A top European Union diplomat was holding talks in Tehran on Sunday, Iranian state media reported, amid hopes an agreement to restore Iran’s torn nuclear deal could be struck with world powers.
The meetings between EU envoy Enrique Mora and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani come at a sensitive time for talks to revive the deal, as a solution to some of the most thorny issues in the negotiations has loomed.
The report on the Tehran talks was scanty in detail, saying only that the diplomats were discussing the latest on the nuclear deal, with Kani repeating that Iran believed a deal was within reach if America was “realistic” in its demands .
Former President Donald Trump abandoned the 2018 nuclear deal and reimposed crushing sanctions. Iran has gradually broken the deal with a massive expansion of its nuclear work.
Nuclear talks were scrapped earlier this month when last-minute disputes in Vienna coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Western financial sanctions on Moscow.
But officials have since made encouraging noises. Russia appeared to back down from its earlier call for its trade with Iran to be exempt from Western sanctions.
And for the first time on Saturday, Iran’s top diplomat publicly signaled flexibility over Tehran’s demand that Washington stop labeling the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, its powerful paramilitary force, as a foreign terrorist organization.
The prospect of the designation being lifted had alarmed America’s Middle Eastern allies, such as Israel, who had strongly opposed the original nuclear deal, arguing that easing sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards would harm Iran-backed Hezbollah militant groups in Lebanon up to the Houthis in Yemen would encourage.
In a visible sign of growing shared regional concern over a renewed nuclear deal, the Israeli government hastily arranged an unprecedented summit of top diplomats from Arab countries who have normalized relations with Israel, along with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Statements by US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley on Sunday underscored concerns among Washington’s allies in the region. He declined to discuss details of the nuclear talks but reiterated that America had failed to strike a broader deal with Iran that would limit its ballistic missile program and limit its regional military policies.
“It would have been better but (the nuclear deal) wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t able to address the other issues,” Malley said at the Doha Forum, a Middle East conference in Qatar. “Many in the region see the IRGC the same way we do. … But we know this isn’t a deal that will address that.
However, Malley was quick to stress that regardless of what happens to the Guard’s classification as terrorism, separate sanctions would remain in place for ballistic missile development and alleged human rights abuses.
Concerns about a restored deal were also evident in Tehran, exposing deep fissures in Iran’s divided political system.
Hardliners opposed to any rapprochement with the West seemed concerned about possible Iranian compromises after Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state television that the Revolutionary Guards had accepted that the terrorist designation would remain in place so that Iran could “do everything.” Required” could pursue interests of the country”.
Hossein Shariatmadari, appointed editor-in-chief of the hardline daily Kayhan by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissed Amirabdollahian’s comments as “unexpected and strange”.
In an interview with the semi-official Fars news agency late Saturday, Shariatmadari insisted that the foreign minister misunderstood the Revolutionary Guard when speaking on behalf of the force.
“Attributing this statement to watch commanders does not correspond to any of the known characteristics of watch commanders,” he said, adding that Amirabdollahian falsely gave the impression of a “surrender” by the guard. He expressed hope that the paramilitaries would quickly “correct” Amirabdollahian’s statements.
Sayyid Kamal Kharzi, a foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, also suggested a tough line from the Doha Forum, dismissing ongoing US sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards.
“The IRGC is a national army and a national army cannot be listed as a terrorist group,” Kharzi told the audience. “It is very important for the Iranians that the IRGC be delisted. … They won’t compromise on that.”
However, there was ambiguity as Malley and Kharzi gave completely different assessments of the chances of an imminent revival of the deal.
“It’s imminent,” Kharzi said.
Malley seemed more skeptical.
“I can’t be sure it’s imminent,” he said. “It’s not just around the corner and it’s not inevitable.” ___
Jo reported from Doha, Qatar. Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.