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US, Iran chief negotiators arrive in Qatar to resume nuclear talks

Washington’s special envoy Robert Malley meets with Qatari foreign minister; Iran’s Ali Bagheri joins Iranian ambassador in capital ahead of indirect negotiations

Robert Malley, US Special Envoy for Iran, is shown in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)
Robert Malley, US Special Envoy for Iran, is shown in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

DOHA, Qatar — Iran’s chief negotiator joined his US counterpart in Qatar on Tuesday ahead of indirect talks aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear deal, officials and media said.

Ali Bagheri and his delegation arrived in Doha, Iran’s IRNA news agency said, after US special envoy Robert Malley held talks with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Iranian Ambassador to Qatar Hamidreza Dehghani tweeted a photo of himself with Bagheri in a hotel lobby.

The US-Iran talks, due to take place this week, will be separate from broader EU-mediated negotiations in Vienna between Iran and major powers, which have been going on for more than a year.

Malley and Sheikh Mohammed met “to discuss the strong partnership and our joint diplomatic efforts to address issues with Iran,” the US embassy in Doha tweeted.

The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has been hanging by a thread since 2018, when then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it and began reimposing harsh economic sanctions on Iran.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to return to the agreement, saying it would be the best path ahead with the Islamic Republic, although it has voiced growing pessimism in recent weeks.

The talks in Doha will take place indirectly — with the delegations in separate rooms, communicating via an intermediary. The US and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Sheikh Mohammed also discussed the Iran talks with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna in a phone call on Tuesday, the official Qatar News Agency said.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said it hopes the “indirect talks will be culminated in positive results that contribute to the revival of the nuclear deal signed in 2015.”

Talks to revive the nuclear deal began in Vienna in April last year but hit a snag in March following differences between Tehran and Washington, notably over Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from a US terror list.

Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and rapidly growing its stockpile of enriched uranium.

Earlier this month, Iran removed 27 surveillance cameras of the International Atomic Energy Agency to pressure the West toward making a deal. The IAEA’s director-general warned it could deal a “fatal blow” to the accord as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Nonproliferation experts warn Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90% — to make one nuclear weapon, should it decide to do so.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.

Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it would carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran — and already is suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.

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