Iran will resume negotiations with world powers in Geneva next week aimed at reaching a deal over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme, its deputy foreign minister has said.
Abbas Araqchi, who is also part of Iran’s negotiating team, said on Thursday that the talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany would begin on Wednesday, December 17.
Ahead of the talks, US and Iran will also hold a separate bilateral meeting on Monday, also in Geneva, according to the head of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi.
Despite making progress, the two sides failed to clinch a definitive deal by a November deadline and agreed to extend the talks until July 1.
A final agreement is aimed at ensuring Tehran will never develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities, and would lift international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Iran insists its nuclear activities are for solely peaceful purposes.
In their second extension this year, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1, will seek to strike an outline deal by March and to nail down a full technical accord by July.
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Diplomats said both sides remain far apart on two crucial points – uranium enrichment and sanctions relief.
Enriching uranium renders it suitable for peaceful purposes such as nuclear power. But at high purities it can also be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.
Tehran wants to massively ramp up the number of its enrichment centrifuges in order, it says, to make fuel for a fleet of power reactors that have yet to be built.
The West wants the enrichment dramatically reduced. That, together with more stringent UN inspections and an export of Iran’s uranium stocks, would make any attempt to make a bomb all but impossible.
Iran wants UN and Western sanctions that have strangled its vital oil exports lifted, but the powers want to stagger any relief over a long period to ensure Tehran complies with any deal.
The conditions set by November’s interim deal will remain in place until July, including a continued freeze by Iran of contentious parts of its nuclear activities.
In return, Iran will keep receiving around $700m in frozen funds per month.