U.S., E3 foreign ministers expected to discuss Iran soon -sources

PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S., British, French and German foreign ministers plan to discuss soon, possibly as early as Friday, how to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

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Four of the sources said the virtual meeting, which was likely to cover other topics, could take place as soon as Friday, while two others said it could happen next week. All spoke on condition that they not be identified.

Such a high-level conversation would be the latest step by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to seek a way to revive the pact, under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities so as to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, restoring the U.S. sanctions the agreement had removed and placing more on Iran.

Iran has long denied any intent to develop nuclear arms.

Biden, who took office last month, has said that if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the 2015 pact, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and regional activities.

Tehran has insisted that Washington ease sanctions before it will resume compliance, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hinted on Monday at a way to resolve the impasse over who goes first by saying the steps could be synchronized.

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While the U.S. State Department reacted coolly, a U.S. official said its stance should not be seen as a rejection.

The State Department declined comment on whether the four foreign ministers would meet soon. British, French and German spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Speaking to a U.S. think tank from Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the U.S. willingness to engage Iran, offered himself as an “honest broker” and said Saudi Arabia and Israel must ultimately be involved.

In 2019, he pushed to bring Washington and Tehran back to the negotiating table and to set parameters for wider future talks.

European and Western diplomats have said Britain, France and Germany have proposed sequencing for Iran to return to compliance in return for economic benefits. It is unclear if Washington would lift sanctions without Iran first complying.

In September 2019, France proposed offering Iran a $15 billion credit facility, which would be guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues if Tehran came back fully into compliance. Such an arrangement hinged on Washington giving tacit approval.

“We aren’t starting from a blank page. We know the parameters of the sequencing to get back to (the deal) and then to build on a deeper accord,” said a senior European diplomat.

Reporting By John Irish in Paris and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney