EU denies nuclear talks with Iran next Thursday

Josep Borrell qualifies his words and now speaks of a prior meeting in which the nuclear issue will not be addressed

REUTERS/JOHN THYS  -   The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, during a press conference.

Just over 24 hours have passed for the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, to rectify his statements about the possibility of discussing the nuclear issue with Iran next Thursday. "I am more optimistic today than yesterday, things are improving and I hope that we will have preparatory meetings in the coming days," Borrell said about the resumption of talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iranian representatives. A few hours later, however, he qualified his words and described this week's meeting in Brussels as a pre-meeting.

But it was not only Borrell who advanced the possibility of resuming negotiations on the JCPOA at next Thursday's meeting. Iranian MP Ahmad Alirezabeigui, after a meeting with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, assured that "talks with the 4+1 Group will resume on Thursday in Brussels". However, the EU's high representative now says that "the talks are scheduled to take place in Vienna and will take place on a date yet to be fixed". The contradictory statements seem to reveal that even they themselves are not clear on how, when and where the nuclear deal will be revisited.

AP PHOTO/MISHA JAPARIDZE - Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amirabollahian

What Borrell did want to make clear is that time is not on Tehran's side and that the best thing for both sides would be to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible: "We are making it clear to the Iranians that time is not on their side and it is better to return to the negotiating table quickly", said the former Spanish minister. Iran has never been known for transparency, but the arrival of Ebrahim Raisi has increased the government's opacity, at least as far as the JCPOA is concerned. Observers believe that this controversy and shifting of opinion is a strategy to buy time, something that, according to the EU, is not very favourable to Iran.

AFP/AFP - Map of Iran showing major nuclear facilities

There is some concern in Western countries about the possible change in Iran's position. While it is true that, in the last meetings in June in the Austrian capital, not much - if anything - progress was made, the change of government in Tehran poses an unknown factor for future talks. There is a certain sector that believes that the position of Raisi's government could be even tougher than that of the previous government led by Hassan Rohani and increase the demands that, on the other hand, made it impossible four months ago to find a meeting point between the Iranians and the 4+1 Group - the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany -.

Enrique Mora, head of Josep Borrell's cabinet, visited the Iranian capital a week ago to make initial contacts with Iran's new negotiating team. The Raisi government has refused, at least for the moment, to resume indirect talks with the United States, despite the Biden administration's predisposition to reach an agreement, aware of the danger of allowing the Iranians to continue enriching uranium without any control. According to Borrell, Iran "would like to have preliminary talks with me and other members of the nuclear agreement", so that negotiations with the other parties can then resume.

AFP/ ATTA KENARE - Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses parliament in the capital Tehran.

The news surrounding Iran's uranium enrichment has been a constant since the US unilateral exit from the JCPOA at the end of 2018 with Donald Trump in office. The JCPOA limited uranium enrichment to 3.67% purity, which has not prevented Iran from producing uranium 16 times more enriched than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, reaching 60% purity. Not only that, they also have stockpiles of uranium enriched to 20 %, significantly higher than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates.

The latest report claimed that the stockpile of 20 per cent uranium had grown from 62 to 84 kilos in the last quarter. Recently, however, Iran's nuclear energy chief, Mohamed Eslami, claimed that they have "more than 120 kilograms of 20 % enriched uranium". It is not only that Iran is not respecting the measures stipulated in the JCPOA, which is taken for granted, but also that the surveillance and monitoring measures that, in principle, should be respected even without the active agreement, do not serve to prevent the Iranians from continuing to enrich uranium and endangering the security of the region.