Efforts to rescue 2015 Iran nuclear deal suffered a serious blow when Tehran announced on Saturday that it has started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in a breach of its undertakings.
Talks are in progress in Vienna with European Union working as mediator as President Hassan Rouhani officially inaugurated the cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony broadcast by state television.
The television aired no images of the cascades but broadcast a link with engineers at the plant who said they had introduced uranium hexafluoride gas to the cascades after receiving the order from President Rouhani.
Iran’s latest move to step up uranium enrichment follows an opening round of talks on Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal on bringing the United States back into the deal.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments.
All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as intermediary, had got off to a good start.
The IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges allow uranium to be enriched more quickly and in greater amounts than the Iran’s first-generation devices, which are the only ones that the 2015 deal allows it to use.
President Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear programme is solely for “peaceful” purposes.
VIENNA TALKS: Meanwhile, US and Iranian officials clashed on Friday over what sanctions should be lifted to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, with Washington predicting an impasse if Tehran sticks to a demand that all sanctions since 2017 be removed.
The two nations laid out tough stances as indirect talks in Vienna on how to bring both back into full compliance with the agreement wound up for the week, with some delegates citing progress.
The talks, in which European Union officials are shuttling between the remaining parties to the deal and the United States, aim to restore the bargain at the core of the agreement – restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of US and other international sanctions.
Former president Trump reimposed the sanctions that were lifted, and brought in many more, after walking out of the deal in 2018. Iran responded by breaching many of the nuclear restrictions.
“All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed — w/o distinction between arbitrary designations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter, referring to the deal by its full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The United States says it is prepared to lift “sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA”. While it has declined to elaborate, that appears to exclude sanctions formally unrelated to nuclear issues covered by the deal.