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As talks with Iran resume, Europeans stress ‘urgency’ of reaching new deal

Britain, France and Germany warn there are ‘weeks’ left to reach agreement before Tehran’s ‘escalation of its nuclear program will have completely hollowed out’ the 2015 pact

The flag of Iran waves in front of the the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)
The flag of Iran waves in front of the the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

VIENNA — European negotiators stressed Tuesday that talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal are “urgent,” the day after discussions between world powers resumed in Vienna.

Negotiations to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) began earlier this year, but stopped in June as Iran elected a new ultraconservative government. They resumed in late November with the latest round getting underway on Monday.

The aim is to bring back Washington, which left the deal in 2018, and curtail Tehran’s nuclear activities, stepped up in response to the United States withdrawal and reimposed sanctions.

“This negotiation is urgent… We are clear that we are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear program will have completely hollowed out the JCPOA,” negotiators from Britain, France and Germany said in a statement.

“That means we have weeks, not months, to conclude a deal before the JCPOA’s core non-proliferation benefits are lost.”

Besides the so-called E3 European countries, Iran, China and Russia are also taking part in the talks, while the US is participating indirectly.

Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber, File)

The 2015 deal offered Iran a lifting of economic sanctions in return for strict curbs on its nuclear program aimed at ensuring it would not build an atomic bomb — an ambition Iran has always rejected.

A year after the US withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions, Iran in turn began to gradually abandon its commitments, including by stepping up its enrichment of uranium, though it continues to deny that it wants to acquire a nuclear arsenal.

‘Unprecedented’ enrichment

On Saturday, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran director Mohammad Eslami said Tehran had no plans to enrich uranium beyond 60 percent, even if the Vienna talks fail.

Eslami said the enrichment levels were related to the needs of the country, in remarks published by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

In response, E3 negotiators said Tuesday that 60% enrichment was still “unprecedented for a state without nuclear weapons.” Military-grade levels are around 90 percent, and 60% is but a short technical step away from that target.

“Its increasing 60% stockpile is bringing Iran significantly closer to having fissile material, which could be used for nuclear weapons,” they said.

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted by state news agency IRNA on Tuesday as saying the negotiations were “on a good track.”

“With the goodwill and seriousness from the other parties, we can consider [reaching] a quick agreement in the near future,” he said.

Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mikhail Ulyanov, said in Vienna that the working group on nuclear issues held a “useful meeting” on Tuesday, while lifting sanctions was also discussed informally.

“We observe indisputable progress,” he wrote on Twitter.

European Union diplomat Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks, said on Monday that all sides were showing “a clear will to work toward the successful end,” but that “very difficult” negotiations lay ahead.

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