WASHINGTON — The United States, the European Union, China and Russia have agreed to resume long-stalled negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program, the European Union said on Tuesday.
The announcement comes amidst rising tensions fueled by tightening sanctions designed to compel Iran to suspend a uranium enrichment effort that the United States, other powers and Israel charge is a cover for a secret nuclear weapons development program. Iran insists that its program is for peaceful purposes.
In an apparent goodwill gesture, Iran announced Tuesday that it would grant International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to a military complex near Tehran from which they were barred during visits to the Islamic republic in January and February.
The semi-official Mehr news agency, quoting a report from the Iranian mission to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said U.N. inspectors would be admitted to the Parchin site after the sides agree on guidelines.
Parchin is suspected of housing a massive vessel in which Iranian experts tested conventional high explosives used to trigger the cores of nuclear weapons. Recent news reports have raised the possibility that Iranian technicians may have been sanitizing the facility, eliminating traces of the high explosive tests, in preparation for an IAEA inspection.
The decision to resume talks with Iran represents a political gamble for President Barack Obama, whose preference for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis over the use of military force has been criticized by the Republican candidates seeking their partys nomination to run against him in November.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently on a visit to Washington dominated by the issue, said on Monday night that time for diplomacy to work is running out, called a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat to Israel, and reasserted Israels right to take unilateral military action against Irans nuclear facilities.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton released a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Saeed Jalili in which she said that Britain, Germany, France, the United States, China and Russia — collectively known as the P5 Plus One — have agreed to resume the talks with Iran to resolve the international communitys long-standing concerns over Irans nuclear program.
She said the six powers hope that Iran will now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress toward alleviating those concerns.
The date and location of the talks must still be determined, but there has been speculation that they could take place in Turkey.
Concerns over Irans program have been fueled by a series of U.N. IAEA reports that have cited evidence that Iran researched building a nuclear warhead for an intermediate-range ballistic missile and has recently accelerated uranium enrichment, the process that produces low-enriched uranium for reactors and highly enriched uranium for bombs, depending on the duration.
Iran claims that it is producing 20 percent enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor that produces radioactive isotopes for medicinal purposes. Experts, however, say that enriching uranium to that level will allow Iran to produce bomb fuel faster if it makes a decision to do so.