Iran nuclear talks in Vienna as Tehran expands enrichment
Negotiators from Iran, the US, and the European Union prepared on Thursday to resume months-long, indirect talks over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, even as international inspectors acknowledged the Islamic Republic began a new expansion of its uranium enrichment.
The resumption of the Vienna talks suddenly called on Wednesday, appears not to include high-level representation from all the countries part of Iran's 2015 deal with world powers.
That comes as Western officials express growing skepticism over a deal to restore the accord and the EU's top diplomat has warned "the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted".
Iran's top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, had arrived in Vienna for the talks, Iranian state media reported.
US Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley also was on hand, tweeting on Wednesday that "our expectations are in check".
As in other talks, the US won't directly negotiate with Iran, instead speaking through EU diplomat Enrique Mora.
The US hasn't had direct talks with Iran since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018.
Mora also met on Thursday with Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who has represented Moscow's interests in the talks.
Ulyanov also met with Bagheri Kani in a separate meeting.
"As always we had a frank, pragmatic, and constructive exchange of views on ways and means of overcoming the last outstanding issues," Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.
But going into the negotiations, Iran laid out a maximalist stance. Through its state-run IRNA news agency, Tehran denied that it had abandoned its effort to get America to delist its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization as a precondition to the talks.
Meanwhile, IRNA also quoted its civilian nuclear chief as saying turned-off surveillance cameras of the International Atomic Energy Agency only would be switched back on once the West abandons an effort to investigate manmade traces of uranium found at previously undisclosed sites at the country.
Those positions could doom the talks. Iranian officials had been trying to offer optimistic assessments of the negotiations while alternating blaming the US for the deadlock, likely worried a collapse of the talks could see its rial currency plunge to new historic lows.
Iran struck the 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 its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
More worrying for non-proliferation experts, Iran now enriches uranium up to 60 percent purity — a level it never reached before that is a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
Those experts warn Iran has enough 60 percent-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
However, Iran still would need to design a bomb and a delivery system for it, likely a months-long project.
Iran maintains its program is for peaceful purposes, though its officials increasingly are discussing the country's ability to build a nuclear bomb if it chose — previously a taboo topic there.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, those UN inspectors at the IAEA said that they had verified Iran had begun feeding uranium gas into two IR-1 cascades previously unused at its underground Natanz facility. Those cascades will enrich uranium up to 5 percent.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)