European Union co-ordinator Enrique Mora arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for discussions to end the impasse between Iran and the US over the 2015 accord restricting Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
EU-mediated talks between Tehran and Washington, which opened in Vienna in April 2021, have reached the final stage but have been suspended since March over differences on political points.
Iranian official outlet Nournews reported that the visit "can be regarded as a new step toward constructive negotiations surrounding the few but important remaining issues".
Nournews blamed the US for the deadlock and for undermining the atmosphere of the EU-brokered negotiations by “continuing hostile activities toward Iran” without mentioning the Biden administration’s imposition of fresh sanctions on Iran and Iranians.
During discussions with Iran's chief negotiator Ali Bagheri, Mr Mora seeks to reach a compromise over Tehran's demand that Washington revoke the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard (IRG) as a "terrorist" organisation.
Having pledged to recommit to the deal, the Biden administration has, reportedly, proposed removing the designation if Tehran provides assurances that the IRG would reduce regional tensions and not retaliate against the US for the 2020 assassination of General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the IRG's Quds force. Both actions are legacies of the failed "maximum pressure" campaign mounted by ex-president Donald Trump who withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed 1,500 sanctions on Iran.
However, the Biden White House has come under strong pressure from Israel and US legislators to either abandon the deal or insist on tough new terms which Iran will not accept. The US is under counter-pressure to lift sanctions on Iran's oil sector which could fill part of the gap once bans are imposed on Russian oil exports due to the Ukraine war. This situation has prompted the EU to step up efforts to finalise the deal since further delay could kill it.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the Financial Times the bloc seeks a “middle way” to end the deadlock by revoking the overall IRG terrorist designation while maintaining it on specific IRG branches and activities.
However, any attempt to include the IRG’s ballistic missile programme or regional policies in negotiations on the nuclear programme, in line with US demands, is a “red line” for Tehran.
Iran says it is prepared to discuss such issues directly with the US once the nuclear deal has been restored.
Tehran also wants assurances from the US and EU that Iran will benefit from lifting sanctions. Although the accord was negotiated by the Obama administration – when Joe Biden was vice-president – gains were limited as the US treasury threatened to sanction European and other governments, banks and firms ready to invest in and do business with Iran.
Since US withdrawal, Iran has made qualitative advances by developing powerful centrifuges for enrichment, purifying uranium to 60 per cent beyond the 3.67 per cent level permitted and amassing a large stockpile of enriched uranium. Iran has shown its readiness to revive the deal by preparing for compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency.