Nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna as Tehran expands enrichment

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

The resumption of talks in Vienna, which was suddenly called Wednesday, does not appear to include high-level representation from all countries that are part of the 2015 Iran deal with word powers. That’s because Western officials are expressing growing skepticism about a deal to restore the accord and the top EU diplomat has warned that “room for additional key compromises has been exhausted”.

Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, had arrived in Vienna for talks, Iranian state media reported. US Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley was also in attendance, tweeting Wednesday that “our expectations are under control”.

As with other talks, the US will not negotiate directly with Iran, but will speak through EU diplomat Enrique Mora. The US has not had direct talks with Iran since then. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018. Mora also met on Thursday with Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who has represented Moscow’s interests in the talks.

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But during the negotiations, Iran took a maximalist stance. Through the state-run IRNA news agency, Tehran denied that it had given up its bid to get America to scrap its paramilitary Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization as a condition of the talks. Meanwhile, IRNA also quoted its civilian nuclear chief as saying that disabled International Atomic Energy Agency surveillance cameras would not be turned back on until the West launched an attempt to examine man-made traces of uranium at previously undisclosed sites in the country. would strike.

Those positions could doom the talks. Iranian officials had tried to give optimistic assessments of the negotiations, alternately blaming the US for the deadlock, likely fearing a breakdown in the negotiations would send the rial currency plunge to new historic lows.

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Iran signed a nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saw Iran agree to limit uranium enrichment overseen by UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

According to the IAEA’s latest public count, Iran has a stockpile of some 3,800 kilograms (8,370 pounds) of enriched uranium. Even more worrisome for non-profiling experts, Iran is now enriching uranium to 60% purity — a level it has never reached before, which is a short, technical step away from 90% weapons-grade levels.

Those experts warn that Iran has enough 60% enriched uranium to turn it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb. However, Iran would still have to design a bomb and a delivery system for it, probably a project of months. Iran insists 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 — previously a taboo topic there.

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

The IAEA inspectors also verified that Iran had completed the installation of three advanced IR-6 cascades at the plant, each consisting of up to 176 centrifuges. The IAEA said those cascades should not yet be fed with uranium. Iran also told the IAEA it plans to install another six IR-2M cascades in a new operational unit in Natanz, inspectors said.

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

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