in the relevant timeframe,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on June 3, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Grossi’s trip came as Israel has expressed growing concerns about Iran’s atomic activities and any potential return to the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.

Israel was a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal and welcomed the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, which caused it to collapse. However, a number of current and former security officials have begun saying that the withdrawal was a mistake, as it has led to Iran accelerating its nuclear enrichment efforts.

The Biden administration has been trying to renew the accord, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for limits to and oversight of its nuclear program.

Iran has always said its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes but has stepped up uranium enrichment after the collapse of the nuclear accord to near weapons-grade levels.

US intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran ran an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Neither the US nor Israel has ruled out the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

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