Nuclear deal negotiations progress, say Iran, US

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reviews Iran’s new nuclear achievements on Iran’s National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran on April 10, 2021.

Office of the Iranian Presidency | WANA | via Reuters

Iranian nuclear deal talks in Vienna took a more positive note on Monday, officials said, as Tehran and Washington continue indirect negotiations in hopes of reviving the 2015 deal that lifted economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

“We are on the right track and progress has been made, but that does not mean that the talks in Vienna have reached the final stage,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a conference press release in Tehran.

Iran boosts uranium enrichment

US officials say there was no breakthrough, but called the indirect talks “thorough” and “thoughtful.” Reports say diplomats could even draft an interim agreement that would give all parties more time to resolve some of the more complex technical issues.

Negotiations are starting to accelerate, even as Iran announces further violations of the deal – especially its pledge last week to start enriching uranium to 60% purity, which would bring fissile material closer to levels. required for a bomb. Uranium enrichment must be 90% to make a bomb – the limit under the 2015 deal was 3.67%.

The move is “violations that Iran is trying to turn into leverage in negotiations in Vienna,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, member of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told CNBC. While the move is aimed at strengthening Tehran’s hand, it could backfire on it as well, analysts warn.

Iran launched advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium on April 10 on its national “Nuclear Day”, while President Hassan Rouhani reiterated the country’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation . The contradictory messages on state television were followed by an explosion at the Iranian enrichment facility of Natanz just a day later – which Tehran called an “act of nuclear terrorism” and blamed on Israel. Israel has publicly refused to confirm or deny any responsibility.

“I think it will definitely go on forever, you will probably see the cyber warfare escalate between these two countries in the next few months and we will probably see more discussions in the next few months,” said Ben Taleblu. .

“And in the meantime, as there are more cyber attacks and more talk, you can almost guarantee that sites like Natanz will do whatever they can to keep producing.”

Yet all sides continue to seek a US return to the deal that the former Trump administration abandoned in 2018, after which it imposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. The United States also wants Iran to return to full compliance before lifting the sanctions, which becomes more and more delicate with each new surge of enrichment in Tehran.

Throughout the talks, Iranian officials have essentially taken a hard-line approach – they want Washington to lift all sanctions before returning to compliance. The Biden team has expressed their willingness to remove any sanctions inconsistent with the deal, but have yet to say what that means.

Officials on all sides described a mutual desire to move to simultaneous and sequential steps to push through this deal. But at this point, there is still a long way to go.

At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency has entered into separate talks with Iran over traces of uranium the agency found in undeclared locations around the country. The agency wants to understand where the traces are coming from and to ensure that Iran does not divert material to make a nuclear weapon, which would deal a blow to the apparent progress of the talks so far. Iran insists this is not the case.

Senior EU diplomat Josep Borrell said on Monday: “I think both sides are really interested in reaching an agreement, and they have moved from general issues to more focused issues, which are clearly of interest to on the one hand, the lifting of sanctions, and on the other hand, the problems of nuclear implementation. “

“The return of the United States to the JCPOA and a return to full implementation of the agreement would make the world a lot safer,” Borrell said.

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