Iran has rejected the European Union’s proposal to hold direct nuclear talks with the United States, senior diplomats say, risking new tensions between Tehran and Western capitals.
Two senior Western diplomats said Iran had so far ruled out its presence at a meeting in Europe, saying it wanted a guarantee first that the United States would lift some sanctions after the meeting.
The United States had said it would attend the talks, which the EU hoped to host in the coming days. However, Washington has refused to ease sanctions before face-to-face talks with Iran.
Diplomats said Iran’s rejection had not dashed all hopes of direct talks in the coming months, and that Tehran’s move could be an attempt to gain leverage in future talks. These talks could still begin before the Iranian New Year in late March.
A State Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Efforts are under way to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew and whose borders were subsequently violated. Both the Biden administration and Iran say they want to reinstate the agreement, but both sides are hampered by a debate over who should go first.
As the dispute escalates, France, the United Kingdom and Germany are working on a resolution they plan to present to the International Atomic Energy Agency next week, which will condemn Iran for its latest steps to expand its nuclear activities and for its refusal to cooperate with the probe of the nuclear work agency.
Iran has warned that if the resentment continues, it could end an agreement reached earlier this month with the IAEA, which will allow most international inspections to continue. Iran had previously said it would significantly restrict inspectors’ access to its nuclear activities, but reduced the move after IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi visited Tehran.
If Iran adheres to this threat, it would significantly reduce international oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities, which Mr Grossi said would undermine the agency’s ability to keep Iran’s nuclear program under control.
The Biden administration has said it wants to return to the nuclear deal, but will not end its sanctions against Iran until Tehran reverses the numerous steps taken to violate the 2015 nuclear deal.
European diplomats have warned that if Iran stays out of talks the EU hopes to hold next week, it could leave Tehran more isolated diplomatically. A senior European diplomat said, however, that Iran was afraid to return empty-handed from a meeting with the United States, which could provoke a serious reaction in Iran.
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