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US urges Iran's Raisi to restart nuclear talks amid tensions over ship attack

In his inauguration speech, Raisi pledged to support 'any diplomatic plans' that result in the lifting of US sanctions
Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi has said he would continue talks to issue a return to 2015 nuclear agreement (Reuters/File photo)

The United States has urged Iran's new president to return to talks on the resumption of the 2015 nuclear deal, warning that the window for diplomacy would not stay open forever.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday that he hoped incoming President Ebrahim Raisi "seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions".

"We are waiting to see, as I've said before, the approach that the new government in Iran will take," Price said, adding, "For our part, we've made very clear that we are prepared to return to Vienna to resume negotiations."

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

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Iran initially continued to abide by the deal but has reduced some of its commitments in recent months.

Since taking office in January, President Joe Biden and his administration have sought to reduce tensions with the Islamic Republic and seek a return to the accord.

In April, the US and Iran informally began talks on re-entering the deal, brokered by five other signatories to the agreement - Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK.

Early hopes that the talks would lead to a quick revival faded after the US refused Iranian demands to lift all sanctions and promise never to pull out of the agreement again.

The US rejected these conditions and called for future negotiations to also focus on Iran's missile programme and support for regional militias.

Talks were halted in June before the outcome of the Iranian presidential election. Raisi, a conservative hardliner backed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, won the race which saw a historic level of abstention amongst Iranian voters and the barring of reformist candidates.

Support diplomatic efforts

During his swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Raisi said broad US sanctions, which had triggered an economic recession and left inflation hovering at around 40 percent, must be lifted.

"We will support any diplomatic plans that will achieve this goal," he said, signalling a willingness to attend future negotiations in Vienna.

Asked earlier about sanctions relief, Price said, "If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well, that is precisely what's on the table in Vienna."

Raisi's inauguration comes as the US and its allies - Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel - have been in a simmering confrontation with Iran.

The US, UK, and Israel have all accused Iran of carrying out a drone attack on the Mercer Street cargo ship off the coast of Oman in July, which killed the ship's British captain and a Romanian security officer.

Israel has said it provided its allies "hard evidence" that Iran was behind the attack, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of a "collective response".

On Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel's military was ready to take action against Tehran, calling it "a global and regional problem".