NEW YORK — Iran and the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency said Tuesday that they had held a “very productive” two-day meeting aimed at resolving questions about the Iranian atomic energy program, and that they would reconvene Nov. 11 in Tehran.
The announcement, made in an unusual joint statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting, did not specify what progress had been made, but it said Iran had presented a new proposal. The tone of the statement suggested renewed optimism that the concerns of the nuclear monitoring group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, would be addressed. The meeting, held at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, was the first face-to-face encounter between Yukiya Amano, the director general, and an Iranian delegation dispatched by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who has made it a priority to resolve Iran’s enduring nuclear dispute and reduce tensions with the West.
Amano has been outspoken in his criticism of Iran’s unwillingness to grant agency inspectors unfettered access to a restricted military site where the agency suspects that Iranian researchers conducted tests on trigger devices that could be used in nuclear weapons.
Iran, a signatory to the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has repeatedly asserted that its nuclear activities are peaceful. But the issue of access for inspectors has been an important obstacle, not only with the nuclear agency but also in broader negotiations with six world powers that are pressing Iran to curb its uranium enrichment program. Western nations and Israel suspect that Iran is using the program as a guise to obtain the capability of making an atomic bomb.
The joint statement, read by Tero Varjoranta, the agency’s deputy director general, and posted on the agency’s website, said the two sides had held “a very productive meeting covering past and present issues.”
“Iran presented a new proposal on practical measures as a constructive contribution to strengthen cooperation and dialogue with a view to future resolution of all outstanding issues,” Varjoranta said. Both sides agreed to meet on Nov. 11 in the Iranian capital “to take this cooperation forward,” he added.
The meeting was held two weeks after the group of six big powers — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany — met with Iran, in Geneva, for the first time since Rouhani took office in August and issued a similarly optimistic joint communiqué. They agreed to reconvene there on Nov. 7 and 8.
Rouhani has repeatedly said he wants to overcome the years of mistrust and acrimony over Iran’s nuclear intentions, and he had a historic telephone conversation with President Obama last month. It was the first time leaders of the United States and Iran had spoken since the 1979 hostage crisis. At the same time, Rouhani has said his country will never relinquish what he calls its right to enrich uranium.
The Obama administration, which has led the Western effort to keep economic sanctions on Iran until the nuclear dispute is resolved, has signaled that it may soften some of the sanctions as part of the negotiations. Rouhani is eager for an easing of the sanctions, which have severely hampered Iran’s economy.