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EU optimistic on nuclear deal despite Iran leadership change

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European Union negotiators are optimistic on the chances of reviving the nuclear deal with Iran, despite the election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as the country’s new president, a senior EU official said Saturday.

“We still think that the most likely scenario is an agreement. What I cannot tell you is when and [under] what conditions” said the senior official. 

International negotiators have held six rounds of talks in Vienna to restore full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal which has been on life support since the Trump administration’s decision to pull out in 2018. The deal curbed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.

Negotiations were paused following the election of Raisi in June. He was sworn in this week to replace the more moderate Hassan Rouhani.  

Contacts this week with Iranian officials on the sidelines of Raisi’s inauguration have not clarified when talks on the nuclear deal will resume or who will be in Tehran’s negotiating team, said the EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks.

“They will come back the moment they have completed all the different steps in the new administration” the official said, including the submission of ministerial appointments to Iran’s parliament. “So my understanding is [that] we are talking about sometime at the beginning of September,” although that remains speculative.

The official said it was “not decided yet” if Iran’s foreign ministry would continue to lead negotiations or whether the task would be passed to the Iranian National Security Council, which formulates nuclear policy. 

In talks this week, Iran didn’t contest that negotiations will resume from whey were left off in June. There was no mention “of any specific change that it has been decided, or not,” the official told reporters.

Last week Israel, as well as the U.K and the U.S., blamed Iran for a suspected drone attack on a tanker in the Arabian Sea that killed two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian. On Friday, foreign ministers from the G7 group issued a statement condemning the attack. “All available evidence clearly points to Iran,” said the statement, which was also signed by the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, who serves as coordinator of the nuclear agreement.

Iran-backed Hezbollah militias in Lebanon also fired rockets towards Israeli forces on Friday.

The EU official said it was too early too say whether this means the new Iranian administration has signalled a more confrontational line that could complicate efforts to reach a nuclear deal. 

The official rejected criticism over the EU participation at Raisi’s inauguration. The bloc was represented by Enrique Mora, deputy secretary-general of the European External Action Service, who is also the EU official overseeing the nuclear deal negotiations.

On human rights where Raisi’s election has heightened concerns, the official argued the EU is “the privileged channel” for human rights organizations when “they want to transmit messages about an imminent death penalty or the desperate situation of somebody in prison … and we will keep working with them in the future.” 

In foreign policy terms, the official stressed that the EU is maintaining a line of “diplomatic critical engagement — and we have had that policy for a number of years.”

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