Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country could immediately resume enriching uranium to 20 percent should Western powers fail to uphold their end of an interim nuclear deal inked last month in Geneva.
“The structure of our nuclear program has been maintained and the 20 percent enrichment can be resumed in less than 24 hours,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a gathering of Iranian students in Tehran.
He added that “the structure of the sanctions and the antagonistic atmosphere created by the West against Iran is falling apart,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
As part of the November 24 interim agreement, which has yet to come into force, Iran agreed to dilute or convert to uranium oxide all uranium enriched beyond 5 percent. The blending down of Iran’s stock of 20 percent enriched uranium is expected to lengthen the time required for nuclear “breakout” capability.
The sides were set to return to the negotiating table in Geneva on Thursday, days after the Iranian delegation had abandoned expert-level talks in protest over continued US sanctions.
The negotiations, brokered by representatives of the United States, China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany, are expected to revolve around the on-the-ground implementation of the guidelines established in the interim agreement.
While the talks are currently scheduled for December 19-20, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Seyed Abbas Araqchi told Fars that the meetings will continue through Saturday and Sunday if proven necessary.
“It’s in the interests of the Iranians to go quickly because there won’t be an easing of sanctions until the agreement is implemented,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.
The Iranian officials last met with representatives from the six world powers on December 12 in Vienna. However, following a decision by the US government to blacklist 19 companies for evading Iranian sanctions, the Iranian delegation cut the meetings short and flew back to Iran a day before negotiations were set to end, stating that the US’s move violated the interim agreement.
“Iran has ended the talks because of the addition of more individuals and companies to the sanctions list. It was against the path of agreements,” an unnamed Iranian official told the IRNA news agency following the move.
Days later, top Iranian officials reiterated their commitment to the diplomatic process.
“The process has been derailed, the process has not died,” Zarif told CBS News on Sunday. “We are trying to put it back and to correct the path, and continue the negotiations because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also quoted Tuesday saying that Iran was ready for a final agreement.
Under the interim agreement signed in Geneva on November 24, the world powers must ease sanctions against Iran while Iran is required to scale back its nuclear program over the course of six months. While the deal was heavily criticized by Israeli officials, the US and the additional world powers remain optimistic the interim deal will pave the way for a permanent agreement with the Iranian regime.