Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday after talks in Tehran that they agreed on an approach to resolve issues crucial in efforts to revive the country’s 2015 nuclear deal.
The announcement came shortly before Russia said it would seek guarantees from the US before it backs the deal, potentially scuppering hopes the agreement could be wrapped up soon.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the UN agency and Iran “did have a number of important matters that we needed… to resolve”, but that they had now “decided to try a practical, pragmatic approach” to overcome them.
Atomic Energy Organization of Iran president Mohammed Eslami said the two sides had come to the “conclusion that some documents which need to be exchanged between the IAEA and the Iranian organisation should be exchanged” by May 22.
Grossi’s visit to Tehran comes after Britain, one of the parties to parallel talks on the deal in Vienna, indicated an agreement was close.
The 2015 nuclear deal has been hanging by a thread since the US’ unilateral withdrawal in 2018 under then president Donald Trump.
The landmark accord was aimed at guaranteeing Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon – something it has always denied wanting to do.
Oil-rich Iran said this week that it was ready to raise its crude exports “to the pre-November 2018 level” – before punishing sanctions imposed by the Trump administration started to take effect.
The next few days are widely seen as a decisive point for negotiations on reviving the accord formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“We are close. E3 negotiators leaving Vienna briefly to update ministers on state of play” and were “ready to return soon”, said British delegation head Stephanie Al-Qaq, referring to negotiators from Britain, France and Germany.
Russia seeks US guarantees
But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Moscow, itself slapped with sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, would seek guarantees from Washington before backing the nuclear deal.
Lavrov said Russia had requested that the US give it written guarantees that its sanctions “will not in any way harm our rights to free, fully-fledged trade and economic and investment cooperation, military-technical cooperation with Iran”.
Russia is party to the ongoing talks in the Austrian capital to restore the agreement along with Britain, China, France and Germany. The US is involved indirectly.
Grossi vowed this week that the IAEA would “never abandon” its attempts to get Iran to clarify the presence in the past of nuclear material at several undeclared sites.
Iran has said the closure of the probe is necessary to clinch a deal.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, deputy head of the Iranian atomic agency, told television he was hopeful Iran would reach an agreement with the IAEA during Grossi’s visit.
Grossi is expected to hold a news conference on his return to Vienna.
The coming days are seen as pivotal by the West because of the rate Iran is making nuclear advances.
Its stockpile of enriched uranium has now reached more than 15 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord, the IAEA said this week.
Several observers believe the West could leave the negotiating table and chalk the deal up to a failure if a compromise is not reached this weekend.
The EU has been chairing nuclear deal negotiations and the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday he “hopes to have results this weekend” to “resurrect the agreement”.
He stressed there was “still work ongoing”.
Iran’s top diplomat, Amir-Abdollahian, said earlier he was prepared to travel to the Austrian capital if a deal was reached.
“I am ready to go to Vienna when the Western sides accept our remaining red lines,” he said in a phone call with Borrell.
While Amir-Abdollahian did not define the “red lines”, Iran has repeatedly demanded the right to verify the removal of sanctions and for guarantees the US will not repeat its withdrawal from the agreement.
On Thursday, US State Department deputy spokesman Jalina Porter said negotiators were “close to a possible deal”, but that “a number of difficult issues” remained unresolved.
However, “if Iran shows seriousness, we can and should reach an understanding of mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA within days”, she added.