VIENNA, July 29, (Agencies): Diplomats from Iran and five world powers recommitted Sunday to salvaging a major nuclear deal amid mounting tensions between the West and Tehran since the US withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions.
Representatives of Iran, Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union met in Vienna to discuss the 2015 agreement that restricts the Iranian nuclear program. “The atmosphere was constructive, and the discussions were good,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi told reporters after the meeting ended. “I cannot say that we resolved everything” but all the parties are still “determined to save this deal,” he added. Fu Cong, the head of Chinese delegation, said that while there were “some tense moments” during the meeting, “on the whole the atmosphere was very good. Friendly. And it was very professional.”
Both diplomats said there was a general agreement to organize a higher-level meeting of foreign ministers soon, but also that preparations for such a summit needed to be done well. A date has not been set. Iran is pressuring the European parties to the deal to offset the sanctions US President Donald Trump reinstated after pulling out.
The country recently surpassed the amount of low-enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile and started enriching uranium past a 3.67 percent limit permitted, to 4.5 percent, saying the actions could be reversed if the Europeans came up with incentives that compensated for the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian economy. Iran’s recent moves – which it defends as permissible after the US withdrawal – are seen as a way to force the others to openly confront the sanctions.
Araghchi told reporters in Farsi after the meeting that Iran would continue decreasing its commitments until the Europeans meet its demands. Experts warn that a higher enrichment level and a growing uranium stockpile narrow the one-year window that Iran would need to have enough material to make an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but that the deal prevented. So far, Iran’s exceeding of the agreement’s stockpile and uranium enrichment ceilings have been seen as violations likely to prompt the European signatories to invoke a dispute resolution mechanism. Weapons grade uranium is enriched at a level of 90 percent.
Both of Iran’s actions were verified by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. In recent weeks, Iran broke past the limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, but did not say by how much. The nuclear accord has a stockpile limit of 300 kgs.
However, it also permits Iran to enrich uranium and export it, as it has to Russia in past years. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday that the country has enriched 24 tons of uranium since it reached the 2015 nuclear deal with the other countries and the EU. Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by state TV as saying Iran “did not enrich 300 kgs of uranium, but enriched 24 (metric) tons of uranium,” or what is 24,000 kgs (nearly 53,000 pounds.)