Foreign ministers expected to gather with eye on reviving Iran nuclear deal

VIENNA — Foreign ministers are likely to meet in Vienna in the coming days with the hopes of sealing a return to the Iran nuclear deal, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. 

The two people said the meeting may involve the Iranian foreign minister and foreign ministers from the three European countries involved in the talks — Britain, Germany and France. The officials are aiming to resurrect a 2015 deal that limited Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for broad sanctions relief. The agreement was left on life support after the U.S. pulled out in 2018. 

The foreign ministers from China and Russia, two other countries involved in the deal, could possibly join online. The meeting has not been confirmed yet and it is still not entirely clear who will attend. 

The event will likely serve as a gathering of the so-called Joint Commission — the body that can make formal agreements about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is officially known. 

There, officials could adopt a formal decision to restore the 2015 deal, although the final text is still subject to revisions and further negotiations.

The U.S. will not attend as it is not currently part of the deal, even as it tries to negotiate a return. 

A U.S. official involved in the negotiations, however, downplayed the possibility of a meeting or an imminent breakthrough.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the official said. “The remaining issues are extremely difficult. And there’s no meeting of foreign ministers planned.”

In recent weeks, other negotiators have indicated that an agreement to revivify the nuclear deal was within reach. 

The potential agreement includes a roadmap that would bring the U.S. and Iran back into full compliance with the original JCPOA. Under the deal, Washington would roll back sanctions on Iran in return for strict limits on and inspection of its nuclear program.

Officials involved in the talks say the roadmap outlines detailed and sequenced steps the U.S. and Iran would each take. It would involve Washington unfreezing Iranian assets held in foreign banks and lifting sanctions on oil exports. For Iran, it would involve taking steps to dismantle and store its advanced centrifuges, reduce its enrichment level as well as ship its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia.

Diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, China and the U.S. have been negotiating in the Austrian capital since last April. 

The negotiations are mediated and coordinated by the European Union, which also has the main responsibility for drafting the text. EU diplomats have been shuttling between the U.S. and Iranian delegations because Tehran refuses to hold direct talks with Washington.

U.S., European, as well as Russian negotiators, have warned in recent months that Iran is only weeks away from having enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, arguing that time is running out for a successful conclusion of the talks.

Nahal Toosi contributed reporting.

This article has been updated with comments from a U.S. official involved in the negotiations.

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