US reportedly discusses possible interim Iran nuclear deal with Israel, other allies

Washington raises proposal that would have Iran limit enrichment to 60% in exchange for sanctions relief, but Tehran only wants return to full 2015 agreement, reports say

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, second right, listens to an explanation while viewing an advanced centrifuge at an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran on April 9, 2022. (Iran President's Office)
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, second right, listens to an explanation while viewing an advanced centrifuge at an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran on April 9, 2022. (Iran President's Office)

The US has discussed with its allies a proposal for resuming talks with Iran aimed at reaching an interim deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program, according to Monday reports.

Iran has raced ahead with enrichment activity in recent months while talks on restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement have stalled.

US officials informed counterparts in Israel, France, the UK and Germany that they were considering proposing a deal in which Tehran would curb nuclear enrichment above 60 percent purity, a step nearing weapons-grade levels, in exchange for sanctions relief, the Axios and Walla news websites reported.

US officials began discussing the proposal in January, and the US allies were informed about the idea in February, according to the reports, which cited 10 sources, including Israeli officials and Western diplomats.

Iran knows about the US proposal, but the Iranians are not on board, saying they only want to return to the full agreement, the reports said.

The White House told the news sites in response that it “refuses to comment on second-hand rumors.”

The US National Security Council said President Joe Biden is committed to stopping Iran “and we still believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve that objective.”

Talks between Iran and the US to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), restarted in 2021 but fell apart last year, after months of halting progress. Israel opposed a resumption of the deal.

Iran and the Western powers that are party to the talks reached several interim deals to freeze enrichment and suspend sanctions in the years leading up to the 2015 JCPOA agreement.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, and political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, from left, leave the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The Biden administration has long supported a diplomatic path to halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but talks stalled as Iran started supporting Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, and cracked down on domestic rights protesters, irking the US and other Western countries.

Raising tensions further, inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog in February found uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 percent in Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear site.

Uranium at nearly 84% is almost at weapons-grade levels of 90% — meaning any stockpile of that material could be quickly enriched for the purposes of building an atomic bomb if Iran chooses. The inspectors only mentioned finding “particles” at that level, suggesting Iran wasn’t yet stockpiling above 60% — the level it has been enriching at for some time, which nonproliferation experts already say has no civilian use for Tehran.

The US intelligence community has continued to maintain its assessment that Iran isn’t pursuing an atomic bomb, but American officials have said Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon within weeks and would only need several additional months to assemble a weapon for use.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened military action against Tehran, and Israel and Iran have been engaged in a high-stakes shadow war across the wider Middle East since the nuclear deal’s collapse.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have escalated in recent weeks amid a series of airstrikes attributed to Israel in Syria, a terror attack in northern Israel that is believed to have been carried out by an intruder from Lebanon, and threats between Israeli officials and Iran.

Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in Syria over the last decade. Two Iranian advisers were allegedly killed in Israeli airstrikes in Syria in the past month.

A military source said Monday that Iran appears to have been behind the launch of a drone that was brought down over Israeli airspace this week.

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