EU foreign policy chief hopes Iran nuclear deal in ‘days’

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The EU’s foreign policy chief expressed hope on Wednesday of reviving the Iran nuclear deal within days as Israel’s leader, a staunch rival, backed US President Joe Biden.

The Biden administration is eager to restore the deal scrapped by former President Donald Trump and says Iran has caved in to some demands that held up diplomacy for a year and a half.

“I hope that in the coming days we are not going to lose this momentum and we can close the deal,” top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said after an informal meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Prague.

“It’s clear that there is common ground, that we have an agreement that takes into account, I think, everybody’s concerns,” he said.

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States was also “cautiously optimistic” but declined to set a timetable.

“We think we’re closer now than we’ve been in the last few weeks and months, due in large part to Iran being willing to give up some of its demands that were completely unrelated to the deal,” Kirby told reporters.

The European Union presented on August 8 what it called a final text to restore the landmark 2015 deal, under which they promised Iran sanctions relief in exchange for tight curbs on its nuclear work.

Trump withdrew the United States in 2018 and imposed sweeping new sanctions. A return by Biden could put more than a million barrels of Iranian oil back on international markets, bringing fresh relief at a time when crude prices are retreating from recent highs.

Iran responded to the EU’s proposal with proposed changes to which the United States responded without disclosing details.

– Israel appeals to Biden –

Iran’s arch-rival Israel has stepped up pressure on Western nations to block the deal and is suspected of a shadowy campaign of sabotage and assassination inside Iran to halt its nuclear program.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke to Biden by phone after visits to Washington by both Israel’s defense minister and national security adviser, with its spy chief expected next week.

Lapid and Biden “spoke at length about the negotiations for a nuclear deal and the various efforts to stop Iran’s progress toward building nuclear weapons,” a statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office said.

The two also discussed Iran’s “terrorist activity” with Lapid praising Biden for last week’s US strikes in Syria, which Washington said targeted fighters linked to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

The White House did not immediately comment on the call, but the Israeli statement said Biden “stressed his deep commitment to the security of the State of Israel.”

Lapid told reporters last week that the existing deal “is a bad deal.”

“It would give Iran $100 billion a year” that would be used by Iran-backed militant groups Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, Lapid added.

The Biden administration says it has no illusions about Iran, but that Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach has achieved nothing more than bringing the priest-state closer to the ability to build a nuclear bomb.

In one sticking point, Iran has insisted that the United Nations nuclear watchdog must drop an investigation into three undeclared sites suspected of sensitive work ahead of the 2015 deal.

“We want to reinforce in the text the idea that the International Atomic Energy Agency is focusing on its technical work and moving away from its political role,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on a visit to Moscow.

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