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Iran nuclear deal: Talks to resume within days, says EU foreign policy chief

The announcement comes after Josep Borrell held talks with Iran's foreign minister on the second day of a surprise visit to Tehran
Josep Borrell's surprise visit to Tehran was his first since February 2020 (AFP)

Talks on reviving the Iranian nuclear deal, which has stalled for three months, will resume within days, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday during a surprise visit to Tehran.

"We will resume the talks on the JCPOA in the coming days... I mean quickly, immediately," Borrell told a news conference in the Iranian capital, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Borrell made the announcement after a two-hour meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the second day of a previously unannounced visit to the Islamic republic.

Amir-Abdollahian confirmed the resumption of the negotiations, AFP reported.

"We have had a long but positive conversation on global cooperation between Iran and the EU," Amir-Abdollahian said. 

"We will try to solve the problems and differences through the negotiations that will resume soon."

Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and began imposing crippling economic sanctions on America's arch-enemy.

Current US President Joe Biden's administration has sought to return to the agreement, saying it would be the best path with Iran.

Talks began in April last year but stalled in March amid differences between Tehran and Washington, notably over a demand by Iran to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from a US terrorism list.

Last weekend, Middle East Eye reported that Tehran has dropped its condition that the IRGC be removed from the list in return for sanctions relief in order to conclude the stalled efforts to revive the nuclear deal.

'Meaningful diplomacy'

On the eve of Borrell's trip, the United States' key negotiator on Iran, Robert Malley, said he had "reiterated firm US commitment to come back to the deal" over a meal with the EU diplomatic chief, according to the EU's coordinator for the talks, Enrique Mora.

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"We remain committed to the path of meaningful diplomacy, in consultation with our European partners," Malley said in a tweet.

France, one of the six world powers that agreed to the 2015 deal, had on Friday appealed to Iran to "seize this diplomatic opportunity to conclude now, while this is still possible". 

Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday that Iran was "serious" about reaching an agreement while calling for "realism from the American side".

The nuclear deal reached with six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the US - gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for guarantees it could not develop an atomic weapon.

Iran has always denied wanting a nuclear arsenal.

Cameras removed

In April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington still believed a return to the accord was "the best way to address the nuclear challenge posed by Iran".

Blinken warned at the time that the "breakout time" for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb if it so chooses was "down to a matter of weeks" after the deal pushed it beyond a year.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors adopted a resolution this month censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the previous discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three sites that Tehran had not declared as having hosted nuclear activities.

On the same day, 8 June, Tehran said it had disconnected a number of IAEA cameras that had been monitoring its nuclear sites.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi later confirmed that 27 cameras had been disconnected, leaving about 40 still in place.

The move by Iran, he warned, could deal a "fatal blow" to the negotiations unless the UN nuclear watchdog's inspectors were given access within three to four weeks.

The visit by Borrell, his first to Tehran since February 2020, could be a determining factor in the fate of the deal.

During the talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the accord, Iran has repeatedly called for guarantees from the Biden administration that there will be no repeat of Trump's pullout.