JEDDAH: EU leaders delivered a snub to Iran on Monday amid fears that Tehran is playing for time over talks to revive the collapsed 2015 deal to curb its nuclear program.
A day after Iran’s Foreign Ministry said discussions with the EU would take place in Brussels on Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said no such meeting was planned or would happen.
Borrel made it clear that there would be no serious talks outside the framework of negotiations between world powers and Iran in Vienna, and said time was not on Iran’s side. He said Iranian officials had requested bilateral meetings with him and other parties to the deal, although the wish was not “precise.”
“We made it clear to the Iranians that time is not on their side and it’s better to go back to the negotiating table quickly,” he said.
Western diplomats are concerned that Tehran’s new hard-line negotiating team may make demands beyond the scope of what was already agreed before the Vienna talks stalled in June.
Some also fear Iran is seeking to gain time and leverage by talking to the EU, which coordinates the talks, rather than all the parties to the deal — France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and indirectly the US.
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EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator, was in Tehran last week to meet Iran’s new nuclear negotiating team, four months after talks broke off as Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iranian president.
The Iranian establishment has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the US in Vienna on both sides returning to compliance with the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.
The deal fell apart in 2018 when former US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran and Tehran resumed building its stockpile of enriched uranium. Talks on reviving it are deadlocked over which side should make the first move toward compliance.
Hinting at frustration in Paris, foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said France had not been informed of any meeting in Brussels. “These exchanges cannot replace the negotiations in Vienna with the other participants and the US,” she said.
“These negotiations were halted at Tehran’s request four months ago now, and Iran has yet to commit to a date for their resumption,” she said.