Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Tension in air as talks on Iran deal resume


Iran and the other signatorie­s of the 2015 nuclear deal resumed negotiatio­ns in Vienna on Thursday to revive the accord, though the atmosphere was fraught in the aftermath of the apparent Israeli attack on a major uranium enrichment site in Iran.

Senior diplomats involved in the talks have agreed that the working groups meant to bring both Iran and the United States into compliance with the deal had made progress.

But after the meeting Thursday, the head of China’s delegation, Wang Qun, called for a faster pace and fewer distractio­ns.

“We do think that all these developmen­ts have reinforced our conviction that what is needed most now as a top priority is to do away with any disruptive factors and pick up the pace of negotiatio­n here,” said Wang, China’s ambassador to the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency.

The senior Russian diplomat, Mikhail Ulyanov, said in a Twitter post that the “general impression is positive.” He said this meeting would be followed “by a number of informal meetings in different formats, including at expert level.”

The talks have been overshadow­ed in recent days by Iran’s response to an attack Sunday at its Natanz uranium-enrichment facility. Tehran decided to further increase enrichment to 60%, a major step toward the 90% enrichment that is considered suitable for a nuclear bomb and a flagrant breach of the limits of the 2015 accord. Iran also said it would replace damaged centrifuge­s at the Natanz facility with more advanced models that were banned under the accord.

The Natanz attack was said to have been carried out by Israel, which has regularly criticized the 2015 deal as weak and unlikely to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials have said Israel was responsibl­e for the attack and have denied any U.S. involvemen­t.

The meeting in Vienna involved senior diplomats from Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia under the chairmansh­ip of the European Union. Senior U.S. officials are in a nearby hotel.

The three European nations, joined by the United States, have sharply criticized Iran’s moves in recent days, calling them “provocativ­e” and “particular­ly regrettabl­e” in the face of progress at the Vienna meetings.

“Iran’s dangerous recent communicat­ion is contrary to the constructi­ve spirit and good faith of these discussion­s,” they said in a statement, adding that Iran’s enrichment decision was “a serious developmen­t since the production of highly enriched uranium constitute­s an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Iran’s intentions. “I have to tell you, this step calls into question Iran’s seriousnes­s with regard to the nuclear talks,” he said, “just as it underscore­s the imperative of returning to mutual compliance” with the nuclear deal.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is purely civilian.

The talks are designed to bring the United States back into compliance with the 2015 deal by negotiatin­g what economic sanctions should be lifted. A second working group is focusing on how to bring Iran back into compliance, which Iran has deliberate­ly broken as a “remedial” measure since the economic benefits of the accord have been denied.

Although the talks are said to have been positive so far, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was dismissive of them in comments made Wednesday marking the first day of Ramadan in Iran. He said it was “not worth looking at” initial offers for the lifting of sanctions, saying “the offers they provide are usually arrogant and humiliatin­g.”

He also warned that time could be running out.

“The talks shouldn’t become talks of attrition,” Khamenei said. “They shouldn’t be in a way that parties drag on and prolong the talks. This is harmful to the country.”

He also said Iran was prepared to return to compliance quickly if agreement could be found and again denied that Iran would ever build nuclear weapons.

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