EU’s top diplomat visits Tehran for nuclear talks

What happened: Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative, visited Iran yesterday to kickstart efforts to save the JCPOA nuclear deal.

  • Borrell met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani as part of a two-day visit to Tehran.
  • Rouhani told Borrell that Iran: “Was ready… to cooperate with the European Union to resolve problems” facing the deal and that Tehran is ready to “return to the commitments” if other parties reciprocate. He also told Borrell that Iran would continue to allow IAEA inspections.
  • Borrell said he was visiting Iran in an attempt to “keep in touch with everybody… to stabilise the region and to create mutual understanding or at least to build trust”, although the EU has not yet released an official statement of Borrell’s words to his Iranian counterparts.
  • Borrell earlier visited Jordan where he met with King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Safadi. Borrell said the EU “will continue to support Jordan”.

Context: Borrell’s visit comes at a difficult time for the European Union. The departure of the UK last Friday deprives the body of diplomatic clout and places more authority and influence with the so called E3 group of the UK, France and Germany.

  • Iran has steadily withdrawn from its commitments under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. In successive violations in 2019 it increased its stockpile of enriched uranium; increased the percentage to which it is enriching uranium; restarted previously prohibited research and development; developed prohibited advanced centrifuges; and restarted enrichment at the Fordow nuclear facility.
  • After the assassination of Qassem Soleimani on 2 January, the Iranian cabinet released a statement announcing that Iran will no longer adhere to its remaining nuclear deal commitments but has not announced any further details.

Looking ahead: Borrell’s visit was intended to maintain lines of communication and did not involve a proper attempt to resolve issues regarding the Iran nuclear deal.

  • The E3 announced on 14 January that they were referring Iranian violations of the nuclear deal to the dispute resolution mechanism. This began a long process that could end with the UN Security Council voting to reimpose sanctions on Iran, but Russia and China will likely veto such a move.
  • The Iranian Foreign Ministry repeated on Monday its previous position that it will not enter bilateral talks with the US until all sanctions are lifted.

The Iranian strategy for now is to try and maintain the status quo until after the US election and they know whether they have to deal with a second Trump term or a new Democrat President.

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