EU's Borrell 'optimistic' about possible new Iran talks


FILE PHOTO: EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell delivers a speech during a debate on the future of EU-U.S. relations as part of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 5, 2021. Frederick Florin/Pool via REUTERS

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) -The European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell said on Monday he hoped EU and Iranian diplomats would meet soon to discuss a potential return to nuclear talks but declined to confirm reports of a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

A senior EU official said last week Iran was not ready yet to return to actual talks with world powers over its nuclear programme and related U.S. sanctions but could discuss with the EU in Brussels texts that would later be put forward.

Iran's Fars news agency said discussions could take place on Thursday, citing a lawmaker on Sunday after a meeting with Iran's foreign minister. Borrell, speaking as he arrived for an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday, said he was becoming more optimistic.

"No confirmation yet, but things are getting better and I am hopeful we will have preparatory meetings in Brussels in the days to come," Borrell said in Luxembourg as he arrived for an EU foreign ministers meeting. "You never know, I am more optimistic today than yesterday".

Western diplomats have said they are concerned Tehran's new negotiating team - under a president known as an anti-Western hardliner rather than a pragmatist like his predecessor - may make demands beyond the scope of what had already been agreed.

Some also say they fear Iran is seeking to gain time by talking to the EU rather than all the parties to the deal, which includes the United States.

Iran has long denied any ambition to acquire nuclear weapons and accused the United States of unfair treatment.

EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet Iran's nuclear negotiating team, four months after talks broke off between Iran and world powers as Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iranian president.

The Iranian establishment has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the United States 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 effectively fell apart after former U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 and Tehran resumed building its stockpile of enriched uranium.

France's Foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said on Monday Paris had not been informed of any meeting in Brussels later this week and insisted that any such meeting could not replace the talks in Vienna.

"These exchanges cannot replace the negotiations in Vienna with the other participants in the JCPoA and the United States," she told reporters.

"These negotiations were halted at Tehran's request four months ago now, and Iran has yet to commit to a date for their resumption."

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Phil Blenkinsop and John Irish; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Irish and Philippa Fletcher)

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