Iran nuclear talks in Vienna as Tehran expands enrichment

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Negotiators from Iran, the United States and the European Union prepared on Thursday to resume months-long indirect talks on Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, even as international inspectors acknowledged that the Islamic Republic had begun a further expansion of its uranium enrichment.

The resumption of the Vienna talks, suddenly called Wednesday, does not appear to include high-level representation from all the countries part of Iran’s 2015 deal with the verbal powers. It comes as Western officials express growing skepticism over a deal to restore the deal and the top EU diplomat has warned that ‘the space for further meaningful compromises has been exhausted’ .

Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani had arrived in Vienna for the talks, Iranian state media reported. US Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley was also on hand, tweeting on Wednesday that “our expectations are in check.”

As in other talks, the United States will not negotiate directly with Iran, but will speak through European diplomat Enrique Mora. The United States has not had direct talks with Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of the deal in 2018. Mora also met with Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov on Thursday, who represented Moscow’s interests in the talks.

Ulyanov also met Bagheri Kani in a separate meeting.

“As always, we had a frank, pragmatic and constructive exchange of views on ways and means to overcome the remaining outstanding issues,” Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.

But at the start of the negotiations, Iran adopted a maximalist position. Through its state-run IRNA news agency, Tehran has denied abandoning its efforts to get America to remove its paramilitary Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist organizations as a precondition for the talks. Meanwhile, IRNA also quoted its civilian nuclear chief as saying that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s off surveillance cameras would only be turned back on once the West abandons efforts to investigate the traces. artificial uranium found at previously undisclosed sites in the country.

These positions could doom the talks. Iranian officials had tried to offer upbeat assessments of the talks while blaming the United States for the stalemate, likely fearing that a breakdown in the talks would see its rial currency plunge to new all-time lows.

Iran made the nuclear deal in 2015 along with the US, France, Germany, UK, Russia and China. The deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saw Iran agree to limit its uranium enrichment under the supervision of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

According to the IAEA’s latest public count, Iran has a stockpile of about 3,800 kilograms (8,370 pounds) of enriched uranium. More worrying for non-profiled experts, Iran is now enriching uranium up to 60% purity – a level it has never reached before and which is a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

These experts warn that Iran has enough 60% enriched uranium to turn it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb. However, Iran would still need to design a bomb and delivery system for it, probably a months-long project. 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 so chooses – a previously taboo subject there.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, those UN inspectors at the IAEA said they had verified that Iran had started feeding uranium gas into two previously unused IR-1 cascades at its underground Natanz facility. These cascades will enrich the uranium up to 5%.

IAEA inspectors also verified that Iran had completed the installation of three advanced IR-6 cascades at the plant, each comprising up to 176 centrifuges. The IAEA said these cascades have not yet been fueled with uranium. Iran also told the IAEA that it planned to install six more IR-2M stunts at a new operational unit in Natanz, the inspectors said.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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