EU Foreign Policy Chief Josef Borrell said during a recent visit to Tehran that the Vienna talks will resume with the aim of reinstating the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He made the comments at a joint press conference following talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. Under the JCPOA between Iran the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) Iran agreed to limit its nuclear development in return for the lifting of sanctions. After former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018, Iran began to gradually roll back on the restrictions imposed by the JCPOA after the European parties to the agreement failed to put any measures in place to mitigate those sanctions.

Borrell’s trip was part of a wider international initiative to revive the talks, which had stalled in April after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and US President Joe Biden's administration. Borrell held a meeting in Brussels with EU Iran coordinator Enrique Mora and US Iran Envoy Rob Malley the day before arriving in Tehran after which Borrell tweeted that Malley "reiterated firm US commitment to come back to the deal”. A few days before, Amirabdollahian held high-level discussions with his Russian and Chinese counterparts on the fate of the JCPOA. During a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Amirabdollahian had that Iran hoped to reach agreement in the near future based on US realism.

Amirabdollahian described his talks with Borrell as positive and comprehensive but added that any move that adversely affects Iran’s economic interests would be unacceptable. "We are prepared to resume talks in the coming days. What is important for Iran is to fully receive the economic benefits of the 2015 accord," he said.

This followed months of growing tension between Iran and the US and deteriorating relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the JCPOA. Iran was also angered by a series of terrorist attacks on its nuclear facilities which it attributed to Israel and earlier assassinations of leading nuclear scientists.

In April, after the Vienna talks broke down, Iran announced it was enriching uranium to 60% and in early June, the IAEA a resolution rebuking Iran for failing to cooperate with an agency investigation into questions relating to alleged undeclared nuclear material and past nuclear research. In response, Iran disconnected 27 IAEA surveillance cameras at its nuclear facilities, which IAEA director general Rafael Grossi described as a possible "fatal blow" to the JCPOA, unless they were restored within a month.

The talks have been bogged over a number of issues, including Tehran's insistence that Washington must remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organisation list. Iranian leaders have little confidence that a revived nuclear deal would be durable given former US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement.

Another obstacle is President Biden’s perceived lack of appetite to face a domestic political fight over the nuclear deal. There are also fears that the US, and Israel will misjudge each another’s tolerance for escalation.

For the Europeans, the urgency to achieve a new deal with Iran has been increased in recent months because of the energy crisis and Western sanctions on Russian oil and gas. In these circumstances renewing trade with oil-rich Iran is seen as vital, but this is unlikely while while US sanctions on Iran remain in place.

Following the talks with Borrell, Amirabdollahian said Iran “seeks a balanced relationship with the world, and in a balanced foreign policy, Europe has an important place." He added that “expanding relations with Europe is one of our priorities”. He warned, however, that Iran would react to any further Israeli “provocative actions” against its nuclear programme.

A similar message was delivered on 26 June by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who denied that Iran wanted to abandon attempts to revive the JCPOA but stressed the need for the other parties to resume honouring their commitments. “Our policy is to have the sanctions removed and these sanctions must be removed as soon as possible, because they are unjust and against the commitments of the US and Europe (under the JCPOA),” he said. “We have no intention of stopping the negotiations, but we will not back down from our position,” he underlined.

Meanwhile, Iran's Judiciary announced that Tehran Civil Court has ordered the USA to pay $4.3 billion to the families of nuclear scientists who had been killed. Some $2.5 billion of the fine is for the physical and psychological damage suffered by the bereaved families and the rest is for the losses inflicted on the nuclear organisations involved.

Date: Tuesday, 28 June 2022
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