Iran atomic chief claims country won’t enrich uranium over 60% if nuclear talks fail

Mohammad Eslami insists Tehran will not further approach weapons-grade uranium should efforts to restore the 2015 accord collapse

Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Saturday that his country will not exceed 60 percent enrichment of uranium, even if it cannot agree with world powers on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Asked by Russia Sputnik news agency about the possibility enrichment levels would rise further, Mohammad Eslami responded, “No.”

He further asserted that “All our nuclear activities are carried out according to the agreements, statutes and regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Iran has been openly breaching the 2015 deal, including by enriching uranium in greater quantities and to higher levels than permitted, and installing more advanced centrifuges, since the US withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

Uranium enriched to 60% can quickly be enriched further to 90%, the level required to construct an atomic bomb. Western officials have said there is no credible civilian use for uranium enriched to 60% beyond a desire to approach 90%.

Talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal will resume next Monday, the EU diplomat chairing the negotiations said on Thursday, urging a “picking up of the pace.”

Officials have said the deal would become obsolete within weeks if Iran continued to step up its nuclear activities as it has been doing since 2019, a year after the United States left the landmark agreement and reimposed sanctions.

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting – IRIB, via AP)

“Vienna talks to resume on Monday 27 December. The JCPOA Joint Commission will meet to discuss and define the way ahead,” EU diplomat Enrique Mora wrote on Twitter, referring to the acronym of the deal’s formal name.

“Important to pick up the pace on key outstanding issues and move forward, working closely with the US. Welcome to the 8th round.”

Negotiations restarted in November after a five-month hiatus to try to restore the deal, which was to offer Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Diplomats from parties to the deal — China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia — are in talks in Vienna with Iran and the US, with the two sides refusing direct contact.

US negotiator Rob Malley on Tuesday warned of a “period of escalating crisis” if diplomacy failed to restore the agreement.

Iran claims it only wants to develop a civilian nuclear capability, but Western powers say its stockpile of enriched uranium goes well beyond that and could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

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