Iran will return to talks with the U.N. nuclear agency next month, both sides said on Friday, the latest push to seek a peaceful end to a dispute that has raised fears of a new Middle East war.
The news came days after U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election, which some analysts say may give fresh impetus to efforts to end a decade-old standoff with a country the West accuses of working towards a nuclear weapons capability.
In a reminder of how tensions could escalate, the Pentagon said on Thursday that Iranian warplanes had fired at a U.S. drone in international airspace last week and Iran said it had chased off an “unidentified” aircraft that had crossed its borders.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it hoped the talks in Tehran on December 13 would produce an agreement to allow it to resume a long-stalled investigation into possible military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.
The agency says it has “credible information indicating that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” and wants Tehran to give it access to sites, officials and documents to clarify the issue.
Iran denies it wants nuclear bombs and has repeatedly ruled out stopping its atomic activities.
A series of meetings since early this year, the last one in August, failed to make concrete progress.Israel, assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, has threatened military action if it looks like Tehran is close to getting nuclear weapons capability.
Washington gave the news of the new talks a cautious welcome.
“We will see how this round goes. In the past Iran has been unwilling to do what it needs to do despite the best efforts of the IAEA. But we commend the IAEA for keeping at it and we call on Iran to do what it needs to do to meet the international community’s concerns,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.
A Western diplomat was also skeptical, noting that the talks would only take place after the next meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation governing board.
“So it is the usual scenario: defer criticism now by promising something later. Something that has failed to materialize the last four times,” the envoy said.