Iran’s nuclear advances complicate Biden’s attempt to revive 2015 deal
Washington has sought to revive the deal, which was scrapped by President Donald Trump in 2018. After a delay of several weeks, Iran signaled on Wednesday that it would be ready to return to the negotiating table next month afterwards. that the country’s newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, take office.
US and EU officials believe Iran could now collect enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within two to three months.
U.S. officials say that at least for now, they are confident that a return to the terms of the 2015 agreement will extend this so-called break-up time to about a year – the same as in January 2016, when the pact between the United States, Iran and five other world powers entered into force.
“There will come a time, but we are not there yet … where if Iran continues to push forward with its agenda and there is no agreement then it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to recoup the non-proliferation benefits “of the original deal, US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley told CNN on Wednesday. Mr Malley said to avoid this a deal must be reached “for the foreseeable future”.
Estimates of Iran’s potential escape time vary depending on the assumptions made about the equipment Iran has, its ability to use it, and how quickly it can expand its capacity.
Some EU officials involved in the talks say they believe Iran’s timeframe, if the pact was restored quickly, could already be less than a year and fear the time cushion will diminish further if Tehran continues its efforts. nuclear work as talks drag on.
The main concern of Western officials is that Iran has mastered the technology to better utilize certain advanced centrifuges, which it uses to enrich uranium. In particular, Iran has become more efficient in using its stock of so-called second-generation IR-2M machines.
Iran had more than a thousand IR-2M machines in 2016, but it was prohibited from using them under the agreement. Western diplomats at the time believed Iran’s expertise was too basic for Tehran to deploy them effectively to rush towards a nuclear weapon. That has now changed, say several senior Western diplomats.
Over the past year, Iran has deployed most of its IR-2M machines – which are three to four times faster than the centrifuges Iran is allowed to use under the agreement – and l ‘did it faster and more successfully than many observers thought.
In addition to limiting the type of centrifuge Iran could use, the 2015 agreement required the withdrawal of two-thirds of Iranian centrifuges. It also capped the amount of enriched uranium Iran was allowed to possess at 300 kilograms. The authorized level of enrichment was limited to 3.67%. Military grade uranium is 90% enriched.
Iran’s escape time was supposed to stay at least a year until 2026.
After Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal and imposed economic sanctions on Iran, Tehran began to gradually expand its nuclear activities.
Iran is now producing near-military grade 60% enriched uranium. Last week, the United Nations atomic agency reported that Iran had moved forward with plans to produce enriched uranium metal, a material used in the core of a nuclear weapon. Iran says it produces the metal for peaceful purposes.
Tehran has also restricted the access of international inspectors to its main nuclear facility in Natanz and refused to extend an agreement with the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency to hand over footage from cameras and other surveillance equipment. at the IAEA.
Iran says its nuclear work is entirely for peaceful purposes.
Given Iran’s progress on centrifuges, machines that turn uranium to higher purities, European officials have come up with a new three-pronged approach to lengthen Iran’s escape time. In addition to keeping advanced centrifuges in storage and sealed, they want Iran to tear down the electronic infrastructure it currently uses to run machines banned by the agreement and reduce Iran’s ability to produce gas. new centrifuges in its assembly plants.
Negotiators were about to agree that Iran’s stockpile of uranium be sent to Russia. Iran has insisted it will not allow the destruction of any of its most advanced centrifuges, according to several people involved in the talks.
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Western diplomats are divided into two main camps over Iran’s strategy for the talks. Some say they think Tehran wants to reinstate the 2015 deal, but are slow to believe that the Biden administration’s rush to defuse a potential nuclear crisis could lead Washington to make concessions. The talks, which broke off on June 20, may not resume until the second half of August, a senior EU official said.
Meanwhile, Iran is using the slow pace of the talks to acquire irreversible technical knowledge about uranium metal, centrifuges and the production of high-grade enriched uranium, according to Western officials.
Other officials believe there is a real debate in Tehran over whether to revert to the deal and, if so, what to look for in return.
Iran’s new president, Mr Raisi, supported the relaunch of the nuclear deal during his election campaign, but said immediately after that his team would first take a deep look at the results of the negotiations so far.
Iranian differences of opinion on the conditions of return to the agreement have sometimes appeared to the public. Earlier this week, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who spearheaded the 2015 deal, criticized the country’s leaders for not allowing negotiations to conclude after they resumed in April.
Die-hard politicians and media have long opposed the nuclear deal. The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, makes key decisions on strategic issues like the nuclear program.
“They took away from this government the opportunity to reach an agreement,” Rouhani told Iranian media.
Iran has so far insisted that the United States must first drop all Trump-era sanctions, including those based on human rights and terrorism, to offer compensation for this decision and guarantee that no more will come out of a deal before returning to the deal.
US and EU officials say those requests will not be accepted.
“We have repeatedly emphasized that time is in no one’s favor. With its latest measures, Iran threatens to bring the Vienna talks to a successful conclusion despite the progress made so far in the six rounds of negotiations, ”the French, British and German foreign ministers said last week.
—Michael R. Gordon in Washington contributed to this article.
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