Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi delivers a speech during a session of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, in Moscow, on January 20, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Tehran: Iran is in talks with Russia over the construction of two new units at its sole nuclear power plant, the Islamic republic’s atomic energy agency said on Friday.

“Negotiations are underway between Tehran and Moscow to construct the second and third units of the Bushehr power plant,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI).

The move was “in accordance with the Islamic republic’s plans to produce at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity using nuclear energy”, he said, quoted on the government’s website.

The announcement coincides with ongoing talks in Vienna seeking to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, including Russia.

The parties to the accord that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme saw it as the best way to stop Tehran from building a nuclear bomb - a goal it has always denied.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal and began imposing sanctions on Iran in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, prompting Tehran to begin walking back on its commitments under the agreement.

Moscow built the Bushehr plant, equipped with a 1,000 MW reactor, delivering it in September 2013 after years of delay.

Kamalvandi said the project was being implemented “without delay”, despite payments being behind schedule.

Financial problems

The announcement immediately follows a two-day visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Moscow, during which he said Tehran has “no limits for expanding ties with Russia”.

Iran has substantial reserves of oil and natural gas, but it hopes to build 20 nuclear power plants on the long term in a bid to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

In late December, the deputy head of the AEOI, Mahmoud Jafari, said there was a two-year delay in the construction of new units due to “financial problems”.

In Geneva, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed Iran on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, warning there was only a brief window to bring talks to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to a successful conclusion.

Blinken told reporters the deal was an example of how Moscow and Washington can work together on security issues, urging Russia to use the influence it has and its relationship with Iran to impress upon Tehran the sense of urgency.

Blinken said there was still a window to return to the deal - which has unravelled since 2018 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it - but warned that Tehran’s continuing nuclear advances would foil any return to the accord if a fresh pact was not reached in coming weeks.

“The talks with Iran about a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA (2015 deal) have reached a decisive moment,” Blinken said.

“If a deal is not reached in the next few weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible to return to the JCPOA. But right now, there’s still a window, a brief one, to bring those talks to a successful conclusion and address the remaining concerns of all sides.”

His comments came as a senior European Union official said the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna are moving in the right direction and a final agreement may be within reach.

“My assessment is that we are on the right track for a final agreement,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, referring to “small” progress in a number of issues.

“My concern, more than in the substance, is about the timing. There I have a feeling that we are going too slow. It would be an incredible mistake if, because of timing, we would not get a good solution,” the official said without elaborating.

“Still, I think that we will have an agreement...and I think that it will be rather sooner than later.”