Iran will begin talks with the United States and other world powers over its nuclear program before the end of November, a U.S. official said on Monday, in a major concession that could help to bring Iran closer to a final settlement with world powers.
The United States and Iran have been in two years of negotiations over the fate of Iran’s contested nuclear program and have already extended the last deadline for a deal’s collapse twice.
“These talks will begin very soon and probably before the end of November,” the official told reporters at a U.S. State Department briefing, saying that the talks would also include other countries, like China, Russia and Britain.
The announcement from President Donald Trump’s administration came ahead of a major U.S. policy speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who aims to win back the full cooperation of Iran and reach a final nuclear deal that the president can sign off on.
Trump has said he will not sign a final deal unless it is “more perfect than the terrible deal we have now.”
He did not give any details about what terms Iran would be required to give up, but U.S. negotiators are pushing for a “sunset clause” under which parts of Iran’s program could be restarted once certain restrictions expire.
“The Iranians have said they are open to talks, they want to continue to talk to the international community in hopes of understanding the architecture of the Iranian nuclear program and the ways in which it can be further constrained and their capacity to become a peaceful nuclear state once again. That’s what the objective is,” the official said.
The original 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The 2015 agreement lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran, in exchange for Tehran agreeing to limits on its nuclear program.
It remained largely intact even as U.S. President Donald Trump launched a snapback of economic sanctions, but Trump has threatened to tear up the deal, criticizing what he calls its flaws.
Western diplomats have said the secret signals from Iran have suggested it is seeking a deal that will allow it to retain a wide nuclear capability, to avoid the chronic problems of keeping it clean of suspicious materials and equipment and to secure a fissile core of its civilian nuclear program.
U.S. officials, however, say it may be trying to gain more leverage in the final days of negotiations as the stakes are getting higher.
“It remains up to the Iranians to determine what they want from these talks,” the official said.
Last week, after the initial deadline of June 30th passed, Trump’s administration announced it would reimpose sanctions on Tehran for failing to honor the 2015 deal.
In a series of tweets, Trump threatened that the United States could not re-impose sanctions if Iran were willing to renegotiate the agreement. He made clear he was not demanding such a renegotiation, but rather an extension of the timeline for a deal.
Even before the Islamic State’s retreat in Syria and elsewhere and Iran’s diminishing military influence in the Middle East, Trump and Pompeo had been pushing for a comprehensive and different deal to go with the deal.
The U.S. official said Monday’s development was separate from the phased-in sanctions re-imposition. But Trump’s tweets played a key role.
“Looks like the world isn’t getting their act together after all,” Trump wrote. “Iran has repeatedly violated the spirit of the agreement. They’ve even lied about what they’ve done. Hopefully the Mullahs will change their tune.”