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Top Iran nuclear negotiator flies home; EU indicates deal awaiting Tehran’s okay

Islamic Republic says trip tied to normal activity, as European foreign affairs czar declares talks over, calling on political leaders to make a decision on restoring JCPOA

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 3, 2021. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 3, 2021. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s top diplomat at months-long talks aimed at restoring its tattered nuclear deal with world powers flew home late Monday for a sudden trip, a sign of the growing pressure on Tehran as the negotiations appear to be nearing their end.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency described Ali Bagheri Kani’s trip as being “within the framework of the usual consultations during the talks.”

However, the top negotiator for the European Union seemed to suggest whether the talks succeeded or failed now rested with the Islamic Republic.

“There are no longer ‘expert level talks.’ Nor ‘formal meetings,’” Enrique Mora wrote on Twitter, responding to comments by an Iranian analyst. “It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise.”

Mora’s comments mirror those of British and French negotiators at the Vienna talks, which has been working to find a way to get America back into the accord it unilaterally abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. It also hopes to get Iran to again agree to measures that drastically scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

They also appear to push back against a constant Iranian refrain in the last weeks of talks that tried to blame any delay on America, which hasn’t been in the room for talks since Trump’s withdrawal. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said he believed “we’re close” on reaching a deal, though there were “a couple of very challenging remaining issues.”

The latest wrinkle, however, is a demand Saturday from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Blinken offer written guarantees over Moscow’s ability to continue trade with Iran as it faces sanctions over its war on Ukraine.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian spoke Monday by phone with Lavrov, with the sanctions threat apparently discussed, according to a statement from his office.

“We are against war and imposition of sanctions, and it is clear that cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and any country, including Russia, should not be affected by the atmosphere of sanctions,” Amirabdollahian said in the statement.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, and Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora stand in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency, while keeping its enrichment at 3.67% purity and its stockpile at only 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium.

As of February 19, the IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was nearly 3200 kilograms (7,055 pounds). Some has been enriched up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

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