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Iran nuclear talks to reconvene this week

By Karen DeYoung Washington Post

Negotiations over the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, which reached an impasse and were suspended in March, will resume this week, according to participants in the talks.

The agreement to return to the table, announced over the weekend by Iran and the European Union, came after a visit to Tehran by E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. The E.U., which serves as coordinator of the talks between world powers and Iran, has been trying for months to find a way to restart them.

“A final deal is within reach, if other parties have the will to do so,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote on Twitter late Saturday after meeting with Borrell.

A senior Biden administration official said Sunday that the United States has agreed to attend the new round of talks, which Iranian media said will convene in Doha, the Qatari capital. Previous rounds were held in Vienna. Qatar, which has good relations with both Iran and the United States, has engaged in shuttle diplomacy over the past several months as part of the effort to get the talks restarted.

But the administration official expressed little optimism that agreement is closer than it was when negotiations adjourned three months ago. “We’re not going to prejudge, but we are keeping our expectations very much in check,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy.

Iran continues to reject direct contact with the United States, and the two sides will continue to negotiate returning to the original nuclear agreement indirectly through the European parties – Britain, France and Germany. Russia and China, as signers of the deal, are also at the table.

The nuclear deal, first agreed under the Obama administration in 2015, is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. It sharply limited Iran’s ability to produce and retain the enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon and to allow strict international verification, in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions.

The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and embarked on a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, reimposing the lifted sanctions and adding more than 1,500 others. Iran, in response, has increased the quality and quantity of its enriched-uranium production, far beyond the JCPOA limits.

U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran has gone from a “breakout time” of about one year to what is now only a few weeks. Breakout is the point at which Iran has amassed enough highly enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency that monitors Iran’s nuclear program, said earlier this month that Iran is “very, very close” to having a sufficient quantity of nuclear material for the manufacture of a weapon, although he added that was not the same as “having a bomb.”

Agreement to resume the talks comes as President Joe Biden is about to visit Israel, whose government opposes revival of the nuclear deal. After weekend reports that Israel’s chiefs of military intelligence and strategic planning believe that a return to the 2015 deal is the best path for Israeli security, Reuters reported from Jerusalem, Defense Minister Benny Gantz rebuked them in a tweet saying that only the Israeli government “makes the decisions” on Iran policy.