Iran and EU herald fresh talks to revive nuclear accord in ‘coming days’

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Iran and the EU said talks to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between the Islamic republic and leading global powers would restart “in the coming days”, beginning with indirect talks between Tehran and the US.

“We are ready to resume the talks,” Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, said on Saturday at a joint press conference with Josep Borrell, Europe’s top diplomat, who is visiting the country. “What matters to the Islamic republic is to thoroughly enjoy the economic benefits of the agreement we reached in 2015 . . . [or else] it will not be acceptable” to Iran.

Borrell said that “the coming days [literally] means the coming days. I mean quickly, immediately”.

The EU-brokered talks between the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China — and indirectly with the US — stalled in March after a year of tough negotiations.

Under the agreement — known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — Iran rolled back its enrichment activities in exchange for the US lifting many sanctions. But in 2018 then-US president Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement and imposed the toughest sanctions ever against any country on terrorism charges. It prompted Iran to resume uranium enrichment in 2019, and it has now reached levels close to weapons grade.

US president Joe Biden is willing to resurrect the agreement but Trump’s designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation is seen as a major obstacle.

As well as being Iran’s most powerful security and military organisation the elite force also runs a business empire. Iran is concerned that the terrorist designation will deprive the country of economic benefits under the accord and insists that it be removed. Analysts warn Biden may not be able to do this as it could further complicate domestic politics.

Borrell said there “are decisions that have to be taken in Tehran and in Washington. But we agreed today that this visit will be followed by the resumption of the negotiations also between Iran and [the] US, facilitated by my team to try to solve the last outstanding issues.”

He said that his visit’s objective was to “break the current dynamic of escalation and to break the stalemate of the negotiations”, adding that “it was of paramount importance to give a new momentum to bring the JCPOA on track.”

Later on Saturday at another press conference for foreign media based in Tehran, Borrell clarified that the talks would not take place in Vienna for now, but rather there would be talks in a Gulf littoral state “to solve political differences” between Iran and the US. The talks would still be indirect with EU mediation, he said. After that, all sides could go back to Vienna for a ministerial meeting and final discussions.

Amirabdollahian also said he hoped the US would be “realistic, fair” and “responsible and committed”.

Enrique Mora, the EU envoy co-ordinating indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the US, accompanied Borrell to Tehran. Before heading there he posted a picture on Twitter of a dinner in Brussels with Robert Malley, the US’s special Iran envoy. The picture has been taken by analysts as a sign that Borrell is carrying a message from the US.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran on Thursday and said his country sought the revival of the same JCPOA, no more nor less. Western diplomats in Tehran believe Moscow played a major role in obstructing the talks by demanding that Russia had to benefit economically from a revival of the nuclear deal. Iran denies Moscow sabotaged any agreement.

Borrell said that the world had changed since February when Russia invaded Ukraine.

“The world will be a much more secure place if we have a deal that can ensure for Iran full economic benefits of the agreement and at the same time to address the concerns of the international community about non-proliferation, global security and regional stability,” he said.

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