Iran nuclear talks resume in Vienna as participants draw lines in the sand

The wave of public messages was punctuated by a report from Israel suggesting that Iran is preparing to enrich uranium to the level needed to make a nuclear weapon. Two Israeli officials confirmed to CNN news, first reported by Axios, that Israel had shared intelligence with US officials in recent weeks, suggesting Iran is preparing to enrich 90 uranium. %.

The reports follow last week’s announcement by Iran of its steady progress towards larger stocks of enriched uranium, some of which is dictated by a law that Iran’s parliament passed last year that has ordered the resumption of uranium enrichment to pressure the United States to relax sanctions.

Coming out of the first round of talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the agreement is officially known, the Deputy Secretary General of the European Union, Enrique Mora, told reporters that something had to change, at the both for the sake of nuclear security and the public. from Iran.

“We took stock of the difficult circumstances of the JCPOA,” said Mora. “In recent months, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced. At the same time, the United States is imposing the same sanctions. Nobody, nothing has changed from the previous administration,” he said. note. “And this is in line with what we need to bring the JCPOA back to life – both for nuclear commitments and for the benefit of the Iranian people.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tehran was ready to start on the right track to reach an agreement “if the other side shows the same will”.

“The government has shown its will and seriousness by sending a quality team known to all,” Khatibzadeh said at a press conference in Tehran. “If the other side shows the same will, we will be on the right track to reaching an agreement.”

The two Israeli officials told CNN that Israel had shared information about Iran’s activities with the United States in the weeks leading up to the resumption of talks on Monday, which had stalled after six rounds of negotiations for nearly six months.

The European Union, France, Germany, China and Russia meet directly with the Iranians, without the United States in the room. US diplomats participate indirectly, meeting with allies afterwards to find out what has been discussed and influence their positions. It is not clear whether the new Israeli report will complicate matters.

Israeli intelligence suggests that Iran is taking technical measures that would allow it to enrich uranium to 90% purity. Iran is openly pursuing its efforts to increase its stocks of enriched uranium.

In an apparent effort to gain influence in Vienna, Iran announced on Friday that it had increased its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, just days after announcing that its stockpile of 60% enriched uranium had increased. to 66 pounds (30 kilograms).

According to the Arms Control Association, enriching uranium to 20% “constitutes about 90% of the work required to enrich to military grade.”

Iran’s uranium enrichment was limited under the nuclear deal, from which then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in May 2018. Now, while stocks of the Iran are increasing, the Arms Control Association says Iran’s breakdown time – the time it would take to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb – is decreasing.

The association estimates Iran’s current break-up time is likely around a month, compared to 12 months when the nuclear deal was fully implemented. But it’s not clear that Iran has the other infrastructure to build a bomb, and Iran has also consistently said it’s not aiming to build a nuclear weapon.

“Act of provocation”

State Department senior deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter declined to comment directly on the news, but said on Monday that an enrichment to 90% purity would be an “act of provocation.”

“We have made it clear that Iran’s continued nuclear escalation is not constructive,” she said on a conference call with reporters. “This is also work inconsistent with what is stated in the goal of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.”

“They will not provide Iran with any negotiating leverage as we resume talks,” Porter said.

The White House declined to comment on the matter.

“We will not comment on intelligence matters. But it is no secret that the former administration’s decision to abandon the JCPOA has led to a dramatic and unprecedented acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program. This includes activities enrichment advances, as recently confirmed again “by International Atomic Energy. Agency, said a senior administration official.

By sending an administration official to Vienna this week, the Biden administration has kept its promise to continue to engage in diplomacy in a bid to salvage the deal with Iran. Leading the talks, the United States also said it was “ready to use other options” if negotiations fail.

“Nuclear blackmail”

Meanwhile, as nuclear talks resumed with Iran, Israel has focused its diplomatic firepower on the prospect of a possible interim deal with Tehran that would see sanctions lifted in exchange for a partial freeze on Iran’s nuclear program. .

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video message delivered in English, said the United States and its partners must not give in to what he called “Iran’s nuclear blackmail”.

“Despite Iran’s violations and undermining nuclear inspections, Iran will arrive at the negotiating table in Vienna, and there are those who think they deserve their sanctions lifted and hundreds of billions of dollars. poured straight into their rotten diet. They’re ‘you’re wrong,’ he said. “Iran deserves no rewards, no trade deals and no sanctions relief for its brutality.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, during an emergency visit to Britain and France, two countries participating in the Vienna talks, echoed this message in London.

The day before the talks began, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani presented Iran’s message in a Financial Times editorial. Their first objective: “to obtain a total, guaranteed and verifiable lifting of the sanctions which have been imposed on the Iranian people. Without it,” Bagheri said, “the process will continue indefinitely.”

Mostafa Salem and Celine Alkhaldi of CNN in Abu Dhabi and Andrew Carey and Amir Tal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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