Top EU official in Tehran to close gaps in Vienna nuclear talks

Few remaining issues between Iran, US in Vienna talks, include de-listing of IRGC.

Top EU official in Tehran to close gaps in Vienna nuclear talks

European Union's coordinator for Iran nuclear talks held wide-ranging discussions with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday in a bid to close remaining gaps on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

Enrique Mora met with Ali Bagheri Kani, who has been leading Iran's team of negotiators in Vienna since November, after four weeks of deadlock.

The two sides reviewed the latest status in Vienna nuclear negotiations that have been underway since April last year and discussed the remaining issues, according to Iran's state media.

Bagheri reaffirmed Iran's "seriousness and determination" in finalizing the agreement and stressed that the deal could be clinched "if the American side is realistic", it added.

Meanwhile, both officials agreed to continue consultations closely in the coming days, as Mora heads off to Washington from Tehran.

The EU coordinator also held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The parties to the nuclear accord - Iran and P4+1 (China, Russia, France, UK, and Germany) - have for weeks signaled that the marathon talks are at the cusp of an agreement, with "political decisions" needed from Iran and the US.

The eighth and decisive round of talks was suspended earlier this month, a decision EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell attributed to "external factors", in an oblique reference to Russia’s demand of "guarantees" from Washington.

In his remarks on Saturday, on the sidelines of the Doha Forum in Qatar, the top EU official said the parties were "close" to an agreement, but "some issues" were pending.

"I cannot tell you when or how, but it is a matter of days," he said, hours before Mora set off for Tehran.

De-listing IRGC

One of the sticking points emerging between Tehran and Washington is the de-listing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US Department of State blacklist.

Amir-Abdollahian, in an interview with the state broadcaster on Saturday, confirmed that the parties were "close to the point of agreement", adding that "few important issues" remained to be resolved.

He termed IRGC's de-listing as one of the "key remaining issues", and said if the Americans take a "realistic approach", the agreement will be "within the reach".

"What has been preventing the talks from an agreement are few issues on the part of Americans," the top diplomat noted, obliquely pointing to IRGC's de-listing. "There are challenges and differences of opinion on some issues."

His words were echoed on Sunday by Kamal Kharazi, a senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while speaking at the Doha Forum.

He said the IRGC should be removed from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, calling it "unacceptable", while adding that the nuclear deal in Vienna was "imminent".

It came after US special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, asserted that the IRGC will continue to be on the US blacklist, de-linking it with the ongoing nuclear deal talks.

Speaking at the Doha Forum, Malley said "if Iran suspends its nuclear program, sanctions will be lifted," adding that he was not sure if the nuclear deal was imminent.

Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018, which was followed by the reinstatement of sanctions on Iran.

Since May 2019, Tehran has taken a series of measures to roll back its commitments under the landmark deal, ramping up its nuclear enrichment up to 60% purity.

In a bid to revive diplomacy and salvage the deal, the Biden administration has since April last year been indirectly engaged in negotiations with Iran, with breakthrough still eluding.