Iranian nuclear exit time now “really short, unacceptably short” – US official

The United States estimates that the time Iran needs to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb is now “very short,” a Biden administration official said on Friday.

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, did not specify the exact time Iran needs to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon. Estimates put the break-up time at several months.

“But it’s really short. It’s unacceptably short, ”the official quoted by Reuters said.

The official also called the new assessment of the Islamic Republic’s breakdown time “alarming”.

The remarks came as Western powers signaled progress in talks to salvage the historic Iran nuclear deal, but European diplomats have warned they are “quickly reaching the end of the road.”

Striking a blow at European mediators, Iran has called for a further break in the Vienna talks, which aim to bring the United States back into the 2015 deal and roll back nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up nuclear plans after the United States withdrew from the deal.

Talks had just resumed at the end of November after a five-month hiatus following the election of a new radical government in Iran.

People walk past the Coburg Palace, where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo / Michael Gruber)

Underlying Western concerns are fears that Iran will soon have made enough progress that the 2015 deal – under which it was promised economic relief in return for drastic restrictions on its nuclear work – will be obsolete.

Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, called for a “sense of urgency” and the resumption of talks before the end of the year.

“We’re not talking about months anymore, we’re talking about weeks,” Mora said.

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions, including a unilateral US ban on Iranian oil sales, promising to bring the US adversary to its knees.

US President Joe Biden supports a return to the deal brokered by predecessor Barack Obama, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but has been frustrated by the pace of the resurrection efforts.

“It’s not going well in the sense that we don’t have a way back into the JCPOA yet,” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said of the talks.

“We are paying the wages for the disastrous decision to leave the agreement in 2018,” he said.

But Sullivan, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said the past few days “have brought progress to the negotiating table.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily White House briefing in Washington, December 7, 2021 (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)

Another US official said the last cycle was “better than it could have been” and “worse than it should have been.”

The official called for a “very significant acceleration” and said the United States was ready to return before the New Year.

“If it takes that long to agree on a common agenda, imagine how long it will take to resolve the issues on that agenda,” they said.

Russia, which is also in talks with China, said negotiators agreed to pick up where they left off in June before Iran called for an election hiatus.

The last round was “successful in the sense that it prepared a solid basis for more intensive negotiations”, wrote the envoy Mikhail Ulyanov on Twitter.

Tehran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri said there were “hard and intense negotiations” to agree on the “bases” for further talks which will take place “in the near future.”

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