Top EU diplomat heading to Iran amid nuclear tensions

Josep Borrell to meet President Hassan Rouhani in bid to reduce tensions over the country’s nuclear programme.

Ursula Von der Leyen - Josep Borrell Fontelles press conference in Brussels
The visit will allow Borrell 'to convey the EU's strong commitment to preserve' the 2015 nuclear deal [Anadolu]

The European Union‘s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell is on his way to Iran, his first trip since taking office in December, aimed at reducing tensions over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.

During his two-day trip that started on Monday, Borrell will meet President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, his office said in a statement.

Borrell’s visit aims “to de-escalate tensions and seek opportunities for political solutions to the current crisis,” said the office of the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

The 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and a group of world powers has been crumbling since United States President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.

Washington has since stepped up sanctions and a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Tehran.

Iran has gradually stepped back from its own commitments under the deal, while military tensions with the US have brought the two countries to the brink of full-blown confrontation in recent weeks.

Borrell’s visit will allow him “to convey the EU’s strong commitment to preserve” the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and discuss cooperation between the EU and Iran, his office said.

Tensions in the region stepped up after the killing in early January of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by the US in Iraq.

Crippling sanctions

Washington accuses Tehran of seeking a nuclear weapon, which Iran has always denied.

The landmark nuclear deal struck in Vienna between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, the US and Russia – plus Germany, offered Tehran a partial reprieve from crippling international sanctions.

In exchange, Iran agreed to drastically reduce its nuclear activities and submit to a tailor-made inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The renewed US sanctions have almost entirely isolated Iran from the international financial system, driven away oil buyers, and plunged the country into a severe recession.

Iran is now producing uranium enriched beyond the 3.67 percent set by the agreement, and no longer adheres to the limit of 300 kilogrammes (660 pounds) imposed on its enriched uranium stocks.

It has also resumed research and development that was restricted under the deal.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies