Iran ‘weighing EU proposal for informal talks with nuclear deal members and US’

By bne IntelIiNews February 22, 2021

Iran is assessing a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the 2015 nuclear deal and the US, but has yet to respond to it, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on February 20.

Iran takes the line that the US must lift former president Donald Trump’s sanctions on Tehran before it will return to full compliance with the deal, while Washington says Iran must return to compliance with the deal (formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) before it lifts the sanctions and rejoins the accord.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested earlier this month that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could “synchronise” or “choreograph” the moves.

“We are studying Josep Borrell’s proposal to hold an informal meeting of the 4 + 1 [nuclear deal members] with the United States and Iran, and we are consulting with our partners, including Russia and China, and we will respond to this proposal in the future,” Araqchi said in an interview with state TV.

“However, we believe a US return to the nuclear accord does not require a meeting and the only way for it is to lift the sanctions,” Araqchi added.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the EU floated the idea of a conversation among Iran and the six major powers that struck the nuclear accord. “The Europeans have invited us and ... it is simply an invitation to have a conversation, a diplomatic conversation.”

The UN nuclear watchdog said on February 21 it had agreed a deal with Iran to soften the impact of steps Tehran plans to take this week that include ending snap inspections of its nuclear development programme. Both sides have agreed to keep "necessary" monitoring for up to three months, it said.

The announcement by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi, made at Vienna airport after a weekend trip to Iran, confirmed that Tehran would go ahead with its plan to slash cooperation with the agency on February 23.

A key part of the Iran's plan for reducing cooperation this week is, at the instigation of the country’s parliament and its dominant hardliners who brought forward legislation, ending implementation of the Additional Protocol, under which the IAEA has the right to carry out snap inspections in member states at sites not declared to the agency. Iran agreed to implement the protocol under the 2015 nuclear deal.

"This law exists. This law is going to be applied, which means that the Additional Protocol, much to my regret, is going to be suspended," Grossi told the airport news conference, as reported by Reuters.

"There is less access, let's face it. But still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work," Grossi said, calling it "a temporary technical understanding."

Before he spoke, the IAEA and Iran issued a joint statement saying Tehran would continue implementing the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, Iran’s core obligations to the agency that allow for monitoring of its declared nuclear facilities.

The IAEA will also continue "necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to three months", the statement said, without specifying what those activities are.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in an interview with the state-owned Press TV that Iran was awaiting action from the US, not promises, and emphasised that the cutback in inspections was mandated by Iran’s parliament and could not be overridden until sanctions were lifted. “We need concrete actions, not words,” he said.

Zarif said Iran would need to know how, if the US returned to the JCPOA, it would not simply walk out again. He said the issue of compensation for the $1tn damage inflicted on the Iranian economy by the Trump sanctions would also have to be discussed.

The IAEA's cameras monitoring Iran’s nuclear development programme will be shut off in line with the legislation passed by the hardline parliament, Zarif, a member of the pragmatic and moderate Rouhani government, confirmed.

“This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum,” Zarif also told Press TV. “This is an internal domestic issue between the parliament and the government. We are supposed to implement the laws of the country. And the parliament adopted legislation—whether we like it or not.”

In comments aimed at US President Joe Biden, Zarif said: “Biden claims that Trump’s maximum pressure policy [on Iran] was maximum failure... but they have not changed that policy. The United States is addicted to pressure, sanctions and bullying... It does not work with Iran.”

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