Iran said early Friday that it had responded to a US proposal to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the world power, saying it was looking to finalize an agreement days after the EU’s top diplomat indicated one could be signed soon.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the response had been put together on Thursday and handed over to a coordinator liaising between the two enemies in the talks, according to Iran’s official ISNA news outlet.
He called the Iranian response “constructive” and said it was aimed at finalizing an agreement, but no other details were available.
The statement came after Tehran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Wednesday that his country was seeking stronger guarantees for a deal, which would restore the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that lifted sanctions in exchange for limits on nuclear enrichment, but insisted that a probe by the UN’s nuclear watchdog remained an issue.
Amir-Abdollahian told his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan Thursday that Iran was serious about reaching a deal.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday that he was hopeful a new agreement with Iran could be signed “in the coming days” following positive developments.
The EU foreign policy chief said that it is “clear that there is a common ground, that we have an agreement that takes into account, I think, everyone’s concerns.”
White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that the US believes “we’re closer now than we had been in certain recent weeks and months” to finalizing a deal with Iran, and that the US is “still hopeful” for a positive outcome to the talks.
After several months of off and on talks in Vienna, Tehran and Washington have taken to negotiating by marking up and trading back and forth a last-ditch proposal submitted by the European Union on August 8.
Hopes for a pact were buoyed by the last Iranian response on August 16, in which the Islamic Republic dropped a demand that the US lift a terror designation on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and appeared to step back from a demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency close its investigation into unexplained traces of uranium at three undeclared sites, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity to discuss ongoing efforts to resurrect the deal.
The United States had been adamant that Tehran cooperate with the IAEA to clear up suspicions about earlier work at the three undeclared sites.
However, Iran has continued to indicate that it expects the IAEA to drop the probe. On Monday President Ebrahim Raisi said reviving the atomic deal would be pointless unless the UN nuclear watchdog ended the inquiry, an idea flatly rejected by IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi.
“We want to reinforce in the text the idea that the International Atomic Energy Agency concentrates on its technical task and moves away from its political role,” Amir-Abdollahian told a joint news conference in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Wednesday..
“When it comes to guarantees, resolving outstanding issues related to the IAEA is also of serious concern to us,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
“If we can reinforce the existing text, reaching an agreement will not be far from being achieved,” he added.
The movement toward an agreement has alarmed Israeli leaders, who have repeatedly warned that a pact will only bolster Iran-sponsored terrorism while delaying the development of a nuclear bomb by a few years. US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf arrived in Israel on Thursday for meetings with Israeli officials expected to focus on the emerging pact, which the US says is aimed at pushing Tehran back from being able to build an atomic weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 deal under then president Donald Trump in 2018 and proceeded to reimpose biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to pull back from its own commitments.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke with US President Joe Biden about the ongoing negotiations to reach a deal with Iran, “and their shared commitment to stop Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.”
The two leaders also discussed “Iran’s terrorist activities in the Middle East and beyond,” according to an Israeli readout of their conversation.
According to Hebrew media reports, the call between the two lasted about 45 minutes. Israeli officials reportedly said Biden reassured Lapid that the US will not compromise on issues unrelated to the contents of the deal, including delisting the IRGC and halting the IAEA probe.
The two leaders also reportedly agreed that Israel will maintain its freedom to act to protect itself against Iran’s malign activities. Israeli leaders have stressed in recent weeks that Israel is not a party to the deal and is not bound or limited by any agreement.