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8th May 2021

EU-brokered nuclear talks go ahead despite Iran defiance

  • UN weapons inspectors have wide-ranging access to Iran facilities under the JCPoA (Photo: iaea.org)

Iran is still willing to resume non-proliferation talks, despite defying Western powers on uranium enrichment after an attack on one nuclear facility.

"Officials have determined that we negotiate to achieve our policies ... We have no issue with this," Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday (14 April).

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Iran's president Hassan Rohani also said: "The supreme leader [Khamenei] has clearly defined the framework of our negotiations and we will continue our work within that framework."

The talks between Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the US are being chaired by EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell and are due to start at 12.30PM in Vienna on Thursday (15 April).

The high stakes include the threat of war between Iran and Israel if talks fail to stop Iran's alleged weapons programme.

They also include the risk of a Middle East nuclear arms race if Iran's regional adversaries, the Gulf Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, try to acquire atomic bombs as a deterrent.

A so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), under which Iran froze its programme in return for sanctions relief, was agreed in 2015, but fell apart in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump walked out of the accord.

And European efforts to revive the pact with US president Joe Biden almost fell apart again this week, when Iran accused Israel of a covert strike on its Natanz facility and announced it would enrich uranium to near weapons-grade and build more centrifuges in return.

Iran used tough rhetoric, despite its willingness to meet.

"You [Israel] wanted to make our hands empty during the talks, but our hands are full," Rohani said.

"[The] 60 percent [uranium] enrichment is an answer to your evilness ... We cut off both of your hands, one with 'IR-6' centrifuges and another one with 60 percent," he added.

Israel has not admitted to the Natanz strike.

But intelligence sources also told US newspaper The New York Times that Israel's Mossad intelligence service was behind the explosion.

Meanwhile, the three European powers blamed Iran for jeopardising the JCPoA revival.

France, Germany, and the UK alluded to Israel's alleged role in an oblique comment on Wednesday, saying: "We reject all escalatory measures by any actor".

But they noted that: "Iran's announcements [on enrichment] are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPoA participants and the United States have started substantive discussions".

"Iran's dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions", they added.

There was "no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level", they said.

The US echoed the European statement.

But on Tuesday, a US annual national intelligence assessment said: "Iranians are not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device".

For its part, Saudi Arabia, which is fighting proxy wars with Iran in Syria and Yemen, said a revamped JCPoA should include measures to stop Iran's efforts "to destabilise regional security" - a position echoing that of Trump.

But Khamenei indicated that any attempts to add new clauses to the old deal would not go down well.

"The offers they [the West] provide are usually arrogant and humiliating [and] are not worth looking at," he said ahead of Thursday's meeting.

Analysis

Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal

This week negotiations on a renewed nuclear deal with Tehran started in Vienna. Iran is desperate to have a deal quickly. Elections are coming up in June, and the economy is in terrible shape.

Nuclear arms race threat after EU rebukes Iran

EU powers have triggered a process that could bring the world back to 2006, when sanctions and threats were all that stood in the way of a Middle East nuclear arms race.

Exclusive

Hungary gags EU ministers on China

EU countries have shelved plans to issue a statement of moral support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong - due to Hungary's veto. Hungary is a major beneficiary of Chinese investment, including the building of a new university in Budapest.

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