Kerry heads to Vienna to talk nuclear deal with Iran, EU counterparts

US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Vienna Saturday to consult with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to consult on the Iran nuclear deal, Kerry's spokesman announced late Friday.

News of the trip came amid rising expectations of an imminent announcement of the implementation of the deal.

On Friday the European Union prepared to lift economic sanctions against Iran, EU diplomats said, as a settlement of the 13-year-long dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions seemed ever closer.

In July, Iran reached the deal with six world powers, promising to significantly curb its nuclear activities in return for an end to a raft of restrictive measures imposed by the United States and the EU that have seriously hampered the country's economy.

The agreement aims to restrict Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon, an aim Tehran has always denied.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China were awaiting confirmation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had fulfilled its side of the deal by scaling down its nuclear activities.

The IAEA could likely issue this report Saturday, which would be the signal for EU, US and UN sanctions to be revoked without delay, as foreseen by the July agreement, several diplomats told dpa.

The White House said Friday that no sanctions relief would come until IAEA verification.

The White House on Friday acknowledged Iran's "important progress" in fulfilling its commitment "to dismantle significant portions of their nuclear infrastructure," noting that 25,000 pounds of enriched of uranium had been shipped out of the country over the holidays.

Nevertheless, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Iran would not receive "any sort of sanctions relief" until the IAEA has verified that all the necessary steps had been taken.

Among other things, the sanctions have blocked oil and gas exports from Iran and have effectively cut it off from the international banking system.

Earnest said that the sanctions relief would "merely allow [Iran] to get access to their own money that is currently in the international financial system." He estimated the amount to be between 50-100 billion dollars.

In Brussels, the legal text triggering the lifting of sanctions was ready by Friday morning, EU diplomats said on condition of anonymity. It will take effect as soon as it is published in the bloc's official journal, once the Iran deal is implemented.

To ensure a speedy adoption, 27 of the EU's 28 member states signed the document Friday, leaving the Netherlands to complete the process, once the go-ahead is given. The country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Diplomats said foreign ministers from Iran and some of the six powers could meet on the weekend to mark the end of the nuclear dispute in a ceremony. The exact place or time had not been set as of Friday evening.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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