The US has hit out at Iran’s response in talks to revive a deal to stop Tehran building nuclear weapons, blasting it as a step “backwards”. The development comes as Iran has ramped up its nuclear programme this week by speeding up its enrichment of uranium, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran could create a “crisis” for the UN’s nuclear watchdog by diverting weapons-grade uranium to a “secret site”, according to Andrea Stricker of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, who has been following the US-Iranian negotiations.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, the nuclear expert said: “It could divert enriched uranium so quickly and take it to a secret site potentially or create some sort of crisis of access for the IAEA.
“And use their existing stocks of centrifuges and enriched uranium to go to 90 to make multiple significant quantities of highly enriched uranium for a weapon.
“I think that is what we have been looking at and that they would have the capability to quickly weaponise material and potentially put it into a crude nuclear explosive and test it.
“So, I would look at all of those steps, being able to accomplish all of that quickly and without being stopped.”
The negative US response to Iran’s reply in their indirect negotiations suggests both sides are not close to reaching agreement.
An official in President Joe Biden’s administration told Politico on Thursday that Iran’s response did not give them hope.
They said: “We are studying Iran’s response, but the bottom line is that it is not at all encouraging.”
The source did not specify further details but added: “Based on their answer, we appear to be moving backwards.”
Iranian state media reported that Tehran had taken “a constructive approach aimed at finalising the negotiations”.
The US State Department was given Tehran’s response by the EU, which has mediated their 17 months of negotiations.
The US abandoned the JCPOA in 2018 under then President Donald Trump, who reverted to a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Iran.
In response to the US move, Iran began ramping up its nuclear programme and warning of its abilities to develop nukes.
This included enriching uranium to beyond 60 percent purity, moving Iran closer to the 90 percent purity needed to make nuclear weapons.
A nuclear-armed Iran would allow Tehran to expand its influence across the Middle East and beyond, according to Ms Stricker.
She said: “I think it would give them cover to expand their malign activities in the region.
“They would be able to do more to threaten Israel. They would do more to arm their proxies and militias and interfere in the affairs of other countries in the region for sure.
“We see what is happening with Russia when they invaded Ukraine.
“They have the nuclear deterrent to prevent NATO from interfering in the country or doing more as far as putting boots on the ground or directly engaging with the Russians.”