Iran refuses to drop 20% enrichment for release of $1 billion in assets

Iran’s chief negotiator says the Islamic Republic will not agree to reduce its uranium enrichment from 20 percent — just a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels — in exchange for the release of $1 billion in frozen assets, Reuters reports.

Abbas Araqchi rules out a possible exchange over the funds held in other countries, which have been inaccessible due to American sanctions. He also says talks with world powers on the return of the US to the nuclear deal were “constructive” and that another meeting will be held Friday.

Officials from five world powers began a new effort Tuesday to try to bring the United States back into the foundering 2015 nuclear deal they signed with Iran, a delicate diplomatic dance that needs to balance the concerns and interests of both Washington and Tehran.

The meeting in Vienna of envoys from Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran came as the US was due to start its own indirect talks with Iran. It would be one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the accord, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from US and international sanctions.

Iranian nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi. (YouTube screen capture/Channel 4 News)

Iran is insisting Washington take the first step.

“Lifting US sanctions is the first and the most necessary action for reviving the deal,” Araqchi is quoted by Iranian state TV as saying. “Iran is fully ready to reverse its activities and return to complete implementation of the deal immediately after it is verified sanctions are lifted.”