EU Announces Nuclear Talks With Iran, U.S. Next Week, but Tehran Rejects Joint Meeting

Iran and the other state parties to the 2015 deal discussed the possible return of the United States to the agreement, which a senior EU official hoped would happen within two months

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Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi attending a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna in 2020.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi attending a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna in 2020.Credit: European Commission / Reuters

The European Union will hold meetings with all Iran nuclear deal participants and the United States in Vienna next Tuesday, it said on Friday, but an official added no direct Iranian-American talks are expected.

"Participants agreed to resume this session of the Joint Commission in Vienna next week, in order to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures, including through convening meetings of the relevant expert groups," the EU, which coordinates the nuclear deal talks, said in a statement.

"The United States will not attend any meeting in which Iran is present, including the meeting of the joint commission [of the nuclear accord], and that is certain," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by a Foreign Ministry website.

A senior EU official later explained that the American delegation that will be in Vienna on Tuesday should be ready for indirect negotiations with the Iranians, rather than a joint meeting.

"It is their business, whether other parties to the [nuclear accord] seek to consult bilaterally or multilaterally with the United States..., whether in Vienna or elsewhere," Araqchi said. "The Iranian delegation will not have any talks with the U.S. delegation at any level."

Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain – all parties to the 2015 deal – discussed in a virtual meeting on Friday the possible return of the United States to the agreement and how to ensure its full and effective implementation by all sides.

The EU official said the next round of talks will seek to create negotiating lists of sanctions that the U.S. could lift and nuclear obligations Iran should meet, with all sides hoping to reach a deal within two months.

Araqchi, a senior negotiator in the talks, told Iranian TV that the participants had agreed to meet in person in Vienna on Tuesday after "frank and serious" talks.

He added a U.S. move to rejoin the nuclear deal doesn't require any talks, according to the semi-official Fars new agency.

"Iran will suspend its steps [scaling back compliance with deal terms] as soon as [U.S.] sanctions are lifted and this is verified," Araqchi also said.

The Biden administration has been seeking to engage Iran in talks about both sides resuming compliance with the deal. Under that accord, U.S. and other economic sanctions on Tehran were removed in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon - an ambition Tehran denies.

U.S. President Joe Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions, prompting Iran, after waiting more than a year, to violate some of the pact's nuclear restrictions in retaliation.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that it was good that Iran nuclear talks were resuming but time is of the essence.

"We have no time to lose," Maas said in a statement. "An agreement that is once again fully respected would be a plus for security for the entire region and the best basis for talks on other important issues of regional stability."

Russia's ambassador to the UN atomic watchdog said that Friday's talks had been businesslike and would continue.

"The impression is that we are on the right track but the way ahead will not be easy and will require intensive efforts. The stakeholders seem to be ready for that," Mikhail Ulyanov said on Twitter.

The meeting will happen in the middle of an Easter lockdown in the Austrian capital aimed at easing pressure on hospitals from rising coronavirus cases.

Vienna and two nearby provinces have been hit hard by a more infectious variant of the virus, prompting them to close non-essential shops and reintroduce all-day restrictions on movement from April 1 until April 11.

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