Negotiators fromThe US and European Union resumed months of indirect talks on Tehran’s fragile nuclear deal on Thursday as international inspectors said the Islamic Republic was expanding its uranium enrichment.
The resumption of the Vienna talks, which were abruptly called Wednesday, appeared to not include high-level representation from all the countries involved in Iran’s 2015 deal with world powers.
The negotiations come as Western officials express growing skepticism about the prospects for a deal to restore the deal. The EU’s top diplomat warned that “the room for further significant compromises has run out”.
Iran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri Khani met with EU mediator Enrique Mora, Iranian media reported. As in other talks, the US will not negotiate directly with Iran. Instead, the two sides will talk through Mora.
US Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley was also in attendance, tweeting this on Wednesday “Our expectations are under control.”
Mora also met Thursday with Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who has represented Moscow’s interests in the talks. Ulyanov also met separately with Bagheri Kani.
“As always we had a frank, realistic and constructive exchange of views on ways and means to overcome the last outstanding issues,” Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.
But going into the negotiations, Iran adopted a maximalist stance. Via its state-run IRNA news agency, Tehran denied it had given up trying to persuade America to delist the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization as a condition for a deal. This was a major sticking point.
IRNA also quoted Iran’s nuclear chief as saying that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s closed surveillance cameras would only be reactivated if the West gave up trying to investigate man-made traces of uranium found in previously unknown locations in the country.
These positions could destroy the talks.
Iranian officials have tried to offer an optimistic assessment of the negotiations while blaming the US for the impasse. They may worry that a breakdown in the talks could send the country’s rial currency plunging to new lows.
Iran closed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the US, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China. The accord saw Iran agree to curb uranium enrichment under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, saying a stronger deal would be negotiated, but that didn’t happen. Iran began violating the terms of the deal a year later.
According to the IAEA’s latest public count, Iran has a stockpile of about 3,800 kilograms (8,370 pounds) of enriched uranium. More worryingly for non-proliferation experts, Iran is now enriching uranium up to 60% purity – a level it has never reached before. This is a short, technical step away from 90% weapon levels.
These experts warn that Iran has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess it into fuel for at least one bomb. However, Iran would still have to design a bomb and a delivery system for it, likely a months-long task.
Iran maintains its program is for peaceful purposes, although its officials are increasingly discussing the country’s ability to build a nuclear bomb if it chooses — formerly a taboo subject there.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, UN inspectors at the IAEA said they had verified that Iran had begun feeding uranium gas into two previously unused IR-1 cascades at its underground facility in Natanz. These cascades will enrich uranium up to 5%.
IAEA inspectors also verified that Iran had completed the installation of three advanced IR-6 cascades at the plant, each containing up to 176 centrifuges. The IAEA said these cascades had not yet been fueled with uranium. Iran also told the IAEA that it planned to install six more IR-2M missiles at a new operational facility at Natanz, inspectors said.