WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid signs that a decision to provide Iran with billions of dollars in nuclear sanctions relief is imminent, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and a top European Union official, the State Department said Friday.
Kerry, Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica ?Mogherini will gather in Vienna, the home of the U.N. atomic watchdog, to discuss the "steady progress" that has been made toward implementing last July's landmark agreement in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Diplomats said earlier this week that the International Atomic Energy Agency is just days away from certifying that Iran has met its obligations and an announcement could come this weekend. Officials said Friday that Saturday is the target date for the announcement. In another signal that implementation of the deal is imminent, President Barack Obama issued an executive order Friday that delegates to Kerry authority to sign off on the expected IAEA verification.
Such a finding would result in the termination of banking, other financial and energy penalties against Iran as well as free up assets that had been frozen because it had refused to prove that its atomic program is peaceful.
The White House said earlier Friday that sanctions relief would not come until the IAEA had verified Iran had met the terms of the agreement and that it was not yet ready to do so.
Still, officials have begun to look ahead toward a new era of relations between Washington and Tehran.
While there are no plans to establish formal diplomatic relations with Islamic Republic, the nuclear negotiations have established a useful direct line of communication, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday.
Rhodes pointed to the swift release this week of 10 U. S. sailors who veered into Iranian waters. He said the administration would continue to press for the release of U.S. citizens detained in Iran and views Iran's involvement in the talks over Syria as a test for whether more is possible.
"We're clearly going to have key differences with Iran — ballistic missiles, support for terrorism, threats to Israel," he said. "I think you'll see a mix where we'll continue to have a posture that is adversarial on a set of Iranian behaviors. But the nuclear issue — if we can continue to successfully implement the deal — is resolved to our satisfaction, and then we test whether that diplomacy can yield results in other areas."