Iran and the six global powers are set to hold fresh nuclear talks on February 18 that promise to encourage further lifting of sanctions and unlock foreign investment flows into the country.
Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the dialogue will be held in Vienna, the Austrian capital, following a meeting with the European Union (EU) foreign policy chief, Catharine Ashton on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.
A decision on the new round of talks is part of cycle of steps that could end sanctions against Iran, after it was verifiably confirmed that Tehran is not pursuing development of atomic weapons. Iran and the sextet comprising the five Security Council members--United States, Russia, China, Britain and France--along with Germany signed a nuclear deal in Geneva on November 24.
On January 20, Iran's negotiating partners confirmed that Tehran had halted production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent level, paving the way for a partial lifting of sanctions.
The smooth conduct of inspections by experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), of some Iran's major nuclear facilities, is further building up the momentum of confidence building between the two sides.
On Friday, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that a team of UN nuclear inspectors, belonging to the IAEA, will soon compile a report on Iran's nuclear facilities.
In November, Iran and the IAEA has signed a joint statement that laid out a technical plan concerning outstanding issues related to Iran's atomic programme, which include access to the country's Arak heavy water plant and Gachin uranium mine.
The IAEA inspectors have already visited the Arak facility on December 8. Access to a 3-memeber team to the Gachin mine was provided on January 29. The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said on Friday that the stage was now set for handling the "more difficult" issues pertaining to Tehran's nuclear programme.
"We certainly wish to include issues with possible military dimensions in future steps ... We have already discussed it and will continue to discuss it at the next meeting" between the IAEA and Iran on February 8, said Mr. Amano.
Anticipating a phased lifting of sanctions, western oil companies are already making hectic preparations to enter Iran's lucrative oil and gas sector. A senior Iranian oil official said that following the implementation of the Geneva nuclear deal, world oil giants plan to return to Iran's market.
"Companies like (Royal Dutch) Shell and British Petroleum (BP), Malaysia's Petronas, Spain's Repsol and several other big world oil and gas companies will return to Iran and oil activities with these companies will resume," said Mohammad Souri, an adviser to Iran's oil minister.
A former managing director of the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), Mr. Souri said that the Iran wanted to attract investments worth $ 150 billion to its hydrocarbon sector, which included the development of the giant South pars gas field.
In step with the breakthrough in the nuclear dialogue, Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani met 30 top international oil company
officials last month at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced during his state of the union address that he would veto any legislation being considered by Congress to impose fresh economic sanctions on Iran, signaling the administration's commitment to uninterruptedly carry forward the on-going nuclear dialogue with Tehran.