The foreign ministers of the European Union and Iran have said their scheduled talks in Brussels on January 11 will focus on preserving Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, which is seen as under threat from the United States.
The announced focus of the meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the foreign ministers of the EU, France, Germany, and Britain came on January 8 after Iran warned that the United States may be on the verge of withdrawing from the agreement.
Iranian state broadcaster IRIB quoted Zarif as saying that in light of "U.S. destructive policies," the Brussels talks will focus on the nuclear deal, not on antigovernment street protests that have rocked Iran in the past two weeks and claimed at least 22 lives.
European leaders have called on Iran to avoid violence and uphold the right of the protesters to voice their disagreement with the government. But Zarif was quoted as saying that media reports that the Brussels talks would focus on the protests are "baseless and unfounded."
An announcement from the EU late on January 8 appeared to confirm that the focus of the meeting hosted by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini would be on the nuclear deal, saying "ongoing work to ensure a full and continued implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)" would be on the agenda, using the formal name of the nuclear deal.
The meeting comes at a critical time when U.S. President Donald Trump faces another quarterly deadline for certifying whether Iran is in compliance with the deal, which requires Tehran to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
Trump is a fierce critic of the nuclear accord and refused to certify Iran's compliance with the deal at the last deadline in October. Still, he has so far stopped short of withdrawing the United States from the accord.
The EU played an important role in brokering the nuclear deal and has continued to back it despite Trump's opposition. EU leaders have lobbied the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers not to formally pull out of the deal.
But with the latest U.S. certification deadline looming in mid-month, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi on January 8 said "the international community must be prepared for the U.S. possibly pulling out" of the agreement.
"It's been more than a year that the U.S. president has sought to destroy the JCPOA with all his efforts," said Aragchi, speaking at a Tehran security conference.
"We in Iran are prepared for any scenario. The international community and our region will be the biggest loser, since a successful experience in the international arena will be lost," he said.
"Our region will not become a safer region without the JCPOA," Aragchi said.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi warned that any withdrawal by the United States would prompt an "appropriate and heavy response" from Iran.
"The U.S. administration will definitely regret it," he said on Iranian state television.
Separately, 52 U.S. national security experts, including retired U.S. military officers, members of Congress, and former ambassadors, signed a letter on January 8 calling on Trump not to do anything that jeopardizes the nuclear deal.
"In responding to developments in Iran, now and in the future, the U.S. should be careful not to take any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, which remains vital to U.S. national security," said the letter.
The letter was signed by Richard Lugar, a former Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency; and Admiral Eric Olson, former commander of U.S. Special Forces, among others.