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Iran revisits previous concessions in nuclear talks, US official says

Iran has reneged on any concessions it made in previous negotiations to relaunch the 2015 nuclear deal, but insists on pocketing compromises from other governments while issuing new demands, an official said on Saturday. senior US official to reporters.

Iran’s aggressive stance in talks this week in Vienna with world powers, coupled with a “provocative” acceleration of its nuclear program, has raised the question of whether the nuclear deal “may still survive,” the senior State Department official said.

European partners in the talks and representatives of Russia and China were “quite baffled” by Iran’s negotiating position, which appeared to reject the results of the six rounds of talks earlier this year, the official said. .

Iran chose to drop “all the compromises that Iran had offered in the six rounds of talks, pocket all the compromises that others and the United States in particular had made, and then go back. ask for more, ”the official said.

European diplomats on Friday offered equally pessimistic assessments of the talks which were suspended on Friday, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tehran did not appear serious about doing what was necessary to return to terms. of the nuclear deal.

Iranian chief negotiator Ali Bagheri said on Friday that his government’s proposals remained on the table and that Tehran was awaiting “documented and logical” responses, according to Iranian news agency Mehr.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told European Union foreign policy chief Josef Borrell that Tehran had entered the negotiating table “with good intentions in order to achieve a good agreement, ”Mehr reported.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

After the parties agreed to suspend talks on Friday, European diplomats suggested talks could resume next week. But the senior State Department official, who was not authorized to speak officially, said the timing of the next round of talks was less important “than whether Iran will come back with a serious attitude ready. to be seriously negotiated ”.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States plans to consult with its allies on how to proceed, but said time is running out to revive the deal. “And we’ll see if Iran has an interest in engaging seriously, but the window is very, very tight,” Blinken said.

The senior State Department official declined to say when the White House would conclude the talks were pointless and that the nuclear deal was indeed dead.

The administration was “not standing still” and “we are obviously preparing for a world in which there is no going back to the JCPOA”, the official said, while adding that “it is not our preference. . “

The official suggested that the Biden administration might choose to take punitive action against Iran for its nuclear activities, even before abandoning the Vienna negotiations entirely.

“Just because we are sitting in Vienna does not mean that we cannot take steps to make Iran understand that there is a price to be paid if it continues to block itself out. So even as we speak today, it’s not like Iran is moving and we just sit around and wait, ”the official said.

The United States is indirectly participating in the Vienna talks at the insistence of the Iranians, with American officials relaying messages to the Iranian delegation through European diplomats.

Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal was signed by Iran, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. The deal placed strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program aimed at preventing the regime from building nuclear weapons. In return, the world powers relaxed the sanctions against Iran.

Representatives of Iran and the European Union attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Negotiations to Relaunch the Iran Nuclear Deal in Vienna, Austria, December 3, 2021. EU delegation in Vienna / AFP – Getty Images

But in 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal, reimposed sanctions and introduced new economic sanctions against Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign. Iran has responded by flouting restrictions on its uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities, while limiting access to UN inspectors.

President Joe Biden has offered to bring the United States back to the deal if Iran also returns to abiding by the terms of the deal. Talks to revive the deal progressed until June, when a hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected president in Iran. Discussions were suspended for five months, with Iran’s new government saying it needed time to consider the issue and prepare its negotiating position.

The senior US official, citing recent reports from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had used the past five months to advance its nuclear program, jeopardizing the entire 2015 agreement.

“If they choose to speed up their nuclear program as they seem to have done belatedly, then there will be less time left for the JCPOA to be resurrected,” the US official said.

On Wednesday, the third day of talks in Vienna, the IAEA said Iran had started producing enriched uranium with more advanced centrifuges at an underground plant in Fordow. The 2015 agreement bans Iran from enriching uranium at Fordow.

Iran has played down the IAEA report as routine.

Arms control experts say Iran is weeks to two months away from having enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon. When Iran complied with the 2015 nuclear deal, the termination period was estimated to be one year.

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