Iran tells Russia West must be ‘realistic’ in nuclear talks

Ahead of resumption of talks, foreign minister says countries should avoid ‘excessive demands that go beyond the terms of the nuclear agreement’ from 2015

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is seen before meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, on October 6, 2021. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/AFP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is seen before meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, on October 6, 2021. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran told Russia Saturday that Western governments should be “realistic” when nuclear talks resume later this month and not exceed the bounds of a 2015 deal they are seeking to revive.

A telephone call between Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, which Moscow said was requested by Tehran, came just weeks before the talks reopen in Vienna on November 29 after a five-month gap.

“The rapid approach of the talks requires the European and American sides to adopt a constructive and realistic approach, avoiding excessive demands that go beyond the terms of the nuclear agreement” struck in 2015, the Iranian minister said, according to a ministry transcript.

The Russian foreign ministry said the two “sides spoke in favor of restoring the nuclear deal in its original, balanced configuration, approved by the UN Security Council.”

“They confirmed that this is the only correct way to ensure the rights and interests of all participants of the comprehensive agreements.”

The nuclear talks, which are being brokered by European Union mediators as Tehran refuses to deal with United States negotiators directly, are aimed at bringing Washington back into a 2015 agreement with Iran that was abandoned by former US president Donald Trump.

The remaining parties to the agreement — Britain, China, France and Germany as well as Russia — are also taking part.

US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to rejoin the deal, under which Iran agreed to strict limits on its nuclear activities in exchange for relief from sweeping sanctions.

But the two sides remain at odds over the details.

Iran wants a lifting of all US sanctions which were imposed after Trump’s withdrawal. The Biden administration says it will only negotiate measures taken by its predecessor over the nuclear program, not steps imposed over other concerns such as human rights.

Tehran also wants commitments that the US will remain bound by the deal — an unlikely proposition in Washington, where Trump’s Republican Party fiercely opposes Biden’s diplomacy with Iran.

Washington insists Tehran must return to full compliance with the limits on its nuclear program it agreed to in 2015, and has warned repeatedly that the window of opportunity for a deal is closing fast.

Amir-Abdollahian said Saturday that Tehran would return to full compliance just as soon as Washington did so too. “If the US side returns fully to its obligations and makes no other demands, Iran will honor its obligations too,” he said.

On Friday, Iran said it had almost doubled its stock of enriched uranium in less than a month. Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned that its oversight capabilities in Iran are being weakened.

“We have more than 210 kilograms (463 pounds) of uranium enriched to 20 percent, and we’ve produced 25 kilos (55 pounds) at 60%, a level that no country apart from those with nuclear arms are able to produce,” said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, in a report carried by the semi-official Tasnim and Fars news agencies.

Sixty percent enrichment is the highest level to which Iran has enriched uranium and is a short technical step to weapons-grade 90%. Under the nuclear agreement, Iran was barred from enriching uranium above 3.67%.

In September, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had boosted its stocks of uranium enriched above the percentage allowed in the deal.

On October 10, AEOI head Mohammad Eslami said his country had produced more than 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of 20% enriched uranium, in theory allowing the manufacture of medical isotopes used mainly in diagnosing certain cancers.

The 2015 agreement with Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and the US offered Iran some sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers are to resume on November 29.

Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations atomic watchdog warned in an interview aired Thursday that Iran was restricting access to nuclear sites, saying surveillance of these facilities has “been weakened.”

“In this situation, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to do the job,” IAEA Director Rafael Grossi told CNN. “We take this with realism because we know it may be part of the political discussion.”

“But what I’m telling them is there is a limit… If they want to have someone saying that things are correct and there is no deviation or whatever, we have to have the ability to do what we need to do, and at this moment, we don’t have it,” Grossi added. “We need the access that is commensurate with a nuclear program of such sophistication and ambition.”

Asked about previous estimates of how long it would take Iran to mass enough material needed for producing an atomic weapon, Grossi noted that Iran has breached numerous clauses of the nuclear deal after Trump withdrew the US from the accord.

“Those lines have long gone,” he said, without giving an estimate.

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