Nuclear talks with Iran threaten to collapse unless Tehran shifts, Europeans say

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BRUSSELS – Western negotiators trying to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal said Friday that Iran’s new, tougher government is proposing unacceptable changes to the existing draft agreement, even as it is advancing quickly with its nuclear program.

Unless Tehran changes its stance quickly, diplomats from Britain, France and Germany warned after five days of meeting in Vienna, there is little chance of successful negotiations. Talks have been suspended for consultations with governments and could resume next week.

“More than five months ago, Iran interrupted negotiations and since then Iran has accelerated its nuclear program,” the three said in a joint statement. “This week it has come back to the diplomatic progress that has been made. Iran is breaking with almost all difficult compromises made in months of tough negotiations and is demanding substantial changes to the text “that undermine the draft, which was 70 to 80 percent ready, they said.

Iran says it wants to return to the 2015 agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. But the Europeans said some of Iran’s proposals not only violate that agreement, but go beyond its provisions.

“It is unclear,” she added, “how to close these new gaps in a realistic time frame based on the Iranian designs.” While European governments “remain fully committed to a diplomatic way forward,” they said, “time is running out.”

It was the first set of negotiations after a five-month hiatus as a new Iranian government took office and considered its stance on the nuclear deal, which former President Donald J. Trump left in May 2018. Mr. Trump then piled on economic sanctions in an attempt to put Iran back at the negotiating table in a weaker position or even topple the government itself.

The print campaign has failed. The Biden administration wants to revive the deal and extend its term to 25 years from 15 years. But not only does the Iranian government want all sanctions lifted, they also want some of the major investments they’ve made since then in building advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium well beyond what the agreement allowed.

Enrichment means increasing the proportion of fuel which is uranium-235, the most potent form of the element, which in nature makes up less than 1 percent of all uranium. For nuclear power plants, it is usually enriched to less than 5 percent uranium-235; more than 90 percent is needed for an atomic bomb.

Iran has begun enriching uranium to 60 percent, a level not used for civilian use, experts said. It only leaves Tehran a month or so to make nuclear fuel suitable for bombs.

Iran denies that it plans to build a nuclear weapon, but it also denies the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, access to key nuclear facilities it had under the 2015 pact. At its disposal, the agency has determined that Iran has installed advanced centrifuges at its deeply buried Fordow complex and enriched uranium there, banned under the 2015 agreement.

Initially, after Mr. Trump withdrew the US from the deal, Iran adhered to the restrictions, hoping the other signatories would find a solution. But after a year, Tehran lost its temper and began to break the boundaries of the agreement. It now has more than 2,300 kilograms of enriched uranium, 11 times as much as the deal allowed. Iran is now also converting gaseous uranium into metal, an important step in making a bomb.

Unless Iran suddenly changes its stance, the United States and Israel will soon be faced with more serious questions about what to do to rein in Iran and keep their vow that Tehran will never have a nuclear weapon. Europe will also feel compelled to consider new and much stricter sanctions.

But despite US and Israeli attempts at sabotage and even more economic sanctions, Iran is getting closer and closer to the knowledge needed to become a nuclear threshold state — a deliberately ambiguous stance of not having a nuclear weapon, but capable to build one in a relatively short time. time, just a year.

Iranian negotiators have said they want to make a deal in Vienna, but that the United States, which has withdrawn, must act first. They demand the lifting of all economic sanctions, not only on the nuclear program, but also on other sanctions for its role in regional conflicts, including attacks on its neighbors. Only then, they say, will Iran scale back its nuclear program.

The western position was “compliance for compliance”, with carefully negotiated sequencing. Iran also says it wants guarantees that Washington will never break the deal again, a politically and legally impossible promise.

Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, told Iranian news channels that “it is true that the European parties were not very satisfied with some of our proposals, but these proposals were based on common principles between the two sides.”

This week, European negotiators said, would indicate whether Iran was serious about returning to the 2015 deal. Essentially, that would mean Tehran accepting the draft carefully worked out with the previous more moderate Iranian government balancing concessions on both sides. But European negotiators said Iran’s proposals, especially on nuclear issues, simply accepted concessions from Washington, while for their part, they would eliminate up to 90 percent of what the negotiators had already agreed to before June.

Even the June draft left unsolved the toughest issues, which negotiators estimate at 20 to 30 percent of what a full deal would be.

If the negotiators now took the current Iranian texts as their starting point, the negotiations would take far too long, while Iran would continue to enrich itself. The Iranians believe they have increased their influence by going so far beyond the boundaries of the deal, but Western officials say they miscalculated.

American patience is clearly wearing out. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Thursday after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov that Iran’s actions did not bode well, but “it is not too late for Iran to change course.”

He said after that meeting, in Stockholm, that “Russia shares our basic perspective on this.” Despite sharp differences of opinion over Ukraine and other matters, the two men noted “the importance of continued coordination on issues in the bilateral relationship and where interests align, including blocking Iran’s roads to a nuclear weapon.” said the State Department. .

Mr Blinken downplayed a call from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to end the negotiations in the face of what he called Iranian blackmail.

“In the very near future, the next day or so, we will be able to assess whether Iran really intends to participate in good faith,” Mr Blinken said, adding: “I have to tell you , recent moves, recent rhetoric, doesn’t give us much cause for optimism.”

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