EU tries to salvage negotiations with Iran

June 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

European negotiators traveled to Tehran in May to try to break the deadlock in talks to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but prospects for success remain dim as the country’s nuclear program continues to unravel. develop.

Enrique Mora, the European Union’s chief negotiator, met with Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, on May 11-12 over Iran’s demand that the United States withdraw the Corps Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from the US List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. . The designation of terrorism is the last major obstacle to reaching an agreement to restore the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. (See LAWMay 2022.)

Although Mora did not convey a new proposal from the United States on the specific issue of the IRGC, the Biden administration offered, through Mora, to address the terrorism designation after an agreement was finalized. to reinstate the JCPOA.

At a press conference on May 16, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh did not say whether Iran was ready to delay talks on the IRGC issue or whether it wanted discuss alternatives. It will likely be difficult domestically for the Iranian government to reverse its demand that the US lift the IRGC’s terrorism designation. But Khatibzadeh told the press conference the talks with Mora were “serious and results-oriented”.

Ahead of Mora’s trip, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on May 7 described the trip to FinancialTimes as the “last bullet” to keep negotiations alive to restore the deal. Borrell seemed somewhat optimistic about the success of Mora’s trip. He told the Group of Seven foreign ministers on May 13 that the trip had “gone better than expected” and that Iran’s engagement with Mora was “positive enough” to reinvigorate the talks.

Despite Borrell’s optimism, as the United States and Iran continue to insist the ball is in each other’s court, it remains to be seen whether Mora’s trip could come out of the woods. dead end.

Khatibzadeh said the parties could resume talks in Vienna if the United States “provides its response to some of the solutions that have been offered.” He said Iran is waiting for the “political decision” of the United States to move forward.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a May 17 press briefing that “a deal remains far from certain.” He reiterated that Iran needs to decide “whether to insist on conditions extraneous to the JCPOA” or whether it is willing and able to reach an agreement to quickly return to compliance with the agreement.

Price said the Biden administration continues to believe that “diplomacy and dialogue provide an opportunity to sustainably and permanently end Iran’s ability to produce or acquire a nuclear weapon.”

His comments came amid reports that the United States plans to participate in an Israeli military exercise that will simulate an attack on Iran’s nuclear program. Israel will practice aerial refueling by US planes, according to Israeli media.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a May 17 speech at Reichman University that Israel is “preparing for all scenarios by building up its military power.” He highlighted Iran’s nuclear progress, noting that Tehran continues “to accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience in the development…of advanced centrifuges”, which are used to enrich uranium, and “is only a few weeks from accumulating fissile materials which will be sufficient for a first bomb.

Gantz also said Iran is working on producing 1,000 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at an underground facility near Natanz. Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its intention to build a new underground facility to produce centrifuges after sabotage damaged its existing facilities at Natanz in April 2021. The IAEA does not has not publicly disclosed the extent of Iran’s centrifuge production at the site.

But IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi raised concerns about Iran’s uranium enrichment during his remarks to the EU Foreign Affairs Committee. Grossi said the IAEA estimated that Iran had produced 42 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% uranium-235. This amount is enough to produce the highly enriched uranium required for a bomb, which is about 25 kilograms enriched to more than 90% in 235U, if it is in gas form that can be further enriched.

The IAEA reported in March that Iran had converted two kilograms of 60 percent 235U-enriched uranium into a powder. Since Iran reduced IAEA access to Iran’s nuclear program in February 2021, it is unclear whether any additional equipment has been converted.

Grossi said Iran’s 60% enrichment in U-235 is “unprecedented” for a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is “a source of grave concern”.

He also noted Iran’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into possible undeclared nuclear material and activities dating back to before 2003. The IAEA asked Iran to provide an explanation on activities at four sites, three of which the IAEA visited and confirmed the presence of processed uranium. The IAEA and Iran reached an agreement on March 4 on a series of measures that would allow Grossi to conclude the investigation by the June meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. (See LAWApril 2022.)

Although Iran confirmed it had sent information to the IAEA regarding the April investigation, Grossi said Iran had been “unwilling” to provide the necessary explanations. The “situation doesn’t look very good”, Grossi said.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said he was surprised at Grossi’s comments and told reporters on May 12 that Iran is cooperating with the IAEA.

Andrew B. Reiter