As talks with Iran resume, Europeans stress the “urgency” of reaching a new deal

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VIENNA – European negotiators emphasized on Tuesday that talks to rescue the groundbreaking nuclear deal with Iran are “urgent” one day after the resumption of discussions between the world powers in Vienna.

Negotiations to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) began earlier this year, but ended in June when Iran elected a new ultra-conservative government. They resumed in late November, with the final round starting on Monday.

The aim is to bring Washington back, which dropped out of the deal in 2018, and to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities, which were stepped up in response to the US withdrawal and renewed sanctions.

“These negotiations are urgent … we are sure we are approaching the point where the escalation of the Iranian nuclear program will have completely undermined the JCPOA,” negotiators from the UK, France and Germany said in a statement.

“That means we have weeks, not months, to finalize an agreement before the core non-proliferation benefits of the JCPOA are lost.”

In addition to the so-called E3 countries in Europe, Iran, China and Russia, and indirectly the USA, are also participating in the talks.

Palais Coburg, where nuclear talks will be held in closed circuit on December 17, 2021 in Vienna. (AP Photo / Michael Gruber, File)

The 2015 deal offered Iran lifted economic sanctions in exchange for tight restrictions on its nuclear program to ensure it wouldn’t build a nuclear bomb – an ambition Iran has always rejected.

A year after the US withdrew and the sanctions were re-imposed, Iran again began to gradually abandon its commitments, including through increased uranium enrichment, but continues to deny any desire to acquire a nuclear arsenal.

‘Unparalleled’ enrichment

On Saturday, the director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad Eslami, said Tehran had no plans to enrich uranium above 60 percent even if the Vienna talks fail.

Eslami said in a statement released by RIA Novosti, Russia’s news agency, that the enrichment was linked to the country’s needs.

In response, E3 negotiators said Tuesday that a 60% enrichment rate is still “unprecedented for a state without nuclear weapons“. The level of the military is around 90 percent, and 60 percent is just a short technical step away from that goal.

“Its 60% increase in inventory brings Iran significantly closer to fissile material that could be used in nuclear weapons,” they said.

On this picture from 17. 322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, file)

The Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted on Tuesday by the state news agency IRNA as saying that the negotiations were “on the right track”.

“With the goodwill and seriousness of the other parties, we can consider [reaching] a quick deal in the near future, ”he said.

Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mikhail Ulyanov, said in Vienna that the working group on nuclear issues held a “useful meeting” on Tuesday and that the lifting of sanctions was also discussed informally.

“We are seeing undeniable progress,” he wrote on Twitter.

EU diplomat Enrique Mora, who chaired the talks, said on Monday that all sides “showed a clear will to work towards a successful end”, but that “very difficult” negotiations were imminent.

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