By Samia Nakhoul
BEIRUT, June 20 (Reuters) – Iran and world powers can still clinch a deal to revive their 2015 nuclear accord after the election victory of a hardline Iranian president but time is running out, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Sunday.
Josep Borrell said an agreement was “very close”, and could make the Middle East safer and bring relief to millions of Iranians hit by oil and financial sanctions which the United States reimposed when it left the deal three years ago.
“On these negotiations, we are running out of time,” Borrell told a group of journalists in Beirut.
“We have invested a lot of political capital … so I hope that the result of the elections is not going to be the last obstacle that will ruin the negotiation process,” he said. “As far as I know… this is not going to be the case.”
Friday’s presidential election in Iran delivered victory to Ebrahim Raisi, who takes over from the pragmatist Hassan Rouhani in August. But the final word on policy lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggesting continuity in Iran‘s outlook.
Iran and the six world powers adjourned their talks in Vienna on Sunday for consultations in their capitals, the EU’s envoy to the talks said. The head of the Iranian delegation, noting earlier that the talks would adjourn, said remaining differences could not be easily overcome.
The EU is also a party to the talks between Iran and world powers: the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Borrell, who met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Turkey on Friday, said he remained optimistic.
Zarif that the text under discussion at the nuclear talks was getting “cleaner and cleaner”, or closer to agreement, and a deal could be struck before Raisi’s new government takes office.
“We are supposed to leave office by mid-August, and I think there is a good possibility we can reach an agreement way before mid-August,” he told a diplomatic forum in the southern Turkish resort of Antalya on Saturday.
“I don’t think (the remaining issues) are insurmountable”.
Zarif described Raisi as a reasonable man and said “the foreign policy of Iran, which I believe is based on consensus, will continue.”
Raisi, like Khamenei, has supported the nuclear talks as a route to cancelling U.S. sanctions that have laid waste to the Islamic Republic’s oil-based economy and dramatically worsened economic hardships, stirring widespread discontent.
In 2018, former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal, which aimed to curb Iran‘s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting many international sanctions on Tehran. President Joe Biden has sought to return to the agreement.
Borrell said a deal “could make the world, and especially the Middle East, safer, and (bring) the Iranian population in a better situation.”
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul in Beirut and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara Editing by Dominic Evans and Frances Kerry)