US President Joe Biden has re-entered nuclear talks with Iran following former President Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal signed by the US and Iran as well as the UK and other European allies. The deal would see sanctions lifted on Iran in exchange for various guarantees that it would not expand its nuclear program in the hope of preventing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
The most recent talks, however, seem to have been a failure, an anonymous US official told Politico: “We are studying Iran’s response, but the bottom line is that it is not at all encouraging.”
The official declined to give specifics but called Iran’s demands “a step backwards”.
One of the deal’s major stumbling blocks is that Iran previously demanded that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conclude its investigation prior to any deal being reached – it is unclear if Tehran still holds this position.
The IAEA verification and monitoring program insists on measures such as surveillance cameras in Iran’s nuclear facilities to ensure that they are only used for civil means such as energy production.
Iran also insists on guarantees that no future US President would pull out of the deal like Donald Trump did in 2018, the US is either unable or unwilling to guarantee this.
A European diplomat familiar with the situation agreed with the US official that Iran’s responses were “negative and unreasonable”.
The US is also heading into mid-term elections in November and it is likely Democrats do not want to debate the Iran issue, which has sceptics on both sides of the aisle, before the race.
The US has also refused to remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a list of terrorist institutions. The Revolutionary Guard is a powerful faction in Iran which likely has influence over decision-makers there.
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All of these factors seem to point to the deal is dead in the water, at least for now.
The news comes following an IAEA report this week which states that Iran has expanded the use of its IR-6 centrifuges to an underground nuclear site near Natanz.
These machines replace the less powerful IR-1 centrifuges and can enrich uranium to a much higher level – something needed when trying to develop a nuclear bomb.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran is only allowed to use the less powerful IR-1 machines.
The newer machines are enriching uranium to up to five percent, much lower than the amount needed to create a nuclear weapon but higher than the 3.67 percent cap of the Obama-era deal.
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However, there have been reports that modified IR-6 machines are producing 20 percent enriched uranium and reports the country is producing 60 percent elsewhere.
Although well below the roughly 90 percent enrichment needed for weapons-grade uranium, this could significantly reduce the time it would take for Iran to “break out” and quickly build its own nuclear weapon.
If this were to happen, it is unclear what the response of Iran’s regional enemies – Saudi Arabia and nuclear-armed Israel – would be.
The Board of Governors of the IAEA is due to meet on September 12 in Vienna to discuss the recent developments in Iran’s nuclear program.