Iran has said it will resume talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal signed with world powers by the end of November as concerns mount about the Islamic republic’s atomic activity.
Ali Bagheri, Tehran’s deputy foreign minister, made the announcement after holding what he described as “very serious” and “constructive dialogue” with senior EU diplomat Enrique Mora.
“We agree to start negotiations before the end of November,” Bagheri said on Twitter. He added that the exact date of the resumption would be announced next week.
The nuclear talks are designed to broker an agreement that leads to the US rejoining the deal and lifting many sanctions on the Islamic republic, in return for Tehran reducing its atomic activity so that it falls back into compliance with the accord. But the process, which has been brokered by the EU and the European signatories to the 2015 accord, stalled after the election of President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, in June.
Raisi’s victory gave hardliners, who previously criticised the deal and were reluctant to engage with the west, full control of all parts of the Iranian state for the first time in almost a decade.
The president, who is described as a protégé of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said he would continue with the talks. But Raisi has prioritised domestic issues and regional relations and analysts expect his government to take a tougher stance towards the nuclear negotiations.
The deal was pushed to the brink of collapse after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions on the republic.
President Joe Biden entered office pledging to rejoin the deal if Iran came into full compliance with the agreement, but US officials have become increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress since Raisi’s election.
The Biden administration held several rounds of indirect talks with Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, an architect of the deal, but there have been no negotiations since his second and final term ended.
Tehran has insisted that all sanctions must be lifted before it cuts back its nuclear activity. It also wants reassurances that a US administration will not be able to make another unilateral withdrawal from the accord.
Western states are concerned that Iran’s atomic activity has dramatically increased over the past two years, with the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog warning that Tehran is within a few months of having sufficient material for an atomic weapon. They also worry that the level of Iran’s research and development cannot be reversed even if the accord is revived.
Tehran has always insisted its nuclear programme is for peaceful civilian purposes and it has no intentions to develop weapons.
Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, warned this month that “time is running short” for Iran to return to compliance with the accord, adding that Washington would consider every option to deal with Tehran.
“We are getting close to a point at which returning to compliance with the JCPOA [nuclear accord] will not in and of itself recapture the benefits of the JCPOA and that’s because Iran has been using this time to advance its nuclear program in a variety of ways,” Blinken said.
The remaining signatories to the deal include France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China.