Nuclear watchdog reports fresh violation by Iran amid indirect talks with US

Tehran again breaches nuclear deal’s limits on its uranium enrichment, Reuters reports, as its representatives negotiate return to accord with world powers in Vienna

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, on February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, on February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The UN’s nuclear watchdog indicated a fresh violation by Iran of its nuclear deal with world powers, as Iranian representatives met with the deal’s other signatories in Vienna in a bid to rescue the accord.

The International Atomic Energy Agency in a report released Friday indicated that Iran had again violated limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium, the Reuters news agency reported.

The IAEA report does not explicitly say that Iran violated the deal’s terms, but the agency releases such reports when a breach occurs. Diplomatic sources told Reuters that the report indicated that a breach of the deal had occurred.

The 2015 deal placed strict limits on Iran’s uranium stockpile. The IAEA determined on Wednesday that Iran had violated those limits by recovering uranium from items called scrap fuel plates.

“On 7 April 2021, the Agency verified at the Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant at Esfahan that Iran had dissolved six unirradiated scrap fuel plates for the TRR [Tehran Research Reactor] containing 0.43 kg of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235,” the report said according to Reuters.

The amount of new enriched uranium is relatively small but threatens to derail talks being held to revive the deal.

Iran met with the deal’s signatories in Vienna this week. The Biden administration engaged in indirect dialogue with Iran for the first time during the talks by communicating with the Iranian delegation through European intermediaries.

The talks broke Friday, with no clear signs of progress, but most representatives involved sounding optimistic about the prospects.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, leaves the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran are taking place in Vienna, Austria, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

US President Joe Biden hopes to returning to the 2015 agreement, which his predecessor Donald Trump trashed as he launched a “maximum pressure” campaign in hopes of bringing Tehran to its knees.

The US said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the nuclear accord but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.

“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” a US official told reporters as talks broke for the weekend.

But the official said the United States was waiting for its efforts to be “reciprocated” by Iran.

“We saw some signs of it but certainly not enough. There’s still question marks about whether Iran has the willingness to… take the pragmatic approach that the United States has taken to come back into compliance with its obligations under the deal,” he said.

Biden argues that the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former president Barack Obama had been successful, with UN inspectors saying Iran was meeting its promises to scale back nuclear work dramatically.

Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.

Police officers stay in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ in Vienna, Austria, April 9, 2021, where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The “US —- which caused this crisis —- should return to full compliance first,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, adding that “Iran will reciprocate following rapid verification.”

The head of Iran’s delegation to the talks Abbas Araghchi stressed the need for “political will and seriousness from other parties.”

“Otherwise, there will be no reason to continue negotiations,” he said.

The US official indicated that the major stumbling block in the initial talks was not the order of compliance but rather which sanctions were under discussion as Iran is demanding an end to all US restrictions.

The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), covers only nuclear sanctions and not US measures taken in response to human rights or other concerns, the official said.

While Biden can lift sanctions, his diplomacy has already faced heated attacks from Trump’s Republican Party, some of whose members have called in the past for attacking Iran.

Iran refused to meet directly with US negotiator Rob Malley during the talks led by the European Union, whose envoys shuttled between the two sides in different hotels.

Talks are set to resume Wednesday with Iran again meeting the other nations in the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia as well as the European Union.

The EU diplomat leading the talks, Enrique Mora, said that the meetings had been “constructive and results oriented.”

Moscow’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov also said that the participants “noted with satisfaction the initial progress made” and wanted to “maintain the positive momentum.”

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