Iran Rejects Offer of Direct Nuclear Talks With US, High-Level Diplomats Say

Iran rejected an offer from the European Union to organize direct nuclear talks with the United States, senior diplomats say, risking new tensions between Tehran and western capitals.

Two high-ranking Western diplomats said Iran has ruled out attending a meeting in Europe for now, saying it first wanted a guarantee 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 had refused to provide sanctions relief before face-to-face negotiations with Iran took place.

Diplomats said Iran’s rejection did not end all hopes for direct negotiations in the coming months and that Tehran’s move could be an attempt to gain influence in future talks. Those talks could still start before the Iranian New Year in late March.

Still, Iran’s move is likely to exacerbate tensions in the coming days.

A State Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

At stake are the EU’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew and whose boundaries Iran has subsequently crossed over. Both the Biden administration and Iran say they want to restore the deal, but the two sides have been hampered by a debate over which should move first.

As that dispute has escalated, France, the United Kingdom and Germany are working on a resolution they plan to present to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency next week that would censure Iran for its recent steps to expand its nuclear activities. and their lack of cooperation. with the agency’s investigation into his nuclear work.

Iran has warned that if the censorship measure continues, it could end an agreement it reached earlier this month with the IAEA that would allow most international inspections to continue. Iran had previously said it would significantly restrict inspectors’ access to its nuclear activities, but reduced that measure after IAEA director general Rafael Grossi visited Tehran.

If Iran follows through on that threat, it would greatly reduce international oversight of Iran’s nuclear work, a situation Grossi has said would weaken the agency’s ability to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check.

The Biden administration has said it wants to return to the nuclear deal, but will not suspend its sanctions on Iran until Tehran reverses the multiple measures it has taken to violate the 2015 nuclear deal.

European diplomats had warned that if Iran stayed away from the talks, which the EU hoped to arrange next week, it could leave Tehran more diplomatically isolated. A senior European diplomat said Iran, however, feared to return home empty-handed from a meeting with the United States, which could have sparked a huge reaction in Iran.

Write to Laurence Norman at [email protected] and Michael R. Gordon at [email protected]

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