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In latest nuclear talks, the European Union presses Iran to make some decisions

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

European negotiators are getting closer to reviving the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Trump administration walked away from the previous deal in 2018, reimposing strict economic sanctions. In response, Iran ramped up its nuclear activity. Now, the European Union has drafted a new agreement for Tehran and Washington to finalize.

MARTINEZ: NPR's international correspondent Peter Kenyon joins us now from Istanbul with the latest developments. Peter, the EU is overseeing these talks. They include Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and Iran. And this week, the EU gave Iran a bit of a warning. Tell us about that.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, the EU submitted what it's calling the final text for restoring the agreement. Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that what can be negotiated has been negotiated. It's now a final text. He said what's needed now are political answers. And if those answers are positive, they can sign a deal. So that's where the talks are at.

MARTINEZ: All right. So how did Iran respond? And what's the U.S. been saying about it?

KENYON: Well, Iran basically said the EU, as one negotiator, didn't have the right to declare what a final text would be. Tehran said it would treat this as another proposal for restoring the agreement and would respond accordingly with its own ideas. Now, the U.S. has weighed in, even though Washington is only indirectly involved in these talks. The U.S. hasn't been part of the agreement since Trump's withdrawal four years ago. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week that what the EU put forward is a best proposal for reviving the deal, one the U.S. can support, and now it's up to Iran to decide whether it's prepared to move forward.

MARTINEZ: It was 2015 when the deal was reached, and it seemed to work. Inspectors were making sure that Iran wasn't making a nuclear weapon, and sanctions were being lifted in return. And the Biden administration and Iran said they wanted to go back into it. Why has this been so difficult to do?

KENYON: Well, on paper, it does seem like something both sides could agree on fairly quickly. But in practice, it's been different. There have been obstacles, including new demands from the hard-line government in Tehran. One of those requested that in order to revive the nuclear agreement, Washington had to remove Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Now, that was a nonstarter from the American point of view, but it did take some time to deal with.

There have been other Iranian requests that went nowhere. At one point, Iran was seeking a guarantee that no future U.S. president would do what Trump did and pull out of the agreement. Now, that could only happen if the deal were a treaty, which would have needed congressional approval, which was seen as highly unlikely. So that didn't happen, either.

MARTINEZ: All right. So are things coming to a head now?

KENYON: That is what everybody is watching to see. If this deal is going to be revived, a number of things have to happen. From the West point of view, the most important moves have to include Iran rolling back the violations of the nuclear limits in the JCPOA, getting back into compliance. Tehran, for example, has been creating a stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% purity, and that's a relatively small step away from weapons-grade fuel. So Iran will either have to get rid of its more highly enriched uranium or down blend it into a much lower level used to generate power in a nuclear reactor.

There's other issues, as well. For instance, Washington is charging a Revolutionary Guard member from Iran with planning to kill John Bolton, the national security adviser to former president Donald Trump. The Justice Department says the plot was likely intended as retaliation for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guards Commander Qasem Soleimani in a 2020 drone strike.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.