The United Nations and Iran ended their latest negotiations over the country's nuclear program with an agreement to hold more negotiations, which is what amounts to a breakthrough in this ongoing stalemate. Words like "constructive" and "hopeful" are being thrown about by negotiators on both sides of the table, after the International Atomic Energy Agency met with Iranian officials on Thursday to discuss a possible agreement on access to inspect their key nuclear energy sites. In particular, they want to inspect the Parchin facility outside Tehran, where the agency believes explosives tests have taken place underground. This week's meeting was the first one since August, but they've agreed to a follow-up in mid-January.
IAEA's chief inspector Herman Nackaerts (pictured) told reporters that he's hopeful a deal will be reached when they meet again on January 16, even though one of the Iranian negotiators said he is "not optimistic." However, one of his colleagues said the talks were "constructive," so perhaps "not optimistic" is actually an improvement over "never in a million years"?
The agreement to hold more talks may also be seen as a small glimmer of confirmation that economic sanctions placed on Iran are having an effect. The country has remained defiant in the face of a nationwide recession and the near collapse of its currency, but may finally be willing to try something to ease the embargo on its most valuable export, oil. The U.S. added even more sanctions on Thursday, even personally targeting the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization by banning him from doing any business with U.S. companies.