Nuclear negotiators close in on date to restart Iran talks

A top European official is expected to fly to Tehran as soon as this week to seek an agreement to restart nuclear talks between Iran and world powers after months of delays, officials with knowledge of the meetings said. 

Any pick-up of negotiations, aimed at reining in the Islamic Republic’s atomic activities in exchange for sanctions relief, is being closely monitored by energy markets. Western nations including the U.S. and Germany have repeatedly warned they’re not willing to wait forever for a new round of talks to begin after the last one stalled in June. 

European Union deputy foreign policy chief Enrique Mora is expected in the Iranian capital for talks within days, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified in line with diplomatic rules. Shuttle diplomacy between the participants in the talks – China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.S. and U.K. – has picked up recently, and a restart of broader talks could happen within the next three weeks, they said. 

Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Commission, declined to comment on any travel plans, saying it was part of the work of officials to see partners around the world. On the Iran negotiations, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell “has stressed repeatedly that it is urgent to resume Vienna talks very soon,” and the Iranian foreign minister had promised him a swift return to negotiations, Stano said. 

Iranian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Successfully coaxing the U.S. to rejoin and the Persian Gulf nation to comply with the 2015 agreement could unleash a wave of oil amid tightening global supply. Negotiations stalled after Iranians elected conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi as their president. 

Iran’s nuclear program has been racing forward despite repeated incidents of alleged sabotage, yielding higher quantities of enriched uranium – which could be used for weapons if purified to higher levels – along with more sophisticated nuclear technologies. 

Of even greater concern is the “fragile state” of nuclear inspections in Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said last week during an online Energy Intelligence briefing. 

The nuclear agreement, which the Trump administration quit in 2018 to reimpose sanctions, gave international monitors unprecedented access to Iranian nuclear facilities. However, many of those powers have been suspended since February, eroding international oversight on the program. 

Iran denies its nuclear program has a military component, but distrust of that claim led world powers to seek the 2015 deal. 

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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